Suffering for Christ has become a part of the Christian faith since the death and resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. From the first martyr for the gospel when Stephen was stoned to death by the religious elites of that day. Acts 7:54-60. To Peter being crucified upside down because he didn’t deserve to die the same way as his Lord.
To the apostle Paul who was left for dead, beaten, whipped almost to death, ship wrecked, imprisoned for preaching the gospel, to the beheaded by a Narcissistic man named “Nero”.
To John Huss a true reformer before the Reformation began in 1517, John was burned at the stake by the Catholic Church for proclaiming the truth of the gospel. On July 6, 1415, he was taken to the cathedral, dressed in his priestly garments, and then stripped of them one by one. He refused one last chance to recant at the stake, where he prayed, "Lord Jesus, it is for thee that I patiently endure this cruel death. I pray thee to have mercy on my enemies." He was heard reciting the Psalms as the flames engulfed him. His executioners even scooped up his ashes and tossed them into a lake so that nothing would remain of John Huss
To John Bunyan a pastor of a small church who was imprisoned for preaching the gospel, Bunyan could have freed himself by promising not to preach but refused. He told local magistrates he would rather remain in prison until moss grew on his eyelids than fail to do what God commanded. He spent 12 years of his life in a jail cell continuing preaching and wrote many books, one being the second greatest book sold next to the Bible called the “Pilgrims Progress”.
What are we to do for those who are being persecuted or when it happens to us? According to James he answers that question clearly and plainly in the opening of (v13) “Is anyone amoung you suffering? Let him pray.” Let me ask you this morning! How is your prayer life?
Is it consistent with your walk with Jesus?
Does it play an important part in your life in the good and the bad?
Do you only pray when you need something?
How you respond to these questions will reveal your true heart.
Think about it for a moment
How do you deal with your day to day problems?
How do you live out the gospel in your life?
How do you preserve through trials?
How do we follow the examples of godly people?
How do you speak to a Holy God? "Through the privilege [not your right] of Prayer"
We should be praying when we’re going through troubling circumstances.
Is any one of you in trouble? As James says this morning! The people who James was writing too…. knew what it meant to suffer as they have been facing much religious persecution against them. …..But, it didn’t always make sense to them. James’ advice is this! When God doesn’t make sense, or when it feels like our world is overwhelming, we should be praying consently any ways!
Not shaking our fist at God.
Not angrily fighting the world.
Not working it out in own strength, but through the avenue of prayer.
Praying as we make our way through these life challenges.
Remember exciting things happen when we pray.
The bible is full of people who thought prayer was an important part of their lives.
Ezra, Nehemiah prayed
Esther, Job prayed
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel,
Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi prayed
Peter, John, Paul, Jude, and the churches prayed. Even the Lord Jesus himself prayed in public and in private! Because He knew prayer was vital for Christian life!
Remember what Paul said to the church Philippians as he penned this in JAIL! “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;” Phil 4:6. Everything by prayer which means "in every time": always, constantly, every day, as often as there is opportunity and need requires. Prayer is so important to a Christian’s life and to the churches life. The one on one, personal communion with the God…….who shows compassion and mercy with overflowing love which was demonstrated towards us when He saved us from His wrath and judgement. We’ve been commanded by a Holy and Perfect God to make our prayers and supplications to Him always, constantly every day.
“Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near.” Isa 55:6
John Bunyan said Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to the Word, for the good of the church, with submission, in faith, to the will of God. Warren Weirsbe said “prayer is certainly a high and holy privilege. To think that, as God’s children, we can come freely and boldly to His throne and share with Him our needs. “ Richard Baxter said "Prayer is the breath of the new creature."
James reminds the believer about the importance of prayer! 7 times in the closing remarks of this letter he mentions prayer. In this closing section James encourages us to pray by describing 4 situations in which God answers prayer and why we should pray.
PRAYER FOR THE SUFFERING (V13)
“afflicted” which means “suffering” in difficult circumstances. Paul used this expression being persecuted for the proclamation of the gospel. In 2 Tim 2:9 it says “for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” What must we do when we are faced with trying times? We must pray and ask God for wisdom who gives it freely to those who seek Him. As one writer puts it “God can transform troubles into triumphs.” Remember Paul when He prayed 3 times to have this thorn removed from his life? Listen to God’s answer “But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Cor 12:9-10. Though we may not like the answer to our prayer, none the less we must praise His name even in the midst of suffer. A prime example of this verse is found when Paul and Silas were in jail for preaching the gospel. Instead of having pity parties for one another or wasted the time God gave them, they used their time to pray and sing to the Lord! Acts 16: 25 reveals this truth that James is trying to remind us. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,” Acts 16:25. Demonstrating the privilege to be called “a redeemed son of the God.” Prayer is not something we do after the storm; it’s something we do during the storm, even if the circumstances never change. It’s the faithfulness that we have in Christ, that I will still cry out to Him in prayer and I still sing to His sweet name, despite the outcome whether good or bad. The prayer believers are to offer in such circumstances is not too necessarily for deliverance from trials, but for the strength to endure it faithfully.
PRAYER FOR THE SICK (V14-V16)
I don’t think James is giving us a blanket formula for healing the sick, otherwise we would see this throughout the New Testament writings. God is much greater than that! He is the GREAT PHYSICAN. Not to diminish the importance here, but understand that God is not restricted to our abilities. Those who are “sick” which could be translated “weak or feeble” This passage is not just talking about the physical sickness in general, but spiritual weakness in the battle for the gospel. As they’re faced with such great persecution and opposition because they are Christians. “Are any of you weak?”
See the weak in this passage are those…..
Who have been defeated in spiritual battle and mentally, physically, and somewhat spiritually drained.
Who have lost the ability to endure their suffering.
They are the fallen spiritual warriors.
They are exhausted, weary, and depressed Christian.
They have tried to draw to God but have lost their motivation.
They are the ones who have hit rock bottom and need help from their brothers and sisters.
Paul penned these words for the church to be aware of one another! “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak [sick], be patient with them all.” 1 Thess 5:14. And who does James say for those people to seek? The elders…..not the elderly in the church body, but the spiritual mature ones. The ones who are called to spiritually lead God’s children to keep looking vertical. Sadly it’s the other way around in today’s church. The pastoral team is usually the last one to find out when someone is hospitalized or incapacitated. There are many in the churches that don’t want anyone to know or to help and James rejects that notion that our sickness, our persecution is not some private matter. We are to go to the church body or in this case the Elders to minister to our weaknesses through the avenue of prayer. “Anointing him with oil” is not reference to some symbolic ceremony as some say. The reason I say this……“Anointing” could be better translated “massaging” We’ve seen this in the story of the Good Samaritan “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” Luke 10:33-34. The elders were to rub, massage oil on their body as a means to comfort and strengthen as they faced such persecution for the gospel. John MacArthur said “it may well have been that the elders literally rubbed oil on the believer who had suffered physical injures to their bodies from the persecution. Medical science was certainly in a primitive state and there were few trustworthy doctors. It would have been a gracious, kind act on the part of the elders to rub oil on the wounds of those who had been beaten, or into the sore muscles of those made to work long hours under harsh treatment.”
But let’s not lose focus to the over tone of this portion of James letter…..prayer is the underline theme, not to get hung up over the oil being physical or symbolic. The faithful prayers of the elders and the power of God’s sustaining grace…the believer will find strength in due season! Making our petitions known before a holy God who sovereignly acts on behalf of His people. “Raise up” God will restore His battered sheep’s enthusiasm to endure to the end. As Isaiah wrote! “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isa 40:28-31
PRAYER FOR ONE ANOTHER (V17-V18)
Did Elijah consider prayer a dying trend in his day? No....He was a praying man who prayed for his nation and the people who governed over him. James uses Elijah as an example, he prayed that it would not rain and his prayer was answered! This goes back to an exciting story in 1 Kings in chapter 16 when Ahad reigned as king and he was the worst of the worst. It says in 1 Kings 16:30-33 “Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him......” The background to this incident can be found in Chapter 17 we read Elijah told King Ahab that it would not rain! While this chapter only gives us the story of the drought; James account gives its duration and links it to the prayers of Elijah and then Chapter 18 at the end. We read that the Lord sent rain on the land. (1 Kings 18:42-46). Elijah prayers both created and ended a devastating three and a half year drought. So, if the righteous prayers of God’s children avail, or accomplish much, why is the evangelical churches weak or failing in this area? He was a man just like you and me! He had downfalls; he never claimed to be perfect! Do you remember what happened after this wonderful act displayed by God in the victory on Mount Carmel? He was so afraid and discouraged…………he ran away fearing for his life. But the beauty of this is even in the middle of discouragement…..he never ceased to pray to the one whom he knew he could trust! The sovereign LORD.
PRAYER FOR THE STRAYING (V19-V20)
Though we don’t see James mentioning prayer in section….the implications are surely there. If we are to pray for the sick, the afflicted, surely we must pray for the brother who wanders from the truth. “to wander” suggests a gradual moving away from the will of God, to lead away from the truth, to lead into error. The outcome of this wandering is “sin” and possible death! What are we to do when we see a fellow believer wandering from the truth? We should pray for him or her! Jesus said to Peter “but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again [literally means converted], strengthen your brothers." Luke 22:32. Though we are to seek the lost with the gospel, it’s just as important to seek the saved as well! As Jesus said in Matt 18 dealing with sin and it says "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained [literally means “won”] your brother.” Matt 18:15. John MacArthur says "maintaining open, sharing, and praying relationships with other Christians will help keep believers from bottoming out in their spiritual lives. Such relationships help give the spiritual strength that provides victory over sin". We are to lift each other up to the Lord…..we are not called to tear down and destroy one another. We are called to have an attitude of love for the fallen brother….not to point fingers, murmur or crush them under the weight of their sin. Reminding them of the living hope we have of eternal things. We are to come alongside them and guide them in the Saviour arms. As Peter said “love covers a multitude of sins” 1 Peter 4:8. We have seen that prayer is a vital part of our lives….there are no excuses! Prayer should never be a dying trend in our homes, churches …….and especially in the Christian life. We must never replace prayer with “what ifs, maybe later or but” it’s too precious and dear to God to ignore or not participate. “A man spoke with the Lord about Heaven and Hell. “I will show you Hell,” said the Lord. And they went into a room which had a large pot of stew in the middle. The smell was delicious and around the pot sat people who were famished and desperate. All were holding spoons with very long handles which reached to the pot, but because the handles of the spoons were longer than their arms, it was impossible to get the stew into their mouths. Their suffering was terrible.
“Now I will show you Heaven,” said the Lord, and they went into an identical room. There was a similar pot of stew and the people had the same identical spoons, but they were well nourished, talking and happy. At first the man was confused and didn’t understand. “It is simple,” said the Lord. “You see, they have learned to feed each other.”
James reminds us to authentic in our Christian walk and never ceases to care for, love and help one another as we walk the narrow road of the gospel truth. And most of all never stop praying for each other, no matter what is thrown at us throughout the course of this life. Because we need each other as we wait and anticipate that glorious day when all get to Heaven.