Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Prayer's Focus


Last week was national day of prayer (week), and I spent some time not only pondering about prayer, but actually doing more of it.  I believe that this is an area of our lives that can always bear some improving.  It is with this thought in mind that I offer the following thoughts.  

A faithful, healthy prayer life is the challenge of James (5:13-18), the brother of Jesus. He tells his readers at the end of his letter that there are a number of times and places when we need to pray. He says that when we are suffering, we need to pray (v. 13). He is writing to some people who are facing significant persecution for their faith…and that they have the ability to endure hardship patiently if they call upon the Lord. The Psalmist, Asaph recognizes this as he says concerning the Lord – “call upon me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor me” (Psalms 50:12).

When people are ill, they need to pray, as restoration can come through a prayer of faith (vv. 14-15). James says that those who are sick should call upon the elders and have them come pray. In this context, they pour oil upon the one who is ill, associating it with the healing. Many scholars believe that this was medicinal…and so, there may be some defined purpose in using it. As to whether this was the only purpose and time for it being used, it is hard to say. What we can come to understand is an important recognition -- the Lord is the Great Healer, and not man. There are some who might call attention to the act of healing, when in actuality, it is the fact of healing that matters.  If it does or does not take place is in the hands of the Lord. The prayer offered in faith can affect this, which is amazing in and of itself. The Lord can raise up the one who is ill as the result of such a prayer. Also, sinners can be forgiven through the prayer of faith. The assumption is that man may become sick as the result of sin. This can be the case, as guilt and other negative emotions can wear people down physically, mentally, emotionally in such a way that they are more susceptible to becoming ill. Everyone can and does sin…and yet, our sins can be and are forgiven if we pray and ask for forgiveness. The Apostle John tells us this in his letter (1 John 1:9).

James provides an example of someone who was faithful in prayer. Elijah is an example of perseverance in prayer. He was no superman, but was like us in every way. He was very serious about his relationship with Lord, as James says -- he, literally, “prayed with prayer.” He was intent., as he prayed and it did not rain for three and a half years, as a lesson to the Israelites, but he prayed again at the end of this time and the Lord provided rain (1 Kings 17,18). Even Jesus references this event in Luke 4:25. Elijah had a great faith in an even greater God.

James climaxes his message by explaining the loving-kind and prayerful relationship that Christians should have with one another and with God. Christians should confess their sins…to one another...so they can be in prayer for one another. This involves trust. We should not have to be concerned about revealing ourselves, but need to pray concerning building relationships that are based upon love and trust. Who is it that is able to accomplish this? It is “the righteous person.” And who is this? The person whose sins are confessed and forgiven, the one seeks to the will of God with all of their heart. What we understand is that prayer is supposed to get results. God is not just sitting back in some cosmic rocking chair watching matters unfold in our world. He is near…and He can and does respond to our pleas to Him. Prayer’s ultimate result is to reveal a right relationship with God through the Son.

A minister tells the story of another minister who believed he received protection as a result of prayer. This man had developed the discipline of beginning every day with an hour of prayer. One particular day, however, he felt a strong leading to pray longer, so he continued for a second hour. After two hours he still felt the need to keep on praying, so he persevered for a third hour asking for God's protection and blessing on his day; as well as for other things. He then felt released from the need to pray longer so he stopped. That evening as he was mowing his lawn, he felt something repeatedly brush up against his leg. He looked down and saw a coiled rattlesnake trying to strike him, but it just couldn't hit him. Instead, it kept brushing either side of his leg. Why had the man felt the need to pray longer that morning? What was he doing? Some would say, God doesn't need three hours of prayer to protect one from a rattlesnake. I would agree. He didn't "need" seven days of marching around Jericho to tear it down either, but He chose to do it that way. He didn't "need" to spit in a person's eye to heal them, but He did once. Why He requires things to be done certain ways, we don't always know, but we do know that for us, obedience is the key. Intercessory Prayer by Dutch Sheets, pp.80,81.

What is at the heart of this message? It is concerning the heart -- it is about your heart! As Matthew West shares in his popular song, we cannot simply go through the motions and expect to cultivate a close relationship with God. If our heart is not focused in a heavenly direction concerning any number of aspects of spiritual life and living, not to mention worship assembly time, then the Lord is not going to be able to effectively work in our lives. Our prayers have the ability to accomplish much, if we are seeking His will for our lives. Care enough to spend some time every day with the Lord in prayer…and care enough to share in prayer together for others. I conclude with a billboard message that I have seen – “the family that prays together stays together.”  

Blessings, Don

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