************ Sermon on James 5:16b ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on June 29, 2003

James 5:13-18
James 5:16b
"The Power of Elijah's Prayer"

One of the most obvious features of the Christian, which sets him or her apart from all other peoples, is the habit of prayer. I remember looking around the cafeteria the first day of public high school. I could spot the Christians right away: they were the ones who bowed their head in prayer before they ate their lunch. I hope, boys and girls, young people too, that you will never be ashamed of praying in public, that you won't stop praying even when everyone else does.

The Christian prays because she knows she has a Father in heaven Who wants and commands His people to come to Him in prayer. This command, this invitation, to prayer holds for all times: in joy and in sorrow, in prosperity and in adversity, in health and in sickness. God invites and commands His people to pray continually.

You can always tell the child of God from the man of the world: the child of God is the one who prays to God everyday. And, the man of the world is he who doesn't bother with prayer or prays only when there is trouble, hardship, and sorrow.

The child of God knows that the blood of Jesus has opened a new and living way for us to the Father. We do not need sacrifices and priests to get to God as the Old Testament people did. The blood of Jesus has opened the doors of heaven. The blood of Jesus has established a direct line between us and God so we get a real live person.
Topic: Prayer
Subtopic: Heard
Index: 2821
Date: 3/2000.101
Title: God's Voice Mail

Have you ever been stuck in what is called "voice-mail hell." You go round-and-round-and-round and never once get a real, live person. Have you ever wondered what it would be like if God decided to install "voice mail?" I imagine praying and hearing something like this:
Thank you for calling My Father's House. Please select one of the following options:
Press 1 for Requests
Press 2 for Thanksgiving
Press 3 for Complaints
Press 4 for All Other Inquiries
I'm sorry, all of our angels are busy helping other sinners right now; however, your prayer is important to us and will be answered in the order it was received, so, please stay on the line.

If you would like to speak to:
God, Press 1
For Jesus, Press 2
For The Holy Spirit, Press 3
If you would like to hear King David sing a Psalm while you are on hold, please Press 4 ...

I The Power of Elijah's Prayer
A The example that James sets before us today is Elijah. Elijah was a man of prayer. He believed, he practiced, he experienced, the power that comes from prayer. And, I need to tell you, great power is available to God's people when they pray. Consider this:
Topic: Prayer
Subtopic: Heard
Index: 2821
Date: 6/2003.101
Title: Moravians

In 1727 the Moravian Community of Herrnhut in Saxony consisted of only 300 souls and was being torn apart by disagreement and bickering. Yet, in the 65 years from 1727 to 1792 this church sent out 300 missionaries to the ends of the earth and was used of the Lord to convert thousands. It is doubtful if any other church has ever taken the missionary mandate as seriously as did the Moravians. They sent out 1 missionary for every 60 members whereas the average in most Protestant churches is 1 missionary for every 5000 members.
What happened to this church? What caused her to come alive and experience such phenomenal growth? What made this church such an evangelizing church?
It was prayer which made the difference in this church! This church discovered the power of prayer. You see, in 1727 the members of this congregation of believers commenced a round-the-clock "prayer watch" that continued nonstop for over a hundred years. On August 27 of that year 24 men and 24 women covenanted to spend 1 hour each day in scheduled prayer. That is when this church came alive.

Underlying this notion of a praying church, of course, is the notion of a listening God. The church can pray all she wants but all the prayer in the world does no good it there is not a listening God Who wants and commands His people to pray.

B In our Scripture lesson James reminds us of the verse we looked at last week as we started our study of Elijah:
(1Ki 17:1) Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word."
Why this drought? Because King Ahab led Israel astray and set up Baal worship. Wickedness and idolatry were so entrenched that only 7000 people in all of Israel remained faithful to the covenant God. As a consequence, no rain fell for 3.5 years. God spoke in judgment to Israel through the sun, the cracking earth, the dry rivers, and the shriveled crops.

What may surprise many people is how the drought came about. James tells us today that the drought was started and ended by Elijah's believing prayer. Elijah prayed to God that there be no rain and there was no rain for 3.5 years. Says James:
(James 5:17) He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.
The drought ended in exactly the same way. This time Elijah prayed for rain.
(1Ki 18:42,45) Elijah went up to the top of Carmel, and he bowed himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees ... the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on ...
He prayed! Elijah evidently believed, practiced, knew, and experienced the power of prayer.

This is not the only time that the power of prayer was evident in Elijah's life. We know also of the contest on Mount Carmel. If you remember, the 450 prophets of Baal prayed to Baal for half a day to send down fire from heaven; then they yelled and screamed and raved and cut themselves for another half a day in order to make Baal send down fire from heaven. "But," says Scripture, "there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention" (1Ki 18:29). Then it was Elijah's turn: three times he had water poured over the offering he had prepared. Then he prayed to God to send down fire.
(1Ki 18:38) Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
It is clear, isn't it, that Elijah was a man of prayer. He believed, he practiced, he knew, he experienced, the tremendous power of prayer.

C James could just as easily have picked some other Old Testament figure to show us the power of prayer. He could have picked Abraham who prayed to God that Sodom and Gomorrah be saved for the sake of 50, then 45, then 40, 30, 20, and finally 10 righteous people (cf Gen 18:16-33)). God agreed to this request. James could have picked Moses who prayed to God to stop the fire that was destroying the camp of Israel (cf Num 11:1,2). And the fire was stopped. He could have picked Samuel who asked the Lord to send thunder and rain at wheat harvest so that the people will know and see the great wickedness they had done in asking for a king (cf 1 Sam 12:16-18). And the Lord sent thunder and rain that day. James could have picked King Hezekiah who asked God to save the people from destruction at the hands of the Assyrians (cf 2 Kings 19:14-19). And that night the angel of the Lord went forth and killed 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians (cf 2 Kings 19:35-37). Or, James could have picked the time that King Hezekiah asked for recovery from an illness that was surely going to kill him (cf 2 Kings 20:1-6). And God granted him 15 extra years of life. James could also have mentioned Daniel. Daniel, and all the rest of Babylon's wise men, stood to lose their heads because King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and wanted his wise men to tell him both the dream and its meaning. Daniel turned to God in prayer (cf Dan 2:17ff) and the dream and its meaning were revealed to him. These Old Testament men all believed and practiced the power of prayer.

D James tells us that as children of God we should always believe and practice the power of prayer. Whatever situation you may be in, whatever may be the circumstances of your life, you are to pray.

"Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray" (vs 13a). Our normal human response when we are in trouble or facing hardship is to grumble and complain to anyone who will listen. James tells us to pray instead of engaging in self-pity. The supreme example is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was in agony, He was wrestling with the forces of evil at the moment of their strongest attack against Him, and His sweat was like great drops of blood falling to the ground. What did He do? He prayed. The greater the struggle the harder He prayed. Prayer does not necessarily mean that pain and hardship is removed; but it most certainly is transformed by prayer into something the Christian can endure and grow from.

Lest we think life is nothing but trouble and prayer James hastens to add that life has its happy moments as well. In those moments it is good to sing praises as well as to pray (vs 13b).

The power of prayer ought to be experienced not only in times of trouble and affliction but also during illness.
(James 5:14-15) Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. (15) And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.

When your body is racked with pain and your mind is unable to concentrate because of the agony, as some of you know first-hand, it is not easy to attend to or to focus on meaningful and coherent prayer. At those times you need the consolation of other Christians. James advises you to call for the elders of the church. The elders, and this would include the minister too, are to be called for because, of all the people in the church, they especially should be gifted in believing prayer. By coming to the actual scene of suffering and by praying within the sight and hearing of the patient, not only is the prayer likely to be more heart-felt and sincere, but for the sick person the prayer becomes more meaningful.

Together with the prayer the elders should, if necessary, says James, also anoint the sick person with oil in the name of the Lord. James does not suggest the use of oil because of magical powers of healing; nor is it to be used on every patient every time. The oil, like the sacraments, is to be used only because it is a visible sign. You see, as surely as the patient can see and feel and smell the oil, so surely he knows prayers are being offered on his behalf before the throne of grace. The oil, then, helps to make the prayer more real and meaningful for the sick.

And, notice, the anointing with oil, like the offering of the prayer, is to be done "in the name of the Lord" (vs 14). This is a reminder that the power of healing rests not in the oil or in the elder or pastor but in the Lord.

If it is the Lord's will, then the prayers of the elders will be used by God to heal the sick person. And, we have the assurance that any healing that results from these prayers is also a sure sign that the sins of the sick person have also been forgiven. As in the gospels, we see that Jesus never heals someone without also forgiving their sins!

Along this line, James tells us that the power of prayer can also be turned to the matter of sin and forgiveness: "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (vs 16). James is not telling us to confess all our sins to any brother or sister of the faith for this, of course, can lead to all sorts of undesirable things. What James means here is that if you are struggling against a sin and you need and want help, pick out a brother or sister of the faith who is gifted in prayer, and ask them to pray on your behalf that you overcome the sin. And, to make the prayer of this person intelligent and meaningful, confess your sin to this person so that he or she can take it to the throne of grace. In this instance the power of prayer is such that, if it is the Lord's will, you will be forgiven and will overcome the sin you are struggling with.

II The Power of Prayer Can Be Ours
A The power of prayer, my brothers and sisters, is so very great. It can shut the heavens and cause a drought. It can send down fire from heaven. It can save a condemned city. It can stop fire. It can defeat an enemy. It can reveal hidden mysteries. It can bring triumph over trouble. It can heal illness. It can lead to forgiveness and the overcoming of sin. Prayer is a mighty, powerful weapon for the child of God. It can accomplish what the world thinks only modern medicine, weapons, techniques, and equipment can do.

Prayer does make a difference. Look at what it did to the Moravian Church. And, it makes the same difference today:
Topic: Prayer
Subtopic: Heard
Index: 2821
Date: 6/2003.101

One church in a small New York town decided to canvass its community in a rather novel way. There were no brochures, newsletters, or tracts. No one pressed a single door bell. All the church did was pray.
Street by street, with a red marker and a map, church members prayed weekly for the people of each of the town's 40 streets. They named no individuals and prayed only that God would touch the lives of those who lived on a particular street.
What happened? People started visiting the church "out of the blue." One Sunday four families came the week after the church had prayed for their street. "I think some of our people were genuinely surprised at the results," reported the pastor. "They supported the canvass, but they were still amazed when visitors began showing up."
After reading about this experiment, a Grand Rapids, Michigan congregation decided to begin praying for a street nearby a short street, only a couple of blocks long. As a result, three families from that street visited the church during the following month. One person has become a member of the church, and another is active in the church's neighborhood Bible study.

B This weapon, this power of prayer, congregation, can be ours, it can belong to every person here. Notice what James says: "Elijah was a man just like us" (vs 17). There was nothing special about Elijah. He wasn't holier than we. He wasn't better than we. He had his ups and downs, his sins and shortcomings, his joys and sorrows. But he also had something that any of us can have: he had faith. That's what Scripture means when it calls him a "righteous man." It didn't make any difference how big or how small his faith was. He had faith, he was righteous, so he could pray for a drought and he could pray for rain and there was drought and there was rain.

"The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." The prayer of any man, woman, or child of faith is powerful and effective.

There is only one question to be answered: do we pray? Do we believe, practice, and experience, the power of prayer?
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