Wed Bible Study 05/08/02
16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.
18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.
In 1957, it was illegal to take Bibles into Eastern Europe, but according to his book, God's Smuggler [Spire Books, Fleming H. Revell Co. 1967, p101.], this did not deter Brother Andrew. He filled his luggage with Bibles and tracts, and tossed it into his VW beetle and drove right up to the Yugoslav border post.
Now the border guards had been known to take a car apart down to the nuts and bolts in search of contraband, but they did not need to do that with Brother Andrew. All that they had to do was look in his luggage. Brother Andrew, however, prayed the prayer of God's smuggler. "Lord,” he said, "in my luggage, I have Bibles that I want to take to your children across this border. When you were on earth, you made blind eyes to see. Now, I pray, make seeing eyes blind. Do not let the guards see those things you do not want them to see."
Two guards approached his car. He showed them his passport. When they asked him to open a suitcase, he almost stopped breathing. The suitcase was half-full of tracts. Now Brother Andrew’s real name was Andrew van der Bijl and he was from the Netherlands, and he was suddenly inspired to talk about his homeland. He mentioned dikes, tulips, and windmills. As the suitcase opened, the tracts were in plain sight, but the guards were listening to Brother Andrew, and never seemed to notice them. They closed the suitcase and waved him on his way.
Of course, we can think of a couple of explanations for Brother Andrew's "good luck." The guards may have been so interested in his conversation that they never looked into the suitcase; however, that does not appear very likely. It seems more likely that the guards were secret Christians and pretended not to see the tracts. In any case, Andrew prayed an effective prayer. Either the Holy Spirit distracted the guards, or the Holy Spirit saw to it that the guards on duty that day were Christians. In either case, Andrew van der Bijl was a righteous man who prayed a fervent prayer that “availeth much.”
A basic spiritual principle is that every truly successful life is controlled and motivated by prayer. Perhaps we can be smart people without prayer; perhaps we can be popular people without prayer. The whole machinery of our life may be run to some extent without the oil of prayer, or with very little prayer, with only a drop or two every now and then, but no life can be spiritually successful without constant communication with divine power.
Prayer binds us both to God and to others. As we pray for others and they pray for us, we develop bonds of friendship and love. Also, a prayer-filled life unites us with God. This is the most important function of prayer. It unites us with our purpose for being. It brings us to our reason for existence.
The life of a believer is a high office and a great responsibility. Prayer is the only thing that will prepare us for such a significant life. Think back to the first apostles. Jesus gave them a commission at the end of the gospels to teach his truth and to baptize, but they did not actually begin to fulfill this commission until they gathered in the upper room to pray on the Day of Pentecost. Prayer qualified them for their office. So it is with us. When we are filled with prayer, we become fit for the kind of life Jesus has called us to live.
But most people are not ready to live that kind of life, a spiritual life. Most people live in what we might call “spiritual poverty.” The cause of their poverty is an unaccountable backwardness in prayer. They do not pray, or they do not pray much. We wonder why. Prayer seems so easy. Anyone can do it, can’t they? Well, apparently not. Prayer is a spiritual exercise, and the majority of folks seem to have as much problem with prayer as with any other exercise. Our medical doctors are always telling us we need to exercise more. Well, I am a doctor of the soul, and I will advise you on some soul exercise. Pray. Pray more.
Failure to pray, failure to get your spiritual exercise has definite consequences. The less we pray, the more superficial, the more trivial, our lives become. The truth is that most people's lives are an empty wasteland. If you ask them what they are doing that is important, and if you really get down to the nitty gritty with them, and they answer honestly from the depths of their being, their answer is nothing. Their lives are not about anything. They are not doing anything important. Prayer is the answer to that emptiness, because prayer leads to a spiritual life, which is the only real life there is. Thus, it is not exaggeration to say that our spiritual lives are the result of our prayers.
I promise you that when you get to heaven you will not be sorry that you did work more overtime while you were here, and you will not be sorry that you did not own the latest model car, and you will not be sorry that you that you did not watch more TV, but unfortunately many people will be sorry that they did not pray more.
The distinguishing feature of all spiritual people is that they are people of prayer. Thus, they do not pray little prayers at odd times, but they pray so much and so fervently, that prayer enters into and shapes their character. They pray so much that their prayers affect not only their own lives, but also the lives of others and the histories of their time. When we get to heaven, we are going to Iearn the truth about who actually molded and shaped human history, and we will be surprised by the influence of people who were mighty in prayer.
The ancient Greek scientist Archimedes was so entranced by the power of levers that he once said, "Give me where to stand, and [with my lever] I will move the earth." The spiritual lever of Archimedes is prayer. Through prayer, we can move the earth.
