Is anyone weak? Let him draw near to the elders of the congregation and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the weary and the Lord will raise them up. And if he has committed sins he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for each other that you will be healed.
I’ve been looking into prayer in the past couple of weeks, watched a movie called the War room, been going through some studies on prayer, been listening to some encouraging podcasts as well. The early Christians, right at the birth of the church, were devoted to prayer. At Pentecost the 3000 people the Holy Spirit baptised and God adopted devoted themselves, their lives, to the Good News of forgiveness and truth, the fellowship and family of God, to Holy Communion and to prayer (Acts 2:42). Throughout Paul’s letters he prays again and again for faith, hope and love both thanks and for more. I speak with you and others about prayer, how we pray and how often. And here again Our God, Saviour and Ruler tells us to pray. Are you suffering evil, are you cheerful, are you weak? Turn to God and rely on Him, for He will save you.
We hear from Philippians (4:4-7) to pray in all things with thanks giving, and here James is telling us, encouraging us to pray. But why pray? Why should we all ask God for help, for guidance, for healing? Because He has promised to listen to you. In the psalms God tells us to call upon Him in troubling times and He will deliver us and we will glorify God (Psalm 50:15). And from Psalm 40:1 I waited patiently for the Lord and He heard my cry. Elijah prayed that it would not rain and it didn’t, then the prophet of God told the wicked King Ahab to go up the mountain to see the rain God was sending (1 Kings 18:41-45). In Hebrews (4:16) God tells us that Jesus intercedes for us, asking God to help us; He is the great High Priest who died for us and loves us; He is our leader our head, and so we can draw near to God’s throne, into the awesome, powerful and terrifying presence of God Almighty, draw near in confidence to His throne of grace, that we, that you may receive mercy and find grace in your time of need. Why pray? Because He promises to hear you, even He wants to listen; and not only that, but He will save you from evil and destruction to the glory of His name.
So we pray because it is part of the life of a Christian, God has commanded us to and He promises to listen and care for you. James tells us to pray when suffering and to sing when full of cheer. From Philippians we hear, to pray with thanksgiving, and from psalm 50 we heard that we glorify God in our response to His help. To pray, to talk to God in all circumstances and about all things. In the large catechism Luther’s advice to parents is to teach children that when they see or hear anything dreadful or frightening to say, ‘Lord God, protect me’ or ‘Help me dear Jesus’ and when good things happen, no matter how small, to say, ‘thank God, or praise God’. To ask for God’s help in every trouble and to thank Him for every good (Large catechism the commandments paragraph 73-77). This habit would have the added bonus of reminding ourselves of God’s grace and mercy everyday.
Now what was that third question? Is anyone weak/sick? Hmm, I wonder what that means. Well, I have been and I’ve come to a conclusion, James is speaking about our physical health, to ask God for help and to ask others for help too, illness and injury are certainly suffering evil. But more than that James is speaking about spiritual weakness, are you weak in the faith? Are you struggling with sin, with guilt, with yourself, others, even with God Himself? Come to those wise Christians around you, to the pastoral assistants, elders, maybe even me, by God’s grace and Word I hope I’ll help you, come to the elders of the congregation and ask them to pray for you. And elders make sure you do. Just as Paul prayed constantly for the spread of the Gospel and the growth of God’s people in faith, we too can join with him and join with Christ Himself in thanking God for our own faith, for the Good News of our forgiveness in Christ and that He would spread this peace, joy, hope and love throughout our whole lives and the whole world. When we struggle in our sin we are sick, sometimes we even feel it physically, or maybe in anxiety or depression. Our heavenly Father knows this and it hurts Him too, He loves you, indeed He gave His only Son, Jesus, to die that you might live.
Jesus died to free you from sin, to heal the terrible sickness that sin causes, even to take away deaths power over us. When you struggle with this truth, when you doubt that it applies to you, God in His great grace has given us another gift, and that is our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we struggle we can come to each other, to ask for help, but also to pray together for encouragement and growth in faith, for the forgiving power of Christ’s blood and for God’s peace and joy. You are with all of us, forgiven by Jesus, saved from death by God our Father and defended by the Holy Spirit, so when you are weak, when you forget, come to be with your family, let yourself be prayed for and hear again that God loves you and Jesus has saved you.
And the peace that passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Joseph Graham.