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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:The Sixth One Another Commandment: Pray for One Another
Text:James 5:13-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Added:2022-01-10
Updated:2022-01-22
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Ephesians 6:10-24

Text: James 5:13-20

 

ONE ANOTHER COMMANDMENTS: PRAY FOR ONE ANOTHER

  1. The Power of Prayer

  2. The Practice of Prayer

 

  1. Psalm 145: 1, 5

  2. Psalm 43: 1, 3, 4, 5

  3. Psalm 71: 1, 3

  4. Hymn 55: 1, 2

  5. Psalm 42: 1, 7

  6. Hymn 55: 3

 

Words to Listen For: depend, exactly, falling, gun, hoplite

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. Why is prayer so difficult?

  2. What do we learn about the power of prayer from the early church?

  3. How can prayer be a test of love?

  4. Is there ever a good reason not to pray?

  5. What prayer lesson can we learn from what happened in 480 BC?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ our Lord,

Who taught you to pray?  I don’t mean this as a rhetorical question...think about the answer for a moment.  Who taught you how to pray?

Who taught you what words to say?  Who taught you to fold your hands and bow your head?  Who taught you when to kneel, when to stand, when to sit in prayer?

Your gut reaction is probably to say “Nobody!”  “Nobody taught me how to pray, I don’t remember ever learning this!”

But we know, deep down, that this isn’t the case.  We know, either because we have taught children how to pray or seen them being taught, around the dining room table, with mom or dad holding the hands together, covering the eyes, and saying the words “Lord bless this food to our bodies, for Jesus sake amen.”  We KNOW that prayer isn’t natural, either because we’ve SEEN it taught...or because we have felt the foreignness ourselves.

The question “How’s your prayer life” tends to strike fear in most of our hearts.  We have to admit, that compared to the example of believers in Scripture, our prayer lives are lacking at best.  So often, prayer feels awkward.  Even though we KNOW God is listening, prayer can feel like we are just talking into thin air.

But then, there are times when we have an amazing experience with prayer.  Almost like magic, everything comes together, something clicks, and we have that real and true communion with God.  We share our heart, we feel His presence, we feel His guidance...and we think: I’ve arrived!  I’ll never struggle with prayer again.  But...inevitably...that feeling doesn’t last.  And we return to our struggle.

But let me encourage you in that struggle this morning.  The value of prayer is worth the struggle...not only for ourselves, but as we continue to think about, and love, and are bound together with ONE ANOTHER.  This morning, 

[ONE ANOTHER COMMANDMENTS:] PRAY FOR ONE ANOTHER.  We will look at

  1. The Power of Prayer and 

  2. The Practice of Prayer

 

The Power of Prayer

How would you destroy a person if you really wanted to?  It’s a question out of left field, I know.

Of course, we know that we shouldn’t have these feelings of hatred in our heart - we shouldn’t ever WANT to DESTROY a person - and so this is a hypothetical question.

HYPOTHETICALLY, how would you destroy a person if you really wanted to?

You might think it would depend on the person.  Make a plan that matches your victim.  Is this person male or female?  Young or old?

But really, the way to destroy someone has nothing to do with who they are.  It’s true!  There IS a “one size fits all” way to destroy someone.  You begin to take away the things that matter to them most.  One by one, take them away.  Take away the things that they love most.  Take away the things that give them pleasure and comfort.  And, if you can, try to make them think it was their own idea.  That they volunteered for this.

And how do I know this?  Is it because I’m secretly an evil mastermind?  No.  It’s because I KNOW an evil mastermind.  I’ve been on the receiving end of his evil master plan.  And that’s not something unique to me...we all have.

His name is Satan, and THIS IS WHAT HE DOES.  Satan’s evil master plan is to divide us and destroy us.  His plan is to have us all alone, without anyONE or anyTHING, lonely, miserable, hopeless.  Ineffective for the gospel work that we are called to do.

So is it any wonder then, that prayer is hard?  This is no coincidence.

Satan attacks us in many ways, but one of the ways that we don’t expect it, one of the ways that we don’t realize it, is in the subtle ways that Satan attacks our prayer life.

Satan makes us think that prayer isn’t important.  He makes us think that prayer doesn’t do anything anyways.  Whether he appeals to our reformed sensibilities - God is sovereign, He has it all pre-ordained anyways...why pray? - or he reminds us of times when we prayed, and we didn’t get what we prayed for - Why pray?  God doesn’t actually CARE.

