THE POWER OF PRAYER – James 5:16b-18

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Have you ever made a statement and wanted a good example to back up your words?  You wanted an example that came from a person whom all your readers highly respected; and an example that could not be refuted.  James makes this statement in verse 16:  “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (NASB)

“That’s quite a statement!”, his readers and listeners must have been thinking, “You had better be ready to back that up!”  Let’s examine that statement carefully first, and then we’ll see how he backs up his words.

I.  THE STATEMENT (verse 16b)

The word translated “prayer” is the Greek word deesis.  It usually refers to specific prayer of petition for specific needs, and this is the only time that James uses this word.  The “righteous man” is the person who is committed to God and desires to do His will.  This kind of petition has power because it is unwavering, trusting that God is more than equal to the task and will be honored and glorified through it.  The word “effective” literally means “energized”.  The context before this statement of James relates to praying for one another, but the example that follows seems to be referring to prayer for God to show Himself strong in situations where His existence and His power are being challenged by those who don’t believe in Him and make a mockery of Him.  So the statement may apply to both situations.

The “Message” (The Bible in Contemporary Language), says it this way:  “The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.”

II.  THE EXAMPLE (verses 17-18)

His readers and listeners are wondering who James is going to use as an example to back up his statement:  “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. (NIV)  He chooses the prophet Elijah, and immediately his statement gains credibility in the minds of his audience.  Elijah is the Old Testament prophet of God who is mentioned in the New Testament more times than any other Old Testament prophet.  He and Moses were beside Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.

The Hebrew people considered Elijah to be one of their greatest “super-heroes”.  He was remembered as one who wore unusual clothing and did powerful deeds.   His fearless words and awesome feats brought fear to the hearts of kings and Baal -worshippers.  Even the Hebrew Christians addressed in this letter had a tendency to put their focus on the man, Elijah, rather than on the God who inspired him and empowered him.  That’s why James begins verse 17 with the following words:  “Elijah was a man with a like nature as ours” (NASB).  He was a human being also, with all the weaknesses and struggles that we possess, and faced with the same kinds of temptations.  So why aren’t we all like him?  I think that British evangelist Leonard Ravenhill captured the difference when he said, “Elijah was a man of like passions as we are, but alas, we are not men of like prayer as he was!”  Leonard is the author of the book, “Why Revival Tarries”, and is also quoted as saying, “A man who is intimate with God is not intimidated by man”, and “No man is greater than his prayer life.”

It’s interesting that I Kings 17 does not say that Elijah prayed before he made the following statement to King Ahab:  “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years (three and a half years), except by my word.”  The Spirit of God must have given James that insight.  However, after God gave Elijah that prophesy, which could mean instant death for him, there must have been a prayer in his heart as the prophesy was spoken by his lips!  Wouldn’t you agree?  And he said those words with conviction.  There was no doubt in his mind that God would fulfill His promise.

But the Scriptures also give us a record of Elijah’s “humanness”.  When Jezebel said that she was going to take his life,”   Elijah “was afraid and arose and ran for his life . . . and sat down under a juniper tree”  (I Kings 19:3).  However, verse 4 tells us that he prays to God and repents of his actions.  He asks the Lord that he might die, and says, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.”  God lovingly responds by giving him rest, food, and strength for the journey and ministry ahead.

If you examine Elijah’s public prayers during his ministry, you will find those prayers to be short and to the point, giving glory to God.  He wasn’t trying to impress God or others by his prayers.

James was also a man of prayer, as was Elijah.  Tradition tells that he was nicknamed “camel knees” because of the callouses on his knees from spending many hours on his knees in prayer.  Did you know that the epistle of James, for its size, has more to say about prayer than any other book?  At least 14 verses are devoted to prayer or principles of prayer.  That’s about 15% of the book!

Let’s continue to take a good look at our God as He describes Himself in His Word. May our prayers reflect His sufficiency and our total dependence on Him.

 

 

 

 

 

A LESSON ON COMPASSION (Part II) – Jonah, chapters 3 and 4

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The book of Jonah, chapter 2, ended with the description of the great fish spitting up Jonah onto the dry land at God’s command.     God caused this to happen because of what Jonah said at the end of his prayer of thanksgiving.  To put it in today’s language, Jonah was saying, “I’ll do what you command”  and “You can save whomever you choose.”  Let’s see what happens in chapters 3 and 4.

