James 5: 13-20
Several years ago we had a weekend revival with a Rev. Fred Winger, a Chaplain who at that time was living in Parsons, KS. I had gotten acquainted with him on various district gatherings and had grown to appreciate his spirit and his work. The thing I remember most about that weekend was Fred’s challenge to us. He asked, “If you believe that God would answer anything you ask for in prayer, for what would you pray?” Then He challenged us to pray that prayer for the weekend.
It certainly caused us to do some serious soul searching as we considered the magnitude and power of such a request.
Fred’s challenged was based on the scripture in John 14: 13 & 14 where Jesus says, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
It was a great weekend. I don’t really remember the specific prayers that were prayed, but we were all moved to be more serious in our prayer lives.
This passage from James is usually read just before we have a time of anointing and praying over those with medical needs. But the message James was delivering in this passage goes way beyond just asking for healing.
In our meeting last Sunday evening to share dreams and goals and to gather insights about the future of our church there were several ideas shared.
But the one overpowering message I heard was that we need to be people of prayer. We need to seek God’s Will, discover His vision for our church, and solicited His Anointing Power that enables us to accomplish the purposes He has for us!
Based on this passage from James, let’s consider these essentials found in prayer.
I. PRAYER IS RECOGNITION OF GOD’S EXISTENCE.
a. James 5:15 refers to“prayer offered in faith…” What does that mean?
b. Certainly it means we have belief that God exists. Otherwise prayer would be just talking to ourselves or taking to the walls or to the wind! It would be delusional thinking! But it is not self deception or delusional thinking. It is recognition that there is an entity outside ourselves, a higher power, that hears us when we talk to Him. The AA recovery program counsels those in their recovery program about trusting your “higher power.” I am here to tell you that our God is the highest. And He isn’t just an energy force for us to tap—He is a personal God who spoke the world into existence, who is actively sustaining the universe, who has all power, all knowledge and all wisdom, and who cares for each one of us personally. He is the God we read about who did marvelous things in the Old Testament and who revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. He doesn’t just contain a love for us, He is Love personified. He has said in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” He has pledged Himself to all who seek Him that not only will He be found, but that He will bless, protect, guide, sustain, and save. In Hebrews 11:6, the Faith Chapter, we read, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”
c. So, Prayer is effective only when it is based on the belief there is a God who exists and who hears and answers.
II. PRAYER IS AN ADMISSION OF OUR DEPENDENCE.
a. Verse 13 says, “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.” But it does not stop there: “…Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call for the elders of the church to pray over them…”
b. We all have our troubles from time to time. Troubles come in many forms—medical issues, financial issues, relationship issues, hard decisions that have to be made. We know when we have reached the end of our abilities and resources that in desperation, we have to pray. How many of you remember the immediate reaction of our nation following the 9-11 attack in 2001. Newsmen, politicians, television comedians and everyone else suddenly became very religious! I was amazed and thrilled to see the sudden interest in praying for God’s mercy and protection. But when the high level of threat subsided within just a week or so, suddenly it was business as usual and prayer was very seldom mentioned. Yes, if there is trouble we should pray. And in our desperation we do so. But James goes on and talks about singing praises to God when we are happy and asking God for healing when we are hurting. In good times, in troubled times, and in perilous times—basically in all times, we are instructed to call upon God! That is because, without God we can never make it! We live in a natural world that is caught up in a supernatural power struggle. Ephesians 6 warns us that our struggles are not against human forces, but are against supernatural forces, demonic forces--forces that are far more powerful that we are in our natural state. Our only hope is to enlist the supernatural power of the God of unlimited power. Clothed in Him, wearing the full armor of God—we are victorious!
c. In America we have the myth of the self-make man—the one who raised himself up by his bootstraps. But reality is, unless God helps us, we have no chance. God is the one who gives us strength, who endows us with certain talents and abilities, who gives us health, and who guides our decisions. Many a person who thought they did it on their own has been brought down by sudden changes. Pride does go before the fall. But the one who realizes his dependence upon God and gives Him the glory—that is the person who is truly blessed. His prayers are prayed from a position of humility.
