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James, Part VII

This morning we have our seventh and final message from James’ epistle to the early church.

His words spoke to my heart all this week and I hope that these words touch your soul as well.

Once again, he’s direct with his message and common-sense counsel to the first Christians.  Despite their salvation, regardless of the indescribable miracles they had seen with their own eyes, in spite of the gift of the Holy Spirit, the early Christians were still suffering, got sick, and hurt each other.  In addition, they were not praying effectively and it appears they were even turning their backs on some that had left the church and gone back to their old way of living.

Good grief—he could have called it the letter to Brim’s Grove—or any other church in America!

Here’s what he said—-but imagine the letter being addressed to you….and me, or at this church, this very morning:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 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. 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. 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.

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. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”  James 5:13-20, NIV

What do you do when you are trouble?  Instinctively, reflexively, as a knee jerk response, what’s the first thing you do when you have troubles?  James, nor Jesus,ever suggests that you will not have troubles—they will be a part of our lives until we leave this earth. It’s a certainty that we will all have troubles!  But what we do with our troubles is what is supposed to separate us from non-believers.  If your first reaction is to strike back, get even, break something, hit someone, run away and hide or worry about the matter, you’re acting like every other unredeemed man or woman.  Stop and pray when you have troubles! Immediately—-instinctively—reflexively—-pray about it and give God the room, place and space to rescue you! Do not depend upon your own wits and experience! Don’t show the world how tough, resourceful and powerful you are—humble yourself and ask God to help you, a mortal, one who is not really that tough, resourceful and mighty as you want folks to believe—-and let Him reveal how omnipotent, omniscient and omni-present He is. Let God get the glory for resolving your troubles instead of trusting yourself and then finding out that you made things worse!

Do you pray——earnestly, sincerely, with the heart of a child praying to a father?  Are you committed to praying without ceasing and trusting that He has heard your prayer and that it is impossible for Him to ignore the prayers of His children!  PRAY!  And pray believing that He knows about the trouble, and He is more than able to accomplish infinitely more if we will let God be our shield, our defender, our guard and provider.  But we must pray!

James said the same thing earlier in this letter.  Instead of complaining and griping about suffering, the one in trouble should pray.

And are you happy?  Praise God, some people are happy, and it’s contagious!  Two days ago my mom’s best friend died—Louise Austin.  We grew up in one town, the same house, with the same church friends for as long as my parents were alive. And Mrs. Austin was the happiest, most jovial and full-of-laughter person I ever met. It was contagious She would start one of her uncontrollable bouts of laughter and we would find ourselves laughing and not even knowing what it was that made her so happy!   Don’t you love to be around those kinds of people?  But James’s counsel is the same for the one that is suffering—-take it to God!   Have you enjoyed some happiness this week? Sing about it!  Let your voice be heard and let your neighbors think you’re a lunatic—but raise your voice in praise to Him when things go right!

But the rest of the chapter is where I hope to give the most attention today.  James is aware that some folks were sick, and he asks,  “Are you sick?”  And then he seems to tell them, with some frustration, “(Then) ask men and women of power to prayer for you!”  James clearly set the initiative on the person in need: ask for prayer from those whose prayers are effective!  I would not ask Putin, Xi, Maduro, or 90% of our politicians to pray for me. Their prayers are meaningless. When I am a serious about prayer, I ask those who are serious about God to prayer for me.  James calls them “elders” or “presbyters”, i.e. those men and women who are true disciples of Christ and are devout in their lives and their walk with Christ—their prayers make a difference.

He’s very direct and specific. Let those you trust in your church, Let them pray over him and annoint should anoint the sick person with oil in the name of the Lord. This anointing with oil has been interpreted as either seeking the best medical attention possible for the afflicted (oil massages were considered medicinal), or as an emblem of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power.

So to be clear, oil was seen not as magical but medicinal.    “Oil was and is frequently used in the east as a means of cure in very dangerous diseases. Pure olive oil is excellent for recent wounds and bruises; the good Samaritan used it to treat the wounds of the injured Jew he found on the road.

So if you’re sick, and your prayers are not enough call on those whose prayers you trust to pray for you and get the medical attention you need!  There’s no “reward” for those of us who suffer needlessly when getting to a doctor and effective prayers could be employed!  If I am sick and I am hurting, I don’t broadcast it to the world, but I ask for the effective prayers of those I trust to pray for me—-and it works.  But….there are some men and women whose prayers are quite frankly more effective than others!

