A Man Like Us

James 5:17-18(NKJV)
17Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.
18And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

Yesterday we found that the effectual, for effect, fervent, heart felt and continual, prayer of a righteous man avails much or makes tremendous power available dynamic in it’s working.  The next question is who can be this righteous man or woman.  We have already looked at the role of repentance in this scripture.  It is important that we confess our sins, first to God and then if necessary to someone to whom we can be accountable. 

From God’s perspective we are right with him on the basis of what Jesus did.  However when sin is present in our lives it is the sense of righteousness on our side that is compromised.  We are the righteousness of God in Christ, but when we allow sin to reign in us we will leave an open door for condemnation from the devil which will hinder our faith.  So to be that righteous man or woman I need two things.  I need to have faith in the sacrifice of Jesus and what it bought in my life.  I also have to be willing to confess my sin and trust in the words of 1 John 9-10 that I will be forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness.  This implies being truly sorry for my transgression not just sorry I got caught.

Once those requirements are filled, do I have to be a super Christian or super spiritual person to qualify for this kind of praying.  I don’t believe you do.  James tells us that Elijah was a man just like us.  He had the same strengths and weaknesses.  He had great days of victory such as when he defeated 450 prophets of Baal.  He also had bad days such as when he ran from Jezebel.  Yet this man changed the whole nation when he prayed. 

Once again I am brought back to the element that makes prayer truly effective.  Faith.  Elijah was not perfect.  He simply had faith in God.  When his faith was strong his prayers were strong.  When his faith was weak so were his prayers, however God did not abandon him.  God met him in a cave, gave him instruction and strengthened him for what was ahead. 

I want to impress on you today that you qualify to pray powerful prayers of faith that can change things in your world.  You may have had some difficult times.  You may have been weak in some area of your life.  You may need to repent and you may need to get back into the church, but the very fact that you are normal means you qualify to pray as Elijah did. 

You may say, “Where do I start.”  We will talk more about this tomorrow, but you start where you always start.  With the Word of God.  Faith comes from the Word. (Rom 10:17)  Elijah had the word of the Lord.  In 1 Kings 18 we see Elijah coming to the king and telling him it would not rain until he said so.  3 years later we find him coming again to the king and telling him it would rain.  Why would he do that.  Do you think he just decided that stopping the rain would be a good way to get the kings attention?  Then one day he just decided enough was enough and he made it rain again?  Of course not.  God spoke to him and gave him a word.  In response to that Word he prayed and God moved.

Start with the Word.  Pray according to the word.  Faith will come by the word and your prayers will be like Elijah’s.

The Effectual, Fervent Prayer

James 5:16-18(NKJV)
16bThe effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

Yesterday we looked at the first part of verse 16.  James addressed sin and it’s effect upon the process he is describing in this chapter.  On the one hand he tells us that the prayer of faith can cut through the sin of the one for whom we are praying.  This does not mean that it doesn’t matter if someone is sinning as long as another person prays the prayer of faith for them.  It does matter when it comes to their ability to sustain things like healing.  However at the point of praying for them the prayer of faith will override those things.  The healing or whatever else we are praying for may cause the hold of sin to be broken in their life.

On the other hand he encourages the one who prays to make sure that they are clean.  If we are allowing sin to continue we will find it difficult to pray the prayer of faith.  We will continually run into the condemnation of the devil and our faith will be hindered.  The power of faith is it’s ability to make the connection between God and the earthly need.  If our sense of righteousness is compromised this becomes a problem.  Confess your sin, James says, so that healing may flow.  We need to make ourselves accountable.  First to God, but often that is not enough to expose sin to the light of the word.  Sometimes we must go to a trusted friend or leader so they can help us overcome the flesh and the devil.

Once our sense of righteousness is secure, what can we accomplish in prayer?  He says that the “effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”  Let’s begin with the result.  The term avails much is very poetic sounding, but what does it mean?  The amplified bible says that this kind of prayer “makes tremendous power available [dynamic in it’s working].”

When we release the prayer of faith according to this verse’s conditions we make power available.  What kind of power and where?  The power to solve the problem, God’s power, in the place where we need it.  I think that is such a descriptive translation of this verse.  When I plug a lamp into an electrical outlet I make power available to that lamp.  All I have to do is turn on the switch.  The power is there.  When I pray the prayer of faith I make the power of God available to the situation.  When we turn on the switch by receiving that promise, we will see the answer in due time.

What kind of prayer accomplishes this?  As we have been studying, it is the prayer of faith.  However in this verse James tells us what the prayer of faith looks like.  It is effective and fervent.  Once again this sounds good, but what does it mean.  The Greek meaning of this word is “for effect.”  I like that term.  When an army uses artillery, they first send in a few shells to mark the target.  Once the target is “zeroed in” they will use the term, “fire for effect.”  That means put all you have into that location in order to obliterate the enemy.  The effective prayer is one that is “for effect.”  We have the target zeroed in and we are firing our prayers of faith in order to destroy the words of the devil.

The amplified bible once again gives us some insight.  Fervent is expanded as heartfelt and continual.  We must really believe something when we pray.  We cannot pray with no actual feeling and expect our prayers to make power available.  I believe in praying with other tongues, but as powerful as that can be, alone it is not enough.  The bible tells us that when we pray in tongues our understanding is unfruitful.  It is hard to feel anything when we have no understanding.  We must also pray with our understanding because that is where we will be fervent or “heart felt” in our praying. 

There are many ways that fervency can be expressed.   It is different for each of us.  To some it may be expressing volume, to others tears.  It does not really matter as long as something is coming out of your heart.  Without that, you will not be very effective.  Faith, Galatians tells us, works by love.  Fervency is a manifestation born of love. 

Finally, the amplified bible says this word also implies continual.  This does not mean we have to pray the prayer all the time until we see the result.  It does mean we have to keep our faith applied.  We have to thank God for the answer.  We have to keep our heart open to hear more insight from the Lord as to what else might need to be released in prayer by faith.  This is where praying in other tongues can be a powerful aid.  Every time we think of the situation we can thank God for the answer and spend some time praying in tongues over the situation.  We need to keep this attitude until we see the result or God releases us from the task. 

Let’s make some power available this week.  Let’s release some heart felt continual prayers over our lives, our loved ones and our world.  I believe we will see some real changes around us as we do.

Sin and The Prayer of Faith

James 5:15-16(NKJV)
15And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
16£Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

Yesterday we highlighted today’s verse and the verse before it.  We learned that, although the anointing with oil and prayer from the elders of the church are both good things, they are not essential to the healing process nor to anything else we are believing God for by faith.  What is essential is that we pray a prayer that is based in and full of faith.  It is the prayer of faith that saved the sick.  The other essential thing to know is that it is God who will raise him up.  A faith filled prayer will make the connection to God who will then bring about the needed miracle. 

Today I want to touch for a moment on something James adds in these verses.  This topic almost seems to come out of nowhere.  He is talking about faith and healing and then he brings up sin.  I believe there are a couple of things we need to understand about sin and the prayer of faith.  First we sometimes wonder if God will move for someone if there is sin in their life.  Depending on whether you are the prayer or the one being prayed for, the answer is different.

If you are praying for someone and they are struggling with sin, I believe this verse gives us an indication that our prayer of faith can cut through their sin.  It is our faith, not theirs, that is in question.  James says the prayer of faith will save the sick and if they have committed any sin it shall be forgiven them.  I find this to be a powerful thought. 

This does not mean that their sin is not a factor.  It is a factor in whether they continue in their healing or whatever else we have prayed for.  It is not a factor at the moment we pray.  We should not hesitate to pray for them.  It may be the very thing that brings them to a place of repentance that will free them permanently from the sin. 

