Practical Christianity: Praying Wisely | James 5:13-18
Andy Lindgren | August 5, 2018
Good morning! Let’s go to the Lord in prayer together.
Heavenly Father, we come to you now asking for your help, Lord. We ask that the same Holy Spirit who inspired this text would illuminate our hearts to see your glory there and to give us the power to apply this truth in our lives. In the name of Jesus we ask these things, Amen.
The text this morning is in James chapter 5, James 5:13-18. Let’s go ahead and read that together.
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, the earth bore its fruit.”
This is God’s word.
Today we’re going to break this up into three main points. We’re going to be looking at:
I. The Priority of Prayer
II. The Promises of Prayer
III. The Power of Prayer
When I was a teenager, I remember in our youth group we went through the Experiencing God study for teens, and in there I heard a story about a man named George Mueller that always stuck in my mind.
George Mueller was the director of an orphanage in England in the 19th century. He cared for about over 10,000 orphans over his lifetime, and one of the things he was well-known for was his commitment to prayer. He was so committed to prayer that even refrained from making a lot of his needs known to other people; he would just go to the Lord directly and pray that he would provide.
In one of those instances, the orphanage that he was overseeing at the time was completely out of food; they had no food for the next day. He just got on his knees, opened his Bible to one of the Lord’s promises, and he prayed, “Lord, provide food, please.” He was bringing these supplications to the Lord for provision, and he heard a knock on his door. He went to the door, and he opened the door, and there was a guy there saying, “Hey, I was transporting this cart full of potatoes to the market and it tipped over and they got dirty and I can’t sell them at the market now. Do you know anyone who could use a lot of potatoes?”
So of course, that was just one of the many examples of the answers to George Mueller’s prayers. He was a man who understood the immense value of prayer, and that’s something that James is getting across to his readers at the end of this letter.
I. The Priority of Prayer
So, the priority of prayer, verses 13 through 14. Paul and the other writers of the New Testament epistles, they often ended their letters encouraging their readers to pray, but out of all of them James actually goes into more detail than they did; he actually gives a little mini teaching on prayer, really pressing the point home.
Now, Jonathan Edwards, he pointed out that prayer is the “natural expression of faith.” It’s as natural as our souls as breathing is to our bodies. A true Christian lives by faith in this world, and one who lives by faith will constantly be found praying. It’s just a natural quality of a believer. So here James points out three circumstances of life that should result in prayer, that point to a life of continual prayer.
(1) The first one is we are to pray with petitions when we’re suffering. Verse 13, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.”
Douglas Moo, a commentator on James, points out that here James comes full circle. He started his letter talking about going through trials and asking God for wisdom, and now at the end of the letter he ends talking about praying when suffering comes, when trials are facing us. So, when faced with suffering, our natural inclination is to worry, is to talk to ourselves about it, is to imagine all these worst-case scenarios that can lead us to unbelief. But instead we are to exercise our faith by talking to God about the suffering we’re going through and the trials we’re facing. We’re to pray to God to bring our suffering to him, to bring our trials to him.
(2) Also in verse 13 we find the words to pray with adoration when we’re glad. “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” So we are not only to seek help from God when we suffer, but we are to worship and adore him when we experience the good things that he’s given us.
James already told us that “every good and every perfect gift” comes from God, in chapter 1:17, but we are constantly in danger of forgetting that in our moments of delight. We are more likely to forget God in the good times rather than the bad times, and I think all of us can relate to that. We can think of a season in our lives when we were going through something really difficult, when our prayer really amped up; but usually when things are going great, when we’re feeling good, we, tragically, tend to forget God.
But those gifts, those good things in our lives, they come from God. He’s the giver of every single one of those. This giver, this God, he is infinitely more delightful than the gifts themselves.
C.S. Lewis talked about this a lot. He talked about how you see a sunbeam and you trace it back to the sun, so when receive God’s good gifts in our lives we aren’t just supposed to say, “Thank you, God, that was nice of you,” but, “This gift, this goodness that I’m experiencing, it’s so wonderful. What quality of being is it that has produced this goodness in my life?” That’s adoration; that goes beyond just mere thankfulness. That’s adoring God for who he is, that this beam could create this pleasure for you to enjoy.
(3) We also find that we’re to have others pray for us. We’re to ask for prayer, in verse 14. He says, “Is 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.”