III.  JONAH’S PREACHING AT NINEVEH (Chapter 3)

We find God repeating His initial command to Jonah in chapter 3, verses 1 and 2, and this time Jonah obeys God’s command and walks through the city over a period of three days crying out and saying, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  The result was that the people believed in God and repented of their sins.  They demonstrated their repentance by proclaiming a fast and putting on sackcloth.  That would be like wearing a large burlap sack over your bare body.  Can you imagine how much that would itch and irritate your skin.  Even the king of Nineveh took off his royal robes and put on sackcloth and sat on the ashes.  He also issued a decree, beginning in verse 7 saying, “. . . Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing.  Do not let them eat or drink water.  But both man and beast must be clothed in sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and the violence which is in his hands.  Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?”

It doesn’t say how long they did this.  It may have been for days, or weeks, or even the full 40 days.  They were appealing to God’s mercy and they found that God is a merciful God.  In verse 10 it says, “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them.  And He did not do it.”

II.  JONAH’S DISCONTENT AND CORRECTION (Chapter 4)

There must have been great rejoicing in the city of Nineveh.  But one person wasn’t rejoicing.  He was angry.  And that person was the prophet Jonah.  Was Jonah mad because his prophesy didn’t come true?  Was he embarrassed?  No.  The real reason why Jonah fled from the Lord, and why he was angry with God is found in 4:2-3.  Jonah was willing to die for the sailors.  He thanked God for sparing his own life.  But Jonah didn’t want God to spare Nineveh because they were a very wicked people; they weren’t Jewish, and Nineveh was the capitol of the nation of Assyria.  The prophet Isaiah had already prophesied that Assyria was going to someday destroy the nation of Israel  and take the remainder of the people back to Assyria as captives.  This prophecy is found in Isaiah 7:17-20 and following.  In Jonah 4:2 he even accuses God of being “gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness”, as if those were God’s faults or weaknesses!

Jonah is so angry that he asks God to take his life.  He would rather die than have God spare the lives of the people of Nineveh, and God questions his anger.  Jonah leaves the city and builds a booth “outside” the city; waiting to see if God will come to His senses  and decide that these people don’t deserve to be spared.  While Jonah sleeps God causes a gourd plant to sprout out of the ground overnight and grow big enough to provide shade for Jonah.  This makes Jonah very happy!  He must have been thinking, “God has finally come to His senses and has agreed with me that these people don’t deserve to live!”  But then God causes a worm to destroy the vine, and Jonah becomes very angry again.  There is an important lesson here.  God is in control.  He caused the storm.  He caused the fish to swallow Jonah and later spit him out.  He caused the vine to grow up overnight, and He caused the worm to kill the vine.  Everyone and everything obeyed God except the preacher.  The storm, the dice, the sailors, the fish, the Ninevites, the east wind, the gourd plant, the worm!  Everyone and everything except . . .  Jonah!  Sometimes God allows us to suffer the consequences of our actions so that we might know that He is in control.

A second lesson is found in 4:10-11.  Jonah lacked God’s compassion for people.  There’s a little bit of Jonah in all of us sometimes, isn’t there?  Sometimes more than a “little bit”?  It is the Jewish custom on the annual celebration of the Day of Atonement to read from the book of Jonah.  And at the end of the reading all would say, “We are Jonah!”

If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord, the book of Jonah is saying that God loves you and wants to show you mercy, no matter how sinful you have been.  God wants to receive you into His family if you are ready to turn from your sins and let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of your life.  The Controller of the universe gives you the freedom to give Him control over your life, and you can do that right now.

If you are a Christian, the book of Jonah is saying that people are precious because God considers them to be precious.  God wants us to lay aside our prejudices and let Him fill our hearts with His compassion for the sinning and suffering people we meet.  Do you remember that person I asked you to bring to mind at the beginning of this message?  What are you and I going to do this week to reach out by the power of God’s love to that person we’ve been avoiding?

I’m closing this message by reading a portion from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  The Lord Jesus says it better than anyone else.  The passage of Scripture is Matthew 5:43-48.  The Lord Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same?  And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”