“Prayer Restores Spiritual Health” Part 3 The Motivation to Prayer
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of James 5.13-18 Part 3
James 5. Soon after we began the church, I gave this illustration …
Twelve noon, September 23, 1857. A former businessman turned missionary climbs the stairs to the third story of an old church building in New York City. He entered that room and sat down to wait. He posted the placard outside which read “Prayer Meeting from 12 to 1 o’clock—Stop 5, 10, or 20 minutes, or the whole hour, as your time admits.” It looked like no one had the time.
Jeremiah Lanphier for three months had been visiting throughout the city inviting people to the eighty-eight-year-old Old Dutch North Church on Fulton Street. Churches had been following on hard times during those days. Families were moving away and neighborhoods were packed with immigrants and laborers. While many other churches had gone under, the trustees of old Dutch North church decided to hire a lay missionary for the purpose of door-to-door visitation. For a mere $1,000 a year, Lanphier went door knocking. As you can imagine during times of material prosperity such as this, his efforts seemed fruitless and he would often spread out his sorrows before the Lord. One day the thought occurred to him that businessmen might like to have a short word of prayer once a week during the noon hour while their offices were closed.
And so the day of the first meeting came and he was the only one there. But deciding to wait, he waited 10 min. and 10 more minutes and then at 12:30, one man came in and another followed him until there were six men there who had just a few minutes of prayer before closing. There was no clear anointing of God or outpouring of the Spirit in any way, but they did decide to meet the next week.
Church historians look back on this seemingly insignificant prayer meeting and calculate that from this prayer meeting began a great revival that would sweep approximately 1,000,000 people into the kingdom of God. You see by the 1840s, the United States was committed to a materialistic lifestyle and had no time for prayer to God or his word. Gold was discovered in California; railroads were being built, slavery was a big issue; people were amassing their fortunes and faith diminished.
Lanphier’s second prayer meeting housed 20 people and the next Wednesday saw 40. The decision was made for daily prayer meetings. And just a couple of weeks into these regular prayer meetings, Wednesday, October 14, the United States suffered its worst financial panic in its history. Banks closed down, men were without work, families were going hungry. One begins to wonder about the sovereignty of God in light of man’s commitment to materialism and God’s passion for his own glory in the heart of man. These Fulton Street prayer meetings as they were called began to take over that whole church building with crowds of more than 3,000. Lawyers and physicians, merchants and clerks, bankers and brokers, manufacturers and mechanics, and messenger boys —all came.
This impulse for prayer flashed across the nation. A few weeks later on November 5, a New York newspaper carried the story of a revival in Hamilton, Ont., Canada, in which 300 to 400 people were converted over a few days. Accounts of local revivals began to appear in religious papers.
There was a serious meeting in Pittsburgh of Presbyterians and on the docket for consideration was the necessity of revival. A similar meeting happened in Cincinnati.
And within six months there were 10,000 businessmen out of a population of 800,000 that were gathering daily in New York City for prayer. Today, that would be like 15,000 people meeting in Edmonton for prayer. By January 20 other prayer meetings had started up and began to spread to other cities. Newspapers began to send out reporters to cover all the events. People could read the sections of the newspaper called “the progress of the revival.”
One story recounted a time when a man wandered into one of those Fulton Street prayer meetings and intended to murder a woman and then commit suicide. He listened as someone was delivering a fervent exhortation and urging repentance upon the people. Suddenly the would-be murderer startled everyone by crying out, “Oh! What shall I do to be saved!”
Just then another sinner arose, and with tears streaming down his cheeks asked the meeting to sing the hymn, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me.” At the conclusion of the service both men trusted Christ.
The Fulton Street Revival of 1857-58 was the last great national revival in the US. And it came during a time of great materialism and great economic hardship… just like our times? Could God do this again? Doesn’t this motivate you to prayer?
That’s James’ point this morning, to motivate us common folk to prayer.
James 5:13–18 13 Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.
James’ point is that prayer is powerful; it’s effective; it works! A few businessmen of New York discovered it to be so…and thus, so did millions of people!
This is James’s final section of his convicting letter. This passage is about how prayer restores spiritual health. Verse 14…is anyone among you … weak, as that word is translated primarily? And they would be spiritually weak after reading James’ letter and because of all the suffering from persecution. What should the spiritually weak do? Call for the spiritually strong, the elders. And they will anoint him with oil, or as we saw, this is a cultural practice of rubbing with oil like on a hot day, not a ceremonial anointing. The idea we took from this was refreshment and taking care of him, meeting his needs.
