Suffering, Healing, and the Prayer of Faith - Part One
So, let’s be honest with each other today about why we don’t pray as much as we know we should. Continue reading . . .
So, let’s be honest with each other today about why we don’t pray as much as we know we should. When I talk with Christians of all ages and both genders, I hear comments like these:
“Come on, Sam, we live in a digital world where religious rituals from medieval times, like prayer, simply don’t fit in. Enlightened and educated people might grudgingly concede that there is a supernatural world, but it plays no meaningful or practical role in daily living.”
“Children pray, and it’s cute. But to think that God actually involves himself in our lives in response to our requests is far-fetched, to say the least.”
“Honestly, I would pray if I thought it might do some good. But nowadays it’s a lot easier to just do it yourself without depending on God and whether he’s in the mood to help.”
I assume most of you read Huckleberry Finn when you were younger. Today, it is on the politically incorrect list of banned books in many sectors of our society. But Huck Finn’s experience with prayer rings all too true among Christians in the local church. Listen to him:
“Miss Watson she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it. She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it. But it warn’t so. I tried it. Once I got a fish-line, but no hooks. It warn’t any good to me without hooks. I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn’t make it work. By and by, one day, I asked Miss Watson to try for me, but she said I was a fool. She never told me why, and I couldn’t make it out no way. I set down one time back in the woods, and had a long think about it. I says to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for, why don’t Deacon Winn get back the money he lost on pork? Why can’t the widow get back her silver snuff-box that was stole? Why can’t Miss Watson fat up? No, says I to myself, there ain’t nothing in it.”
“There ain’t nothing in it.” Sadly, that sums up how many Christians feel about prayer, although they are meticulously careful never to let another Christian know that’s how they think. There are all sorts of reasons why Christians don’t pray any more than they do: ignorance of what Scripture says about it, a life that is already too busy and exhausting to have any room or time left for prayer, a failure to understand the character of God himself, and countless other reasons. But beneath and behind them all is the lingering bogeyman of why we don’t pray: “There ain’t nothing in it.” Or to put it in simpler terms: “It doesn’t work. I tried praying, but heaven was silent. If God really cared about me and my problems, I would have heard or seen something from him by now. No, Huck was right: There ain’t nothing in it.”
I suspect that many of you agree with Huck Finn. I don’t. And that isn’t because I have the job of writing about prayer. It’s because I’ve seen God do amazing and miraculous things in response to prayer. It’s because I really do believe that what he says in his Word about prayer is true. You don’t have to go any farther than the book of James to get a sense for the importance and urgency and power of prayer. We see it in the opening chapter:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).
“You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:2b-3).
And then there is this remarkable closing paragraph (James 5:13-18) to the letter, where James is consumed with the power of prayer:
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray” (James 5:13a).
Let the elders “pray” over the sick (James 5:14a).
“And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick” (James 5:15a).
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another” (James 5:16a).
“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16b).
“Elijah . . . prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth” (James 5:17).
“Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit” (James 5:18).
James couldn’t be more precise or passionate about the power of prayer. Or perhaps we should say, the power of God, for it is not in our praying but in the one to whom we pray that power is found. So, if you really want to embrace Huck Finn’s conclusion that prayer is useless because “there ain’t nothing in it,” you must take the next step and declare, “there ain’t nothing in it, because there ain’t no one there.” But if there is someone there, if God exists and is who he claims to be, then nothing makes more sense than prayer, even when we don’t always get what we want.
James first describes in 5:13 what I’m calling private, personal prayer. This is your and my responsibility to be in constant and continual prayer for our own needs, whether or not anyone else ever knows of them or joins to intercede on our behalf. He asks, "Is anyone among you suffering?" The word translated "suffering" (NIV, "trouble") refers to any kind of harm that burdens you. He does not specify either the cause or character of the suffering. This is a general reference to any form of oppression, persecution, emotional turmoil, depression, marital strife, spiritual anguish, financial strain, or physical affliction. Any discomfort of soul, spirit, or body is in view. When you suffer for whatever reason, pray!
This kind of praying can take place anywhere at any time. You can pray for relief from your troubles and difficulties while you’re driving to work or walking in the neighborhood or playing golf or singing in a church service such as this. This sort of prayer is open-ended and always appropriate.
Of course, if you happen to be in a season of life when there are innumerable reasons to be “cheerful” you should pepper your prayers with praise. And I see no reason why all of us can’t do both simultaneously. Even when you are stressed and hurting, for whatever reason, due to whatever cause, you also have much in which you can rejoice and for which you can be thankful. So pray and praise at the same time!
To be continued . . .