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Ordinary Prayers From Ordinary People

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey
The Truth Network Radio
November 17, 2023 12:00 am

Ordinary Prayers From Ordinary People

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey

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November 17, 2023 12:00 am

Read the manuscript or listen to the full-length version here: https://wfth.me/3sj2ctN

It’s easy for us to think that God hears only the prayers of the most devout Christians, isn’t it? But in this message, Stephen proposes that if God only paid attention to the saintliest of saints . . . none of us would ever be heard! Join him now as he encourages us with the truth that God accepts “Ordinary Prayers from Ordinary People.”

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So Paul would write to the Philippians and tell them that they were filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes through Jesus Christ. See, the other belief leads you to pietism and mysticism and legalism, comparison.

He got up at five, I better get up at 458. And Paul wrote to the Corinthians that God made him Christ, who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. How many of you feel like a saint?

How are you feeling today? If someone has already asked you that, you probably didn't respond by saying, I feel like a saint, or maybe you did. But friend, if you're a Christian, your status of being declared righteous in Christ is what empowers your prayers. Prayer is not just for those who are super spiritual and feel like saints. Prayer is for ordinary people like us. As Stephen takes us to the book of James today, we learn that James has some practical advice regarding prayer.

This is wisdom for the heart. Stephen called this lesson, Ordinary Prayers for Ordinary People. In the autobiography of Helen Hayes, I thought this was interesting. She told the story of one Thanksgiving day, she was an actress for about 60, 70 years. She decided to cook the first turkey for her husband and son that she'd ever attempted. It was Thanksgiving. Before serving it, she'd worked all day in the kitchen. She came out and she announced to her husband and James, their son, now we all know this is the first turkey I've ever cooked.

If it isn't any good, if it doesn't taste good, I don't want anybody to say a word. We'll just get up from the table without making any comments, and we'll go out to a restaurant to eat. She went back into the kitchen. When she was finished, she finally entered the dining room bearing that turkey on a platter.

She found her husband and son seated at the table with her hats and coats already on. They're not expecting much out of this meal already. Guys, this is not a suggestion.

Don't try this one at home. I wonder if we approach God with our hats and coats on. We know we're supposed to pull up to the table.

We're supposed to be there, but we really don't expect much from the experience. What we expect out of prayer has a lot to do with determining when we will pray and why. As James the apostle is coming close to the end of his letter, he addresses the subject of prayer because he knows it will determine endurance. He knows that endurance depends upon communion. He knows that perseverance must be supported with prayer. He knows that spiritual determination is not enough.

It must be reinforced with spiritual communication. So we're told to pray when we are overflowing with emotion, when we are overcome with weakness, when we are overpowered by sin. Now James continues in the context of sin and confession and fellowship, but now he broadens it to the entire body. He says to pray when you are overwrought with spiritual needs. That would be the fourth setting for prayer. Pray when you are overwrought with spiritual needs. Notice verse 16, therefore, that is in light of what we've just learned and seen, therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.

In other words, what you've just seen happen, what you've just observed that occurred in the life of this one who didn't confess, admit, the word admission would be a good translation of the word confess. You've seen the mental and physical effects. You've seen the spiritual weariness. You've seen the horror of that discipline. You've seen him hand it over, as Paul said, to the church in Corinth to the full effects of Satan. You've seen what that brought about by unrepentant sin. Don't go there. Earlier on, admit, have that circle of accountability where that admission is made for support.

Keep your accounts short and clean. In fact, these are two more imperatives, two more exclamation points from James. You could translate them, make a practice of confessing your sins to one another.

Make a practice, make a habit of praying for one another. The word for confess, let me go back there just for a moment, it's a compound word that refers to open and honest sharing with another believer of your struggle and your failures. It means to let people know the battle you're in so that you will not progress into even more weakness and fatigue, which would lead you perhaps to potentially toward discipline. Now be careful in this. Be careful that you don't enter into some kind of or take from this that this is an act of the assembly.

The construction one to another means those that you have brought into close proximity. Early on in Methodism, John Wesley introduced what he called public confessions, and those public confessions actually led to even more immorality. People were confessing things that the body didn't need to hear, and so they disbanded it. What he's saying is find someone, perhaps even someone that you could respect, that you could enjoin to pray with you because of this besetting sin, this obstacle, this struggle that you're having. Jesus is not prescribing here, he's not promoting some sacrament of confession between a believer and a priest. In fact, you notice that James clearly tells us we're acknowledging our sin to whom?