If you are the one praying, James says we should confess our sins to one another  and pray for one another that we may be healed.  Then he tells us the power of a righteous man’s prayer.  If we have active ongoing sin in our lives it will hinder or even block our ability to pray in faith.  Instead of the confidence that we should feel when we pray we will instead continually run into a wall of opposition and condemnation.  We are righteous because of the sacrifice of Jesus, but when we allow sin in our lives it breaks the sense of that righteousness on our part.  It gives the enemy a door of condemnation in our hearts and that is always a hindrance to praying in faith.

Paul tells us that we should confess our sins to one another and pray for one another.  This is not to say that we should just tell everyone in the church every time we sin.  It is important, however that we make ourselves accountable to someone we can trust.  If you are struggling with sin of any kind, one of the main ways the enemy keeps us bound is by the lie that no one else struggles or that we would be rejected if anyone knew.

Everyone struggles with sin.  Find a mature person you can talk to.  Go to the pastor or leaders.  Share with them what you are dealing with.  You will find that each of us understands the weakness of the flesh.  Make sure you choose carefully, however.  The young in faith or those who are weak in their own walk will either condemn you or justify your sin.  Neither will help you.  A mature believer will encourage you, correct you as necessary and become a line of accountability to help you overcome.

You will prefer to handle sin strictly between you and God.  This is fine as long as you are handling it.  If you are winning the battle, confession to God will be sufficient.  If you are not, than you must apply this scripture.  Many things are hindered in our lives by the presence of sin, however the prayer of faith is one of the first casualties of sin when it is not attacked as it should be.

We need to pray the prayer of faith.  Your family and those around you need you free to pray the prayer of faith.  I believe our sick world needs healing and we are the ones who can pray God into each and every situation.  Don’t let some sin or weakness of the flesh keep you from successfully praying the prayer of faith.  Repentance is powerful and not nearly so difficult as it seems.  We are in this together.  When you share with a mature believer the struggles you are going through you will find help.  Let’s make a decision today that the prayer of faith in my mouth is more important than the temporary pleasure of sin.

The Prayer of Faith will Save the Sick and God will Raise Them up

ames 5:14-15(NKJV)
14Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

We are in something of a parallel study at LWCC right now and this scripture bridges them nicely.  On Sunday mornings we have been studying faith and the need to walk in faith.  On Friday nights we are taking time once a month to look at the subject of divine healing.  This scripture speaks to both.  To walk in faith our prayer life must not be simple ritual.  It must be alive with relationship.  Prayer is nothing less than communication with the Lord.  For that to happen we must pray by faith.  James highlights this using healing as the arena, however the principles in this chapter are not limited to healing.

First let’s find the priorities in this verse.  James asks a question, “Is any sick among you?”  The assumed answer is yes.  Then he says to call the elders of the church.  They are to do two things.  They are to pray for him and anoint him with oil.  I want to take a moment to make sure we don’t allow the same religious thinking that causes ineffective praying to creep into our understanding of what James is saying.

I am not against anointing with oil, however I believe it is important that we put it into the proper perspective.  Is oil necessary for healing?  No.  There are many places in the new testament where healing is accomplished with no oil.  As matter of fact, this is the only instance I have found where oil is mentioned as a part of the healing process in the New Testament.  Why then, does James say the elders should anoint the sick with oil?  I believe it can be a focal point for faith.  These were people who were still a part of the Jewish culture.  Oil is a type of the anointing.  When the sick felt the oil it gave them a physical sense of the touch of God.  For some, this still may be true. 

To me the problem is the tendency for us to focus on such physical things.  There is nothing “magic” or “spiritual” about oil.  It is just a symbol.  If it were necessary there would be many more references to oil and healing in the New Testament.  If you like to use oil that’s fine.  If it helps you to stand on the healing promise specifically in this scripture, no problem, but oil is not the essential here.

What about the elders?  Again, I think we get into too many religious attitudes.  Do I need church elders to get healed?  No.  James says call the elders because they are supposed to be mature and have faith.  If you are going to have someone pray for you it is a good idea that they be people who pray in faith.  When he says “elders of the church” James is speaking of a local church relationship.   It is their job to be accountable for you.  This is not religious, it is sensible.  I have had people call me as an elder of the church to pray for them, but they are not in any church let alone mine.  They just saw this verse and thought they needed some religious elder.  That won’t work.

