IMG_3845 (1)Today we are going to close down our study on the book of James and I have to say in many ways I will be sad to see this series go because it has really been a ton of fun.  James is an incredible book, and it really has meant a lot to me over the years and today I’m very excited to share with you one of my favorite verses in the Bible, I love it because it’s a quick one liner, that can easily be overlooked, but when you stop and think about it, it has some huge implications.  I think the biggest thing we have learned in this series is that the book of James really can become a manual for Spiritual Growth.  We have learned that God wants us to grow, the Bible is very clear on this…

Ephesians 4:15 God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love — like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. 16 He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.  (MSG)

Our Heavenly Father wants us to grow up just as we want our own children to grow up and there are signs in our lives that we are maturing in our faith…or not.  So over the last five weeks we have looked at some of the signs that James says we can use to see if we are growing up in our faith or not.  Some biggies like how we handle tough times.  How we treat others.  What words are coming out of our mouths? (Or our fingers on texts and emails)  Ken over the last two weeks asked some big questions.  Would you rather please God or fight against His will?  Which is a tough question because we are all on Jesus’ team and we would never say it like that…but we want to do what we want to do a lot of the time!  Last week Ken was back up here to talk to you about waiting on God, and having patience.  Frankly that is a pretty challenging thing for us, because we want what we want, when we want it and we can get things pretty quickly today!  So these were the 5 signs we have looked at so far.  Now today I have an opportunity to close this series down talking to you about prayer.  The last sign of spiritual growth can be seen in your prayer life.  Today we are going to talk about prayer and not just any kind prayer that you recited as a kid before a meal or before bed.  We are going to talk about powerful prayers.  Miraculous prayers…or as James puts it “prayers to be reckoned with.”  You can pray this way.

Now just by me saying that a couple of things just happened.  When I brought up the idea of miraculous and powerful prayers you probably had one of three reactions.  Some of us got really excited, because we get super pumped up anytime we think about miracle prayers, prophetic gifting’s and the like…so some of us are all excited right now, to unleash some powers like they see in the movies or maybe even read about in scripture.  Some others of us heard that we are going to talk about praying powerful prayers to be reckoned with and you immediately want to tune me out because you think that you aren’t holy enough to pray like that.  You are still stuck in this idea that the guy on the stage has the power to pray this way…or you are still stuck in the lie that God loves some people more, and their prayer’s are answered and yours aren’t!  SO NOT TRUE and we will get into that today…what’s the third reaction?  Well it’s just those of us who just looked at our phones and watches knowing me well enough to know I love the subject of prayer, and they are now worried I won’t get them out in time to beat the selfish people to Baker’s for lunch.  Well I’m not making any promises, but cut me some slack I have been gone for a couple of weeks, and this is an awesome subject today!

I talk a lot about the extremes that we human beings slide in and of.  I use this idea of a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other, especially when it comes to the subject of religion.  I do not think that this is something we people do on purpose, I just think we are all looking for direction and we grab on to what makes sense.  For some of us it’s the rules and regulations.  If you give me a list of do’s and don’t do’s I can follow it.  I can see it, and that makes sense.  For some others of us its grace, and frankly I think somewhere between those two is where we should be.  Well when it comes to prayer a lot of people take it to places that it just should go, they jump into the extremes…get all wound up for miracles and think or prophets or wallow in thinking they can’t pray, and as always somewhere in the middle is where we probably need to be.  The beauty of prayer is that it is yours.  It is so personal and hopefully it is your conversation between you and God.  Which is awesome, but for many people they believe that only certain people can pray or that their prayers aren’t as important, or holy which just hurts my heart.  Or what’s even scarier are those excited about what they can do through prayer.  (Because they aren’t doing anything…God is, but we will get into that in a bit!)

