James – Do Your Prayers Count?

Peninsula Community Church

August 18, 2013

James – Do Your Prayers Count?

James 5:16-18 The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

In this passage, we find there are a couple of spiritual truths that need to be explored. First, James states that the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Second, we find that James makes a claim that Elijah, the great spiritual giant of the Old Testament, was no more special than any of us. 

If these statements are true, and we know that they are, then we are required to ask a couple of questions. The answers to these questions will clarify our understanding of prayer and in fact about life itself. First, how do we determine one’s righteousness? Or put another way, what makes one righteous? Second, if Elijah was no better than us, where does the power of prayer reside? Does this mean that anyone can pray to God? If so, what is the secret to effective praying?

First of all, let us look at the statement “the prayer of the righteous man is effective.”  If this is true and we know it is, then how do we determine if one is righteous? In answering this question we will review two aspects of righteousness. First, true righteousness is a work of grace that comes by way of the work of salvation and from the work of Christ on the cross. Second, righteousness is also a response to the work of God and to God’s will and His ways. Our outward actions are evidence of the inward work of righteousness already enacted on our behalf.

One of the key passages that help us understand righteousness is Romans 3:21. Paul states But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Again in Romans 1:16-17 Paul proclaims For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

What we see in these two passages is that true righteousness is a gift of God, it is not something we can work for or obtain on our own. It is included in the work of the cross. Prior to salvation we were sinners and we were enemies of God but now God counts us as righteous because of salvation. The truth is, we do not make ourselves righteous but we are righteous because we are a child of God and the sufficiency of the work of Christ which has been fulfilled in our hearts.

However, while the righteousness of God is in us we must also seek to effectively live out his righteousness in all we do. It works this way. Because we know that we are righteous in Christ, when we have to make choices in life between good and evil, we can decide to either be steered by way of righteousness or unrighteousness. Our choices in life are now motivated by righteousness rather than by unrighteous thoughts and an evil heart.

Notice also that the law is not the thing that brings righteousness. It is faith in God and obedience to his ways. By understanding this the need in us to be legalistic about how we respond to life and to others is dispelled. We see this in the story of Abraham. Notice that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness and not the law. When Abraham acted in faith, the law had yet to be enacted by God. The fact is that true righteousness comes by way of faith and not obedience to the law. The problem is that we get this backwards. We are righteous because of our faith and not the law.  

When we understand righteousness is a walk of faith then we will choose rightly. We live in a time of situational ethics. We live in a time that society says you only have to be righteous if the situation allows it. Righteousness is consistent and is not measured by the moment. Society today says it is all right to lie; if it means getting a raise on the job; if it means getting ahead in life; or if it is not going to hurt someone’s feelings.

Society says that it is all right to gossip; if it is true; if it doesn’t hurt anyone; or if I tell it in confidence. It is all right to betray a trust or stab a friend in the back; if it means I get ahead; if it advances me in some way; or if I get what I want. This is the day and age we live in some would say. 

And yet, we wonder why we don’t see more answered prayer. Our righteousness is based in a faulty system of belief. Yes, prayer is a matter of faith but our prayers can be hindered if we are walking in unrighteousness. So how is your righteousness?

The second key discussion here is that James compares us Elijah. This is a blessing as we see that God does not just answer the prayers of those who have somehow reached a level of superiority or perfection. As we read the Bible, we find that so many who have been used of God are ordinary men or women who are infused with an extraordinary faith that comes from God. They are imbued and filled with the Holy Spirit to accomplish great things. Throughout the bible, we see ordinary men accomplishing great things for God because they commit themselves to follow Christ and His ways. I also see that God does not always use the qualified in the sense of education or experience but often he qualifies the called. Like Elijah, God uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things in extraordinary ways because they are filled with God’s word and with the Holy Spirit.

We so see that Elijah responds much like we do under pressure. For one Elijah was afraid of Jezebel and her threats. In fact in 1Kings 19 we see Elijah running for his life and we see him hiding. In verse 4 we see that he has lost hope. Later in the chapter, we find Elijah with feelings of isolation and abandonment. With all of that we see that God continues to provide for Elijah. God provided food and drink for him. God gave Elijah a vision of what was. He saw revealed that he was not alone but in fact there were 7000 who had not bowed their knee to Baal and were committed to God and to his ways.

Look at the people God used in the Bible. David was not the biggest, nor the most handsome. Gideon was hiding away in the wine press, because he was afraid of the imposing army and what might happen. Daniel and the three Hebrew children were just children. Saul who became Paul was an enemy of God and of Christianity. Timothy was weak and timid.

Renee Bach, our VBS mission project, was 18 years old when she felt called to a short term mission trip to Uganda for one year. During that trip, God took hold of her heart, filled her with vision, and now she is full time in Jinga, Uganda. Every year, her ministry, Serving His Children saves countless lives through her nutritional and mentoring programs. She was an ordinary girl but has been filled with an extraordinary calling from an extraordinary God.

Remember it was Paul who said that God calls the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. Elijah was an ordinary man called by an extraordinary God to accomplish extraordinary things. This begs the question, “Why were his prayers effective?” First, Elijah prayed in faith because he had a word from the Lord. God told him that it would rain. When we pray we cannot separate the word of God and prayer. It is in His word that He gives us the promises we can claim when we pray. God’s promises of answered prayer are for all His children, not just the ones we may call the spiritual elite. Second, Elijah was not only believing in his praying, but he was also persistent. 

The Bible teaches that not all praying is effective. Those who pray while they cherish sin in their hearts will find that God doesn’t listen to that prayer. (Psalm 66:18) Those who pray to be seen by men will not receive the reward of answered prayer because their reward is to be seen by men. (Matthew 6:5) Those who waver in faith should not expect to receive an answer to their prayer. (James 1:7) Those who pray for things simply because of carnal desires will not receive what they ask for. (James 4:3) There is however an effective prayer. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Why? It is focused on God. It is founded in faith. It is patient and enduring. It does not give up.

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