18th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 21) LSB #770
Text – James 5:17
Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, & he prayed fervently that it might not rain, & for three years & six months it did not rain on the earth.
HAS SOMEONE BEEN PRAYING?
In 1883 an Indonesian volcanic eruption made its effects felt around the world. Cracking at its base, the volcano received an inrush of cold sea water mingling with its hot lava. Such irresistible pressure of expanding steam & gas generated an explosion that took the top off the 1460 foot Krakatoa Mountain.
The dust rose 33 miles skyward & circled the globe, generating fantastic sunsets for years afterward. Rocks were sent sailing 50 miles away & when the eruption neared its end, the volcano’s empty shell thundered downward into a 600 foot deep crater. That spawned a tsunami which destructively ripped across the oceans.
Some 480 miles away buildings were swaying & the noise of one eruption was heard up to 3000 miles away.
The earth evidences massive power that pales the nuclear explosions created by mankind. Yet, there is no power mightier than the Christian prayer that pleads, “Save me, Jesus.” For all its awesome energy, the earth is but a creation of an infinitely mightier Creator. That Creator-God loves the likes of us, & His response to prayer reveals the greatest power source there is.
The struggle for us, is that due to the effects of sin, we’re almost completely unable to recognize that incredible power. The text for today’s sermon tells us that Elijah, though he was like us, prayed that it might not rain. God answered his prayer & withheld the rain for 3.5 years until Elijah prayed that it would rain again. California is in its 4th year of severe drought. By April, state officials announced there was no snow in the Sierra Nevada for the 1st time in 75 years of measurements. The announcement spurred researchers to launch a study of tree rings in the Central Valley. They found that mountain snow – on which California relies for water – has not been so low since the 1500s. Out West, the drought has gotten to extreme levels.
While I was on sabbatical, & choosing sermon titles for the upcoming months, I read James 5:17 & it struck me to wonder, “Has someone been praying?” We don’t normally think of prayer in those terms. We usually pray for things we want, which means good things. Elijah prayed for drought.
Prayer can draw powerful effects from our heavenly Father, results vastly more earthshaking than any volcano. Yet, our prayers are frequently not answered in the way we want them to be. We pray for healing, but the disease continues to wreak havoc. We pray for reconciliation, but the family members simply refuse to respect each other, or see eye-to-eye.
In those circumstances we’re stuck with a dilemma. We may have prayed long & hard, for a godly outcome, but it does not arrive. Is God not listening? Is God not loving? Is God not capable of answering my prayer? The devil throws each of those temptations out there, & more. How do you withstand such evil? How do you resist the devil?
In addition to Satan’s temptation, it is also the natural reflex of our sinful nature to question God when our prayers are not answered as we want them to be. Last Sunday’s reading from James gave us a godly perspective on that dilemma: “You ask & do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:3 ESV)
James is challenging us to pray in the correct way. God knows everything. He sees everything. He hears everything. So He knows what’s best for us at each moment of every day. We, on the other hand, have no clue. All we know is the here & the now – nothing else, but we look at things from that minute perspective & presume to tell God how He should be answering our prayer. So James also challenges us to turn away from our small-minded & selfish viewpoint. Turn away from worldly, self-centered prayers. Turn from friendship with the world, because that is infidelity to God. Turn from impurity & double-mindedness. Turn back to Jesus.
Submit to your Lord & Savior & He’ll be free to answer your prayers in the best way possible. He’ll be free to answer our prayers from His unlimited & eternal wisdom, rather than from the constraints of our limited & mortal mind, which has been corroded & weakened by sin. To hear how that sort of mind works, listen to God’s people from the book of Numbers:
“And the people of Israel also wept again & said, ‘Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, & the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, & there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.’” (Numbers 11:4b-6 ESV)
They had been slaves. They were beaten, & their male children were killed at birth. They’re now on their way to the Promised Land, but since God has not answered their prayer in the way they want, they’d rather go back to being slaves, because of food. That sounds really drastic. It’s an extreme example. You & I would never think that way! Would we?
You know in your gut those are dangerous words. Satan uses them all the time to enslave people in their sins. He uses those very words to lure us in to being self-confident, & therefore vulnerable to temptation. In the Garden of Gethsemane, even the Son of God does not go it alone in the battle against Lucifer:
“And going a little farther, [Jesus] fell on the ground & prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.’” Isn’t that prayer an incredible demonstration of how to resist the devil’s temptation? Jesus makes His petition, “Remove this cup from me.” in the context of total submission to His heavenly Father, “Yet not what I will, but what You will.”