In Ephesians 6:18, the Apostle Paul speaks of "praying always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints." We are to be "praying always with all prayer" not because as Christians we are required to spend so many minutes a day in prayer, but because we recognize that this is the most important business of our day.
This understanding separates the spiritual from the nonspiritual. Nonspiritual people think that prayer does not do much, hence is not very important. Spiritual people think that prayer is the most important business of all. James shows us a spiritual attitude when he says "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
Unfortunately, this is one of the few places where our KJV fails us a little bit. "Availeth much" means "effective"; hence the KJV simply says that effectual prayer is effectual--which is not very helpful. James Moffatt's translation is a little better: "The prayers of the righteous have a powerful effect." J. B. Phillips is even better: "Tremendous power is made available through a good man's earnest prayer."
Notice the kind of person James says prays effective prayers--one who is righteous or good. Now this does not mean that God only hears the prayers of a perfectly righteous person. So that we will not make that mistake, James goes on in the next verse to give us an example of the kind of person that he is talking about.
In V17 he says, "Elijah was a man subject too like passions as we are." Elijah was a human being like you and me, with his share of frailties and failures, but look what happened when he prayed. The incident James has in mind is in I Kings 17 and 18. Israel, during the reign of king Ahab, had forsaken God and turned to the worst kind of idolatry, and Elijah was so provoked at this desertion that he prayed that it would not rain in Israel, and it did not rain for three years and six months. Then, after he destroyed the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, Elijah prayed for rain, and it rained in torrents.
Now we could accuse Elijah for his lack of love and forgiveness, and we could say that his prayer--that it would not rain--was not a Christlike prayer, but that is James' point. Elijah was not a perfect person. He was just a man. He got angry, he got frustrated, but he was a righteous man in that he believed in spiritual power, and because of that he prayed effective prayers. We can too.
Notice the kind of prayers that are effective, not just any kind, but "fervent" prayer--earnest prayer, sincere prayer. We need to quit praying trivial prayers and get down to the real thing and start praying with such earnestness that we refuse to go unheard. Fervent prayers are passionate, emotional prayers that come from the heart. That is the kind of prayer we need. That is the kind of prayer that has results.
Some of you remember Sarah O’Farrell. She passed on some years ago, but she was a member of this church all her adult life and her father was an Elder in the church. Sarah once told me a story that I always associate with these verses from James. This happened back in the sixties, I think, when Sarah’s father was alive, and the O’Farrell’s owned a house on King’s Mountain Street here in York.
One hot summer the county was really dry. It was a record setting drought. It had been months since anyone had seen even a trace of rain, and this had become a matter of deep concern, and word was sent around to all the churches asking that on a certain Sabbath every church in York would pray for rain.
But also, during this dry spell, the O’Farrell’s were having some renovations done on their house, and the roof was entirely torn off—not just the shingles, but the wood was torn off and the house stood totally open to the sky. Well that Sabbath came when everybody in York prayed for rain and the ARP church prayed for rain also, and Mr. O’Farrell was here and he did not say a word, not aloud anyway.
Next week it did not rain a drop. Nothing. There was not a cloud in the sky all week. Next Sabbath, Mr. O’Farrell came to church, and he listened to the preacher preach. As he was walking out after the sermon, he shook the preacher’s hand firmly and said, “Everybody in York prayed for rain last week, except me. And it did not rain a drop. ‘The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.’ James 5:16.”
Now the way Sarah told this story, her father was about half-joking but about half-serious. He fervently wanted no rain until he got a roof on his house, and it did not rain until that was accomplished. The rest of the folks in York wanted rain, but apparently they were not as serious about it as Mr. O’Farrell.
However that may be, there is certainly a power in fervent prayer. The people who have most fully imitated Christ in their character and have most powerfully affected the world for Christ have been people of prayer.
John Wesley spent two hours a day in prayer. He began at four in the morning. By the way, that is the answer for those who say that they do not have time to pray: Get up earlier, and pray first before you do anything else.
Francis Asbury followed Wesley's schedule, saying, "I propose to rise at four o'clock as often as I can and spend two hours in prayer and meditation."
Martin Luther said: "To pray well is the better half of study." Our prayer life is the better half of our education. So how is your education coming? How are you doing in the school of prayer? Let me give you three rules for progress in this school:
1. Pray persistently. Do not quit on God. Keep on praying.
2. Pray boldly. Quit praying little prayers that do not ask for much, and hence cannot do much. Be adventurous in prayer.
3. Let go and let God. Give your prayers to God, and give yourself to God and let God work through you. The powerful purpose of prayer is not to tell God what to do. It is to find out what God wants us to do. Pray then with an openness to God's answer--whatever that answer may be.
An old hymn says:
Teach me to pray, Lord, teach me to pray.
This is my heart cry day unto day.
I long to know thy will and way.
Teach me to pray, Lord, teach me to pray.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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