The other two elements in these verses are, however, essential.  You can be healed with our without oil.  Having elders pray can be a very good thing, but you can be healed by praying for yourself.  What in this verse actually saves the sick?  It is not the oil.  It is not the fact that the praying person is an elder.  It is the prayer of faith that saves the sick.  To receive anything from God we need to pray in faith.  We need to have prayers that are saturated by faith in God, not by religious form or tradition.  They don’t have to be long or eloquent.  They just have to be prayers of faith.

Then it says that God will raise the sick person up.  God is the other essential in this equation.  If we don’t connect with the Lord we will not be healed.  The prayer of faith makes the connection and God will do the rest.  If we have no connection, we have no power.  Praying in faith makes the connection.

Let’s set aside religious thinking this week and see prayer for what it is.  It is communicating with the Lord.  It is making a connection with Him that will bring the power of God into play in every area of my life.  Call elders if you need some agreement.  Ask for the anointing with oil if it will help your faith.  Just remember, it is the prayer of faith that saves the sick or the depressed or the financially troubled or the family situation or anything else for that matter and God who will raise you up.

The Father Himself Loves You

John 16:23(NKJV)
23“And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.

John 16:26-27(NKJV)
26In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; 27for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.

In talking about the prayer of faith this week we have learned that religiously motivated prayer accomplishes nothing.  We must understand that prayer is no more nor less than communication with God.  If we do not approach prayer with that realization at the forefront, we are not really praying.  We cannot communicate with God unless faith is involved.  When we are talking about the kind of prayer that changes things we must first know what God says in His word and then we must believe that what we ask Him He will do.  Even before we come to that point, however, we must simply believe that He is really there and that He is listening to us. 

I want to close this week with some of the final words Jesus spoke to his disciples.  John 14-17 contain the most important things Jesus had to say to His closest followers.  He knew that His time had come and He wanted to impress upon these men what they most needed to know in order to fulfill God’s purpose for them.  One of the things He reveals to them is how they must pray from now on. 

In the old testament men prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob according to the covenant of Abraham.  Jesus needs them to know that a change has been made in their covenant relationship with God.  They are not longer praying “in the name of Abraham’s covenant.”  They are no longer praying to the God of the Patriarchs.  Now they are praying to the Father.  We have already covered this idea, but it bears repeating.  No where do you hear God referred to as “Father” in the old covenant.  The Israelites boldly proclaimed Abraham their father.  Jesus spoke of God as His father and that caused the Pharisees to cry blasphemy.  Now He tells these lowly men that God is also their Father.  This is monumental.

Then He tells them that they can go directly to this Father in His name.  Jesus is the author of the New Covenant spoken of in Jer. 31.  It was to be a personal covenant instead of a national covenant.  Jesus is telling His disciples that prayer under this personal covenant will be a totally different thing.  They are to ask the Father in Jesus’ name. 

I don’t want us to get into legalistic thinking about this.  I am not saying you do not pray to Jesus.  You should talk to Jesus.  He is your Lord.  I am saying that Jesus gives us the channel for our requests.  Not all prayer involves requests.  Much prayer is fellowship with the Lord.  When we are going to make a request Jesus says the method is to ask the Father in the Name of Jesus.

Why?  The Father is the source of all things.  Jesus and the Father are one.  Why, then, ask the Father in Jesus name?  This is one of those things that is hard for our finite minds to grasp.  Jesus and the Father are completely one and yet completely unique.  I don’t understand that and neither do you.  However it is true.  The Father is the source of all things.  The Father is the one who sent Jesus to reconcile you to Himself.  If we have need of something, we go to the source.  We ask the Father.

However Jesus is the vehicle of our salvation.  Our relationship to God is “In Christ.”  Ephesians 2 tells us the Gentiles were strangers to the covenants of promise so they had no access to God.  Hebrews tells us that a new and better covenant is in effect so even the Jews need to come via this new way.  The source of that covenant is Jesus and we have been given His name.  It is by his name that we have access to the Father. 