And the prayer v. 15 will restore the one who is … weary as Heb. 12 translates the word … and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.
And so the promise is a promise; it’s not talking about physical sickness. Those who understand it that way may anoint someone with oil and if they are not healed, they have to turn the promise into a maybe. But it reads like it’s promise … the prayer of faith, nothing super saint like … that prayer will restore the one who is weary, healing is promised! But it’s spiritual healing.
Clearly, it’s spiritual. The words are understood that way in the NT …plus, otherwise you have a serious interpretation problem.
And so the prayer James has in mind is a prayer for spiritual healing of those who are spiritual weak and weary. Now, the end of verse 16 to 18 is our text …end of verse 16 says … The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
And verses 17-18 is a story that gives us a picture of that truth. Verse 16 at the end …
“The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” is very complicated to translate. The Niv is more simple … the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
But there is an additional word in the Greek … “The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful and effective.” Very or “much” is in the original.
But these verses are a motivation to pray. Just like the Fulton street prayer meetings, the prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.
!!!! Be motivated to pray because James says here, the prayer of the righteous is powerful.
The Righteous Prayer is Powerful: Us (v. 16b)
The Prayer (word for ‘prayer’)
EXP: The word for prayer at the end of verse 16 means an urgent request. This is why the King James and new King James translates this word “fervent prayer.” This is an urgent request.
ILL: This word is used in Luke 1 verse 13 for Zacharias’ prayer. Zacharias and Elizabeth had no children. They were both righteous in the sight of God. And as he was performing his priestly duties in the temple, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.” This is John the Baptist.
Zacharias had made urgent requests to God. And this is when they are old and past the age of child bearing. No doubt, Zacharias had urgently requested that the Lord give them a child. And the Lord answered that urgent prayer.
APP: When a brother or sister in Christ is weak spiritually and they call upon someone who is strong spiritually, there is an urgent need! This brother or sister is in grave danger spiritually; they need refreshed, they need encouraged, they need great help!
The spiritually strong can offer that urgent request … “O gracious Father! Help now” Urgent prayer!
Do you know what it is to pray urgently? Work on urgent, fervent praying for urgent requests.
TRANS: So the prayer prayed is an urgent request. But who is the pray-er, the one who prays?
The Pray-er (righteous person)
EXP: The one praying is a righteous person. A righteous persons urgent prayers are very powerful and effective. Notice he doesn’t say the prayer of the super saint…he doesn’t say the prayer of the spiritual elite, he simply says the prayer of a righteous person.
Who is this? It’s simply the saved person walking with God. Saved people walking with God … their urgent prayers for spiritually sick people are powerful and effective.
If you understand that Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, has died for your sin and that he was raised from the dead…and you have placed your faith in Him and have turned from your sin, repented, and God has saved you, you have been declared righteous in God’s sight. You have been justified. All our sins placed on Jesus and all his righteousness placed on us. And God now sees you as he sees His Son. You are positionally righteous.
Hindrances to Prayer
But a lack of practical righteous hinders prayer. I have 4 … 4 hindrances to prayer.
1. Secret sins hinder prayer Psalm 66:18 says that “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” Secret sins. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful and effective. So what do you do? You keep short accounts with God.
If you sin, confess that sin right away. Don’t wait.
2. Not maintaining loving family relationships hinders prayer. 1 Peter 3:7 You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
3. Failure to receive God’s truth in Scripture hinders prayer: Proverbs 28:9 9 He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” Read your Bible and receive God’s truth!
4. A failure to forgive others: Mark 11:25–26 25 Jesus says .. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. 26 “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”
ILL: John Knox was a small, frail but fiercely bearded man, a Presbyterian Scottish pastor and writer in the 1500s during the reformation. He is famed for his fervent prayers.
During the sixteenth-century Scottish Reformation, Knox’s ministry of prayer was so well known that the Roman Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, is rumured to have said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.”
Why was she so shaken? It was because Knox believed that God worked through prayer. Knox made urgent requests before the throne of grace just like you are called upon to do.
