Lockdown is getting frustrating for so many people, churches and ministries. A friend of mine who is a wonderfully gifted evangelist wrote last week that while scientists can calculate the risks of unlocking; and economists can evaluate the financial damage of lockdown; who can possibly work out the spiritual cost of the restrictions on evangelism? The point wasn’t to say that we should break the law, or act irresponsibly; but rather to say that we should press on with God’s work as much as we can, wherever we can. The Apostle Paul is a great example here. Locked-down in prison, he did things like write the book of Ephesians; and prayed continuously for the churches.
Let me make a really bold statement:
“The growth of God’s kingdom depends far more on our prayers, than on the actions of governments.“
Did you realize that? Some people act as if the fate of the world and the growth of the church rest upon the laws and edicts that come from politicians. But Jesus said that his kingdom would spread like a mustard plant, which fires new roots off underground, which spring up elsewhere then multiply again. That ‘s great if you’re trying to grow mustard because it spreads so well; but it is ever so hard to get rid of if you don’t want it, because its’ hidden growth is unrelenting. Think of the underground church in China today. The authorities have opposed it with varying degrees of brutality since the days of Mao and Cultural Revolution; but Jesus is building it – and the gates of hell can do nothing about that.
Now, the world, the flesh and the devil will try and do anything to stop you praying – because that is the thing they fear the most. Moses, Daniel, Paul and even Jesus himself prayed. And James wants to encourage us to pray too.
1. Pray when you are in trouble. (v13)
Some troubles come into our lives from outside us, and these are the ‘trials’ that James has discussed earlier in his book. If you are being harassed for being a Christian, or people are causing trouble for you on account of your faith; then stop planning, and scheming your way out of trouble; and begin with prayer.
There are many troubles which come into our lives however, which are directly the result of our sin. Sometimes we wander from God, like the lost sheep of Jesus’ parable. Outside the care of his protection and wisdom we make terrible decisions and end up trapped in circumstances which we have contributed to. Sometimes we do things which are outright rebellion against God, like the prodigal-son’s rebellion.
The question is, if we are in a mess to which we have contributed by our own sin and folly, what should we do? For many of us, our instinct is to hide from God, and to work frantically to fix the fractures in our lives and relationships. James though says, if you are in trouble – pray! What he means is, that this trouble is intended to wake you up to your spiritual state. But don’t let that make you hide from God or run from God; but instead make sure that you run back to God. In our pride we instinctively want to get ourselves all sorted out by ourselves. The truth though is that we simply need to run back into the gracious, loving embrace of God.
If you are in trouble. Pray.
2. If you are happy, sing to God!
Happiness, joy and wonderful circumstances are a great blessing from The Lord. We have all known seasons in our lives when everything seems to be going our way and working to plan. And these moments are to be savored, enjoyed and celebrated. A good friend of mine got married at the weekend, which was wonderful, and we can’t wait until we can all get together for the reception, which will be in a year’s time when lockdown is past! Happy times are to be enjoyed. But don’t focus so much on the good times that you forget God. In fact, make sure that you thank and praise him for all that he has done for you. Good times can be dangerous if we take our eyes off our creator and think only about created things! Or, they can be times of great rejoicing and thanksgiving in God’s presence. Make sure you remember your creator, before the days of trouble come!
3. Pray when you are sick
The word that James uses here which the NIV renders as “sick” occurs 37 times in the New Testament – and can mean everything from acute illness to weakness meaning that you are just unable to really pray yourself. What should you do in these trying circumstances?
James says you should call on ‘the elders’, that is the spiritually mature people in your congregation (who may be ordained into the office of elder or not!); and get them to share the burden of prayer with you – if you are weak. There are times when we just need someone to pray for us and with us – and that is what the church is supposed to be about.
In this passage, James instructs that the prayer for the sick is accompanied by the anointing with oil. Some people want to load that idea with all kinds of superstitious ideas which are unhelpful. James’ 1st century Jewish readers would have known that it symbolized two things: (i) accessing the sacred and (ii) setting aside someone for God’s service. So, as these elders pray for their sick brother or sister they were to be wanting them to come to God, and be set apart for Him too.
One comment James makes here many Christians finding disturbing. v16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. In James’s thinking here there seems to be a link between sickness and sinfulness and that is hard to understand; especially if you think that undermines the idea of complete forgiveness!
So what are we to make of James’s remarks? I suggest three things
Firstly, sickness can be related to sinfulness; but isn’t always the case – so we must be very careful with this. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 11:29-30 Paul specifically says that that was the case. However, in another famous example in the Bible, we are told that Job suffered – even though he was righteous! Secondly, we are not talking about sins which we have confessed to God, and turned our backs on! Such sins are utterly, totally and completely removed from us and have no bearing on our current relationship with God. But thirdly, James concludes: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (v20). What James wants to see above all else is people being restored into a good relationship with God, through faith and repentance! Wanting God’s gifts (healing) but not God himself is a terrible idea. James longs to see people not just healed – but restored to God too.
Remember, that God can heal – and does heal; but once you have prayed, you must leave the results to him. A dear friend of mine died six years ago, despite the fact that we prayed and prayed, and really believed that he would live. On the other hand, I knew a missionary (this was back in the 1980s), whose was unable to work due to persistent and debilitating migraines. She asked the elders of her church to anoint her with oil and pray for healing. They were very reluctant, explaining that they didn’t believe that God did miracles anymore. However she insisted- and they relented. The following day she had the migraine of a lifetime….. but didn’t have another for over twenty years and served faithfully in mission for the rest of her life.
So, make sure you are walking closely with The Lord today. Don’t drift away from him in apathy and don’t rebel against him openly – this will only bring trouble into your life. God’s love for you is inexhaustible and irrepressible. So call on Him today, pray now!
- If you are in trouble – pray.
If you are in trouble – and it’s your fault, pray even more.
If you are happy – sing songs of thanksgiving to The Lord
If you are sick – gather mature Christians around you and pray.
And as you do, let me remind you of the words of this old song:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace
May this experience be yours in the power of The Holy Spirit! Amen.
Angela Courte MacKenzie is a broadcaster, pianist, vocalist, and worship leader. Her music has traveled all over the world through her Facebook live events and The Power of Praise program as a witness to the glory of God. Angela holds a B.A. degree in music/vocal performance from the University of Central Florida, and a M.A. in apologetics from Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.
Her desire is to awaken hearts to Christ through music, Bible Teachings, blogs, one 2 one chats, the gifts of laughter and simply life in “real time.”
To find out more about Angela visit www.angela.org. To hear her music and other offerings visit her YouTube channel www.youtube.com/angelacourtemackenzieofficial.