In one of his sermons, Dr. Howard Hendricks tells the story of a drought in Texas. Things got so bad that someone suggested holding a day of prayer asking God to send rain. The editorial pages in the newspapers had letters and columns where people asked incredulously, “My God, has it come to that?”
In many cases, prayer is viewed as “the last resort.” When we face challenging situations, our typical response is to work hard, try our best, search the internet, ask friends for help, whine and complain, try again, and if all else fails … pray.
In contrast, James 5:13-20 teaches us that no matter what life brings our way, don’t forget to pray.
- We are to pray when we are down (13a). When we go through difficult seasons of life, we are tempted to complain (9) or swear (12). Instead, we are to pray.
- We are to pray when we are up (13b). When we go through positive seasons of life, we are tempted to forget about God. Instead, we are to pray.
- We are to pray when we are sick and discouraged (14-15). During times of weakness—physical, spiritual, and/or emotional—we should ask the elders of the church to pray for us.
- We are to pray for each other (16). When we sin, we tend to isolate ourselves from others. Instead, we are to confess our sin and ask others to pray for us.
- We are to pray for those who wander away from the truth (19-20). Any believer can stumble and stray from the truth. We need to pray for restoration and renewal, and help to bring it about.
All of life is to be bathed in prayer.
Sometimes, we have the idea that we have to be a Super Christian in order to pray. James points out that “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours and he prayed …” (17). The emphasis is not on Elijah being a prophet. The emphasis is on the fact that Elijah prayed. Instead of merely talking about prayer, he prayed. Average people can be prayer warriors. Ordinary people can have powerful prayer lives.
Using Elijah as an example, James points out that there are three elements which contribute to a powerful prayer life: purity, passion, and persistence.
- Purity: Verse 16 says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” If we want to see results in prayer, we need to confess our sins and make sure we are right with God.
- Passion: In describing Elijah’s practice, verse 17 says, “he prayed fervently.” Literally, it says “he prayed with prayer.” It is a Hebrew idiom which stresses intensity. He didn’t just pray, he REALLY prayed.
- Persistence: Elijah prayed for three and a half years that it would not rain. When he prayed for rain, he prayed at least seven times before the first drop fell. He didn’t pray once and call it good. He prayed, and prayed, and prayed, and . . .
These principles are ones you cannot overthink. They are pretty basic. And yet, the promise of Scripture is that if we pray about everything, if we make sure our lives are pure, if we pray and keep on praying, we can see results. If we practice these principles, we can have a powerful prayer life. A basic formula for effective prayer is this—Faithful Prayer + God’s Power = Great Results.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on October 2, 2016. It is part of a series on Prayer: Moving Heaven for Earth. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.