This is the last of a series of messages on the Book of James, called “Reality Check.” Today we discover a fact that every person should know: We are utterly dependent upon God! In James 5 there are five windows that people can look through to see just how dependent on Him we are.
For Robin’s birthday last year I bought her tickets to the RPO. The performance that I bought tickets for was a special performance, because not only would the RPO be there and performing, but a group from the Cirque Du Soleil was going to perform at the same time. There was a woman who climbed up this long, double stranded tapestry and spun and hung there and it made your jaw drop to watch. Our seats were up pretty close, so we had a great view of everything. There was this one, though, that made me gasp. A metal circle was lowered to the stage and a woman performer came out, stood next to it and when the music started, she started to spin and swing and with beautiful movements, use the circle to create this beautiful sort of dance. The climax came at the end and honest, I was a little concerned about the safety of the RPO. The performer grabbed the circle and began to run across the stage. She held on to it and took off. She swung around beyond the stage and over the crowd as the cable lifted the circle and her into the air. She swung around the front of the stage and headed toward the orchestra. As she got close to the musicians, the cable lifted her up until she was 15 or 20 feet over the stage. She did a beautiful dance while hanging on to that circle with one hand, one knee and even two feet. I thought, man, they must have a motor, computerized somehow, to draw her up and then back down at the exact right moment. Now, we were seated up close and to one side. I could see the off stage area. I could see the cable, rope and pulley system used to raise and lower the woman, and I was floored. It wasn’t a motorized, computerized mechanism. The end of the rope that controlled the whole thing was in the hands of two men, who pulled or relaxed the rope and held this woman in the air without hurting her or the conductor in the process. She was completely dependent on these two men.
We’re finishing a series of messages called “Reality Check”, all from the Book of James in the Bible. We’ve learned a lot from our friend James, Jesus’ half brother and pastor of the church in Jerusalem. Today you’re going to find out how to access the rope that lifts you up and holds you up. And we’re going to drive home a conclusion that I hope you all come to: We are utterly dependent upon God.
Know it or not, like it or not, Christian or not, American or not, your life, down to breaths and heartbeats, are dependent upon God.
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
These aren’t a group of random thoughts. These situations are like windows that show us our dependence upon God.
Well, most of this is about praying, right? Yes, it is. Because of this one fact: Prayer may access the Lord of Heaven, but it’s also a gauge, a measurement and reflection of your dependence on God.
I like to grill meat on our grill. I fire up the grill, wait until it gets really hot, scrape off the remains of the last grill session and I’m ready to go. I bring out the chicken that we’ve marinated, pounded and prepared for dinner. I plop each piece of raw meat down on the grill to a sizzle fest. Flip them over after a few minutes. Put some barbecue sauce on them and cook them until they’re done. But how do I know they’re really done? I stick a meat thermometer into the center of the thickest part and read the temperature. When it’s reached the right temperature I pronounce them done and put them on a platter to bring into the house.
That meat thermometer tells me something. It measures the temperature of the center of the meat. You know what prayer is? It’s the thermometer that tells you how hot your spiritual life is.
If you know you’re dependent, then you’ll pray. The sad fact of the matter is that when a church holds a prayer meeting in America, the pastor is happy if 10% of the church comes to pray together. That means that 90% of the Christians in America are out with friends, having a late dinner, watching a TV show or movie, doing some chores or going to bed early because they’re tired. On prayer meeting nights, our riches deceive us. We think we’re dependent on a whole host of things we can see and forget that there’s just one Hand on the rope that holds us up.
But God in His mercy gives us windows to see just how dependent we are. And James mentions a few important ones that give us a great view.
1. Verse 13 – Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.
God doesn’t like that we suffer, but He allows it. There are degrees of suffering and difficulty, I’ll give you that. When you suffer, go through great difficulty that won’t let up, you eventually come to the end of your strength. Your conclusion is: I have to pray and if God doesn’t come through for me I’m done. Actually, that’s good, because you’re seeing truth and your faith in God alone works wonders.
2. Verse 13 – Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.
Psalms are prayer songs and they cover a multitude of situations in the Book of Psalms. So if you come out of a long struggle or you win a victory or you get that promotion when you didn’t deserve it or there was someone else ahead of you, what do you realize? If God hadn’t come through, I wouldn’t be in this position. It was Him! Great, yet unlikely victories are another window to seeing how dependent we are on God and when we do, we pray prayers of thanks and praise.
That’s what worship is all about. Yet, the thermometer betrays the truth again. When worship starts in an American church, maybe a third of the church is there to begin with, with the rest filtering in over the next 15 minutes or more. Most American churches are struggling with the fact that American Christians feel that being in worship on Sundays once or twice a month is equal to being fully involved. Some complain that the singing is too long, that it needs to be 20 minutes or less. We don’t believe that we’re completely dependent upon Him.
3. Verse 14 – Is anyone among you sick?
There’s nothing like serious sickness to get you to see your dependence on God. What Ralph and Sheila, Maggie, some others are going through you wouldn’t wish on your enemies, let alone precious people like that. But they do have one advantage in their condition. They know how fragile life can be and how dependent we all are on God.
Now God does tell us that we’re to do something in our dependence upon Him in sickness. It’s prayer. Not just prayer on your own, but prayer with those who have some spiritual authority, who are able to pray with faith that you may not have at the moment. It says that the Lord will raise the sick up and will forgive confessed sins. Does that mean that every sick person you pray for and anoint will be healed? No, but every one will be raised up. 100% of us die, but not all live on into the next life.
4. Verse 16 – Confess your trespasses (faults) to one another and pray for one another.
Not all sickness is physical. Mental and emotional fault lines run through many a Christian life. What about depression, fear, wounding of another sort? Who can help you with that? It’s Him, through prayer. Confess your faults (talk to the right person about it, pastor, elder, small group leader, recommended counselor) and get prayer for healing. God will rescue you.
Those life situations let you know better just how dependent you are upon God. Prayer is the measured response of someone who knows he or she is wholly dependent on Him. So James gives us a picture of prayer that you can meditate on.
The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Avails much means big time strength is given. So the effective, fervent prayer of someone made righteous by God yields great strength.
Elijah, a regular guy, prayed and received strength enough to stop the rain cycle. Then he prayed and received strength to start the rain again 3.5 years later. He knew he was dependent upon God and prayed like he was.
But what are verses 19 and 20 about? They’re about the last window mentioned by James, the saddest one. Someone wanders from the truth about God and goes back to living like he or she did when they had no knowledge of God.
I’ve had a number of people come to me and say, “The person who led me to the Lord, I just found out, is an atheist now.” Or they don’t worship God or go to church or pray anymore. It’s a sad window, but through it we see that we are dependent upon God to keep us. We can lose the life He’s planned for us, but your prayers and your words can bring him or her back. Not everyone will, but when it happens with a good outcome, you’ll thank God for the life He’s given you and your friend.
Here’s the takeaway that I want to offer to you: