Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
March 11, 2012
In every season choices really do matter
The month of March offers us many choices. There is “March Madness” for basketball fans. There is spring training for both baseball and football fans. And there is Lent for fans of Jesus.
Call me “worldly” if you must but I confess an interest in all of the above. I enjoy college basketball and will follow the NCAA Tournament pretty closely. Of course this year, as a War Eagle diehard, I have suffered with the Tigers through a very disappointing season of round ball.
Spring training stirs little passion in me for either baseball or football. I will glance occasionally to see how the Atlanta Braves are doing and ponder the quarterback mystery as the Tigers prepare for the A-Day Game. But my chief concern this month will be the Lenten journey toward Easter.
Lent is mainly a season of prayer. Prayer is important. It is important for success in life whether in pastoral work or athletic pursuits. I like the story told on Yogi Berra when he was playing catcher for the Yankees. A batter for the other team slowly made the sign of the cross as he stepped up to the plate. Yogi said aloud, “Hey, let’s just let God watch and enjoy the game!”
While that comment is funny it is best not to picture God as a bystander in life. He surely expects us to use the gifts we have been given. And while it may be foolish to ask God to “let our team win,” it is not foolish to ask God for the strength and wisdom to do our best in any given situation.
The biblical writer James believed in prayer. He encouraged fellow believers to pray earnestly. He had faith that a great God loves to hear his children praying.
James leads me to believe that no concern is too small or too big to pray about and that God cares about everything going on in our lives. Prayer then should be a way of life. James says if you are suffering, then pray. If you are happy, then sing. Sing? Yes, because songs of praise are prayers of thanksgiving to God.
James assumes that church elders (respected leaders) will know how to pray for the sick. He instructs the elders to anoint the sick with oil in the name of Jesus. (Oil then and now symbolizes God’s power to heal.) He invites them to believe that God is able to heal the sick in response to prayer. James says that prayers by church elders can be “powerful and effective,” just as the ancient prayer of the prophet Elijah was powerful and effective.
We should be cautious about saying that “There is power in prayer.” It is after all not our prayers but God who has the power. We should be thankful that God is often releases his power when his children pray. As Max Lucado says, “The power of prayer is not in the one who prays but in the one who hears it.”
There is no doubt that God sometimes heals people in response to prayer. Such healing may be for an illness that is emotional, spiritual, or physical. James understands the role that confession of sin may play in healing. Hidden sin creates guilt in the normal person. Guilt produces sickness.
James urges that confession be made not to a large group (or congregation) but to “one another,” to one person. This obviously should be a trusted friend, pastor or spiritual mentor. Until sin is confessed, it has enormous power over us. We are obsessed with fear that someone will find us out. Confession sets us free from that fear. There is sweet release when another believer hears our confession and assures us of God’s plenteous mercy.
Once confession is made, according to James the two are to “pray for one another.” Christ is present when two believers pray for each other.
He keeps his promise to be “in the midst” when two (or three) unite together in believing prayer. The living Christ is the third person in this prayer of faith.
Victory may be ours even when God does not grant physical healing. An elderly man was ill with cancer, in the hospital and expecting to die soon. I was his pastor. One day when I visited him he asked his wife to step outside the room so he could speak to me privately.
He confessed that during the Second World War, when he was serving overseas in the army, he had been unfaithful to his wife. He had never been able to confess his sin to her or anyone. He told me he did not want to die without confessing this sin. He wanted to know if God would forgive him. I assured him of God’s mercy and said to him, “In the name of Jesus your sins are forgiven.” A few days later he died peacefully. He had been spiritually healed by the power of God, a healing greater than any physical healing.
It is interesting that James does not urge people to pray for their own healing. Instead we should pray “for one another.” While prayer is personal, there is something wonderful in hearing another person pray for us. By praying for each other we are able to overcome our innate selfishness while caring deeply for another person. This is the church at its best – a community of believers who are more interested in the needs of others than their own.
There is no magical prayer that, if prayed correctly, will guarantee God’s doing whatever we ask. But James reminds us that, if we work at it, we can learn to pray more effectively.
One of Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” During the month of March we might be wise to make that request personal -- “Lord, teach me to pray.” Doing so might turn “madness” into quietness of soul that makes us better people no matter which team wins. Choices really do matter. + + +