The crisis of conservatism on both sides of the pond
James 5:16-18, Matthew 5:23, Luke 18:1, I Samuel 12:23, James 5:17-18, I Kings 18:42, Kings 18:42-45, Proverbs 15:29 Psalm 66:18, Isaiah 59:1-2, I Corinthians 1:30, Matthew 6:6, Hebrews 5:7, Colossians 4:2, Isaiah 30:18, Galatians 6:1
Take a look at James 5:16-18. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.”
R. A. Torrey said, “Nothing lies beyond the reach of prayer, except that which lies beyond the will of God.”
A.C. Dixon said, “When we depend upon organization, we get what organization can do. When we depend upon education, we get what education can do. When we depend upon money, we get what money can do. When we depend upon singing and preaching, we get what singing and preaching can do. But when we depend upon prayer, we get what God can do.”
Now James is talking to us about intercession. He’s talking about helping our friends to have their needs met.
First, he talks about the confession we must make. He says, “Confess your faults one to another…” One thing we’re not very good at is confessing our faults one to another. Amen? But we’re pretty good at criticizing people and concealing our own faults.
Someone said, “To err is human…..to cover it up is too!
If you study the history of revival, you’ll discover that great revivals were not necessarily marked by great singing or preaching; but they were marked by great confession of sin….not only to God, but to one another. When God’s people get broken, that’s when God moves in.
When we confess our faults, the first thing that comes is restoration. James says, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” That word “healed” can refer to the healing of the body, or the soul, or the spirit. It can refer to physical brokenness, or emotional brokenness, or spiritual brokenness. But when we begin to confess our sins, God begins to move in and go to work. In the Old Testament we read, “A broken and contrite spirit Thou wilt not despise, O God.”
But not only is there restoration; there is reconciliation. One time Jesus was talking about worship when He said in Matthew 5:23, “When you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother have ought against thee, leave your gift at the altar and go and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and make your gift.”
Heaven rejoices when we confess our faults to God and each other. When there’s confession, restoration and reconciliation, there’s revival!
It will be a great day when confession replaces criticism and when compassion replaces condemnation.
But be careful! The devil will use anything to his advantage…even confession. James doesn’t say to broadcast your faults. Jesus warned about casting your pearls before swine. The circle of confession needs to follow the circle of sin. Here’s what I mean by that: if it’s a private sin, then the confession needs to be between you and the Lord, or with a trusted prayer warrior who can pray for you if you need victory.
If it’s a personal sin, it needs to be personal confession. If we’ve sinned against one another, then we confess it to one another: we don’t talk about it to other people.
If it’s a public sin, it needs to be a public confession. If you have publicly dishonored the Lord, you need to publicly repent. Why? Well, you may have changed your heart, but your brothers and sisters don’t know about it.
There is the confession we must make, but there is also the command that we should mind. James says, “Pray one for another.” Luke 18:1 says, “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” Samuel said in I Samuel 12:23, “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you.”
A little girl misunderstood what the choir was singing one day. They were singing, God Is Still On The Throne. She thought they said, God Is Still On The Phone. He is! He wants to answer our prayers. The fact that you can have a conversation with the One who scooped out the seas, and heaped up the mountains, and flung the stars into space is the greatest Christian privilege you have! The command that we are to mind is that we are to pray one for another.
Prayer is not just getting ready for Christian service; it is Christian service. I serve God more when I pray than I do when I preach. You can do more than pray after you’ve prayed, but you can do no more than pray until you’ve prayed.
The sick need more than out pity; they need our prayers. Those with faults need more than our condemnation; they need our intercession.
Have you ever noticed that when a notorious sinner gets saved, everybody watches him like a hawk? Then, the first thing you know, he slips. Maybe he’s been a drunkard and he takes another drink. Maybe he has used filthy language and he curses again. Maybe he was a fornicator and he slips again. So the Christian says, “Ah, ha! Just as I thought! Look at him! Look how he failed!” And rather than helping him, they put their heel on his head and push him further down into the mud.
Galatians 6:1 “You who are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” It seems that the Christian army is the only army in the world that buries its wounded!
But the third thing I want us to notice is the conditions we should meet. Not all prayer gets to God. In the first chapter James said, “Ask in faith, nothing wavering.” He told us to ask for the right things. He said we don’t receive because we ask amiss. Here James adds two more conditions to answered prayer. The first one involves the intensity of the asking, and the second one involves the integrity of the asker.
He says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” The words effectual and fervent are translated from one Greek word which means “stretched out.” Imagine a runner stretching out for the finish line. James says that this is the way we are to pray. We’re to be eager, earnest, and impassioned in our prayers. God forgive our take it or leave it kind of prayers!
We give without sacrifice, we pray without fasting, we witness without tears: is it any wonder that we sow without results? James says it’s the effectual and fervent prayer of a righteous man that availeth much.
Sometimes people will argue about the posture we ought to have when we pray. “The proper way for a man to pray,” said Deacon Lemuel Keyes, “and the only proper attitude is down upon his knees.” “No, I should say the way to pray,” said Rev. Doctor Wise, “Is standing straight with outstretched arms, and rapt and upturned eyes.” “Oh, no, no, no,” said Elder Slow. “Such posture is too proud! A man should pray with his eyes fast closed and head contritely bowed.” “Well, it seems to me his hands should be austerely clasped in front with both thumbs pointing to the ground,” said Rev. Doctor Blunt. “Last year I fell in Hidcon’s well head first,” said Cyrus Brown. “With both my heels a stiken’ up and my head a pointin’ down. And I made a prayer right then and there…the plainest prayer I ever said, a standin’ on my head!”