Therefore if we need anything we go to the source, the Father, in the covenant name, Jesus. 

I don’t believe that God is legalistic towards us.  He is not going to withhold from us if we don’t ask just right.  Jesus tells us that this is so because God loves us not because He wants to test us.  The Devil, however, is a legalist and he will find any loophole possible to keep us from receiving what God wants us to have.  When we go to the Father in the name of Jesus there are no loopholes.  The channel is clear and the connection to the source is made.  Nothing can stop the answer from coming to us within God’s will and timing.

When you Pray, Believe!

Mark 11:24(NKJV)
24Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.

(I apology for the lack of posts this week.  We had guests.)

In the last post I asked the question, “What is prayer?”  The simple yet profound answer is, “talking to God!”  It was interesting last night that one of my grandchildren, who was with us for dinner, had this question after we said grace.  “When we pray are we really talking to God?”  Out of the mouths of babes.  “Yes we are!”, I said.  It seemed to be a real revelation to him.  I think we need the same revelation.  Prayer is not some religious exercise it is actually talking to a God who is there with you right now.  We need to picture that in our minds and believe it in our hearts. 

In today’s verse Jesus makes another profound yet  obvious statement.  “When you pray, believe…..”  What a thought.  If we are praying out of form or obligation we are not praying.  If we are praying without a faith connection, we are not praying.  When you pray believe something.  Just saying words will not produce anything.

If we are not believing when we pray, it is like talking to someone with no expectation that they will hear us.  Can you imagine being in a conversation and the person never looks at you?  When you try to respond they just keep talking and never listen.  Would you be able to have any impact on them?

I have traveled quite a bit and have spent many hours in conversations with people who didn’t speak English.  Sometimes they think they do.  It’s close to English.  We may have both spoken, but we were not communicating.  Prayer without believing is talking without communicating.  Not that God does not understand you, but you can not receive the response from Him.  You are not believing, so when He speaks back you cannot hear Him.  You are not believing so no power was released to fulfill your request.  When you pray start out believing.

What should you believe?  Believe you receive.  Receive what?  Believe that you receive the answer to your prayer.  To do this you must begin with what God says.  You can’t believe you will receive something that is contrary to the Word of God.  You must also allow God to determine the best answer possible for you.  Often we set so many conditions that we tie the Lord’s hands, so to speak.  That said, if we are going to pray we need to believe that God heard us and that He is doing what needs to be done. 

When do we believe.  When we pray.  We do not believe when we see the result.  That is too late.  That would be like expecting an answer before we will ask the question.  Prayer is communication, however it is communication based in faith.  God is our Father and He is faithful to keep His promises to us.  He is moved by faith and prayers of faith are one of the most powerful tools we have.  When we decide to pray, we must believe at that moment that the request is fulfilled.  We may not see it for weeks or more, but it is fulfilled when we pray.

I don’t mean to lower God to the level of internet shopping but it is such a good parallel that I must use it.  I just ordered something via the internet.  I spent time researching what I wanted.  I found the right product for the right price.  I gave them my information, used and online payment site and the order was complete.  I am not wondering if it will ever actually happen.  I don’t tell people I ordered the product.  I tell them I just bought a new ________.  I don’t have it to show them, but I believe I receive it when I buy it.  It just has to get here.

Why can’t we have the same faith in God we do in the internet shopping source.  We pray.  We spend the time finding a promise in the Word.  We spend time fellowshipping with the Lord discussing the situation.   When it comes to the point of actually releasing our faith in prayer,  We believe God is faithful to do what we have entrusted to Him.  I believe I receive the answer.  Now what?

Now I trust Him.  I thank him for meeting my need and answering my request.  I tell people, “The Lord is doing such and such.  I prayed and the answer is on the way!”  God is good for His word.