One another. The idea of sacramental confession was unheard of in the church until the fifth century when the Pope instituted it into the church. In fact, one of the doctrines we hold dear as Protestants that we often take for granted because we don't utilize it more often through prayer is the doctrine that came out of the Reformation of the 16th century, simply known as the doctrine of the individual priesthood of the believer. Peter says you are priests. You're a nation of priests. You have immediate access to God.

You don't have to wait till Saturday and you don't have to come to somebody wearing a collar or a necktie. You can go directly and immediately to God. What James is recommending here is the admission of weakness and failure and sin with other believers in what we would call an accountability partnership. Out of that comes encouragement and intercession and support. You don't go tell your sin to somebody hoping they'll forgive you.

Only God can do that, but you go with this admission so that they will join with you. James is highlighting the wonderful benefits of the body, that sense of protection through honest and open accountability. You see, earlier in verse 14 he's talking about someone who was isolated, someone who was alone, someone who couldn't attend the assembly, so he had to call for the elders. There is protection and blessing among brothers and sisters in Christ. I have just begun reading the biography on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, given to me by a couple in our church, just published in 2010, actually probably the most exhaustive biography on this German pastor, L. Lutheran, who eventually, unfortunately, got tied up in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

He was caught along with others, and before the war ended, by the order of Hitler, he was killed. But he had wonderful insight, a young pastor. He wrote about the isolating effects of sin.

Listen to this insight. Sin drives Christians apart and produces a hellish individualism, a deadening independence. Sin withdraws us from the community of believers. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him.

What the enemy wants is for us to get alone, separate, divide, and destroy, has been a tact of his for centuries, and that's the point of the promise from James here in verse 16. Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, why? So that you may be healed.

The word is used to refer to restored spiritually, to have well-being. By the way, if you take this and you get out of it, physical sickness, then that would be wonderful. If you ever feel sick, well, just come.

We all get sick. Christians get sick too. In fact, men like Job and Paul proved that sickness can be right in the middle of the will of God. The same word James uses here for healing, in fact, appears again in Hebrews chapter 12, a wonderful text of scripture, where he uses it metaphorically, like James is using it here, about spiritual strength. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says, therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. He's using that as a metaphor for strength spiritually, no matter how old you are.

Pray for those feeble knees, maybe you're old enough like me, it takes two or three steps to really want to keep walking. Pray for strong hands, pray for strong feet, endure, and don't go it alone. We need to pray for one another. There is that spiritual well-being, there's that sense of hope that comes when you hear somebody pray for you, or you know they're praying for you.

We had a call come in a couple of months ago over at the Wisdom office, receptionist answered it and it was a man that was in a crisis, a real tragic story, his son, a little middle schooler had been out playing with ropes and he had somehow gotten tangled up and he was alone and they found him hanging, rushed him to the ICU and the father called our studio, our staff prayed, he called me back a couple of weeks ago to tell me that his son had passed away, only child. He said that he and his wife were rejoicing that 15 or so people came to trust Christ personally at the funeral but then he confided in me his despair and his doubts and his questions. I just listened because whenever a question begins with the word why, we are on unanswerable ground and he knew that too. He eventually said, look I know you're busy and I've asked questions that don't have answers but he said what I really did is I just wanted to call and I wanted to hear you pray for me, which I did. See James does not say when you find answers to all of your questions you will have restoration, you will have spiritual well-being. He says just pray and that brings the other, one leads to the other.

Don't let the enemy pull you away, he wants you to be isolated. Find someone to whom you can be accountable who will pray for your hands and your knees and your feet and your heart and your mind. So we're to pray when overflowing with emotion, when overcome with weakness, when overpowered by sin, when overwrought with spiritual needs. One more, pray when you are overwhelmed with godly desire. Now what James is going to do and this is where I want to spend the balance of our study. He's going to give us a declaration and then an illustration and we've got to understand the declaration or we're not going to apply the illustration correctly. The declaration begins here at the end of verse 16. He just kind of drops this nugget, this quotable, the effective prayer of a righteous man availeth much. So what does James mean?

Well first of all, who's praying? It says a righteous man. By the way the word man does not appear in the text, it's supplied, James is referring to both men and women, you could render it a righteous person or righteous. So who is a righteous person?