It doesn’t make any difference what position your body’s in; it’s the intensity of your desire that matters more. Half-hearted, lukewarm, indifferent prayers don’t get through.
First, James says there’s a confession we’re to make. Then he speaks of the command we ought to mind. Then he speaks of the conditions we ought to meet. Finally, he speaks of the character that we ought to manifest. Look at James 5:17-18. “Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.”
James says we can manifest the same character Elijah had. James is illustrating what fervent effectual prayer is by citing an episode that took place in I Kings 18:42.
Because the judgment of God was upon a sinful nation, there had been no rain for three and one half years. This came to pass because of the prayers of Elijah. The fields were withered, the cattle had died of thirst: there was a curse on the land.
Then there was a mountaintop revival, the fire of the Lord fell, and it was time for it to rain again. The same prophet who turned the rain off with his prayers, is now ready to turn it back on again. He goes back to God in prayer. Wicked king Ahab is on the throne of Israel. I Kings 18:42-45 says, “So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees, and said to his servant, Go up now look toward the sea. And he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again seven times. And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there raiseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not. And it came to pass in the meanwhile, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain…”
This is the story James has chosen to illustrate the effectual fervent prayers of a righteous man.
We’ve talked about the intensity of the asking, but let’s talk about the integrity of the asker. Elijah was God’s man. He had integrity. He was a righteous man. If you want your prayers answered, then you’re going to have to be righteous.
I can tell you in one word why most of our prayers are unanswered….sin. Proverbs 15:29 says, “The Lord is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayers of the righteous.” Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Isaiah 59:1-2 says, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear you.”
Elijah was a righteous man and that’s why God heard his prayer. James says that there are two conditions that have to be met. There is the intensity of the asking, and the integrity of the asker.
There is no way for anyone to be righteous apart from Jesus Christ. I Corinthians 1:30 says, “He is made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification.” If you are in Christ, you have a positional righteousness. But that’s not the only thing James is talking about. There’s also practical righteousness. Are you living day by day, obeying the commands of God? Are you living a pure, clean life? “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”
How foolish we are not to relinquish our sins! Do you know how they catch monkeys in the South Sea Islands? They tie a coconut to a tree. The coconut has a hole in the top of it that’s just big enough for the monkey to get his hand into. They put a handful of rice into the coconut. The monkey will look into the coconut, see the rice in there and reach down to get a handful of rice. That makes his hand bigger than the hole and they can’t pull their hand out.
Now the captor comes. That monkey will scream, and plead, and be frightened to death, but he’ll never let go of that rice! That’s how they catch the monkey. You say, “Stupid monkey!”
Well, stupid is the person who won’t relinquish his sin so he can have the blessings of God upon his life.
Go back to I Kings 18:42. The person of the prayer was Elijah. He’s just like you and me. The same God who answered his prayer will answer your prayer. We say, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” But the real question is, “Where are the Elijah’s of God?”
Elijah wasn’t perfect. He was a prophet, but he wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes. If you read the next chapter you’ll see that this man who stood before 450 prophets of Baal, is running from one demon-inspired woman! You’ll find him with his head between his knees moaning and groaning, wishing he could die. He knew what it was like to get depressed. He knew what it was like to fail. And somehow, his failures can be an inspiration to us.
But not only is there the person of prayer; there is the place of prayer. Verse 42 says that Elijah went to the top of Mt. Carmel. The point is that he got off by himself. Jesus said in Matthew 6:6, “When you pray, enter into your closet. And your Father which seeth thee in secret shall reward thee openly.”
The drunken sot, Ahab, went off to eat and drink. But the man of God went to a secret place and got down on his knees. The success you have teaching your Sunday school class is not dependant upon how well you teach in public, but in how well you travail in private.
The success of preaching and singing and teaching depends on how well it’s soaked in prayer. There is the person of prayer, the place of prayer, and the posture of prayer. “He cast himself down upon the earth and put his face between his knees.”
The point is that this man is bent over…he’s broken. He’s stretched out before God. Do you know why Elijah was so bold when he stood before Ahab? No man need fear any king when he has just had an audience with the King of kings! The man who can kneel before God can stand before any man.
But there is also the passion of the prayer. “He cast himself down upon the earth.” He didn’t put a little blanket down so his knees wouldn’t get dirty; he throws himself down in passionate prayer. Therefore it’s a powerful prayer.
Hebrews 5:7 tells us how our Savior prayed. It says, “He offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears…” When’s the last time you shed a tear over some soul that’s mortgaged to the devil? When’s the last time you labored in prayer? Prayer is hard work!
But then there is the persistence of the prayer. When the servant reported to Elijah that no rain cloud could be seen, he just kept sending him back until there was! Elijah said, “God, I want an answer!” There’s sort of a holy audacity and persistence in his prayer. In the English language the Bible says, “Knock and it shall be opened unto you.” But the Greek says, “Keep on asking, keep on seeking.”
Colossians 4:2 says that we’re to “continue in prayer.” Isaiah 30:18 says, “Therefore will the Lord wait that He may be gracious unto you…” Sometimes the Lord doesn’t answer right away.
But learn this about prayer: God’s delays are not God’s denials. There is the power of Elijah’s prayer because in I Kings 18:45 it says, “….and there was a great rain…”
I want there to be something about this church that can’t be explained apart from God. It doesn’t have to be sensational or noisy. A sunrise doesn’t make any noise, but it’s got God’s stamp all over it! I want the kind of thing that comes through prayer. I don’t want our fellowship to be frozen by formalism, or wired together by organization, or rusted together by tradition; I want it melted together by prayer. Lord teach us how to pray!
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