There is always a period of time between the praying and the receiving.  It may be seconds or years.  Unfortunately God is not affected by time like we are.  He is the ever present “I Am.”  However if we are going to pray we must believe.  If we don’t believe, praying will do no good.  When you pray today, make a conscious effort to cultivate a believing heart.  He is there with you.  He is listening.  He is answering and you will eventually see the manifestation in the natural.  It may not be when or how you want it, but it will never be late and it will be exactly what you need.

What Exactly is Prayer

Matthew 18:20(NKJV)
20For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

This may seem like a simple question.  The answer might seem obvious to most of us, however I believe it’s something we need to consider.  Prayer is, in so many ways, so tied to a religious attitude that we often miss the point.  Prayer is a spiritual exercise.  Prayer is something Christians do.  Prayer is meditation.  Prayer is piety.  Prayer is formal expression of our religious beliefs.  Some of these statements are true and, in my opinion some are not.  All miss the basic fundamental of what prayer is.  It is no more nor less than communication with God.

In the above verse Jesus makes a revolutionary statement.  In most religious traditions the God to whom we pray is far away.  He is in heaven or some other place that we do not fully understand.  Jesus says that when we gather together The Father is in the midst of us.  If we have any kind of relationship with biblical Christianity we know this verse.  We may even believe this verse, but I doubt that we really think about what it means.

Modern technology is an awesome thing.  The first time I went to India nearly 20 years ago, making phone calls home was a difficult task.  You would contact the Indian operator.  Usually we had to have one of our Indian hosts talk to the operator because we could not understand them and vice versa.  The Indian operator would then attempt to place the call to the United States.  You would hang up and wait for the operator to call you back.  It might takes minutes or the whole day.  There was no way to know.  When the connection was finally made it was distant, there was a delay and echo, and there was always a great deal of static.  With difficulty you could talk to your loved ones, but often the connection was so bad you couldn’t really communicate.

The last time I was in India I took my cell phone.  I was able to call my wife and talk to her like she was next to me.  If a wifi connection was available, and it often was, I could even make a video call via the computer.  Not only could I talk to my wife but we could see one another.  When I thought back to those early days of travel and then to the ability we have today to clearly communicate, I just marveled.  Even while driving on some very interesting roads in India, Africa or Indonesia I could hear my wife and she could hear me.  It was more like being next door than halfway around the world.

What does this have to do with our subject?  I believe most of us view prayer more like the old days in India than like the ability we have to communicate today.  We know He is there somewhere.  We have some fuzzy type of communication, but often we don’t understand God and we doubt He understands us.  This is not the picture Jesus paints here.  He is not in another place.  He is not in a far away heaven.  He is not even halfway around the world.  When we gather in His name He is there in the midst of us.

What about if we are alone?  Look at this verse. 

John 14:23(NKJV)
23Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.

Jesus and the Father make their home with us.  How much clearer can it be.  When we gather, He gathers with us.  When we are alone He makes His home with us.  When I pray I am not making a long distance call.  The communication analogy above goes so far, but the truth is even more astounding.  I don’t have a good connection, He is right here right now.

I know we believe that.  I want us to think about it.  I want us to cultivate this truth.  I want us to see that prayer is talking to someone who is right there with you.  It is communication with someone who cares enough to be where you are at all times.  When you talk to friends or family who are with you, how do you talk to them?  When you have questions how do you ask them?   Is there some formal way you address one another?  Do you have to put the words together just right?  If you don’t understand something your friend says, what do you do?  I don’t know about you but I just ask, “What do you mean by that?”

Prayer is communication.  It is talking to someone who is there with you and who loves you.  It is talking to someone who wants to communicate with you not someone who is put out by the time He has to spend with you.  Talk to Him.  Listen to Him. 

Have you ever been with someone who talked so much you couldn’t get a word in?  Sometimes God must feel that way.  We bombard Him with our needs and tell Him our troubles and then, without waiting for Him to say anything, we say goodbye.  That is not communication. 

Your prayer time, your communication time with the Father, is not a burden to Him and it shouldn’t be to you either.  Cultivate the reality that He is right there with you .  He is there right now.  turn off the world and talk to Him.  You might be surprised at what you hear and the difference it could make in your life.