The particular request that Jesus makes is not granted, as Elijah’s prayer was, but the power of Jesus’ prayer is not in receiving what He asks for. The power is in the relationship Jesus has to His heavenly Father because of His complete submission to His Father.
Now, in Jesus’ case, He’s not returning to God from sinful ways in order to reconnect with that power. Jesus is merely staying in that relationship, & His staying there is what empowers Him, & protects Him, from Satan’s temptation to reject the suffering & the death of the cross. Jesus stays in that relationship so that His death can bring us life.
For us as sinners, we leave that relationship behind every time we sin. Confession of our sin, & submission to God’s will, are simply our returning to that relationship. They are our returning to the power which then protects us from additional temptations to sin. It is in that relationship to our heavenly Father that our prayer is answered, “Save me, Jesus.”
So, you see, praying is actually all about our relationship to God. If we turn to Yahweh in submission, & we have to turn because our constant state is one of being sinful, if we turn to Yahweh in submission then all is well, whether my prayer is answered as I want it, or not.
Submission to God & confession of our sins, are simply a returning to the loving & life-giving relationship that has been offered to us by, & with, our heavenly Creator. It is in that relationship that all our needs are met. It was from that relationship that Elijah prayed for drought, & had his prayer answered in the way that he asked.
God answered the prayer that way because, in effect, Elijah’s prayer was God’s prayer.
The people of Elijah’s day needed discipline in order to turn their heart back to a proper relationship with the heavenly Creator. They had wandered away from Him, & been serving things that were not God. They were connecting with things that were not God.
After James points out the prayer of Elijah, do you remember from the reading the point he makes? It’s in verses 19 & 20: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth & someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death…”
Christians are to be about God’s work of saving sinners. We are to be about showing others the relationship with Yahweh that Jesus offers to them through His life, death & resurrection. Proper prayer always flows from a relationship with the Holy Trinity, a relationship with Father, Son & Holy Spirit, who forgives our sin, & gives us peace.
Proper prayer is simply a time of reconnecting to that relationship. We can do it out of need, or we can do it out of thankfulness & praise. God loves it when we reconnect with Him for any reason. As James wrote: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” (James 5:13 ESV)
If you look at that verse carefully, you see that James isn’t talking about prayer in the way we normally think of it, in terms of what we should pray for, what we need or want. James simply encourages us to pray, in other words, to turn back to the relationship Jesus Christ has given us with our heavenly Father.
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” (James 5:13 ESV) The role of prayer in the Christian life is not at all about getting what you want. Prayer is about getting what our heavenly Father wants, & what He wants is a loving relationship with each & every one of His children. That’s what Elijah’s prayer was about, when he prayed for drought. It’s what the prayer of Jesus was about when He prayed to His Father, “Yet not what I will, but what You will.” A devotion from the book Jesus Calling says this:
“Spending time alone with God can be a difficult discipline, because it goes against the activity addiction of this age. You may appear to be doing nothing, yet are actually participating in battles going on with spiritual realms. You are waging war – not with weapons of this world, but with heavenly weapons which have divine power to demolish strongholds. Living close to Jesus is a sure defense against evil.”
Prayer is living close to Jesus, & living close to Jesus is not just about saving our own skin from the fires of hell. It is also about saving the skin of others, as we show them the Way, the Truth & the Life; as we show them Jesus.
Be patient, wait for the Lord, & pray. Prayer is a way of turning back to God from the sin corrupted path we’ve been on. The book of James exhorts us not simply to believe in Jesus, but to turn to Him. Put that belief into action. Turn from the impatience caused by a wavering heart. Turn every aspect of your life, suffering & joy, back to Father, Son & Holy Spirit.
Turn to the returning Lord. Advent is not that far away – 2 months. Rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him, & allow your whole life to be attuned to His coming. Prayer is more powerful than the greatest volcanic eruption, not because of anything having to do with us, but because prayer is a reconnection with the almighty & the eternal God of creation.
Has someone been praying? I hope the answer is yes! Amen.
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins & griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! Oh, what peace we often forfeit; Oh, what needless pain we bear – all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer! Are we weak & heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our refuge – take it to the Lord in prayer. Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer. In His arms He’ll take & shield thee; thou wilt find a solace there. Amen.
 Based in part on Marvels & Mysteries of the World Around Us, Reader’s Digest Association, p. 64.
 Mark 14:35-36 ESV
 Young, Sarah, Jesus Calling, September 12th devotion.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet