“Pray for one another..”
James 4:1-3, 5:13-20
Today’s text comes from the lectionary reading for today, and it is about prayer. Last week, we talked about delighting in and meditating on God’s words, and those people who delight in and meditate on God’s words are likened to the tree transplanted from an arid, or desert area to the area by the streams of water. Those people who take delight in and meditating on God’s words are the ones who left from walking, standing and sitting in the ways of sinners living by the principles of the world, to walking, standing and sitting in the way of God living by the principles of God. If we do not take delight in and meditating on God’s words, that means we walk, stand and sit in the ways of sinners. There is no such thing as in between or a neutral zone in our lives; it is either or. We make decisions and act based on the principles we live by. Which principles do we live by, what informs us when we make decisions and behave is the question, therefore.
Do we resist evils by making the word of God as our living principles? Or do we live as other people in the world live? Do we struggle to go against the current of the world? Or do we go with the flow of the world? Without meditating on God’s words making them as our living principles, without being transplanted by the streams of water, there is no way we can survive since our God is the fountain of living water. Living by the principles of God is like going against the current of the world we are living in. As I mentioned, meditation is more than just a brain activity, passive thinking. Meditation is constant mumbling all day, repeating and preaching the word of God to oneself until the word of God becomes alive within us becoming the living principles in us. When we do that, we can bear fruits in season as the tree planted by the streams of water bear fruits.
When someone tries to steal from us because they do not have things that they need, —-necessary things–, then, instead of accusing them as the thief, and try to guard what is ours from them, we give, we share with them; we bear the fruit of love. When things go wrong with us, instead of questioning God’s goodness, instead of becoming angry or frustrated, we can be joyful knowing that God is in control and believing that God has some purpose in it; we bear the fruit of joy. Early Christians were joyful when they faced persecution. They were joyful that the world hated them because they were children of God. When someone insults and harms us, instead of trying to get even or hold grudges against that person, we can bless, love and pray for that person; we bear fruits of peace. If the word of God becomes our living principles by delighting in and meditating on God’s words, then we bear the fruits of Holy Spirit, –love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self -control (Galatians 5:25-26). When we meditate on God’s words, Christ Himself (Bible is about Jesus the Christ, his plan of salvation), we become Christ-like rooted in his suffering, sacrifice, humility, his endless love, and his patience. When the word of God becomes our living principles, we become righteous in Christ; we can be in the presence of God. The reason I am on and on with Psalm 1, expanding on the last week’s sermon is that meditation on the word of God is closely related to prayer, –our sermon topic today. As I mentioned last week, true prayer goes hand in hand with meditation, as meditation informs and inspires our prayers. Prayer without meditation on the word of God is at best empty, vain talk and, at worst, making God as Genie of “Arabian nights”, making a servant out of God.
Today’s text talks about prayers that are not being answered. James 4:3 “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures”. From this, we can see that our prayers are not being answered if we ask with wrong motives apart from God’s good purpose and will. If we meditate on God’s word, we get to know God and God’s character, therefore, we will not ask things that are against God’s holy character. I saw a drama a long time ago, which was based on a true story in which a Lutheran pastor had an affair with a member of his church. He told the woman he was having an affair with, “Pray to God so that your husband will die…” No matter how earnestly one prays, this kind of prayer will not be answered by God. Prayers with wrong motives will not be answered.
Our main text, James 5:13-20, recommends believers to pray always whether we are in trouble or in happiness, in verse 13. “Is anyone of you in trouble, s/he should pray. If anyone is happy, that person also should sing songs of praise”, prayers of thanksgiving. In other words, our lives should be revolved around the throne of God, whether in the night of grief or day of joy. We are to pray without ceasing.