By now you know that we like to have a good time here at MRC on Sunday mornings.  I joke a lot with you about the idea that Pastors are people too.  Ken and I go out of our way to help you see who we are, what we struggle with, and how we deal with life too.  This is so important to us because so many people can put Pastors, and church leaders up on these weird religious pedestals that they just shouldn’t be on.  We are very aware that we are just people and our job is to point to Jesus in all we do.  Spiritual leadership is important and I’m not undermining that, but we cannot be your relationship with God for you, and we cannot be your savior…we already have one of those in Jesus!  He is what it is all about…not any one given human on this Earth.  I like to pray with people, it truly is an honor but I make a point to pray with them, not for them because the beauty of our God is how profoundly personal our relationship with Him and our prayers can be.  I really worry at times that we will be placed on some weird platform in someone’s life and I know that some people like to put people in that spot and I also know that some leaders like BEING put in that spot.  Because they look and feel important, it feeds ego’s and can get people excited but this is a very scary thing to do.  I think it’s just easier in some ways for people to place the leader in that spot in their lives too…let THAT guy read the Bible, and just go to him and he can go to God for me and I can just keep living however I want to live and I will rely on him to stay super spiritual for me.  This doesn’t do a thing for your heart condition, but keeps you sleeping well at night…but it is empty…it is nothing…and God wants us to grow.

Ugh, that isn’t why Jesus tore down the barriers between you and God!  Your personal relationship with Him can be so amazing and we desperately want that for you!  There is something else about us NOT being the middle man for you that has been interesting to watch.  We also know that to some when they hear that we aren’t going to be that amazing prophet for them, it can really disappoint them, because they want the great prophet of old to look at on a Sunday morning.  Somehow as we point them towards their own time with God rather than trying to take that role in their lives, it just becomes a huge let down for people, who have no interest in a truly intimate relationship of their own…but this is so important to us…that we aren’t Jesus for you, because and you will find this hard to believe…we aren’t God!  You have a Savior and it isn’t Ken or I!  And we know that as you engage God in a very personal way your life changes.  Not because of us but because of God!  This is so important to your own journey.  We aren’t on some level that you can’t attain and we aren’t going to pretend that we are, even if it would make us feel a little more important from time to time!  We are all on the same playing field here!  It something that can disappoint the religious but it can bring true freedom to your life as you begin to understand that you and I and even guys like Peter and the prophets of old are all on the same level to God, with THE SAME ACCESS TO GOD.  Just look at how Peter starts his second letter.

2 Peter 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: ESV

Peter goes out of his way to help us see something.  We Christ followers we are all on equal standing with God!  You and Peter, you know…the guy who was the leader of the disciples.  The guy who became the foundation that Jesus actually builds the church on, says that you and Peter are in equal standing with God and why is that?  He tells you, do you see it?  It’s because of our savior Jesus!  He puts us all on the same playing field!  This is so important to us here at MRC!  I am not holier than you because I put a microphone on my head and preach on Sundays.  Peter is saying He isn’t holier either!  Yes he walked on water for a little and hung out closely with Jesus and wrote chunks of the Bible but he says because of Jesus we are all the same, we have the same access to God, and I love the way that is written, we are on equal standing with God…and Peter tells you why.  It’s through the righteousness of God which we have in Jesus!  Remember the Gospel truth?

2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. NIV

So Peter says we are all on equal standing by the righteousness of God and Paul explains to us how that happens…through Jesus going to the cross and becoming sin for us so that we can become that righteousness!  This is our passion here at MRC, we know what Jesus did for us all.  We have salvation, we have eternal life, and because of Jesus taking away our sin, you and I get to have our own personal relationship with God!  Now for those of you keeping score at home, you may be wondering where I am heading today, because I told you we were going to be looking at the last sign of Spiritual Maturity which is our prayer life, and then I just spend a good bit of time this morning talking about the Gospel!

Well I felt it was so important that we started here because there are so many barriers that we self -impose that keep us from understanding just how personal, and intimate, and loving your relationship with God really is!  We have full access to God and it’s all because of Jesus and what he did for us on the cross.  We must get past the religiousness, the bad views of self, and the weird spiritual levels some place on people.  You have full access to God.  You can talk to God.  You can pray prayers that our powerful.  But we can’t do that if you are stuck in these barriers, we must get past this deception that says our God is distant…that totally undermines Jesus’ work.  When we begin to understand the Gospel at a deeper level, then we can engage into a true life of prayer!  Because a life of prayer is so personal, and it isn’t for the spiritual elite…it is for all of us, who are all on the same playing field because of Jesus!