And Satan makes us think that prayer is foolish.  What if someone heard you in the restaurant praying?  It would be embarrassing.  What if someone heard you in your room, talking into thin air, airing your weaknesses and secrets?

Whatever sneaky subtle way that Satan can use, he tries these on us, until he finds one that works, so that he can stop you from praying.

And why?  Because the truth is - prayer is desperately important and powerful - and Satan knows it!

It is by prayer that things happen.  It is by prayer that Christ’s kingdom advances.

Think of the beginning of the New Testament church.  All of the great moments of advancement were marked by prayer.

  • Acts 1:14 - When Jesus ascended into heaven and commissioned His Apostles to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth, gathering the church together, they returned to Jerusalem, gathered all the believers and...Acts 1:14 says - All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer.
  • Acts 1:23 and 24 - To replace the empty spot left by Judas, the Apostles used their Holy-Spirit-enabled wisdom and put forward two candidates.  And they prayed and said, “You Lord, who knows the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen.
  • Acts 3 -  After Pentecost, when the church exploded with 3000 new members, we read, that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers.
  • Acts 4 - Another explosion of new members, 5000 men came to believe, and then the Apostles were dragged before the Sanhedrin and threatened.  The church was being systematically opposed, and what did the believers do?  Acts 4:24 - When they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God.  They prayed for boldness...and what happened?  Verse 31 - When they prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and continued to speak the Word of God with boldness.

I could continue, but I think you’re getting the idea.

Prayer is one of our most powerful weapons against the evil one, and he wants us to disarm ourselves for the fight.  Satan wants to disarm us, and he wants to separate us.  To separate us from God and to separate us from each other.  This is a real fight, against a real enemy.

Prayer, as our catechism says, is the most important part of our thankfulness to God.  Prayer is how we speak to God.  And when we devote ourselves to Bible reading ONLY and not prayer...when we sit under the preaching, but don’t take time in prayer during the week, we are experiencing half a relationship.

If we don’t pray, we are, as the young people say, "leaving God on read."

We are hearing His words, we are reading His messages to us, but we don’t fulfill our part.  We don’t respond.  And this sours the relationship.  This damages it and destroys it.  And this is exactly what Satan wants - to separate us from God.

And when we don’t pray for each other, whether we realize it or not, we are showing hatred for our brother or sister.  That is because the MOST LOVING, the TRUEST KINDNESS in the world is when we pray for each other.  And to deny this kindness, to withhold it from one another...this is a symptom of a hard heart.

Prayer is important for our horizontal relationships - with one another.  Prayer is how we love one another.

Prayer is important for our vertical relationship - with God.  Prayer is how we love God.

And prayer is important for our forward relationships - the future coming of God’s Kingdom in its fullness.  Prayer is how the Kingdom advances.

Now take a look at our text.  James, in writing to a struggling and suffering church, a church spread apart, a church dispersed throughout various countries throughout the known world...in this VERY PRACTICAL LETTER, filled with practical instructions for how the church is to act in trouble and persecution, James ends off his letter, possibly saving the best and most practical for last by telling the church to pray.

Verse 13 - Is anyone among you suffering?  Let him pray.  Is anyone cheerful?  Let him sing praise.  Is anyone among you sick?  Let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him.

Are you suffering?  PRAY.

Are you cheerful?  PRAY.

Are you sick?  PRAY.

And we typically don’t think of PRAYER as a practical instruction.  Practical instructions are seen as giving food, providing money, speaking wisely.  But PRAYER?  Prayer is ethereal. Prayer is a spiritual suggestion...not a practical one...right?

WRONG.

Of course prayer is spiritual...but why on earth should that mean it’s not practical?  Of course prayer is spiritual...but why on earth should that mean it’s not practical?

Speaking with God in prayer is just as real, just as practical as a conversation across the table, and some might argue...it’s even more real.

As pastor and writer Jonathan Parnell once said: Prayer is when we snap out of it - out of our busyness, out of our cultural imposed identities.  Praying, you see, is the most real thing we do.  It is tapping into a level of reality to which we have no right, but into which we have been graciously welcomed by the love of God in Christ.

