Pray for One Another

Pray For One Another

James 5:13-16


I want you to do something for me for a sec. I want you, if you are able, to stand up. Now think about what you are doing right now. Doesn’t seem like much, does it? But the truth is, you aren’t actually standing still. There’s no such thing. You are actually moving, lightly swaying back and forth on your ankles to stand. It’s actually harder to stand “still” than it is to walk. Right now, as you are standing there, muscles throughout your body are constantly making tiny adjustments to keep you standing upright and balanced. You’re actually doing a lot of work right now.


Ok, you can be seated. Do you remember learning how to stand? How about walk? Of course you don’t. None of us do. We learn to stand and walk at such an early age. But it was actually quite an accomplishment. Things that we think of as simple movements, things like going from sitting in a chair, to standing, to walking, and then going back to sitting down, things that we do without ever giving it a conscious thought, are actually incredibly complex movements. If you have children of your own, though, you know what it looks like when a baby is learning to stand. Going from rolling or scooting to crawling, and then pulling herself up on chairs or tables, anything to help get those pesky, uncooperative feet underneath and supporting you. And those first attempts at standing without support? You can see the body’s muscles trying to figure out how to work together to support a move as simple as standing still. But after playing with it for a while, pulling himself up, cruising around supporting his body on tables and chairs, the baby learns to stand on his own, to walk unsupported, and then to run, and they never look back. Unless we’re injured or sick, or unless alcohol or some other substance has temporarily gotten in the way, we usually don’t have to think much about how to stand or walk. We just do it. We do it because our brains figured out how to do it a very long time ago and have it down pat. But when you’re just standing there, dozens of muscles are at work holding you in place, keeping you balanced, keeping you from falling on your face.


I think that’s what is happening in this church right now. We’re learning to walk all over again. We have parts from two churches that were independent of one another learning how to work together and it feels a little unsteady. Sometimes it feels VERY unsteady. Sometimes we wobble. And sometimes we fall down and have to get back up and try again. That’s normal. It’s going to feel that way for a while. It’s like we’re learning to stand and then walk all over again. And it’s going to take time. Lots of time. We’re just starting to figure a few things out as we figure out how to move at Christ’s direction the way we want to move. Don’t worry. It’ll be ok. It’s usually in the 3rd year that things start to settle in. So hang in there. Some of us are excited. Others are scared. Maybe some others of us are frustrated either because things are moving too fast or because they’re not moving fast enough.


That’s why we’re walking through several of the “one another” passages in the New Testament. Those verses where God lays out for us the way we are supposed to treat one another and support and challenge one another in the church, which Paul calls the body of Christ. We’ve talked about the fact that we actually belong to one another, we’re members of one another, just like my hand and my foot belong to one another. We belong to one another because we’re all parts of the same body, with Christ as the head, the director, the brain. And because we belong to one another, we’re supposed to forgive one another. And be real with one another. No masks. It’s ok to be who you are. And today, we’re talking about praying for one another. Turn in your Bible to James 5:13-16.


Think back over this past week. If I were to ask you, “When did you pray this week,” what would your answer be? Many pray at meal times, or maybe with their children before bed. Most churches have some kind of prayer hotline, prayer chain, or prayer ministry. In times of crisis, people who have never darkened the door of a church or given second thought to the existence of God fire desperate prayers heavenward. “Dear God, help.” But the truth is, most of us have prayer lives that are fairly mundane. Pastor and author Chuck Swindoll once said that prayer may be one of the most misunderstood and neglected blessings of the Christian life. It is also one of the simplest concepts to understand and one of the easiest actions to do. I think one of the reasons we really struggle to pray consistently is that we value action, and prayer seems so inactive. In a world where actions speak louder than words, prayer has far too often been relegated to the realm of words. When crisis strikes, we’d much rather be trying to do something about it than stop and pray until we’re desperate. And when life is good, well, who needs prayer then, right? For many, prayer is at best about a few awkward minutes thanking God for his provision before meals and asking for help when life is tough. In fact, for many of us, our prayer lives look something like this. SHOW VIDEO.


Most of us struggle to pray at all, much less pray for each other. And that’s sad, because prayer is the lifeblood of a life spent following Jesus. Think about it. If Becky and I never communicate with one another except for a few awkward words before meals and a few shouted words of desperation when crisis hits and one of us needed help now, we wouldn’t have much of a relationship, would we. We’d be prime candidates for marriage counseling! And we’ve found that as our kids have gotten older and life has gotten crazier and more hectic, we have to make sure that we take the time to communicate more effectively. If we don’t, there’s a good chance that one of the kids will be left somewhere! But I hear people all the time talk about how busy they are, that they don’t have time to pray, for themselves, for their families, or for anyone else. What if we’ve got it backwards? What if, as Bill Hybels says, we’re too busy NOT to pray?


St. James understood the power of prayer. In fact, those who knew him called him “Camel Knees” because he spent so much time on his knees in prayer that his knees became calloused like a camel’s knees. And the first thing he makes clear is that ANYTIME is a good time to pray. “Is anyone among you suffering?” The word there covers any kind of trouble or suffering, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” When we’re struggling, when life is difficult, when tragedy strikes, when we’re overwhelmed, we can pray. In fact, we ARE TO PRAY. But look at what James says next. “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” Now, we have to understand that songs of praise are simply sung prayers. When we gather together to worship God, to praise God, we are praying together. The challenge here is that it is easy to become complacent when life is good. If God is there like a great, cosmic, genie in a bottle, waiting to get me out of trouble when I need it, and nothing else, why pray when life is good? We would never say that, would we? Ah, but our prayer lives, or our lack of effective prayer lives, betray us.