I know, I know, a perfect person, thankfully no. The word righteous, dikaiu, refers to a person who has been, get this, born again. It is the person who now has, by expressing faith in Christ alone, received the righteousness of Jesus Christ. They now have the righteousness of Christ entirely granted to their account from Christ's own account. So Paul would write to the Philippians and tell them that they were filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes through Jesus Christ, not through three months in a row at 5 a.m., but through Jesus Christ. See the other belief leads you to pietism and mysticism and legalism, comparison, he got up at 5, I better get up at 4, 58. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that God made him, Christ, who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

That's why the New Testament will no longer call you a sinner, but call you a what? A saint. How many of you feel like a saint? Raise your hand.

It's unanimous again. You've got nobody on this campus all day long that felt like a saint, of course you don't. You know how sinful you are, but that's our standing, that's our status. We bankrupt have received from Christ his righteousness so that we are called righteous, right with God. We though we sin are called saint, that's our status, our standing. Listen, here's the point, if you've come to believe in Christ by faith and him alone, you have had his righteousness credited to your account, so when you read here that the person who effectively prays is a righteous person, you can write your name right there by that word.

So who can pray effective prayers, ready? The ordinary, run-of-the-mill Christian like you and me, every believer has access to him. Now in light of this context here, it's obviously referring to the believer who's confessing his sins, right, admitting to them. This believer is not cherishing or hiding sin, if that's the case, your first prayer for the day needs to be confession. In fact, your prayers throughout the day like mine are prayers of confession, constantly grateful for the grace of Christ, constantly grateful for our standing, our status, Lord help me live up to that status, I want to please you, and I fail so there's confession ongoing. David said, if I acknowledge sin in my heart, that is if I cherish sin in my heart, God will not hear me, Psalm 66 18. So who can pray with expectation?

A Christian in right standing with God, first through Christ's righteousness, and secondly through daily confession of sin. So this is not a reference to super saints get answers to their prayer. The holiest of the holy get to pray. Only those in the prayer tower at 5 a.m. can ever hope to get their foot into the divine doorway.

Now listen, if you're a Christian, no matter how ordinary you are, how ordinary you think you are, you have an invitation to approach the throne of God with boldness and confident access through faith in Christ, Ephesians 3 verse 12, and that invitation is good any time of the day and any time of the night. James says here that the praying of the ordinary believer is effective. You can render that powerful, these prayers. By the way, the word for prayer is different than in verse 15. The word in verse 15 means for praying in general, pray about everything and anything. Here it's a reference in verse 16 to making a special request. The Greeks used it as someone approaching a sovereign king to make a petition.

This is Esther who will make a petition to the king. So you can render James' text here, this nugget, powerful is the petition of an ordinary believer. And that just staggers my mind.

That staggers my mind. James is saying powerful is the petition of an ordinary believer, young or old, in the faith, young or old, in years. In fact, don't you just love to hear the prayers of children? They haven't gotten old enough to do anything other than assume that God's listening to them. They're not all hung up on all this other stuff and they just assume not only is he listening but that prayer is coming.

That answer is. But James says here at the end of this verse that their prayers accomplish much. I don't really see a lot accomplished. In fact, I asked for something to be accomplished and it didn't happen and I just assumed that I wasn't righteous enough or God wasn't listening. So I've kind of thought of giving up on the whole idea. I just pray normal prayers, you know.

I'm not asking God for much because I don't think he's going to do much for me. Well, I want you to follow me very carefully. This word translated, one word translated can accomplish much is a word that appears several times in the New Testament and every time except for one refers to the working of God's Spirit. It's the verb energumene. It gives us our transliterated word energy. What James is saying is this, follow this carefully, the powerful petition of an ordinary believer is energized.

Now we've got a little bit of a sticky problem. You can translate this one of two ways. You can translate it to mean that this prayer has energy all by itself. That's what linguists call the middle voice. You just say it and it'll get answered because you said it. You just ask it and God will give it to you because you asked it.

You just name it, have you ever heard of that one? You just claim it, that's middle voice. Or you could translate it in the passive voice to mean that your prayer does nothing unless someone outside of it touches it.

I believe that's what he's talking about. In fact, I think that's consistent with the theology of prayer and I'm disappointed this is translated in the middle voice here. What James is saying is the powerful petition of an ordinary believer is energized and we know that that person outside of the prayer is God's Spirit. That's exactly what James is going to illustrate here in the life of Elijah. Elijah's prayers were acts of obedience. In fact, notice verse 17, Elijah, this illustration, was a man with a nature like ours.

