Sermon 30th September 2018 (19th Sunday after Pentecost)
Text: James 5:13-20 - The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective
Prayer is an important part of all religions.
Whether it is Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or Christianity.
In fact even non-religious people will make comments like – you’re in my thoughts and prayers.
They might even ask you to say a prayer for them.
Muslims pray 5 times a day.
Martin Luther devoted two to three hours daily in prayer.
Sadly today many see prayer more as a burden than as a pleasure.
Many feel guilty about their struggles to pray.
Prayer along with reading our Bibles has become a victim of our modern busyness.
Because we find prayer more of a burden it means we don’t often find time to pray and we don’t discover the joy and blessings of prayer.
Instead of praying, people take their problems to therapists, counsellors and support groups rather than to God.
Who needs prayer?
What is prayer?
Prayer is simply communicating with God, so why is it so difficult.
Maybe it’s because communication with other people has changed in today’s social media driven lives;
Communication has become shorter as we send text messages, emails, instant messaging which has become the way we communicate.
Has this changed the way we communicate with God?
Prayer has become like sending God a text message. Short, instant, not much thought, not much time or effort involved.
Why is it that we find it so hard to pray?
Why do we neglect this rich source of strength and power for our daily lives?
Some of the excuses are:
It takes effort to make time available every day to pray.
But we seem to make time available for other things – TV, sport, hobbies.
Maybe we’re not able to find times where it is quiet and still for just a short while.
The TVs on – the mobile phone is going off all the time – we have to check our emails and facebook.
When there’s quiet we don’t seem to be able to handle it too well because we’re not used to it.
It does take an effort to stop during a busy day and to spend time talking with God.
It takes an effort at the end of a long day to stay awake long enough to pray.
There are times I’ve said my prayers lying in bed only to wake the next morning and have no idea where I got up to.
We seem to be able to pray when there is a pressing need, when there is sickness or despair, but for the rest of the time prayer is often seen as a burden.
Even though it’s a bit of an effort we’re more than happy to put effort into other things – gardening, exercising, cleaning the house.
But we say – these need to be done.
Well, according to Jesus, James, Paul and others, prayer also needs to be done.
Maybe we doubt the value of prayer but as Christians we know we’re supposed to pray so we do it when others are around, like saying grace at dinner time – or we promise to others that we’ll pray for them but don’t.
If we truly believed in the power of prayer wouldn’t we spend as much time with our heavenly Father in prayer as we could?
Surely, as Christians, we believe in prayer, so why is it so difficult?
Why don’t we pray more often?
Maybe we’ve given up on prayer because God's answer is quite different to what we expected.
Jesus certainly didn’t give up on prayer when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane to avoid his impending death – not MY will be done – but YOUR will be done.
Paul also found the answer he sought different to what God delivered.
He prayed 3 times for healing but God's answer wasn’t the healing that he expected.
God’s answer drew Paul into a deeper and closer understanding of his suffering and a trust in God's grace to help him through the most difficult times.
And it was that answer that would help him during his other times of suffering including the years he spent in prison.
The answer was different to what he was praying not because Paul lacked faith, or that what he was asking was unreasonable, or that God wasn’t interested.
God's answer was one of love and care for his future sufferings and not just the one he was encountering at that time.
Maybe as we look back on our lives we will see that our prayers have actually been answered even though at the time we really thought God had not answered.
Sometimes when we are at our lowest words are difficult and therefore prayer is difficult.
But Paul also encourages us during those times when he said:
The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Holy Spirit intercedes with groans too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
So the first thing we need to do is to not feel guilty about our poor prayer life because that’s what Satan wants from us.
With the guilt gone from our prayer life, prayer, whatever shape it takes, becomes time simply being in God’s presence rather than a chore or duty.
That’s why when Jesus’ disciples wanted Jesus to teach them how to pray he didn’t give them a list of directions but actually gave them his own prayer to pray to lead them into a deeper time of prayer.
It wasn’t the only prayer they should pray but one that would bring them into prayer.
But prayer is also not just one way traffic.
Just as in a relationship a couple will speak with each other, so too prayer is not only us speaking to God but it is God speaking to us.
Let there be times where God speaks to you rather than you doing all the talking.
How can we know what God wants for us if we never listen and are always talking?
As St Paul says: If you aren’t able to pray, ask for the Holy Spirit to help you in your prayers.
The Holy Spirit will assure you that God is there for you and his love for you is even stronger in your time of need even though you might not necessarily feel it at that moment.
As St Paul discovered – when I am weak then I am strong.
Our loving Father and Saviour assure us that prayer is never wasted energy.
As St James says: "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective".
Maybe you feel that your prayer life is a long way from what it should be.
Maybe you’re embarrassed to let people know about your prayer life.
Just remember that with God it’s not about size as Jesus says – if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,'
Or the father with the sick son who said: “Lord I believe, help me with my unbelief!”
James is trying to encourage us to seek opportunities to pray:
Are any among you suffering? They should pray.
Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.
Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them.
The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up;
And anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.
The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
There’s no criticism there – just encouragement.
And so too we should not criticise ourselves because that will only make prayer an obligation and we will lose the joy out of it.
We all wish we could pray better, read our bibles more, have better devotional lives with ourselves and our family.
But let us remember that since they are our lifeline with God then it is what Satan will attack.
So we should almost expect that we’re going to struggle just as Jesus struggled when Satan attacked him in the wilderness and on the cross.
But as James said last week:
Resist the devil and he will flee.
Come near to God and he will come near to you.
So let us come near to God in prayer and let the Holy Spirit guide us into a deeper and more meaningful spiritual relationship with God.