Verse, 14, “Is anyone of you sick? S/he should call the elders of the church to pray over that person…” From this verse, we have to note one very important point that we cannot do away with the community of faith. “Elders of the church” represent the community of faith. Unless one is homebound because of various reasons, one should belong to the community of faith, a local church or some sorts. Because that is what it means to be Christians, regenerated by the blood of Christ. We were separated from God and from one another. That is a sign of fallen sinners. God created us being connected to God and people, but as Adam and Eve sinned, people became estranged from God and from one another, but at our conversion, at our turning toward God, we become reunited with God and with one another, becoming a member of the community of faith caring for one another. Have you ever heard people say, “I am not religious but spiritual”? One can interpret that as, ‘I may not go to church, but I am a believer’. And many people buy into it, including supposedly spiritual leaders of a church. The other day, a student chaplain intern, from a local seminary in Saint Louis, accompanied me visiting patients. At one particular visit, a patient said, “Well, I was born and raised as a Baptist, but I do not go to church anymore, but I believe in God”. To that I exhorted her and encouraged her to go back to church, being reunited with the community of faith. I guess that bothered this seminarian, that I exhorted her to go back to church. He later asked me after we came out of that room, “Don’t you think she is not religious but spiritual? Meaning isn’t that o.k. for her not going to church but believing in God? He who wants to become a pastor even buys into such wordplay, I wonder how many others conveniently excuse themselves neglecting their faith in God not attending church. If we read and meditate on God’s words, no one can say such a thing. God of the Old Testament was God of God’s people, assembly of God. God did not work or spoke apart from the assembly of God’s people. So many regulations we find in Leviticus are individual obligations and duties toward their members in the community. They lived, worked and worshipped as the community. If anyone that does not gather when they supposed to gather in the assembly of God, that person was cut off from the community of faith. What does that tell us? Is there such a thing as “not religious but spiritual” in the faith of God? Is it o.k. not to attend church when we can? Hebrew 10:25, “Let us not neglect to gather together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Lastly, the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective, in verse 16. It gives Elijah as an example of such person whose prayer was powerful and effective. If you want to know more about Elijah, please, read 1 Kings chapters 17 and 18.
Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops. Why Elijah was considered as righteous?
*Elijah was a man who completely dependent on God. After Elijah’s first confrontation with King Ahab, God sent him to the Kerith Brook in hiding. There Elijah sat where there was no food, no provisions, –any human means being stripped away, being completely at the mercy of God, doing his best to walk in obedience to God. God responded to Elijah’s complete obedience with His faithfulness: God sent ravens to bring him food.
*Elijah prayed in faith. Elijah prayed for a drought in the land. Raise the widow’s son from the dead. Call down fire from heaven to consume the offering on Mount Carmel. He asked with incredible faith, believing that God was able. He believed that God was faithful, that He answers prayers. Without fail, God answered those audacious prayers. He poured out His power repeatedly, giving Elijah the opportunity to proclaim God’s greatness.
*Elijah’s prayers pointed the world back to God. Elijah was completely in tune with God. He listened for Yahweh’s voice, and he walked in obedience. He prayed in agreement with what God asked of him. And, his prayers pointed the world back to God.
“O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”
Yes, Elijah called down fire from heaven to consume the water and the sacrifices not for his own glory, but so others would know that Yahweh is God and there is no other God in heaven or earth. Elijah’s prayers were about pointing the world back to God.
*Elijah prayed fervently until he saw the answer. Elijah knew that sometimes an answer to prayer doesn’t come immediately. He knew that we must pray until we see the breakthrough. When he said there will be rain, no sign of rain coming. So Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel and bowed low to the ground and prayed with his face between his knees. Then he said to his servant, “Go and look out toward the sea.” The servant went and looked, then returned to Elijah and said, “I didn’t see anything.” Seven times, –a symbolic number for completion, Elijah told him to go and look. Meaning, he continuously prayed until his prayer was answered.
Elijah was a man who stands before God. “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand…”
The secret of his praying and the character of the man are found in the words, “Before whom I stand.” He was righteous before God, ready to do God’s will, ready to defend God’s honor proclaiming who God is in the face of idolatry. He knew God, being in tune with God. –Almighty God, All-powerful, All-knowing, All-seeing, the author of our lives, the ultimate healer–. His prayer was basically projecting who God is in his prayer! How can we stand before God, being righteous before God, without meditating on God’s words, how can we be covered with Christ’s power without knowing him through the meditating on the scripture???