Clearly, God does not grant immediate healing for every prayer, and the reasons are hidden in the heart and mind of God. Still, many are not healed simply because there is no prayer of faith offered. The best approach in praying for the sick is to pray with humble confidence that they will be healed, unless God clearly and powerfully makes it clear that this is not His will. Having prayed, we simply leave the matter to God….and we can have peace.

Remember in that the last letter Paul wrote he told Timothy that  “I left Trophimus sick in Miletus”.  Why didn’t  Paul just heal him?  Sometimes, folks are not healed immediately. In fact, in time we will die.

If it were always God’s will for people to be healed, then everyone would be healed every time he or she became ill. If good health were always God’s will, then Christians should never die. We can’t blame someone’s malady on a lack of faith, for we know, biblically, that God sometimes uses illness to accomplish His will.

We need to understand that healings, even in the Bible, are very rare indeed. For the first 2,500 years of biblical history, there is no mention of any healings whatsoever. Then during the life of Abraham we have a possible healing, although it is only implied (Genesis 12:17–20). Then we have to wait until the life of Moses, who performs a number of signs to authenticate his authority as God’s leader. However, the only healing associated with Moses is Miriam’s cleansing from leprosy (Numbers 12:13–15).

The apostles were also given the specific power to heal the sick, and for thirty-seven years they went everywhere healing those who heard their message. Again, their miracles, including healing, were confirmation of the truth of the gospel the apostles proclaimed.

But as we do pray, remember that long prayers give no particular evidence of Divine inspiration. It’s the power of prayer, not the eloquence, length, or use of King James English that brings results.

Much of our prayer is not effective simply because it is not fervent. It is offered with a lukewarm attitude that virtually asks God to care about something that we care little about. Effective prayer must be fervent, not because we must emotionally persuade a reluctant God, but because we must gain God’s heart by being fervent for the exact things He is able to give us if only we will humble ourselves and ask.

Next, how should we live with each other?

Admit our failures, bad choices—sins! James reminds us that mutual confession and prayer brings healing, physically and spiritually. Confession can free us from the heavy burdens of unresolved sin, and removes hindrances to the work of the Holy Spirit.  Confession to another in the body of Christ is essential because sin demands to have us to itself, isolated from all others. Confession breaks the power of secret sin.

Conviction of sin and confession of sin is common during all times of spiritual awakening. When revival begins in a nation, the Spirit of God falls upon men and women—there will be confession, and no power on earth can stop it.

Most of us have a preference for confession in secret before God, even concerning matters which involve other people. To confess to God seems to them to be the easiest way out. Most of the time we confess, we’re merely talk to ourselves instead of making contact with God. In the words of our Lord, it is clear that sin involving another person should be confessed to that person. If you sin secretly, confess secretly.  If you sin openly confess openly to remove stumbling blocks from those whom you have hindered.

But to say to someone you’ve hurt, “If I made any mistakes I’m sorry” is no confession of sin at all. You sinned specifically, so confess specifically.  It costs nothing for a church member to admit in a prayer meeting: ‘I am not what I ought to be.’ It costs no more to say: ‘I ought to be a better Christian.’ It costs something to say: ‘I have been a trouble-maker in this church.’ It costs something to say: ‘I have had bitterness of heart towards certain leaders, to whom I shall definitely apologize.

Finally, James urges the early church to “look out for those that have wandered away from the truth.”   Do we today? Most people don’t wander deliberately – it just sort of happens. Nonetheless, it still gets them off track and possibly in danger.

“He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins There is a blessing for the one who loves his brother enough to confront him, and who turns him from the error of his way. He has saved that soul from death and covered a multitude of sins.  But there’s also a danger that you will be attacked, ignored or even hated fro trying to bring someone back into the fold.

James concludes with this because this is exactly what he has endeavored to do through this challenging letter – to confront those who have wandered from a living faith, endeavoring to save their souls from death, by demanding that they not only hear the word, but do it, because a living faith will prove itself by action..

Are you prepared to let God take you and use you to bring the lost or backslide back to church? Are you prepared to stop paying attention to the things that bring attention to you? Then abandon entirely and let go! The test of abandonment lies in refusing to say, “But what about this?” Beware of such questions. They mean that you don’t really trust God—not enough to abandon yourself to him. The moment you truly abandon yourself to God, you no longer worry about what he is going to do. Abandonment means refusing yourself the luxury of asking why He does what He does. It’s a matter of trust.

Do your trust Him.  If you do, try this:

Put your hand in the hand of the man Who stilled the water

Put your hand in the hand of the man. Who calmed the sea

Take a look at yourself And you can look at others differently

Put your hand in the hand of the man From Galilee

By Elvis Presley

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