Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 30, 2018
“Powerful and Effective”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Do you pray enough? I don’t. I pray. Often. But not enough. In Ephesians we are told, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18) In Thessalonians, “Pray without ceasing.” (I Thessalonians 5:17) I don’t do it enough. I hope you do.
We end our series on James with words about prayer. “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise….Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:13, 16)
In the book of James we have already seen how powerful words can be. Earlier James was the one who said, “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (James 3:8-10) We know how true that is. We regret when our words are used to hurt and destroy others.
But now our words can be used for the best purposes. They can be used in prayers offered up to God on behalf of others. Let’s see – he lists a bunch of needs that should get our attention and that we can bring to God in prayer. First, prayers are for the person who is in trouble and is suffering. Then he asks prayers for the person who is sick. He mentions that prayers must be made for the one who is struggling with their sin or addiction. Prayers must be made for the one who has walked away from the faith and finds themselves without God in their life. That’s quite a list isn’t it? The needs that come before us are quite great, even overwhelming.
We don’t pray enough. We need to be praying for the many who are struggling, sick, those that have let Satan take over their life, those who no longer hunger and thirst for righteousness. The needs of those that we love are great. And remember, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” You, in Jesus, are the righteous man. You, in Jesus, are the righteous woman. Your prayers are powerful and effective. Your list of those that you lift up to God in prayer should be long. Remember, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
But I can read your mind here!! Larson, I’ve been praying every day, even more than once a day for weeks, months, even years and I don’t see the change that I’ve been praying for. I’m wondering if I’m wasting my time. God’s isn’t listening. He’s not doing what I’ve asked Him to do. James, three times in the book addresses prayer. Two of the times he answers the problem of unanswered prayer. James 1, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt…” (1:6a) Chapter 4, “You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (2c-3) Maybe we are not praying but simply speaking a wish. Maybe our motives are messed up.
But maybe there is nothing wrong with our prayer. It is spoken with right motives. We stand solidly in faith. So, what’s wrong? Why doesn’t God give us an answer? Why doesn’t He say, “Yes”?
Prayer is powerful and effective because God is powerful and effective. We pray with the faith that God will give us. We pray asking that God will provide His best and wisest answer in His best and wisest time. Prayer is powerful and effective because it grows our faith in a wonderful God who cares for us. It teaches us to wait and believe and trust. It allows us to say with ultimate confidence, “Lord, Thy will be done.”
Jesus, on the Sermon on the Mount, combines faith with waiting. “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:31-34)
In our reading from James we are given the example of Elijah as a man who was able to pray a powerful and effective prayer. “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” (James 5:17-18) (The account of this is found in I Kings 17-18) He was faithful in prayer. He spoke God’s judgment by the drought. He gave God’s mercy by the rain that would come. Prayer is powerful and effective because God is powerful and effective. After the years of no rain, followed by God’s abundance, Elijah, this man of faith was in the battle between God and Satan on Mt. Carmel. The people had not learned. They were worshiping Baal, a god whose ways many people followed, doing all types of evil things.
Elijah’s effective and powerful prayer, trusting in the only God who could do powerful and effective work, was shown once again. On that mountain a duel was held. It was God vs. Baal. Elijah confronted them and their divided heart. “Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him, but if Baal is God, follow him.’ But the people said nothing.” (I Kings 18:21)
So Elijah pitted Baal and God. A sacrifice was placed on an altar. It was the one who answered by fire who would be declared the winner. Baal got to go first. No answer. Quiet. “Perhaps he is sleeping” Elijah questioned. But then came powerful and effective prayer to a powerful and effective God. “At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed; ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.’” (I Kings 18:36-37)
You know what God did, right? Lightning from heaven. He burned up the sacrifice, the wood, stones, soil, and the water that covered it all. Powerful. Effective. That is how prayer is to be. That is how God is to be.
But God’s greatest hour came a few days after this. Powerful and effective Elijah became powerless and distraught. Jezebel (the one, I believe, who birthed the Kansas City Chiefs), evil Jezebel, is going to murder Elijah. And now his prayer changed, “He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough Lord, take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’” If a prayer that is powerful is one that comes from the deepest parts of our soul, then this was a powerful prayer. “I have had enough.”
But remember – we don’t make the prayers powerful and effective – God does. He did it by stopping rain and giving rain. He did it by showing His majesty on Mt. Carmel. And now He does it by showing compassion in the desert. He doesn’t take Elijah’s life. He doesn’t answer it in the way that Elijah wanted. He had a better answer.
Right after Elijah’s demand we read, “All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat. He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.” (I Kings 19:5b-6)
Our powerful and effective God did what was best. Do you see it? He wants us to pray and He wants to give us what is best, every time. He wants us to look to Him for His will and His way. Paul would talk about the heart of faith in Romans 8 like this, “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? We who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things.” (Romans 8:31-32)
Sometimes sermons are too passive. I speak. You sleep. No, you are amazing great listeners. Today we’re going to conclude the sermon differently. We’re going to pray, silently, for an uncomfortable length of time. James was the one who said that faith and works go together. So we’re going to pray.
Who does your heart hurt for? What burden has God placed upon you? “Is any of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick?…The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
Pray powerfully and effectively to our powerful and effective and wise God. Amen!!