Let me say that again, in case you want to write it down - Prayer is when we snap out of it - out of our busyness, out of our cultural imposed identities.  Praying, you see, is the most real thing we do. 

It is tapping into a level of reality to which we have no right, but into which we have been graciously welcomed by the love of God in Christ.

 

Prayer, beloved, is real.  Prayer is real, prayer is practical, and prayer is powerful.  We see this in both our reading and our text.  Ephesians 6.

Now, the end of Ephesians 6 gets overshadowed by the passage on the armor of God.  But let us not forget how Paul chooses to end this section of his letter.

Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 

...

And here is where we typically stop...but if you’re following along, you see that this is a COMMA, not a PERIOD - the sentence continues.  The thought continues.  The rousing pre-battle speech continues.

Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.

 

Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.

Prayer is not inferior to truth or righteousness or faith or salvation, or even the Word of God.  Prayer belongs to our fight as much as any of the other weapons.  Do not underestimate its power!

And James speaks to this as well.  At the end of our text, James gives the example of Elijah.

Verse 16b - 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.

Now Elijah, while in some ways was VERY SPECIAL...Elijah was nothing special.  He was special since he was a prophet, but he was nothing special, in that his prayers had no more power than my prayers or your prayers.  That is not to say that they had NO power...but the exact opposite.  His prayers had great power - through Elijah’s prayers, God prevented rain from falling on the earth.  And through Elijah’s prayers, God caused rain to fall on the earth.  And we think that he had a power that we could never have.  A power that we don’t understand.  But the Holy Spirit, through James tells us that we have that power too.  A power that, when we learn to appreciate it, when we learn to use it, we can do amazing things just like this. 

I would love to speak more about prayer itself, and, Lord-willing, we will do so soon, but for now, I have to leave this general discussion on the power of prayer for another sermon.  But with this background and understanding, and increased appreciation for the power of prayer, let us learn more about the practice of prayer, specifically the practice of praying for one another.  Our second point.

If prayer is truly as powerful as I have said...if it is as truly powerful as God has said in His Word...how should we use a power like this?

Well, as we have been seeing throughout this series, each and every one of these commandments comes down to one thing.  The first commandment, the foundational commandment, the beginning and the end of the matter: LOVE.  Everything comes down to love.  Love for your God and love for your neighbour.  And so, this very powerful tool, this very powerful gift that we have been given by our God, must be used in this way as well.

The most powerful gift should be used in service of the most important commandment.  It just makes sense.

And this is how James speaks of it too.  Sandwiched between an exhortation to pray always

  • Suffering? Pray.

  • Cheerful?  Pray.

  • Sick?  Pray.

and a description of the power of prayer, James gives us this simple instruction.

James 5:16 - Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.

Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.

What isn’t immediately obvious in these two commandments, is that, together, they form a 2 step test of love.  They form a 2 step test of love.  Let me explain.

Confess your sins to one another.

The act of confession is an act of great trust and intimacy.  When you confess how you have failed God and how you have failed your brothers and sisters, you are, in effect, handing a loaded gun to the other person.  You have given over a weapon that can easily be used against you.

If you can confess your sins and your fears, then there is love.  If you can’t, there isn’t.  It’s that simple.

Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.

And this is the second step of the love test.  Is that love mutual?

You have handed over a loaded weapon.  Is your brother going to turn it back on you?  Or are they going to partner with you and use that weapon against the sin?  Use the knowledge DEFENSIVELY instead of OFFENSIVELY?

Will you partner with the person against the sin?  Then love has been achieved.  If you partner with the sin against the person...then there is no love.  It’s that simple.

 

Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting doing “friend tests” to determine the level of love in different relationships, and weaponizing confession.  That’s not okay either.  But this is something that should develop naturally.  In loving and caring relationships, this should be the norm.  This should be something that is already happening.  A husband should be able to confess to his wife and then pray together with her.  A child should feel comfortable confessing to his parents, and then the three of them unite together, held together by the bonds of prayer.

This is what the church should be.  What begins in the legal family unit should carry over into the spiritual family unit.  If the church could be a place where sins were met with love and grace, a place where we realize that we are in this fight together, not one against another, but all of us working for the same goal - unity and love in the church -  then this place would be transformed.  This place would be transformed.

And let us be sensitive to the struggles of others.  You might not struggle in the same way.  And so you might not understand.  You might think that the reason for the struggle is silly...and maybe it is.  The reason might be silly, but the struggle is real.

