September 5th, 2009 13:55 EST
Facing God, Wherever You Are
Facing God, Wherever You Are
Recently there has been much information in the media about the Islamic faith. You might have learned more about the Muslims in the last year than you did all the rest of your life. I was interested to learn about one of their Five Pillars of Faith, " the binding rules of conduct in this very disciplined religion. Five times each day, orthodox Islamic believers bow in prayer. Once in the morning, at noon, once in the late afternoon, once at sunset, and right before they retire for bed, they have prayer. They kneel, place their foreheads to the ground and offer their prayers toward their holiest city of Mecca, the home of Mohammad. It is quite a unifying ritual for them, knowing that all over the world Moslems are doing the same thing, bowing toward the same holy place.
I couldn`t help but think of that Moslem practice when I read James 5:13-18. People, wherever they were and whatever they were doing, coming to a time of prayer. Now certainly our prayer is different. It is not a five time a day fixed ritual. Our physical position is not fixed, nor is our prayer directed toward Mohammad as our intercessor. But there is something to be said for that facing the same direction. Not toward a city or a particular holy place, but toward the one who created the universe. In the verses that we are looking at this morning James is urging us wherever we are, whatever our situation, to live our lives facing God in prayer. What a tremendous challenge!
Read text: James 5:13-18
Don`t miss what James is saying here. No matter the situation, you need to be facing God, communicating freely with Him. Martin Luther said, "As it is the business of tailors to make clothes and of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray. " In this passage James highlights several different scenarios when we need to turn our face toward God in prayer.
1. Those who are in trouble. (v. 13a)
Now this is the only place in the entire N.T. where this word for "trouble" is used. It means suffering through tough times, not related to physical problems. This is the time when there isn`t enough money to pay the bills. When the storm rolls through as it did this past week and throws your car all over the parking lot or destroys your home or business, James says pray. When your friend is acting like a jerk and destroying your friendship, James urges you to face God in that time of trouble. When the rug is being pulled out from under your life, pray! That is not too difficult to understand, but notice what is not said. You can look all over the page, even all over the Bible, and you will not find the verse you would like to be there. Is any of you in trouble? Pray and God will take that trouble away! " It simply isn`t there, no matter how much we would like it to be. As a matter of fact, remember James 1:2-4. (Read)
Trouble is part of life, but in the midst of it we have a choice. We can allow God to use it to mold us into who He wants us to be, or we can allow it to beat us down into something less than God`s will for us. James says we choose the outcome of our troubles by turning toward God in their midst. Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. "
2. Those who are happy. (13b)
We teach our kids to say "thank you" when they receive something from someone, but often we never learn to be genuinely thankful to the one who gives us everything. It is often the prayer of thanksgiving that we neglect. When we are in the deepest of trouble, it`s not hard to remember to turn to God, but when we are on the mountaintop, we have a tendency to forget who gave it to us. Here we are reminded not to forget! Sing songs of praise!
Now I have to tell you at this point, sometimes when we sing songs of praise, we forget to inform our face of what is going on. Now I know it`s possible for the people of this congregation to smile. I watch you when the service is over, and I see happy people. I see people with smiles and I hear laughter. But when it comes to the way you guys look during worship, some people might wonder if we`ve been baptized in lemon juice. I think we need to realize that there is nothing holy about being somber. And there is nothing particularly worshipful about being grim. I wonder if it isn`t somewhat sacrilegious to sing a song like
with a scowl or a grimmace.
You see, God does not want simply to be there to lift us up in times of trouble. He also wants us to acknowledge his blessing when He has provided it. In this room there is reason to rejoice! We have people with us who have experienced God`s touch in so many ways. Some have been physically healed. Some have found purpose for their life when at one time they were living a drab and purposeless existence. There are people here this morning who have relationships now that are deeper than they have ever experienced in their life, and it is all because of God`s touch on their life. The Elys have a new baby to keep them awake at night, and the rest of us get to sleep through the night! There are all kinds of reason to be happy, and we need to be reminded, Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise! "
3. Those who are sick. (v. 14)
Now when there is sickness in the family, It is never a happy time. Some time back one of our family members was running a fever. There were 2 trips to the doctor in 3 days. The family prayed about the illness during the day and at night. There was prescription and non-prescription medicine taken, along with some cool baths to lower the body temperature. So, was it the medicine that brought healing? Maybe. Did the loving care received at home heal? It couldn`t have hurt. Was it God who brought the sick one back to health? I have no doubt in my mind. God is the author and initiator of all healing. James in these verses is calling for us to recognize that fact by facing God, whether it is in trouble or in times of happiness or in times of sickness. We are called to look to God.
James goes on a little farther when he talks about praying in times of sickness and gives us some procedures to follow. Notice he says that the sick person might even take the initiative to call the Elders.
