Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Powerful and Effective” based on James 5:13-18 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, August 11, 2019
Evil sadly staked out its spot once again in last weekend’s news headlines, as people with hate in their hearts and guns in their hands took dozens of innocent lives in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. And as the usual inflammatory rhetoric from all sides caused social media to be even more obnoxious and divisive than usual, I did notice something that hit especially close to home for me. I’ve found that it’s been happening more and more lately in the wake of tragedy. Very angry people saying in increasing vulgar manner that thoughts and prayers don’t work. I think their point is that “thoughts and prayers” are politician-speak, empty powerless platitudes until they’re followed by legislative action. I’m definitely not up here to referee that debate! But I am up here today to take a definite stand.. .on prayer. Because the Bible takes a definite stand on prayer. It says that it is powerful and effective. James talks about the power of prayer in the word of God before us today from James 5.
Powerful and effective. Because God’s Word says so. That’s promise from God’s Word.
And so we put that promise in the special place in our hearts where we keep all the other promises of God stored for safe keeping. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” takes its spot right next to ‘Tam with you always, to the very end of the age.” “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. ” “In all things God works for the good of those who love him.” “The one who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” And “In my Father’s house are many rooms.. .I will come back and take you to be with me. ”
The thing about those promises is that we believe them even if the things we see and hear directly contradict them. In other words, at a funeral, we believe that the believer’s soul is still living and in eternity, even though our eyes see a body, right there in front of us in a casket. Faith embraces a reality that the eyes don’t recognize. We believe it not because our eyes confirm it, but because God has promised it.
God’s Word promises that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. So we believe it, even though it seems to our eyes at times that prayers go unheeded and unanswered. The devil would like to have that deter us praying. He points to every unanswered prayer and says, “See! See! There’s no one listening. No one that cares. You prayed so hard, so fervently and all you heard was crickets in response.” The devil points to unanswered prayers and uses them as proof that either God doesn’t exist or God doesn’t love you.
Don’t let him fool you. When God says “no” it’s the greatest favor he can do for us. Our prayers are powerful and effective, but that doesn’t mean we’ll always get everything we ask for. Parents, would any of you do that? When my kids were younger, I used to say “no” 500 times a day-and I can only imagine what it’s like for those of you who have boys! No, you can’t have drink from the puddle in the parking lot. No, I’m not going to let you ride in the boat while we’re towing it on the highway. A loving parent knows when to say, “That’s not a good idea. That’s not safe. I know that’s what you think is good, but you really have no idea how badly it will turn out for you.”
When James writes that the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; it’s a testament to prayer’s power, not a guarantee of what will happen every time and in every experience. God knows when to say “good idea” and when to say, “I have something better in mind.” And we pray as Jesus’ taught us saying, “Your will be done. I trust you that you’ll do what’s best.” That is what James means when he talks about a prayer offered in faith. So as people of God we need to come to grips with these two pillars. Not every prayer will be answered affirmatively. Prayer still makes a difference. It is still powerful and effective because God’s Word says so.
Powerful and effective. Look at the Biblical example set for us. If prayer was nothing more than pious platitudes, words that drift out of our mouths and away into nothingness…do you think Jesus would’ve spent so much time doing it himself? Do you think he would’ve thrown him onto the ground in Gethsemane and prayed so earnestly that his sweat was like drops of blood? Do you think he would’ve taught his disciples to pray the Lord’s Prayer if he thought it was little more than a spiritual snipe hunt or fool’s errand? Jesus knew that prayer is powerful and effective.
Abraham poured out his heart in a face to face with God over the destruction of Sodom.
But we shouldn’t think that everybody in the Bible talked to God that way. The Bible is full of one way conversations, not unlike our own prayers, where people ask and beg and plead and then wait to see what happens. Elijah prayed that it wouldn’t rain in the land.. .and then he waited. And for three years, he saw God’s daily answer to his prayers. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Look at the Biblical examples.
I hope you don’t find the gender specificity difficult. I hope you recognize that even though it says “the prayer of a righteous man…” this wonderful promise is for man and woman alike, young and old alike. “Man” isn’t the word in our text that caused me the most trouble. You know what word did cause me trouble? “Righteous.” The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. What does that mean for me? I can see Abraham effectively bargaining-sure his prayer was powerful and effective because he’s Abraham, hero of faith and all around awesome guy. Elijah was the brightest star, the boldest voice among all the Old Testament. I know James says he was man just like us….but honestly, he once raised a kid from the dead, so.. .not exactly like us! I can see how they are righteous men, and their prayers are powerful and effective, But.. .what about me? And you? Does this passage set a bar, saying, “You must be this righteous to enter”? If so, what hope do I have?
Prayer is powerful and effective. Because of Jesus. When we look in the mirror of God’s
law we see all the different reasons God, in theory, shouldn’t answer our prayers, shouldn’t allow us to call him father. We see how unrighteous, how sin-riddled we are. But in the awesome, shimmering halo of our baptism, God sees something else. The blood of Christ Jesus that was spilled for us. The perfection of Christ Jesus that was given to us. The righteousness of Christ Jesus that was laid over the top of us. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Who is righteous? In Christ, you are! Keep praying. Your prayers are powerful and effective.
In this world, bad stuff will happen. Maybe it’ll be national news, maybe it’ll be confined to our personal lives. But when it does, our biggest mistake would be walking away from God when we should be running toward him. Don’t let anyone, not even the devil himself, tell you the prayers are useless platitudes, pious words that mean nothing. That’s not what God says. Keep praying and boldly, at all times. Keep praying and boldly, for all your needs. Keep praying and boldly, for others. In Christ, children of God, your prayers are powerful and effective. Amen.