Think of a child’s struggle and fear of the dark.  They have bad dreams, and are convinced that there’s a monster under the bed or in the closet.  This is, by all accounts...silly.  There is no monster.  It’s not real.  But the fear...THE FEAR IS REAL!  The terror of a child, whatever the reason for it...is very real, and should be treated with love and sympathy.

A child doesn’t have to PROVE the danger in order to climb into bed with Mom and Dad.  You don’t ask for a claw mark across their face, or a tuft of monster fur in their hand.  You invite them in and comfort their fears.  And so too, your brother or sister in the faith doesn’t have to have a struggle that you deem “big enough to pray about.”  Something that you judge they didn’t bring on themselves.  No!  Every struggle, every fear, every concern, no matter how small, can be prayed over, no matter how silly it is in your mind.  It SHOULD be prayed over.

And you know what...that monster under the bed thing?  If you’re not already, pray over this with your child.  Pray for protection while he or she sleeps.  Instill in them from a very early age that prayer is a vital piece of our armour.

Just as we heard before in Ephesians 6.  Prayer is just as important, and has just as much power as the other pieces of the divine armour set.

Let us return there briefly, because we see that it is not just prayer in general, but Paul specifically talks about praying for one another.

Paul concludes halfway through verse 18: To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints

To that end.  What end is this?  What is the goal here?

The goal here is victory.  The same reason that we arm ourselves with the sword of the Spirit is the same reason that we lift one another up in prayer.  Praying together, praying for one another is the thing that will bring the ultimate defeat of the Devil and the ultimate victory of the church.

We pray for our individual victory over sin - when we fight against our temptations individually, we are to fight on our knees.  We are to lift our hands to God, and realize that our strength comes ultimately from Him.  And we need that strength refreshed each day

We START with prayer for ourselves, but we do not STOP with ourselves.

Verse 18 - Make supplication for all the saints

All the saints!  Because we are all engaged in the same battle.  And some battles might have to be fought alone - just you and God against Satan...but these are few and far between.  For you all have been conscripted in the Lord’s army, and we all have to fight together.

We are stronger together.  Divided we fall, but together we conquer.  Look to history for an example.  The history buffs among us might know of the Battle of Thermopylae, when the Greeks fought against the Persians.  This battle has been brought into mainstream consciousness with the action movie 300 in 2006, and many artistic liberties were changed for the movie, but the main story is a historical one.

The year was 480 BC, and the Persian empire was sweeping across the known world.  When they reached Greece, with its various city states, there was no interest in surrendering, and they made a stand.  A relatively small band of Spartan hoplite soldiers held off the enormous Persian army for 3 days, against overwhelming odds.  And how did they do this?  It was through the strategy of the phalanx.

In the phalanx formation, soldiers are armed with a long spear and a large round shield, known as an aspis.  The spear would be held in the right hand, and the shield in the left.  Each man’s shield would cover his left side, and the right flank of the man next to him.  The Spartans set up this phalanx in a small pass, and the Persian hordes crashed against them, like so many waves on a rocky shore, leaving defeated, day after day.

And THIS is how we should view prayer, beloved.  Prayer is the large round aspis shield.  It is for US and OUR protection - pray by yourself and for yourself often - but it is also for EACH OTHER, and the protection of our comrades.  The protection of our brothers and sisters.  Our allies in the fight.  THEY NEED US, and WE NEED THEM.

To use a cliche...a cliche that remains true, no matter how cheesy it may sound...the church that prays together stays together.  The church that prays together stays together.

When we show our love for each other, when we show our submission to our Heavenly Father, when we show our helplessness on our own, knowing our strength is only from above...then we will have peace.  Then we will have joy.  Then we will have the victory.

God has given us this commandment, and all the others, that we may have LIFE, and LIFE ABUNDANTLY.  He has not given us these things to burden us, but to bless us.

So beloved.  Let us not discount the IMPORTANCE of prayer.  Let us not discount the POWER of prayer.  If you don’t know how to pray, if you don’t know the words to use, then reach out.  Ask your parents, ask your friends, join our prayer partners initiative and fight, side by side with one another.  For the prayer of a righteous person has great power.

So use that great power for the greatest purpose - your brother’s good, and your God’s glory.

AMEN.

 



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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