Some time back at another church where I served, someone asked me why the Elders weren`t doing what they were supposed to do. That was kind of an open-ended question, so I asked the person to be more specific. This person was asking why the Elders didn`t follow the instructions in this passage. I really couldn`t tell him why, so at the next Elder`s meeting I asked if there had been any requests by members of the congregation to be anointed with oil and have prayer. There hadn`t been.
I want to encourage you to feel free to call the elders to pray with you when you need healing. Now certainly in a congregation this size they can`t travel around and pray for every sniffle and sneeze, but there is a genuine willingness by our leaders to pray for your healing, both spiritually and physically. It is their responsibility to lead this congregation in the process of facing God, and they would love to do that. Take advantage of it.
After the sick person or their family takes the initiative to contact the elders, they are given specific instructions about what they are supposed to do.
First, they are called to anoint with oil. Second they are to pray over them. The literal way this reads in the Greek is ...let them pray over him, having anointed him with oil in the name of the Lord. " We need to recognize what this is all about.
In the Bible there are two terms used for anoint. " One is used to refer to anointing of ceremony. When Samuel anionted Saul and David with oil to declare them King, the Greek translation of a particular word is used. In this passage it`s a different word altogether. It is the same as the word in the parable of the Good Samaritan. If you remember that story, the Samaritan took the victim, anointed him with oil and took him to an inn. It is the word used for medicinal purposes. It could have been just as easily termed rub him with oil. " When James wrote, Elders were serving to meet the medical needs as well as the spiritual needs.
After doing what was medically needed, James says that they should pray over the sick person. This is not some otherworldly procedure where the Elders of the church function in some mystical role. It is them serving, helping and praying. Now I want you to know that your elders do pray regularly for our congregation, both corporately and for those individuals with specific needs. Every time we get together we do it and I know that it happens otherwise also. And if you want David, John, Dr. Bob, Tim and Bill to gather around your bed and give you a rub down with oil next time you are sick, you just need to get your request in. You better hurry, though, because I`m guessing that after this sermon there is going to be a waiting list.
Seriously, though, it would be great if more people called to have the elders pray with them at times of trouble and sickness. But I am afraid that reluctant to call because we have lost sight of the fact that our church is a family. In our world we have become so individualistic that we don`t involve others in our lives. And there is something wrong with a faith that does not recognize the need to have others there to help out. Sometimes we need the encouragement of others to turn our face toward God, when we are in trouble, when we are happy, and when we are sick. James says in all those times, turn toward God.
Notice what James says happens when we are obedient in this matter (read 15-18). Wow, that`s a bold statement. At first blush you can`t help but recognize that it is not always the case that a person we pray for is made well. The fact of the matter is, every person is born into this world terminal. If every person we prayed for was made better, none of our friends or family would ever die. However, I have seen God do amazing things when people have been prayed for. In our small group we always spend a considerable amount of time sharing prayer requests and lifting them up before God. A couple of weeks ago we met for the first time this Fall. Since it had been quite some time since we had shared prayer requests we revisited some. As I asked about four major health issues our group had been praying for, friends and family who were suffering with everything from depression, cancer and liver disease, each one spoke of healing that had taken place. I know that here this morning there are those who could share of God`s healing work that has taken place when medicine was out of options. What James is saying is, don`t make prayer your last resort when there are no other options. Face God in your illness and no matter what happens, He will provide healing.
Tony Compolo tells a story about being in a church in Oregon where he was asked to pray for a man who had cancer. Compolo prayed boldly for the man`s healing. That next week he got a telephone call from the man`s wife. She said, "You prayed for my husband. He had cancer." Compolo thought when he heard her use the past tense verb that his cancer had been eradicated! But before he could think much about it she said, "He died." Compolo felt terrible.
But she continued, "Don`t feel bad. When he came into that church that Sunday he was filled with anger. He knew he was going to be dead in a short period of time, and he hated God. He was 58 years old, and he wanted to see his children and grandchildren grow up. He was angry that this all-powerful God didn`t take away his sickness and heal him. He would lie in bed and curse God. The more his anger grew towards God, the more miserable he was to everybody around him. It was an awful thing to be in his presence.
But the lady told Compolo, After you prayed for him, a peace had come over him and a joy had come into him. Tony, the last three days have been the best days of our lives. We`ve sung. We`ve laughed. We`ve read Scripture. We prayed. Oh, they`ve been wonderful days. And I called to thank you for laying your hands on him and praying for healing. "
And then she said something incredibly profound. She said, "He wasn`t cured, but he was healed." (Tony Campolo, "Year of Jubilee," Preaching Today Tape #212)
God is in the business of healing. But folks, the only way we are going to see his work in our lives is if we live out our days facing Him. In our best days and our worst days, when we are on top of the mountain or in the lowest valley, God longs for us to live in fellowship with Him. Prayer gives us that opportunity. Do you live out your life facing God? You can.
For some of you, it means you have to turn around. Repent.