So with all that to say, I have one more little note before we jump into our text.  I’m not going to teach you how to pray the way I pray today.  I’m not going to talk about whether you should have music playing, what physical position you should be in, what geographic room you should be in, or whether or not water should be flowing in the background.  Because again, your prayer life is yours.  Now I will say if you are new to this prayer thing, Jesus really teaches us how to pray.  If you want to learn how you should pray,  go to what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) it’s a really big deal, so if that is where you are at today I would encourage you to go there and read about it.  We are going to look at prayer a little bit differently today.  I want to get to the heart of it.  I want to take a step back and maybe show you somethings we haven’t seen before, so let’s look at what James has to say about praying powerful prayers!

James 5:13 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him 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 him up. If he has sinned, he 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 man is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a man just like us. 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. NIV

James starts out by saying something that I think we can all kind of understand when it comes to prayer.   When we are hurting we should pray…

(Vs 13) Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray.

Now in many ways this is the most obvious statement he could make right?  I mean this is when most of us think of God the most.  When we are in trouble.  When we are sick.  When we are in need.  While there are some who go it on their own in the tough times and try to fix things without bringing God into them…I often find that the tough times, those times of trouble are the most spiritual times in our lives.  In some ways I think it is so sad how dialed in and focused on God I can be when I really need Him to come through for me.  It makes me feel personally like a mooch, and no one likes a mooch.  You know the guy that only calls you when he needs something from you.  But again, we have to watch the extremes!  We don’t want to be those mooches but at the same time James reminds us that God is there to help too.  When we are in times of trouble we should pray.  He continues with this…

(vs 13) Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.

So in the tough times we should pray…I think we get that, but he also says when things are going well, we should sing songs of praise.  Now for Pat and the worship team this is a good one right?  But for a lot of us who aren’t so musically inclined this is not exactly music to our ears to hear we should sing songs of praise…but this is about gratitude.  Boy that has come up a lot lately!  We should be thankful to God and worship Him for the good times too!  Yes it is easy to remember God when I really need Him to come through for me but for a lot of us when the bills are paid, and the kids are healthy, and things are rolling along well.  God just kind of becomes and after thought!  But He is responsible for the good times too!  Do you thank Him for all the good times as much as you go to him in the bad times?  Gratitude is a really big deal!

(Vs 14) Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. (MSG)

So James goes on, and continues by calling us as a church community to pray together when someone is ill.  You know I believe so much in prayer, and especially prayer as a community.  I think this is the last thing the enemy would ever want to see happen…a community of people prayer together…for needs, for the sick, and in thanksgiving.  Jesus told just how powerful it is when people gather together and pray…

Matthew 18:19 “When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. 20 And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.” MSG

There is a power in a community of people getting together and praying in unity for one another.  How awesome is that, to think when two or three come together that Jesus is there…and as awesome as that is, I think it helps us understand why it is such a challenge to get together and pray this way.  Because we have an enemy who would never want that to happen!   There is power in the church praying together and then James really begins to go for it.

(vs 15) Believing-prayer will heal you…

The prayer offered in faith will heal you!  This is so powerful.  When you pray with faith in your heart you have a power to your prayers.  Why, why would believing prayer have the power to heal the sick?

Faith is a powerful thing.  Jesus says this in Matthew…

Matthew 21:21 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” NIV

When you believe deep within your soul in God, it comes out in your prayer life.  Your heart is telling God that you know He is real and that you believe in Him.  You aren’t saying the words, you are knowing it deep within your soul and He knows your hearts deepest thoughts and desires.  It’s a different way to live and as we will see in a bit from a man who believed in God…amazing answers to prayer come in faith.  So with all of this to say, we are now entering one of my favorite scriptures in the entire Bible, these three verses are enormous!

15 the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he 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 man is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a man just like us. 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. NIV

Ok, so this is where we really get into something…who will raise him up?  Who will forgive us our sins?  Is it the person doing the prayer that heals or can wash our hearts white as snow?  It is God who heals.  It is God who forgives us our sins through the power of the cross, and this is where people can get a little excited and a little off track…if I pray for someone to be healed and they are healed did I heal them?  We don’t do the healing God does.  Jesus makes us right with God.  The Lord does it.  I have had people tell me that when I pray things happen and I think they can look at me differently because of that.  Here’s the deal, when I pray God does things, because I know deep in my soul that God can and does and will if it’s His will.  It has nothing to do with me and that is what is so amazing!  This is the mindset of powerful prayers.

(Vs 16) Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

So this is super easy for all of us right?  We are to be transparent, and confess our issues to each other and we can live together whole and healed!  It’s amazing when there aren’t any secrets how much freedom there can be.  I mean we have seen each other’s Facebook page and Instagram posts.  So we see how transparent we all are, we show all our lumps and bumps on there right?  Isn’t it amazing how perfect we all look?  Secrets can kill you from the inside out…and it’s easy in our culture to think we can’t share our issues and then we see the phrase that can seem so exciting…

(vs 16)…The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Can I ask you something, who is righteous?  Doesn’t this take us right back to where our discussion began?  With Peter telling you and I that we are all on the same playing field?  Remember we are all in equal standing because of what Jesus did for us on the cross?  Who is righteous?  Well you are because of what Jesus did for you and for me on the cross!  So if you are doing the math, that means that your prayers can be powerful and effective!  You can pray prayers to be reckoned with and James reinforces this again…in probably my favorite sentence in the Bible. “Elijah was a man just like us.”

17 Elijah was a man just like us. 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. NIV

Wait, what did he just say?  Elijah was a man just like us?  No, that can’t be right because Elijah was THE MAN!  He prayed that it wouldn’t rain and it didn’t.  He prayed that fire would fall from the sky and it did.  This was the greatest prophet of all time, and James says that he is just like you.  Elijah was a man just like you.  This means that he had good times and bad times.  You can read about them in 1st Kings.  He had tremendous highs and he had monumental lows.  I have to tell you this has always been a challenging thing for me to wrap my mind around that Elijah…my favorite character in the entire Bible and I have the same access to God.  Do you grasp the magnitude of this?  It is easy for me to place Elijah on one of those creepy spiritual platforms.  I mean when was the last time you prayed for fire to fall from the sky and it did?  But when I put him on that platform here’s what I’m doing, I’m making it about Elijah and not about God and in Elijah’s best moments, he understood that it wasn’t about Him at all, and that it was all about God.  Here’s his most epic prayer…

1 Kings 18:36… “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” NIV

Elijah was man just like you and I.  He had a faith in God that allowed God to move in extraordinary ways.  So yes, he was willing to challenge kings, and talk trash on their no-god idols, and do whatever was asked of him by God. Why?  It’s because He believed and James would say that a prayer prayed in faith is a powerful prayer.  The stories of Elijah are awesome, but here’s what Elijah knew…it was all about God.  Elijah didn’t do the amazing miracles God did them through Him and James tries to help you understand that you and Elijah are on the same equal standing with God!  What an amazing thought and for some of us, it is a difficult one for us to wrap our minds around!  But something we must see.

So today I closed down the James series and tried to talk to you about your prayer life, and I very intentionally didn’t tell you how to pray.  Why?  Because your prayer life is profoundly personal.  It is unique to you and God, and I find that both beautiful and amazing, that God would love each one of us enough to want to walk, and talk, and love on each one of us in a way that impacts us the most individually.  You see it’s because of Jesus’ sacrifice that you and I can have this kind of intimacy with God.  Prayer isn’t just for the priests and the preachers and people much more spiritual than you.  Peter tells you that you and Him (Peter who actually walked and talked with Jesus) are on the same equal standing to God and if that wasn’t enough.  James shows us that you and Elijah are the same…your just people.  Why is that such a big deal, well it’s because if that is the case then you and I have the All Powerful God of the Universe in Heaven listening intently to our prayers too.

So some of us will get juiced on the idea of praying prayers to be reckoned with because we get excited to think we could have powers of some kind…and some of us will still struggle some with this because we don’t think we will ever be as holy as Peter, or Elijah, or even our church leaders of today…but you have to see this.  Those are the extremes, and there are so many lies in that.  Here is the truth.

God is here.  He loves you and because of Jesus and all He has done for us, we have a direct line to God, who looks down from Heaven and sees us all the same, righteous and blameless in His sight because of His son’s work on the cross.  When you get the truth of the Gospel, your prayer life will look different.  You will prayer prayers to be reckoned with, not because of anything you do, but because of everything God does for us.  You will see life differently.  Your heart will soften towards others as you respond with the energies of prayer.  You will see God move as you pray in faith and you will be in awe of it, not because of anything you did, but because He loves you enough to answer your prayers, and you will grow spiritually in ways that you didn’t think were possible and in the end God wants us to grow.