Author Larry Christenson attests to this in his book The Christian Family. As a matter of fact, Christenson almost goes so far as to attribute the whole reformation of Scotland to Knox’s prayers. He writes,
“[Knox] prayed with such power that all Scotland was awakened. ‘Lord, Give me Scotland or I’ll die!’ he cried.
Just a small, frail man with a fierce beard taking God at His word and shaking the world.
This motivates me to urgent prayer…especially when I’m praying for someone who’s come to me with some spiritual weakness.
TRANS: We saw the prayer prayed is an urgent request…the one praying is a righteous person, one who is born again and walking with God….and now the power of that prayer…
The Power (powerful and effective)
EXP: “The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful and effective.” James doesn’t just say it’s effective, that it can accomplish a lot. An urgent request from someone saved and walking with God can do that. It works!
But it’s also powerful. That’s a synonym of effective; powerful, effective, it accomplishes something. It works!
And this is all very much the case. Effective…powerful… very powerful and effective.
ILL/APP: Countless times have I seen this in action. Someone is spiritually weak in our assembly and they call upon me and we meet together and I, by God’s grace, speak refreshingly to them and we pray. I can see the healing on their face. Very exciting!
TRANS: But all it takes is a saved person walking with God, keeping short accounts with God, who makes an urgent request before God. And in that context, an urgent request for spiritual healing of a willing brother is promised.
“But now, James, we want an example of this.” Ok…how about the most storied prophet the world has every seen! Elijah…
The Righteous Prayer is Powerful: Elijah (vv. 17-18)
James 5:17–18 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.
Background: Using Elijah as an illustration really got the attention of James’ Hebrew readers. Elijah was a 9th century BC prophet of Israel. His ministry is recorded in 1st and 2nd Kings. You could turn to 1 Kings 17:1 …
Elijah praying that it wouldn’t rain and it didn’t, raising the widow of Zarephath’s son from the dead, multiplying the bowl of flour and jar of oil, miraculously fed by ravens and angels, calling down fire from heaven, massacred the false prophets of Baal, praying it would rain and it does, fleeing for his life from wicked Jezebel, speaking with God at Mount Horeb, predicting Ahab’s and Jezebel’s gruesome deaths, parting the Jordan river, and taken up into heaven on a chariot of fire!
And the story James uses to illustrate his point is the story about how Elijah prayed earnestly that it would not rain and it didn’t rain for three and half years. Then he prayed and it rained.
Some of us wish we had an Elijah in our midst, seeing how dry Alberta is this year.
And by the way, if this passage was really discussing physical healing, wouldn’t it had made more sense to use the story of the raising from the dead of the widow’s son in 1 Kings 17:22? That would have been a perfect illustration if this is discussing praying for physical healing. But instead, James uses the story about praying for rain. Why? 1 Kings has the answer as to why … 1 Kings 17:1…
1 Kings 17:1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”
And then Elijah flees for his life at the command of God.
And then in 1 Kings 18, [you could turn there if you want as I summarize the story] 1 Kings 18 …there is the battle on Mount Carmel between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. They had a contest as to who was God, the LORD or Baal. In 1 Ki. 18:24, whoever’s god throws down fire from the sky and consumes the sacrifice on the altar, he is God.
Verse 26, all morning the prophets of Baal prayed, “O Baal answer us.” They leaped and howled jump up and down on the altar they made and even cut themselves… And verse 27 Elijah, with a holy mockery he mocks them … saying … “maybe he’s busy, or stepped out for a moment, or on a trip…or perhaps he’s just asleep and needs to be awakened.”
But no one answered. It’s Elijah’s turn now.
After the sacrifice is ready and on the altar, and drenched with 4 buckets of water 3 times…so much that water flowed around the altar and filled up the trench….after that, in the evening, Elijah offers just 34 words of prayer and then [whoom!] fire falls from the sky and utterly consumes the sacrifice, the altar itself, the dust, and even the water around the altar in the trench.
The people watching the religious battle cry out, “The LORD He is God!” And the prophets of Baal were seized and executed according the to the law of Moses.
And immediately after that verse 41, Elijah’s rain prophesy is fulfilled. “Eat and drink,” Elijah says to Ahab “For there is the sound of the roar of a heavy shower.”
Elijah goes to the top of Mount Caramel and he crouches down to the earth and put his face between his knees. He is praying. 1 Kings 18:43 He said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” So he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go back” seven times.