III. PRAYER IS EFFECTIVE WHEN IT IS PRAYED BY A RIGHTEOUS PERSON.
a. In James 5: 16 we are told, “…The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
b. I’ve been asked, “If Jesus said I could ask for anything in His Name and it would be given to me, why do I not win the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes that I prayed about?” And the answer is that Jesus’ statement was a conditional statement. Just before he said we could ask anything in His Name, it says in John 14:12, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” The Promise to answer prayer is conditioned to the person praying believing in Jesus and who is attempting to do the works that Jesus is doing. When a person is fully surrendered to and committed to Jesus, he doesn’t pray selfish prayers. He doesn’t try to tell God what He has to do. He is not a manipulator of God. No, the person who is fully committed to God is the one who seeks to know and do the things God desires to do.
c. Years ago when I was pastoring in Warsaw, Missouri, I was privileged to have Rev. C. E. Hacker in my congregation. Rev. Hacker had been a home mission pastor and was instrumental in starting 8 different churches on our district. In fact, he was pastor of the Branson Church for a short time until he suffered a major heart attack that forced him to retire. Rev. Hacker was known for praying for the sick, and many people were miraculously healed under his ministry. I was just a young pastor and I wanted to learn as much as I could from this veteran man of God. So I asked him about those prayers for healing. He told me that when someone asks for a prayer for healing, the first thing we must do is to seek the will of God to determine what it is that God wants to do. Then we direct our prayers according to what God reveals to us. You see, it could be that God is allowing a person to go through a time of testing so that they will be strengthened in their faith. It could be God wants them to go through a particular experience so they can know how to minister to someone else going through a similar experience. It could be that God is allowing a particular trial in order to bring a person to a place of repentance. Or it could be that God wants to do a miraculous work in order to persuade others of His Presences and Power. So, “to ask what we will,” must be connected to His will. We always want His will to be done!
d. And a person who is fully committed to God—the Righteous Person to which James was referring—is so in tune with God that God is able to channel His grace through such a person.
e. R.A. Torrey in one of his books on prayer list 7 reasons a person’s prayer may go unanswered. And the essence of all those reasons is that the person is not aligning his will with the Will of God.
f. But a person who is totally committed to God who prays, will see God’s power being displayed time and time again.
In his book Sit, Walk, Stand, Watchman Nee describes a preaching mission to an island off the South China coast. There were seven in the ministering group, including a sixteen-year-old new convert whom he calls Brother Wu. The island was fairly large, containing about 6,000 homes. Nee had a contact there, an old schoolmate of his who was headmaster of the village school, but he refused to house the group when he discovered they had come to preach the Gospel. Finally, they found lodging with a Chinese herbalist, who became their first convert. Preaching seemed quite fruitless on the island, and Nee discovered it was because of the dedication of the people there to an idol they called Ta-Wang. They were convinced of his power because on the day of his festival and parade each year the weather was always near perfect.
"When is the procession this year?" young Wu asked a group that had gathered to hear them preach.
"It is fixed for January 11th at 8 in the morning," was the reply.
"Then," said the new convert, "I promise you that it will certainly rain on the 11th."
At that there was an outburst of cries from the crowd: "That is enough! We don't want to hear any more preaching. If there is rain on the 11th, then your God is God!"
Watchman Nee had been elsewhere in the village when this confrontation had taken place. Upon being informed about it, he saw that the situation was serious and called the group to prayer. On the morning of the 11th, there was not a cloud in the sky, but during grace for breakfast, sprinkles began to fall and these were followed by heavy rain. Worshipers of the idol Ta-Wang were so upset that they placed it in a sedan chair and carried it outdoors, hoping this would stop the rain. Then the rain increased. After only a short distance, the carriers of the idol stumbled and fell, dropping the idol and fracturing its jaw and left arm.
A number of young people turned to Christ as a result of the rain coming in answer to prayer, but the elders of the village made divination and said that the wrong day had been chosen. The proper day of the procession, they said, should have been the 14th. When Nee and his friends heard this, they again went to prayer, asking for rain on the 14th and for clear days for preaching until then. That afternoon the sky cleared and on the good days that followed there were thirty converts. Of the crucial test day, Nee says: The 14th broke, another perfect day, and we had good meetings. As the evening approached we met again at the appointed hour. We quietly brought the matter to the Lord's remembrance. Not a minute late, His answer came with torrential rain and floods as before.
The power of the idol over the islanders was broken; the enemy was defeated. Believing prayer had brought a great victory. Conversions followed. And the impact upon the servants of God who had witnessed His power would continue to enrich their Christian service from that time on.
Roger F. Campbell, You Can Win!, 1985, SP Publications, pp. 35-36.
This morning, I challenge you to seek to be that fully committed to Christ Righteous Person whose prayers are powerful and effective. I read on Face book this week: “When Prayer becomes your habit, miracles become your lifestyle. Never give up on Prayer, no matter what comes your way.”
Let’s be people of prayer!
January 5th 2020
Matthew 2: 1-12
>January 6th on the Christian Calendar is Epiphany—a celebration of the Wise Men who followed the Star to Jesus...
