Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
June 7, 2015
Still learning how to pray
In the sunset years of my life I pray a lot. More I think than I did in earlier years. And the more I pray the closer I feel to the Lord, the more peace I have in my heart.
I don’t know much about prayer and I am still learning to pray. Like his disciples of old I keep asking Jesus to teach me to pray.
He tells me to study how people prayed in the Bible. So I tackle now and then a book of the Bible to see what I can learn about prayer. I like what James says in the New Testament. He walked with Jesus, learned from Jesus, prayed with Jesus, so his teaching should be reliable and helpful.
James teaches me that no concern is too small to take to God in prayer because God cares about everything that is going on in our lives. So prayer should be a way of life for believers. If they are suffering, they should pray. If they are cheerful, they should pray. God’s provision and mercy should cause them to sing prayers of praise to God.
James assumes that church elders (respected leaders) will gladly 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 faithful prayers. Such prayers by church elders can be “powerful and effective,” just as the ancient prayer of Elijah was powerful and effective.
This should not lead us to assume there is “power in prayer.” It is not our prayers but God who has the power. As Max Lucado says, “The power of prayer is not in the one who prays but in the one who hears it.” We may be thankful that God often releases His power in response to the faithful prayers of believers.
I am certain that God sometimes (but not always) heals people in response to prayer. Such healing may be emotional, spiritual or physical. James understands the role that confession of sin may play in healing. Hidden sin creates guilt. Guilt produces sickness in the body, mind or spirit – or sometimes all three.
James urges us to confess our sins not to a large group but to “one another,” to one person. This should obviously 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 fear. There can be sweet release for the soul when another believer hears our confession and assures us of God’s plenteous mercy.
James offers a plan. After one person confesses his sin to another person, the two are to “pray for one another.” Surely James remembered Jesus teaching that when two or three pray together, Jesus as the living Christ would be “in the midst,” present with them.
When God does not always heal in answer to earnest prayers, he may give us a greater blessing. An elderly man, ill with cancer, was expected to die soon. I was his friend and 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 many years ago, while 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 was not sure 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.
James does not urge individuals to pray for their own healing. He says we should pray “for one another.” There is something wonderful in hearing another person call your name in prayer. By praying for each other we can overcome our innate selfishness while caring deeply for another person. This is the church at its best – a community of believers who love one another and are more interested in the needs of others than their own.
There is of course no magical prayer that, if prayed correctly, will guarantee God doing whatever we ask. However, James reminds us that, if we work at it, we can learn to pray more effectively. We can learn better the mind and heart of God so that our prayers for others become more effective.
Some say “prayer changes things.” It is more accurate to say that prayer allows God to “change things.” That being true, surely God is pleased to hear each of us pray daily, “Lord, teach me to pray.” And not so that we may be known for our “powerful” prayers, but so that those for whom we pray may experience the power of God in their lives. + + +