1 Kings 18:44–45 44 It came about at the seventh time, that he said, “Behold, a cloud as small as a man’s hand is coming up from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, so that the heavy shower does not stop you.’ ” 45 In a little while the sky grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy shower.
What’s James’ point? Well, why was there a drought in the first place? Idolatry had filled the land. When did it stop? After the idolatry was … ah .. shall we say, “taken care of.”
Sin was annihilated in the land leading to answered prayer. That’s James’ point for us. Sin must be eradicated in our lives for our prayers to be very powerful and effective. To have an effective prayer life, get idolatry out of your life.
Why is heaven brass to you? Why are you so far from God? Why are people not spiritually refreshed around you? One likely reason is that there is idolatry in your life.
Ezekiel 14:3 3 “Son of man,” [says the LORD,] “these men have set up their idols in their hearts and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity. Should I be consulted by them at all?” Shall I even let them pray to Me?
Back to James 5:17
Elijah was made of the same stuff as us. He was a sinner. [FUNNY] He put on his long flowing robe with both legs just like anybody else. James says, “he is of the same nature as us.” He was no one special of himself, just made special by God himself.
Effective praying that heals spiritual sickness is not out of reach for anybody.
By the way, if this is talking about physical healing, the vast majority of the time when this is applied that way, healing doesn’t happen. And then it would seem like you need a super saint to get that healing to happen! But James’ point is, Elijah was the same nature as we are. It doesn’t take a super saint. So if this talking about physical healing, it shouldn’t take super saint for someone to be physically healed.
That’s why the spiritual view on this is much better. It doesn’t take a super saint to be a conduit of spiritual healing from God. It merely takes being saved walking with God confessing sin…and praying urgent prayers.
Pray earnestly like Elijah.
It says in verse 17 that Elijah prayed earnestly. Literally he prayed with prayer. This isn’t talking about working up some emotion and prayer. Like trying to cry in prayer … so that God will hear you. You can’t work this up.
To pray with prayer or to pray earnestly simply means to mean business with God.
When Elijah prayed, he crouched down to the earth and put his head between his knees. A humble position before God … that posture showed that he meant business with God … and he had his servant go back and check seven times to see if God answered yet.
Elijah meant business with God. We don’t know if he cried or what his emotion was, but he certainly wasn’t like the prophets of Baal who screamed and cried out in order to get Baal to hear them. Elijah knew he already had God’s ear and he trusted God. God doesn’t sit back like a Baal god and say, “Well, if you would have been more emotional, I would have answered you.” No, it’s simply meaning business with God … praying with prayer. You have to come to God in prayer … for the purpose doing business with Him to trust Him and take Him at His word.
ILL: Thomas Brooks, said, “Cold prayers are as arrows without heads, as swords without edges, as birds without wings; they pierce not, they cut not, they fly not up to heaven. Cold prayers always freeze before they reach heaven.”
Talk to him like He’s a person, because He is. He’s perfect and strong, and He cares enough for you.
Want to be a fountain of spiritual refreshment and healing? Do you want your prayers to be powerful and effective?
1. Trust Christ for salvation
2. Walk with him. Keep short accounts with God; confess your sin.
3. Pray urgent requests and mean business with God.
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of James 5.13-18 Part 3
As a result of this study, I’ve begun reading A Praying Life by Paul Miller. It looks to be promising; it’s got a 4.8 stars out of 5 after 499 reviews, so it must be pretty good. What drew me to it was how practical it is.
He writes… “Ask him. Tell him what you want. Get dirty. Write out your prayer requests; don’t mindlessly drift through life on the American narcotic of busyness. If you try to seize the day, the day will eventually break you. Seize the corner of his garment and don’t let go until he blesses you.”
Isaiah 62:6 On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; All day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the LORD, take no rest for yourselves; 7 And give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
Number 659. We’ve sang this tune before to different words. The author of the text is the same author as There is a fountain, filled with blood, William Cowper.
I find the text quite striking in a number of ways; stanza 5 is especially striking. Do think of the words. Sing it as an exhortation to one another.
http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/give-me-scotland-or-i-die/; http://burtpresbyteran.blogspot.ca/2009/12/john-knox-prayer-warrior-for-people-of.html ↑