I. THE WISE MEN WERE D___________ IN LOOKING FOR THE STAR.
II. THE WISE MEN F_________ THE STAR.
III. THE WISE MEN P__________ IN THEIR SEARCH FOR THE REASON FOR THE STAR.
Have you found your Star?
Are you following it faithfully?
On the Christian Calendar January 6th is called Epiphany or Three Kings Day. It is the day set aside to celebrate the story of the Magi and their journey of following a Star that led them to the Baby Jesus. A quick Google search gave me this information:
Epiphany is one of the oldest Christian feasts. It was celebrated since the end of the second century, before the Christmas holiday was established. It is commonly known as Twelfth Night, Twelfth Day, or the Feast of Epiphany. It means “manifestation” or “showing forth”. It is also called Theophany (“manifestation of God”), especially by Eastern Christians. Epiphany also refers to the church season that follows the day.
It commemorates the first two occasions on which Jesus’ divinity, according to Christian belief, was manifested: when the three kings visited infant Jesus in Bethlehem, and when John the Baptist baptized him in the River Jordan. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches emphasize the visit of the Magi when they celebrate the Epiphany. The Eastern Orthodox churches focus on Jesus’ baptism.
While our denomination to my knowledge has never emphasized this event, it is interesting to learn about some of the interesting customs surrounding Epiphany. Again the Internet search revealed these:
People from the US Virgin Islands celebrate Three Kings’ Day to emphasize and maintain their heritage and culture, especially on the island of St. Croix where the day features parades, bands, food, music, and other types of entertainment. Although it is not a public holiday in other parts of the United States, many Christians take part in Epiphany activities such as:
§ Star processionals on the Sunday closest to January 6 for church services
§ Parties or get-together s to clean up homes after the festive season and put away Christmas decorations.
§ Treasure hunts to find a figure of the Christ child.
§ Epiphany luncheons, parties and celebrations among churchgoers.
§ And Sunday school activities for children that focus on Epiphany, such as creating the star that led the wise men to Bethlehem.
Epiphany marks the beginning of the Mardi Gras season in Louisiana. It is customary to bake king cakes during this time of the year. These cakes may include a small trinket (such as a baby doll) inside. The person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket receives various privileges or obligations. For example, they may be requested to provide the next king cake. The interval between Epiphany and Mardi Gras is sometimes known as “king cake season”.
The story of the Wise Men has become an integral part of the Christmas story. Normally our Nativity scenes include the 3 Kings and their camels and gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. But the Matthew’s Gospel suggests that the arrival of the Wise Men (Magi) could very well have been as much as two years after the birth of Jesus. That is based on the fact that Herod had all the male children 2 years and younger put to death in Bethlehem.
These Wise Men are often called Kings, though there is no scriptural evidence that they were. We do know from historical research that the so-called Magi of the ancient world were often advisers to Kings. They were educated men who were the scientists or astronomers of their day. The ancient astronomers also believed the stars and planets affected lives and events—we would call that astrology. But the men would have been treated with great respect. We see that in the fact that King Herod granted them audience when they came to Jerusalem.
There is much debate as to what the heavenly event was that captured the Wise Men’s attention. Was it an alignment of the planets? Or was it possibly a comet? I personally have come to the conclusion that it was something different. All of the astronomical possibilities fail to explain how the star came to rest over Bethlehem so precisely. I am convinced the star was in fact an Angel sent to guide these men to Christ. There are other places in the Old Testament where the Angels in heaven are called Stars.
As we enter a new year, I would like for us to think symbolically of the Wise Men following the Star to Jesus. We too should be “Chasing Stars!”
I. THE WISE MEN WERE DISCIPLINED IN LOOKING FOR THE STAR.
a. We are told these Magi were men who studied the skies, determining the movement of the various heavenly bodies. They would have had charts and data collected over a long period of time. Otherwise, they would never have noticed the unusual sight that launched them on their journey.
b. If we are going to find God’s Plan and Purpose for our lives—Our “Star”—we must commit ourselves to the discipline of searching and studying for the Will of God. That means, being faithful and diligent in our search of the scriptures, prayerful in our consideration of the events in our lives. And we must have a discerning spirit.
c. In College we heard of the young farm boy –Possibly from Iowa—who enrolled in the religion classes because he felt he had a call to preach. But the young man just did not seem to have the gifts and graces one would expect of a future minister. Finally, one of the Professors questioned him about why he felt he had a call. He told how he was looking at the sky one day and saw the letters “GPC,” and he immediately interpreted that to mean “GO PREACH CHRIST!” The Professor thought for a moment and then said, “Do you think GPC might have meant, “GO PLOW CORN!”
d. When we are searching for our “Star,” we must be careful not to misinterpret what we see. The Bible tells is in 1 John 4:1 to “Try the spirits to see if they are of God…”
e. Four questions to consider when trying to determine the Will of God: (1) Is it scriptural; (2) Is it supported by the counsel of Godly advisers? (3) Is it Reasonable? (4) Do you have the Witness of the Spirit of God?
f. The Wise Men discovered the star because they were searching the skies. They had a knowledge of history—including Jewish History. They didn’t just out of the blue one day say “Look there’s a Star.”They paid the price of discipline that made them ready to discover the star.
g. And God has a purpose for each one of us. We will discover it if we pay the price to search for it. But if we just go our merry way without taking time to seek God’s Will in our lives, we will be like the rest of the world who missed out on seeing the Baby Jesus.
II. THE WISE MEN FOLLOWED THE STAR.
a. There were probably others who saw the star but did nothing about it. “Isn’t that a pretty sight?” they said. And then they thought no more about it.
b. But not the Wise Men: After discovering the star, I believe they searched their libraries for possible explanations and conferred with other scholars to get their opinions. And God led them to the prophecies of the Jewish Messiah causing them to want to know more. And so, with the knowledge they had gleaned and a Star that went before them, they left their prestigious surroundings and set out to find the one about which the Star had witnessed to them.
c. Friends, it is not enough to know the will of God. We are to do the will of God. Once God reveals to us His plans and purposes, we have the responsibility to do our part.
d. Remember the Temple vision that Isaiah wrote about in Isaiah 6? After seeing God exalted and the angels giving Praise, he realized that even though he was already a priest of God, he was not worthy to even be in God’s Presence. After acknowledging his unworthiness, One of the Seraphim took a live coal off the altar and placed it on his lips and said, “Your iniquity is purged.” Then Isaiah heard the voice of God asking, “Who will go for me?” And Isaiah’s answer was, “Here am I—send me!”
e. What is it that God wants you to do this year? What is it that He is impressing on your heart and mind? What need do you see that is apparent and that someone needs to address? Once you have discovered your “Star”—God’s Message – Then you need to respond by obeying God’s message and mission for you.
III. THE WISE MEN PERSEVERED IN THEIR SEARCH FOR THE REASON FOR THE STAR.
a. We really don’t know for certain which country was their home base. The Scripture just says that they came from the East. One of the commentaries said that if Luke had recorded this he would have given us more detail—after all, he was a doctor and he was careful to pay attention to detail. But Matthew didn’t bother so much with the details—as least in this account. He just said they were from the east. Scholars identify several possibilities. They may have come from as far away as Baghdad in Iran. Or maybe it was from Iraq or Saudi Arabia. One commentary said there are at least 11 different countries that may have been where those Wise Men originated. And while we assume they came on Camels, I have read that camels back then were often beasts for carrying burdens. And if they came from Arabia it was more than likely that they rode on Arabian horses. All that really messes up our Nativity scenes!
b. But the fact is, they had a long journey of several hundred miles over terrain that was often rough—mountains and deserts that were very treacherous. By the time they reached Jerusalem they had to ask for guidance. But they didn’t give up. Whether their journey took weeks or months, it was difficult. But they were determined. They kept on in spite of the obstacles. Their one goal was to see this child who was born “King of the Jews.”
c. I can tell you that when you discover what it is God wants you to do, it may not be a piece of cake! It may cost you in time, in resources, in confrontations, in misunderstandings. But the star doesn’t fade. It is there so long as you keep seeking and following it.
d. The Apostle Paul met Jesus on the Damascus Road. It was a life changing, life defining moment. As he approached the end of his life after enduring all kinds of obstacles—beatings, ship wrecks, stoning, imprisonments and long journeys of thousands of miles only to be held prisoner again, he testified to King Agrippa In Acts 26: 19, “”So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.”
e. The Wise Men in Matthew’s account persevered until they saw Jesus and worshiped Him. Paul’s Star meant he was to be an “Apostle to the Gentiles.” He followed that star the rest of His life.
f. What Star are you following? Are you still chasing that Star?
And so we begin a New Year.
When I was working towards ordination one of the questions I was asked from the Ministerial Boards that interviewed me was about my call. How did I know that God was calling me to be a minister of the Gospel? The reason that question was so important was because they knew if I had any doubts about my call I would never survive in the ministry. When the demands of ministry became overwhelming—and they do at times—If there was any doubt about my call, I would drop out. And statistically it happens to too many. At one time the average survival rate was 7 years before a minister would drop out of the ministry. But when I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has called me, then I can keep on in spite of the demands.
As we face 2020 and the years beyond, I challenge you to be sure you have found your Star—your message from God. And when you have, follow that Star, be true to that Star—that Heavenly vision.
And never give up until you see Jesus!