Today is the last Sunday of the current sermon series, ‘Let’s Climb.’ As you may remember, we started it on the first Sunday of January. With the start of 2023, Pastor Adrian and I wanted to share the practical steps for the journey of faith that God has for us based on the book of James.
It’s been eight weeks since then and let me list the title of each sermon to refresh your memory: A Scattered Start to 2023, Listening and Doing, Love without Favoritism, Deeds and Words, Two Kinds of Wisdom, Depending Fully on God, and God’s Answer to Oppression. I hope that you have found them helpful in fighting against temptation and making some meaningful changes in each area of your lives.
This morning, we are going to think about ‘The Power of the Prayer of Faith’, and to conclude this sermon series.
13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.
15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
Our Prayer for Healing and Our Struggles
God is our father. As Christians, we pray every day. We talk to the Lord about every issue in our daily lives. Especially, when we have sick people among our family members, friends, or brothers and sisters in our church community, we feel a greater urgency to pray. Sometimes, we ourselves get seriously sick too.
We pray for the healing of the sick again and again. Often, the Lord leads to healing and recovery in response to our prayer, but that is not always the case. Actually, it’s not uncommon for Christians to often feel like their prayers go unanswered.
They are disappointed and often ask these kinds of questions to God: ‘Lord, you know how much I have prayed for healing for my loved ones, but why are they still suffering? Why is their condition worsening? Are you even listening to my prayers? To be honest, I feel tired and don’t know why I need to continue praying. I feel like I am unable to carry on.’ You may also have similar questions like they do.
Prayer Offered in Faith for the Sick
In today’s passage, James encourages those who are suffering, to pray, and those who are happy, to sing songs of praise. He talks about the confession of sins and the prayer offered in faith for healing that may bring healing to the sick.
He says, ‘if anyone among you is sick, call for the elders of the church to pray over them.’ And he goes on to say in verse 15, ‘the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.’
James uses the word ‘sick’ two times here. One is in verse 14, when he says, ‘Is anyone among you sick?’, and the other in verse 15, when he says, ‘the sick person’. What kind of sickness is James talking about here? Only physical sickness?
The word for sick in verse 14, in the original language, is ajsqenevw, which means to be feeble and to be weak. It does not indicate only physical weakness, but also emotional or spiritual weakness. The word for sick in verse 15, in the original language, is kavmnw, which means to toil and to become weak. James used two different words for sick here, but he is still talking about people who are weak, sick, or suffering physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
If I rephrase what James says in verse 14 and 15, it would be like this: ‘If you are weak, or are suffering from a serious illness that is physical, emotional, or spiritual, it may make you feel discouraged, frustrated, doubtful of God’s goodness for you, or perhaps it even makes you angry at God. In other words, if you are sick, don’t go through it alone.
Share your burdens with God in prayer and invite those who are humble in their hearts, and spiritually mature and strong, to pray over you. You will be forgiven, and the Lord will make you well.’
This doesn’t necessarily mean physical healing. Apostle Paul had a physical health issue but was still in a good relationship with the Lord and spiritually well.
Powerful Prayers of Elijah
After James says, ‘the prayer offered in faith is powerful and effective’, he mentioned a story of Elijah as an example of it. Elijah was well known for his powerful prayers and close relationship with God.
In 1 Kings 17, he prayed for a drought to come upon the land as a judgment against the wickedness of King Ahab. The land experienced a severe drought for three years. In 1 Kings 18, after the drought had ended, he prayed for rain to come upon the land so the sky became black with clouds, and rain poured down upon the land.
Another powerful prayer of Elijah is found in 1 Kings 17. He prayed for God to raise a widow’s son from the dead: ‘Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!’ The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.
Elijah’s prayer was so powerful, and we may think he was very special and must have been very different from us in many ways. We cannot imagine that we would be able to do the same things as he did. But in verse 17, James says, ‘Elijah was a human being, even as we are.’ He said Elijah was just like us, a mere human being.
The Secret of the Powerful Prayers of Elijah
Then, what is the secret of his powerful prayer? He knew God’s will and was obedient to the Lord. So, his prayer was in line with God’s plan.
Let’s see what happened before the drought.
1 Kings 17:1-4
1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” 2 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: 3 “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. 4 You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”
The word of the Lord came to Elijah and let him know His plan: where to go and how his water and food would be provided at the beginning of the drought. That means that the drought was also a part of the Lord’s plan and was known to Elijah by the word of the Lord before he declared it.
Let’s also see what happened before the rain.
1 Kings 18:1-2
1 After a long time, in the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” 2 So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab.
The word of the Lord came to Elijah and let him know that the Lord would send rain on the land. The rain was God’s plan, and Elijah went to present himself to Ahab as the Lord said.
A few minutes ago, we shared another story of Elijah: he prayed for God to raise a widow’s son from the dead. Let’s take a look at how he met the widow at first.
1 Kings 17:7-10
7 Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. 8 Then the word of the Lord came to him: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” 10 So he went to Zarephath.
The word of the Lord came to Elijah and let him know where to go and that the Lord would direct a widow to him. Elijah meeting the widow was already part of God’s plan. He went to where God wanted him to be in obedience. He met the widow there.
We repeatedly see this pattern. The word of the Lord came to Elijah and let him know God’s plan. Elijah trusted the Lord and was obedient to Him. The drought and the rain were not Elijah’s plan or a mere human’s request, but part of God’s divine plan. Elijah raising the widow’s son from the dead was also a part of God’s plan from the beginning.
Elijah was a human being as we are, but he faithfully learned God’s plan, and so he made all his prayers and actions to be in line with God’s will. That is the secret of his powerful prayer. God never changes His mind or fails, so his prayer was always fulfilled in the almighty power of the Lord.
You might want to say, ‘the word of the Lord doesn’t come to me like it did to Elijah, and I don’t know God’s plan.’ You might also want to ask, ‘How can I make my prayer in line with the Lord’s will?’ But the Lord already made His plan and His will clear in the Bible. The word of the Lord already came to you. Even Elijah did not have as much of God’s word as you have today.
Sometimes, God speaks to us in a whisper or gives us inspiration in various ways. Still, the voice or the inspiration given by God is in accordance with the words of the Bible. So, the way to confirm whether the voice or the inspiration you received is from God is to make sure if it aligns with the words in the Bible.
One survey conducted by a reliable organization says, ‘about 40 % of the Christians in North America rarely or never read the Bible personally.’ What does this survey result say to you? I am wondering how their prayers could be in line with the Lord’s will.
James says, ‘let the sick call the elders of the church to pray over them.’ But just as Elijah was an ordinary person, the elders are also the same. His point here is that a person who prays should know the word of the Lord and God’s will in a given situation, be obedient to the Lord, trust Him, join His plan, and pray for what God wants to do, not for what you want God to do. It is also an invitation for you to become a person who prays in faith like Elijah.
Pray in the Name of the Lord
Keeping in mind what has just been said, let’s carefully read 1 John 5:14-15.
1 John 5:14-15
14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
If your prayer is according to His will, God hears you, but if not, He doesn’t hear you. Of course, the Lord always hears you. What James says here is if your prayer is not according to His will, His response would be quite different from what you expect or desire.
When we close our prayer, we say, ‘in the name of Jesus.’ It means that your prayer should be in line with who Jesus is: His character, His gracious and loving heart, and His will. It also means that your prayer should be consistent with what Jesus taught, what He did, and what He is going to do. Then, you will experience God’s almighty power to fulfill your prayer.
But many Christians are often tempted to pray in their own names. Their prayers are in line with their own plans, will, and desires. Even though you close your prayer, saying ‘in the name of Jesus’, it is still like you pray in your own name unless your prayers are not aligned with God’s will. You will become frustrated and start to wonder. You won’t be able to experience God’s power or His great plan for you.
Put Trust in the Lord
Then, here is one question. If faithful Christians have prayed over the sick, but the sick is still suffering, does that mean they are not faithful enough or the sick? It maybe yes and no.
Jesus is God, and He is the only one who knows God’s will perfectly. What He had said and done were fully aligned with God’s will.
However, as you know, Jesus didn’t heal Apostle Paul’s bodily ailment.
During His time on earth, Jesus performed many miraculous healings. He healed everyone who came to Him, but He did not heal everyone, even though He could have. For example, in John 5, there was a large group of sick people gathered at a pool in Jerusalem, and Jesus only healed one man who had been paralyzed for 38 years.
In John 11, Lazarus became seriously ill, and his sisters sent word to Jesus, who was in a different town at the time, asking Him to come and heal him. However, Jesus delayed his journey and by the time he arrived, Lazarus had already died and had been buried for four days. Even though Jesus raised him from the dead at the time, Lazarus had to suffer from a serious illness and died before. His sisters also had to go through that difficult time.
The Bible teaches us that God may allow difficulties in the lives of Christians for many reasons: to refine their character, to strengthen their faith, to draw them closer to Him, to bring about good in their lives or in the lives of others, or for His glory.
We kind of understand it, but we still simply don’t fully understand it. Although God told Elijah what was going to happen, he probably did not fully understand God’s entire plan. He still put his trust in the Lord, and prayed in faith and did as God directed. Then the Power of the prayer of faith was revealed and demonstrated for the glory of God.
Change the Focus of Your Prayer
Now, we need to change the focus of our prayer from ‘Lord, this is what I want you to do for me’ prayer to ‘Lord, what do you want me to do’ prayer. That is going to change everything about the nature of your prayer and about your life.
Let’s Climb Together
On the first Sunday of this sermon series, ‘Let’s Climb.’, Pastor Adrian said this: if you want to go on a hike, you need to engage your whole body! You will use your arms and your legs! The steeper the climb, the mores fully you engage your body—and the more you must depend on others. You might go for a walk around the lake by yourself, but climbing a mountain requires not only personal strength, but also knowledgeable and experiences partners.
As you know, this is to describe our spiritual journey. This journey is not our own, but the Lord’s. So, we need His wisdom, strength, and guidance. The only way to complete this journey is to be fully dependent on the Lord and to be aligned with Him in our prayer and in every area of our lives while we love, support, and encourage each other. Then, His divine presence and power will be revealed in our lives and lead us to our destination, His ultimate Kingdom.
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