Why say that? Well, he's writing to Jews. By the time James wrote this letter, the Jews had made Elijah a super saint, a hero, perfect. I mean, if there was ever a saint, Elijah was a saint. The guy didn't even die, he went up in a chariot. He called fire down from heaven, he raised the dead. I want that guy praying for me.

We take it all out of context. Elijah was praying according to the will of God. In fact, if you go back into 1 Kings, you discover that God actually told Elijah what to pray about and when to pray it. He was simply praying the prescription of God's will and God touched his prayers and those prayers then energized, accomplished much.

The same can be true of you and me. When our prayers line up with the will of God, God will energize them into action. But you see, Elijah by this time is, in fact, he was called by the rabbis the grandest character ever produced by the nation Israel. In fact, traditions had been developed by the time James wrote this letter that attributed superhuman traits to Elijah. I can't imagine any body of believers thinking somebody's extra special.

Of course, we do it all the time. Look at what he did. I mean, when that guy prayed, goodness gracious.

But if taken out of context, it is misinterpreted. Elijah was a prophet of God who obeyed the word of God, prayed according to the will of God and God did miraculous things through the vehicle of his praying. That divine mystery combining our prayers with the purposes of God.

And Elijah, if you do study his life, you'll discover a man who was passionate with godly desire. He was overwhelmed for the glory of God. You see, his nation is rebelling against God. They've got an immoral, wicked hypocrite named Ahab on the throne with his wife named Jezebel who is paying the compensation of these false prophets of Baal.

He's worked up. The nation is not glorifying God. And so he knows from the scriptures, Deuteronomy chapter 28, that a nation rebelling against God, the punishment for apostasy was drought. And the repentant nation can expect rain. So he's praying the prescribed will of God, notice further in verse 17, he prayed earnestly that it would not rain. And it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. Again, we don't have time here, but you go back to 1st Kings sometime on your own and discover that rain came after the prophets of Baal were defeated in that amazing duel of fire.

Remember that? Prophets of Baal had their altar. Elijah has his. Pour water around it, on it, whatever, and you pray.

You guys, I'll let you go first. And those prophets of Baal prayed and prayed and prayed, they even began cutting themselves. That'll get their God's attention.

He never responded with fire. And Elijah said, you might back up a little bit. Show them you are the true God. Does that mean that we can do that? Does that mean that we can go out here and prove that God is the God he is by calling down fire? That would be fun. God show, show that boss right there.

Show that neighbor. Elijah was not just praying to manipulate the weather. I mean, if we could all manipulate the weather, you know what? We wouldn't have one crop. There would never be a wet Saturday. Weather would be constant.

It always be 72 degrees. It's like it is in California. That's how messed up they are. It's just not right. We are praying not to have our will done.

We'd like it a little warmer, a little cooler. We don't pray for our will to be done in heaven. We pray that God's will will be done on earth. And listen, we pray for many more reasons than for answers. And I just propped my feet up and went through the things that came to my mind.

Nearly a dozen right off the top of my head. We pray, I jotted in here, because it develops our relationship with Christ. We pray because God commands us to. We pray because it reminds us of our inadequacy. Because it focuses our dependency on God. Because it's an act of worship. Because others need our intercession. Because our minds and hearts need daily cleansing. Because we need and long for his presence. Because it surrenders us to his will. Because we believe that God always answers us.

He does. It might be no, never. It might be no, but wait, not now. It might be yes, but not like you're praying.

It might be yes, just like you're praying. You could say, coming into an understanding like this, well, you know, if God will do what God will do, then I don't need to pray about anything. Or the other extreme, if I don't pray, I'm not sure God's going to win, so I better pray for God and the church, because if I don't, we'll be in a mess. Two extremes.

They're both in balance. When we pray, we can rest assured that when our petitions and God's purposes intertwine, the result becomes an energized combination of divine power with our surrendered willing partnership which leads to action for the glory of God. Maybe you had some misconceptions about prayer before listening today, and I hope this lesson from God's word helped bring clarity to your mind. If you know someone who would benefit from hearing this message, please share it with them. If you'd like more of Stephen's practical teaching through James, his book on this epistle is deeply discounted during this series. Call for information, dial 866-48-BIBLE. You can also order it yourself at wisdomonline.org. Join us next time here on Wisdom for the Heart. Thank you. God bless you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-17 00:12:18 / 2023-11-17 00:22:36 / 10

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