This speaks to the fact that prayer is such an important activity that requires focus that others may need to do it for us if we’re too sick to. Peter touches on this in 1 Peter 4:7. He says, “Therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” It’s hard to be sober-minded and focused when you have a fever.
It’s interesting, you would think that order would be reversed. You would think Peter would say there, “Pray so that you can be self-controlled and sober-minded,” but that’s not what he says. He says, “Be self-controlled and sober-minded - ” why? What’s the end result of this? “For the sake of your prayers.” Prayers have power; they’re able to accomplish things. It’s a sacred thing; it’s a holy thing that requires clearness of mind.
James here mentions anointing with oil. Theologians and commentators over the centuries of the church have debated exactly what this means, but probably what he meant, he was just talking about a physical act of consecration, of showing a special setting-apart of a person for the Lord’s attention, anointing them with oil; this is a special thing. We’re approaching the Creator to do an act of healing here.
In these verses James sounds a lot like Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, where he says, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” So, whatever else God’s will is for our lives, we know one thing: his will for us is to pray, and to pray continually, to pray constantly. That’s his will for us.
II. The Promises of Prayer
This brings us to the promises of prayer in verses 15 and 16. Verse 15, James starts talking about physical healing. He says, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” The original Greek words there for “save” and “raise” also appear in the Gospel accounts of some of the healings that Jesus performed, of him raising people up and saving them, not in the sense of spiritual salvation but saving them from some sickness. So James is most likely referring here to actual, physical healing.
Of course, sickness came into the world through the fall. In Romans 8:20 we read that “all of creation was subjected to futility,” and our physical bodies are not exempt from that. We live in a fallen world that includes sickness.
One of the signs that Christ was the focal point of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God was his unparalleled ability to heal. That’s one of the things that caused his ministry to explode in popularity, is he could heal anything, there was nothing that he seemed unable to heal, no kind of sickness. It was especially astonishing that he could even open the eyes of the blind; that’s specifically pointed out in some of the healing encounters.
So, Jesus set about reversing the effects of sin and the fall in his earthly ministry, and what he was doing, he was foreshadowing the day when God’s new creation would obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God, as the apostle Paul put it. In Matthew 9:35-36 Matthew wrote, “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
So, from Genesis onward God heals sickness. An answer to prayer is a display of his goodness and mercy to his fallen image-bearers. He is a healing God. Physical healing is one of the most tangible of God’s good and perfect gifts, when he sees fit to bestow it, because it’s a foretaste of the new heavens and the new earth.
That brings us to the prayer of faith in verse 15. He says, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” Now, on the surface this verse may appear to promise automatic healing for anyone who prays this prayer of faith. You pray the prayer of faith; okay, anyone who prays that, the person will be healed up; end of story, that’s it. This verse has been taught that way throughout the history of the church, and sometimes, in places, this teaching is alive in our day, for sure.
Now, does this verse actually mean that our requests supercede God’s sovereignty? No, I don’t believe it does. If you remember, last week we looked in chapter 4:13-14. I believe James himself teaches against this because of what he says here. Remember he said, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time, and then vanishes.”
Now, we don’t know what sickness or circumstance it is that God has ordained in our lives; that’s in his hands, it’s not in ours. Most people who die, it’s from some sort of sickness, that their bodies are too weak to fight in their old age. So, praying in faith in James can’t mean just hyped-up wishful thinking, nor can it mean manipulating God. I think what he’s zeroing in on is that there’s a correct way to pray, implying that there are incorrect ways to pray.
I love what A.W. Tozer said about this topic. A.W. Tozer said, “Prayer is not a surefire protection against error, for the reason that there are many kinds of prayer, and some of them are worse than useless. The prophets of Baal leapt upon the altar in a frenzy of prayer, but their cries went unregarded, because they prayed to a god that did not exist. The God the Pharisees prayed to did exist, but he refused to listen to them because of their self-righteousness and pride. From them we may well learn a profitable lesson in reverse.”
So, we aren’t simply to pray, but to pray in faith. We aren’t just to anoint the sick, but to anoint them in the name of the Lord. This is an important decision to make, because prayer can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people in our society. Our society is surprisingly spiritual, but unfortunately it’s not spiritual in the gospel way, in the way according to the Scriptures, in the only way that leads to salvation. So people maybe using the word “prayer” think that they’re actually praying when they’re really not.
