Psalm 124———-James 5: 13-30———-18th Sunday after Pentecost
September 26, 2021
Many years ago, I met two 14-year-olds that were in the youth group at the church where I was a new intern. Within ten minutes of meeting me, they asked, “Can we borrow your car?” I was flabbergasted! What an audacious request! Firstly, they were too young to drive. Secondly, I barely knew them—but they appeared to be entirely serious about it! I said, “No, guys. Sorry.” And they said, “Okay.” And we continued with our conversation.
That has been 44 years now, and it still stands out as the most bizarre request I have ever fielded! Think for a minute about what was right with their question, and what was wrong. Jesus told us to seek, and that we would find—to ask, and it shall be given—to knock and the door shall be opened to us. But there’s a reason why the answer to our prayers is often quite different from what we had been hoping for.
I love the old Confederate Soldier’s Prayer that goes like this:
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve; I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things; I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life; I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for—but everything I had hoped for. Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. I am, among all men, most richly blessed.
The line that really gets me is “I got nothing that I asked for—but everything I had hoped for.” Friends, sometimes our prayers aren’t exactly right—not the words, just the motivation. Learning how to ask is part of the growing up process, and we learn how not to ask for that which is ridiculous. But I am afraid that we also learn in this process to keep our requests reasonable and, as a result, our prayer life suffers.
Our scriptures for today are about prayer. I have a sense that I am learning a lot from these passages, and I invite you to join me in finding out how to be audacious askers for God’s Kingdom!
The Lord Is for You
First, we need to compare our Judeo-Christian faith with the pagan theology that much of the world embraced. I got my first taste of this by watching “Jason and the Argonauts,” a film in which the gods were antagonistic and capricious—always needing to be appeased by the puny humans.
In contrast, the God we discover in the Old and New Testaments is a God that CARES for us—a God who is on our side. This God cares for us just as we are, but cares too much to simply let us stay the way we are. I once heard a Christian comedian say that, in some churches, we “come as we are,” we sing “Just As I Am,” and we go home just as we were! (God loves us too much for that!)
Our faith teaches that God Is For Us, and we keep that in mind when we interpret the events of our lives. Here’s an example:
A worker gets hit with a disease, and is no longer able to continue doing the same work. Instead of giving up, they say to themselves, “God is for me, and God is going to work this for good.” This worker gets new training, and lands a new job that is much more fulfilling and leads to a better life than before!
We interpret life’s difficulties through the lens of the faith that God is at work in our lives. “We go nowhere by accident.” Sometimes, when we hit a bump in the road, it jostles us onto a new path—a better path. I love the morning prayer that goes something like: “Heavenly Father, You’re in charge of everything that’s going to happen to me today—whether it be good or bad, positive or negative. Please make me thankful for everything that happens to me. Amen.”
The Prayer of Faith
This is what I would call a prayer of faith. What, exactly, is faith? Well, we understand that it is NOT just a feeling, or even what we call “knowledge.” Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Where do we get faith? First and foremost, faith is a gift from God. I often find myself asking, along with the Disciples, “O Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” Paul tells the Romans, “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” Faith comes from hearing the word of Christ.
Faith is also a decision to TRUST. In John 14, Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” In Hebrews 11 we read, “By faith Abraham, when called to GO to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, OBEYED AND WENT, even though he did not know where he was going.” As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase; just take the first step.”
James certainly understood that faith requires movement—action! (Without any certainty of what the outcome will be.) He writes, “Are any among you suffering? They should pray. They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.” He says, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
I think what James is talking about here is mutual accountability. We know that telling others about our difficulties is—well, difficult! It’s not comfortable. But being accountable with even one other person is very cleansing and freeing—and promotes healing.
The Prayer of the Righteous Is Powerful and Effective
James tells us “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” Righteous. Powerful. Effective.
- Who are “the righteous”? Please don’t equate the word “righteous” with the word “deserving.” The righteous are simply those imperfect sinners who are seeking God’s ways. These are folks who “ask right”: James 4 tells us “You do not have because you do not ask. Or you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” We would be better off, James implies, to ask for that which God would be delighted to grant. It’s a theme we hear in Psalm 37:4, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
- What do we mean by “powerful”? I think it means that God acts way beyond our normal ability to act—often abundantly more than all we can ask or even imagine! This demonstrates God’s power, and is a reminder to ASK AUDACIOUSLY!
- The prayer of the righteous is “effective.” Sometimes, the effect is instantaneous. Sometimes, it’s very slow in coming. God desires to give us what we truly need, AND God wants to use us in the process of answering prayers. This is one of the ways we grow, watching God slowly working everything out. Amen?
I’ll finish today by pointing at this communion table. What we celebrate here is God’s answer to the BIGGEST prayer that we have ever prayed, “Lord, Save Us!” Next week, we will join with Christians all around the world to celebrate God’s way of saving us—through the perfect sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Friends, if God is for us, who or what can be against us?! When we see what God has done—the power God has, and the love God has—then we are encouraged to be more audacious in our asking! For instance: we can pray for God’s light and love to flood over the Taliban; we can ask God to send the Spirit into all our elected officials (and all the non-elected bureaucrats) and move them to seek God’s will; and we can ask God to help us to forgive that one person whom we need to forgive. Let’s do some audacious asking!
Prayer: God, we place ourselves and all our affairs lovingly into your hands. We trust that that which is for our highest good will come to us in a divine way. We pray in the name of Christ, amen.