The Need for Prayer
"Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. (James 5:13–16 RSV)
Carrie came to her best friend for help saying, “I’m having problems in my marriage and I don’t know what to do!” Her best friend was a strong Christian who had weathered some pretty big storms herself. The best friend said, “Did you pray about what to do?” Carrie said, “I sure did. I have prayed for weeks!” Her best friend didn’t stop there. She said, “What did you pray for?” Carrie said, “That’s easy. I said, 'God straighten out Joe and help him be a better husband.'” Her best friend said, “Is that it?” Carrie said, “Well, that’s all I could think of to say!” Carrie’s best friend said, “Sounds to me like your prayer wanted Joe to change.” What has God said back to you? Carrie replied, “I didn’t know God talked back to you when you prayed!”
Prayer is conversation WITH God, not at God. Often, new Christians and shallow Christians don’t yet know how to pray. They don’t know that God often will speak to us in prayer. They don’t know that our prayers sometimes can get one sided where we tell God what we want HIM to do and do not seek God’s guidance on what HE wants us to do. Carrie is not unlike many people today who tell God what they want God to do. Rather than seeing anything she did wrong in her relationship, she asked God to go change Joe, her husband, rather than to soften her own heart and open her eyes so she can see what she should do. God may have needed Carrie to change in order for Joe to be a better husband! People can easily fall into this "bossy-ness" in prayers… "God do this", "God do that"… "Change that person", "Do this for me!". If someone listened to these prayers, one might wonder… just who is playing God here?
Even more mature Christians can have laundry-list types of prayers: "God I need this." "So and so needs that." "Take care of Jane’s aunt who is sick." "Be with Joe as he is in need of a job." And…. "Go here and get this for me." "I need a new washer." "Convince my boss to be nicer to me." It’s alright according to scripture to ask for things in prayer… even Matthew 7:7 tells us to ask God when we need things, but some people are all about asking and wanting, not needing or gracefully listening. In the book of James in our Bible (James 4:3ff), we are told that sometimes we don’t get something good from God, because we don’t ask God for it or we ask God for something that is wrong. We need to talk to God about our needs in prayer… and listen, because sometimes God will tell us that we don’t need what we think we need. As for laundry-list prayers… how would you like it if a relative of yours came up to you every time she or he saw you and said, “I need this and this and this and this..” How long til you wonder who is using whom?
This past Christmas a boy was asked to give his first prayer at the family gathering. He wasn’t very old, so his uncle tried to help him, saying, “Ask thanks for the food. Ask God to bless the meal. Ask God to be with us this Christmas. Ask God to watch over Aunt Bessie.” After a few more statements, the boy probably thought… maybe prayer is about asking God for stuff… so, he prayed..” God we ask you to bless this food… and we ask you to watch over Aunt Bessie… and we ask for good presents today… and we want you to be with nice people and… and and (he looked around not sure what to say..) and…and.….. a partridge in a pear tree! Amen.” The boy thought, "Since I’m asking… well I remember a song… might as well ask for a partridge in a pear tree!" Later after dinner, the boy was asked if he knew what a partridge was…. And he responded….. "No, but I think my dad wants one for his new gun!"
Many people are shallow pray-ers. They do not take time to understand how to pray. Prayer takes time to develop. You need to do it often and do it rightly. Use it or lose it! Even the disciples were aware of this.. that is why they said, “Lord, teach us to pray!” (John 3:1) Stop to think about this! The disciples were in their twenties and thirties it is believed… they grew up in strong religious families… but they didn’t know how to pray! Just because you grow up knowing who God is or coming to church doesn’t mean you know how to pray. Just because you are a preacher’s kid doesn’t mean you know how to talk with God. Does having a religious relative mean you can pray well? No.
In the scripture above, the Apostle James is speaking to the church about a number of things. In chapter five, James speaks about prayer. He tells us that Elijah prayed that it wouldn’t rain as a sign of God’s presence, and it did not rain for three-and-a-half years. Then, Elijah prayed again and the rains did come and brought forth crops and life. (James 5:17,18) The scripture states clearly… "the Prayer of a Righteous Man has Great Power in its effects.” (James 5:16) Now why doesn’t it say that prayer alone has great power? Because in Proverbs 15:29, we are told that God does not listen to the wicked. In Proverbs 28:9, it says God does not heed the prayers of those who do not keep the laws of God. Mark 12:40 tells us that religious people who say long prayers but hurt the needy are not heard when they pray. They are condemned. God won’t heed the prayers of wicked or unholy or unrighteous people who are not repentant. God won’t heed the prayers of self-righteous people. God won’t hear the prayers of hypocrites. All this is clearly based on scripture. But, let a righteous person pray…and God will hear every bit of the prayer they speak and respond to that prayer.
James goes on to say… "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” (James 5:14,15) It is the job of elders to pray with the sick. Why elders? Because they are to be holy, righteous people with a strong faith. What happens when truly faithful elders pray? People are made well and healed, lives are changed, and God works amazing miracles.
James, chapter 5, even encourages every Christian to pray (5:16). It tells us “pray for one another, that you may be healed”. It is the job of every Christian to learn to pray, to pray for others, and to be listening for God in their prayers.
I have found great power in prayer. I’ve seen a child who was very sick with an unusual disease healed in a day… through prayer. The doctor of that child said to me personally, “There’s nothing I can do. Anything more will have to be done with prayer.” Two days later, the young boy was home with his parents, healed. I’ve seen husbands and wives work through challenges and become truly loving people. I’ve seen healing aplenty. I’ve seen people who were at death's door suddenly get well. If you are a true Christian, you know that not every prayer is answered like we would want. We can’t see what God sees. But, every prayer is answered, sometimes with God saying, “No,” because God can see things we can’t. God knows what we don’t know. God can do amazing things, but we have to be willing at times, to ask, to seek God’s guidance, and to give thanks and praise to God in our prayers.
Some years ago, I found the "5 Fingers of Prayer". I ask that you keep this with you in the Bible, or next to your bed, or at the kitchen table, or on the refrigerator to remind you that you need to pray and shows you how to pray more effectively.
- Your thumb is nearest to you… so begin your prayers by praying for those near to you, including your enemies.
- The next finger is your pointing finger. Pray for those who instruct, heal, and teach.
- The middle finger is the tallest usually. It reminds us to pray for our leaders in the country and in our church.
- The fourth finger is considered our ring finger. It is, surprisingly the weakest finger for most. It should remind us to pray for those who are weak, in trouble, or pain.
- The final finger is the pinkie. It should remind us to pray for ourselves last. And when we pray, we should pray that God shows us how to live. We don’t tell God how we will live. It is a finger to remind us to pray with a humble and repentant heart to a loving and gracious God. With that final finger, we should look at God and ourselves and see God’s greatness in respect to our weakness.
Finally, realize that you won’t sense God speaking with you in prayer if you don’t show respect for HIM, if you don’t give thanksgiving and praise to HIM, and if you don’t live like HE means something to you. If you spend $25,000 on a new truck and give $5 to God in the collection plate, you are not showing God much of a giving heart. Do you honestly think God will heed your prayer when you are greedy? There is great power in the prayer of a righteous one. I pray that among us are humble, repentant, Spirit-filled Christians who don’t let the pastor do their work for them, but who are strong in the faith, able to save souls, bring the dying back to life, and heal the sick of heart and soul and body and mind.
Sometimes, a parent is willing to help, if the child is willing to ask for help. The same thing goes with God. God is willing to bless you… but God wants first to talk with you in prayer. Have you prayed today?