When James stressed the need to pray in faith, he wants us to pray, first and foremost, trusting in the person of God, who Jesus taught us is a loving Father who delights to bless his children according to his perfect, all-wise will for all those who come to him through Jesus. To pray in faith is to pray seeking his will, trusting that he is good and will do what’s best, just as Jesus modeled for us in his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. Of course, to pray in his name also has this idea of praying on behalf of his authority, that we have a right to request his power to be unleashed in accordance with his wise will and what he wants to see accomplished in the world.
Of course, I think it’s wrong to insist that it’s never God’s will for a Christian to suffer with sickness. That’s actually a form of, as some theologians have put it, “over-realized eschatology.” Eschatology is just a fancy theological word that means “last things,” things of the end time. What that view does is it reaches into the future, new creation, when God’s people are fully glorified, they have their resurrection bodies, and it tries to pull our glorified bodies back into the present, ignoring the fact that God often purposefully uses suffering in our lives to further our sanctification, which isn’t finished yet.
I mean, we have clear examples of this in Scripture. The apostle Paul, of course, had the thorn in the flesh. He specifically asked God three times to remove it. He was suffering, God could do it, Paul had faith, he wanted it removed; but God did not do it, for God was using it as a means to sanctification in the life of Paul.
God does that with suffering in our lives. However, that doesn’t mean we should go too far the other way and not pray about it, and not ask God to work. It honors God when we ask him to heal us when we’re sick or when those in our lives are sick. He may want to demonstrate his mercy and healing power by answering that prayer for healing. As James put it earlier in his letter, “You do not have because you do not ask.” So let’s ask God for healing.
James also touches on the topic of forgiveness of sins in 15 and 16. “And if he has committed sins he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” Now, there’s a balance, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, regarding this relationship between sin and sickness. Both affirm that sickness may be the result of sin, but not necessarily so.
In John 9 there’s an example of this. The disciples are kind of acting like Job’s friends, and they assume that there’s too close of a relationship between sin and sickness in the case of a man born blind, and Christ corrected them. He said, “In this specific instance, there was not that connection. This man wasn’t blind because of sin, but that God may be glorified in his life.”
However, we find other instances in Scripture when sickness actually is a result of sin. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul says that some members of the church in Corinth were sick and some had even died due to their sinful behavior. So, in the course of seeking healing, believers should be humbly confessing their sins as well, because it is possible that sin is a factor in that sickness.
However, that “if” that James has in verse 15 shows that he did not assume that was always the case. If sin has been the cause of sickness it will be forgiven if it is confessed in prayer along with other believers. So James has this beautiful picture of this Christian community of believers coming together, seeking forgiveness from the Lord, seeking healing from the Lord, and constantly bringing their needs to him in prayer.
III. The Power of Prayer
This brings us to the power of prayer in verses 16 through 18. He touches on the fact that Elijah had a nature like ours. James wrote, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”
Prayer is the birthright of every Christian, every person who is righteous through being forgiven by the Lord. Elijah, of course, was one of the most well-regarded figures in the Old Testament. He was not only a fiery prophet speaking the word of the Lord to the evil king Ahab, but he performed many miracles as well, not to mention the way he left this earth, being translated directly into heaven. So he loomed very big in the minds of first-century Jews, and this is seen, of course, in the gospel accounts. People were thinking Jesus was Elijah or John the Baptist was Elijah. You know, he was a big deal to them.
James is pointing out that our spiritual heroes, even the ones at the very peak, the very top, they have more in common with us than we usually think. Elijah wasn’t superhuman, he was just a man, and at one point he was even so depressed that he asked the Lord to take his life. Barnabas and Paul, they used the same Greek word about like nature when they tried to stop men in Lystra from worshipping them as Zeus and Hermes.
If God could work through Elijah’s prayers, he can work through ours. It’s because it’s not Elijah that made the prayer special; it was the God he was praying to, that he had access to, that he had faith in. That’s where the power came from.
This room is full of incredible potential, all of the believers here, all of the brothers and sisters in Christ that are gathered here. There’s so much potential here because each one of us, if we’re a believer, if we trust in Christ for our salvation, we have access to the same power source that Elijah had. Prayer changes things. God sovereignly chooses to work through the prayers of his people. God’s still in control, he’s still guiding this story, he’s still the one, he’s still the author of it all. He’s still the one in control, but one of the means he uses to accomplish his work in the world, his power, his miracles in the world, one of those means is the prayers of his people. That makes us want to be a part of it.
James is saying here [that] God used the prayers of one man to change the weather patterns of a nation for three-and-a-half years. Prayer stopped the rain, and then prayer started it again, because Elijah was talking with the maker of everything.
We see another of one of the many examples of the power of prayer in the New Testament, in the book of Luke. We find that prayer was actually instrumental in the conception of John the Baptist. In Luke 1:13 an angel appears to John’s father, Zechariah. And the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”
Now, we find out earlier in the narrative that Elizabeth was barren. She was actually physically incapable of conceiving a child. It was an impossibility; it was a biological impossibility. But Zechariah prayed, and here’s an angel telling him that she will bear a son. The angel’s connecting it to his prayer. He said, “Your prayer has been heard. You prayed for it, God chose to answer it for his glory, for his goodness, for this plan he’s bringing together.”
Now, could an angel come to us with a report of something miraculous God was about to do and say that our prayers helped bring it about? Are we praying for the impossible like Zechariah was? Are we seeking God to do mighty things in our lives and in the lives of people we know and in our church and in our community? The prayers of his people are one of the means God uses to unleash his kingdom into the world.
Of course, we see this all over the place in the book of Acts. There are multiple prayer meetings when God’s people gathered together, asking him to act for his glory. As Brent announced earlier, we do have a monthly prayer meeting; it’s the first Monday of every month from seven to eight. I would just like to encourage you again, would you just prayerfully consider making that a part of your schedule, a part of your routine? I know a lot of us are involved in serving the Lord in many ways, both in the church and in other ministries that we work at. We’re busy, between work and family, and it’s understandable if you can’t make it, but I think it would just bless the Lord so much just to see a roomful of people packed out, crying to him to do what only he can do in our church and in our community. God acts through prayer, and through praying we are able to participate in God’s work.
Elijah also trusted and was seeking out the God who is there. Now, many of us have struggled with prayer at one point in our Christian life, and I think one of the reasons it’s such a struggle is because sometimes it can be very difficult to maintain a sense of the presence of God while we pray.
A.W. Tozer, who I already quoted, was a pastor in the middle of the 20th century. He was in Chicago for many years, and before he died he went up to Canada to pastor a church up there. One of the things he was known for was his keen insight and his wisdom about the topic of prayer and worship.
Someone once told a story in his biography that they had asked Tozer to speak at a conference, as he often was asked to. He was scheduled for a certain number of times to speak, and they asked him if he would be able to add a couple more to the speaking engagement list. He had to explain to them he couldn’t, because he always prayed two hours for every one hour that he preached. He said he simply wouldn’t have enough time. There was no time to do it. He was a man who took prayer seriously. Probably his most well-known work, The Pursuit of God; he wrote the entire first draft in one night of prayer. He was a man that believed God could do amazing things.
He had this to say on the topic of prayer, among many other things he had to say about it. He said, “God is real, men are real, and so is sin, and so are death and hell, towards which sin inevitably leads. The presence of God is not imaginary; neither is prayer the indulgence of a delightful fancy. The objects that engage the praying man’s attention, while not material, are nevertheless completely real, more certainly real, it will at last be admitted, than any earthly object.”
Prayers that recognize God’s presence in the eternal reality of things have a fervency about them, there’s a passion about them. Jonathan Edwards pointed this out in a beautiful sermon he preached on Christ’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. He said we see Christ here; he’s in agony, he’s sweating drops of blood, he’s fervently crying out. He said, “Why this fervency in his prayer?” Why is Christ so fervent in his prayer and we’re so often cold and lifeless?
He said it’s because Christ had a sense of the eternal realities at stake. These are the souls of God’s people that were hanging in the balance, and Christ was agony thinking about having to bear the wrath of God on their behalf, and he was seeking some other way for it to happen besides him bearing the wrath of God, but he was also seeking above that that God’s will would be done. That was part of the fervency; it was the sense of the eternal reality of what was at stake.
We see prayer at work in the life of Jesus in other ways as well. Jesus modeled the kind of prayer life that James exhorts us to have. He praised his Father when he was glad. In Luke 10:21, after the 72 returned from a successful missionary journey, it says, “In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.’” He rejoiced in God, he adored God for who he was. He connected the good gifts that God was giving with the excellency and the worth of the giver.
He also prayed to his Father when he was suffering, Matthew 26:39, in Gethsemane, as we mentioned earlier: “And going a little farther, he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’” He spent much time with his Father in prayer.
The gospel writers note that at times he withdrew by himself to pray. There were instances of him doing this both early in the morning and late at night. This was happening in the midst of his busiest seasons of ministry. There were people crowding, waiting for healing, crowds waiting to hear teaching, and he purposefully set time aside to not do that, but to pray instead.
Jesus came not only to live a righteous life on our behalf, but to show us what human life oriented towards God is supposed to look like, and it’s a life saturated with prayer. Of course, in Gethsemane, as we already mentioned, hours before he would be arrested Jesus took time to pray about a way to avoid an event that he himself predicted must pass. We find this again and again in the gospels. He didn’t simply say, “This is going to happen,” he stressed that it needed to happen, it must happen. This was the apex. This was why the Son of Man came into the world.
Now, why did he do that? He was living the way humans were meant to live, the way that the psalmists show us. He brought his concerns and his emotions to his heavenly Father, the only one who could ultimately do anything about the situation. He didn’t just say with cold logic, “God is sovereign, he sent me here to do this, it’s going to happen this way. I’m in agony and suffering, but there’s no point in praying about this, because I know what’s going to happen and it must happen anyway,” but he poured out his heart to his father in prayer. We weren’t designed to rely on our own resources, but to walk and talk with our Creator in the cool of the day.
Jesus trusted God when the answer to prayer wasn’t what he wanted. We are, of course, often disappointed when our prayers aren’t answered the way we think they should be. We’re often tempted to give in to unbelief, thinking our prayers aren’t going to change things anyway, so why bother? In other words, what happens when we pray and the cart of potatoes doesn’t show up? How are we supposed to deal with that? How are we supposed to handle that?
In Gethsemane, Jesus poured out his request to God, but obediently submitted himself to his Father’s will, trusting that God would work for his glory. Remember, that was one of Jesus’s petitions. He actually asked that his will would be done; in the midst of his request, he was actively asking for it, just like he taught us to ask in the Lord’s prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” This wasn’t just a permissive, “We’d like your will to be done,” this is an actual asking. “God, your will be done! You do your will in this situation.”
As someone once said, “God never does nothing in response to the prayers of his people. He is always doing something, even when his answers don’t look the way that we want them to look.”
This is one of the difficulties with prayer. Biblical prayer, the way we find it in the Psalms, the way James is talking about it, the way Jesus modeled it - true biblical prayer is difficult because it’s so deeply relational. It’s us and God. God wants us to grow as we hold this tension between submitting our requests to him and belief that he has the power to bring them to pass and also trusting his goodness when we don’t see things change and to keep seeking him in prayer anyway. It’s a relationship where Jesus himself is there, by our side, putting his arm around us, because he knows what that feels like. He went through Gethsemane, and he knows what it feels like when we pray and things don’t look like the way we think they should or on the time-table that we think they should. He emotionally knows what that’s like, and he’s there for us to offer sympathy and grace and strength.
Jesus, of course, opened the way to communication with his father for us. He want all the way and gave his life on an ugly Roman cross to grant us the privilege of having access to God’s presence in prayer, the privilege that was foreshadowed by the blood of bulls and goats. Hebrews 10:19-20 says, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh…” He gave up his flesh to be torn and his soul to be crushed in order to give us a way into the presence of God, and we enter into that presence when we pray. It’s the privilege he gave to us.
We can’t trust God as our Father in heaven, of course, unless we’re his child by having faith in Jesus. As Christ himself said, we must be born again. So there’s a beginning to that relationship before it can be continued. So I want to ask, if there’s anyone in this room who’s not a believer, will you trust Christ today? Will you put your faith in him and begin that relationship, begin that life of prayer? You can turn from your sins and trust him, and start that today.
Now, briefly in closing, I just want to touch on some practical helps for prayer, because it is a difficult thing to work into our daily schedule, especially in this day and age with all of the distractions we have with the way technology is, the way it is. This is not new. I was just reading in a sermon of Jonathan Edwards the other day, and he was talking about the many distractions people faced in the 1700s.
So, we know that prayer is powerful. That’s why we have an enemy that tries to get us to spend our time on a thousand things but prayer. Prayer is powerful and brings great destruction to his work, much more than we realize. We just don’t have a sense of the spiritual realm and what’s going on behind the scenes so often. So here are some brief suggestions.
(1) One, you may want to consider actually scheduling a time in your day for prayer. Now, I’m the type of believer that I’m just naturally inclined to study, to read God’s word, study God’s word, read theology, study theology, and worship him. I love to adore the Lord and just praise him and worship him and sense his presence, but I was challenged by a book I read recently, when I examined my prayer life and saw how little time I spent actually bringing requests to God and petitions to him, asking him to actually change things. I spent more time worrying about those things than praying about them. So this book challenged me to actually schedule a daily time for bringing petitions to the Lord, and I did that, and it’s made a big difference in my prayer life.
The more consistent and focused those scheduled times of prayer that we have, I think the easier it becomes to pray throughout the day in all circumstances, as James challenges us to do. When we really go in deep with the Lord for a focused period of time, it just brings about this atmosphere of prayer.
Wayne Grudem, a Christian scholar, wrote on the front page of his prayer journal, “This is not wasted time.” Maybe you want to consider putting an alarm on your phone that says that for your time of prayer or something.
(2) Also, pray the Scriptures. That book I was talking about earlier that challenged me was called Praying with Paul by Don Carson, and all he really does in the book is take some of the prayers of Paul, really digs into them deeply, and shows the logic of Paul’s prayers and what he was asking for. It was really eye-opening to see that, more often than not, Paul wasn’t praying for people’s circumstances to change, but he was praying for the spiritual formation of the believers that he knew and for his own spiritual formation. We need to be shaped by God’s word, for his word to teach us how to pray.
(3) Another thing that you may find helpful is to keep a list of requests. What some people is they’ll actually do two pages, and on one side they’ll do a list of request and on the other side they’ll do a list of answers. That’s really great for encouraging faith, because so often I think what happens in our lives is we pray for things and we forget we pray about them; God answers them, and we don’t even realize it. So God’s working in our midst, but we don’t even have our eyes open to see so. It may be helpful to do that, to actually start keeping a list of requests.
(4) Another is an old piece of advice that comes through church history; I think it may have originated with the Puritans, but that is pray until you pray. Our technology has conditioned us to have very short attention spans, and sometimes we just need to wait until our spirits are engaging with the Lord and we sense his presence. So sometimes you just need to wait there awhile and just wait and just keep praying until you’re actually praying.
(5) Another piece of advice is remember what makes your prayers acceptable to God. This was something helpful that I got from that book by Carson. Sometimes even after waiting we aren’t able to sense God’s presence and our prayers just feel like a chore. I mean, that still happens in my life often. You know, I leave my time in prayer and I’m like, “I just never really felt like I connected with the Lord’s presence, and that was just discouraging. Why didn’t it happen?”
But Scripture calls us to be faithful in prayer, as in, keep doing it and not give up on it. We need to remember that our emotional state isn’t ultimately what makes prayer effective. Don Carson wrote, “Are we not casting a terrible slur on the cross when we act as if the usefulness or acceptability of our prayers turns on whether we feel full or dry?” That’s what it depends on, but it’s the blood of Christ that gives us access into that throne room and effectiveness for the things we’re praying about.
Revelation 5:8, when John has his apocalyptic unveiling of the spiritual realm and what’s going on in heaven and all these visions about the end times, he wrote, “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lam, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” May those golden bowls be filled to overflowing as we continually bring our needs and our praises, through Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to our Father who is in heaven.
Lord, we are challenged by your word this morning to pray wisely, to pray often. Lord, I ask for your help right now, that these truths we’ve looked at, that you would show us how we could apply these specifically to our lives, that we would be people of prayer and that Redeemer Church would be known as a house of prayer, that that would be one of our distinctives, that we are a people that pray, that seek your face for you to do what only you can do, Lord.
Lord, we’re so thankful we even have access into your presence to pray, and we’re so thankful, Jesus, for what you did in Gethsemane. All this we ask in your name, Amen.