You see, we don’t understand the power of prayer. Look at Vv. 14-15. Did you hear the promise in V. 15? “The prayer of faith will save.” And then down in V. 16. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Now, most of us stop right there and say, see, I’m not a righteous person. So I can’t, or shouldn’t pray. At least, not for others. We think that way because we don’t understand the righteousness we have in Christ. James isn’t saying that we have to be perfect, flawless, before God will answer our prayer. The righteousness he is talking about is the righteousness of Christ, which is God’s gift to us through our faith in Christ. It is the life of Christ being lived in us imperfect human beings.


The power isn’t in the one praying or in the prayer itself, in the right words or the right formula. The power of prayer is the power of God working because of the prayers of his dearly loved children when we pray as Jesus taught us to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10); when we pray as Jesus did, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). In John 15:7, Jesus himself said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you …” In other words, if you have placed your faith and trust in me and my life is flowing through you … “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” When our desires line up with God’s desires, God acts, and he acts in power to heal and to save. Sometimes, God says “No.” And that isn’t always because the person praying lacks faith. St. Paul himself asked God three times to remove what he called his “thorn in the flesh,” some kind of ailment, from his life. And God’s answer to Paul was “No.” “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul’s response, after begging God to answer his prayer three times, was, Ok, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9). You see, that’s what prayer really is. It is learning to turn both big things and little things, good times and bad times, over to God and rest in the promise of his presence with us above all else.


And a praying church begins with praying church leaders. “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him …” Praying churches have praying leaders. Not just pastors, but elders too. Some churches have elders, others have elected board members, but the principle is the same. In today’s organized, non-profit church, board members tend to function more as business-minded leaders than as spiritual leaders. They certainly should take care of the business of the church. But they are also among the spiritual leaders of the church and need to be willing and able to pray for and over someone in need. But it isn’t just the leaders, the elders, who are to pray. Look down at V. 16: “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” There are times, particularly in situations of dire physical illness, when the elders should gather to pray over someone. But from the eldest member to the person who was just baptized, we are to pray for one another. Praying together WITH one another is different than praying FOR one another. When we pray together as a church over some part of our community, maybe education or business or politics, we are praying together. When we look one another in the eye, share our needs, and pray over those needs, we are praying FOR one another.


Some of us blow prayer off as ineffective. We’d rather do something than pray. Others overcomplicate the matter. We leave prayer, at least serious prayer, in the hands of the pastor and other church leaders. But folks, prayer isn’t rocket science. Dr. Peter Kreeft, Catholic scholar and professor at Boston College, says, “Prayer is easier than we think. We want to think it is too hard or too high and holy for us, because that gives us an excuse for not doing it. This is false humility. We can all do it, even the most sinful, shallow, silly, and stupid of us. You do not have to master some mystical method. You do not have to master a method at all. Can you talk to a friend? Then you can talk to God, for he is your Friend. And that is what prayer is. The single most important piece of advice about prayer is one word: Begin! God makes it easy: just do it! God also makes it easy to progress in prayer …. for it gradually becomes more natural and delightful.”[i]


In the winter of 2007, a close friend of mine was felled by not one but two brain aneurysms. For weeks she lingered on life support, growing weaker each day. As her condition deteriorated, her children were called in to say their goodbyes, and her church prepared for a funeral. Then Linda suddenly snapped out of her coma. As she came to, she looked over at her husband and asked, “Where is everybody else?” Shaking his head, he explained, “They allow only one of us at a time in the ICU. There is no one else here.” Linda argued, “No, I heard them. They were all speaking at the same time, and there were hundreds of them, too. Some of them I knew; others I didn’t. But they were all around me. They were here!”


Linda’s husband assured her that all those people had never been in the room. Like many, he initially thought that Linda must have been hallucinating. Some people speculated that Linda had seen and heard angels. But the real answer was probably much closer to home. A few days after her miraculous recovery, Linda discovered that a large prayer chain had been created to pray for her. This group had been formed when news of her condition was sent out to local churches, and then it had spread to other groups throughout the region. Within days Linda’s name had been placed on hundreds of prayer lists and written in scores of prayer logs. For weeks, thousands were praying for her each day. Her miraculous recovery convinced Linda of two things: the voices she heard were of the people who had been praying for her, and those prayers had pulled her back from death’s door. Linda’s story is far from unusual. Countless people have been touched by the power of prayer.[ii]


Now, today we’re going to end the service a little differently. Typically, we offer those who wish to receive prayer the opportunity to step out of the sanctuary where a trained prayer minister is available to pray over them. Today, as the worship team sings a couple of songs in the background, we’re actually going to get together in small groups right here in the sanctuary and pray for one another. Now, don’t get nervous. Some of us are more extraverted, others are more introverted. Some are comfortable praying out loud, others are uncomfortable with it, even if it’s in a really small group. For some, prayer is a really private thing. Others are more comfortable with public prayer. So if you don’t want to join up with a group, and would rather sit back and pray for someone where you are, that’s perfectly fine. Your prayer is no less effective than those who are praying in a group. And if you want to join a group but not pray out loud, that’s fine too, just let your group know. No matter how you choose to participate, on your own, silently as a part of a group, or praying out loud as part of a group, it’s just fine. No judgement. Ok? Deal? I know, it’ll stretch some of us a little, and many of us a lot. But it will be safe. I promise.


So let’s pray for one another. If you are comfortable doing so, get into groups of three or four, share one concern you’d like the others to pray for, and then pray for each person’s need. Remember, if you’d like to stay where you are and pray silently, that’s fine. If you’d like to be in a group but not speak out loud, that’s fine. Whatever you’re comfortable with is fine.

[i] Peter Kreeft, Prayer for Beginners (Ignatius, 2000), pp. 25-26

[ii] Ace Collins, Sticks and Stones (Zondervan, 2009), pp. 207-208