Twentieth Sunday in Trinity November 5, 2000


Check the Vital Signs of True Prayer

James 5:13-20


14, 459, 457, 48

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted

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.

Dear Fellow Christians, Dear Fellow Redeemed:

When I was in eighth grade I remember praying that my Mom and Dad would have another baby. I knew that I and my brothers would soon be going away for high school soon. And so I reasoned that Mom and Dad would be lonely without us. It was only a few months later that Dad called the family together to make a big announcement: Mom was expecting! She was going to have a baby. My prayer had been answered.

Skeptics of prayer would say that this was just a coincidence. That whether I prayed or not, my Mom still would have had her baby. Now it is true that God doesn’t need your prayers or mine to accomplish his will. Yet it is also true that He accomplishes his will through true Christian prayer. And the bigger and bolder the prayer, the more amazing the results.

I don’t think any of us have to be convinced about the fact that prayer is powerful and effective. If I asked you, “Raise your hand if you believe that prayer can accomplish great things,” no doubt every hand in the room would be raised high. But could it be that, despite the fact of what we know to be true about prayer, we still spend very little time praying. Prayer has often been compared to the beating of the heart in the body or to the breathing of the lungs. If you want to know if someone is physically alive you listen for a heartbeat, you see if their breathing. It’s a dangerous sign if the heartbeat and breath of the soul—which is prayer—is barely beating and breathing. As a matter of fact if a Christian doesn’t pray, then his faith has died, and he no longer is a Christian.

On the basis of our text from James, the goal of our sermon today is to encourage us all to a more living, breathing, energetic prayer life. Together, this morning, we …


  1. True Prayer is Made Only through Christ
  2. True Prayer has Definite Priorities
  3. True Prayer Expects Powerful Results

The first vital sign of true prayer is that true prayer is made only through Christ. In our day people talk a lot about prayer. Everyone seems to agree that we need more prayer in society. Even politicians are trying to gain more votes by tapping into the public’s apparent interest in prayer. Most people in our country agree that prayer is a good thing. What most fail to understand, however, is that true prayer is offered only through Christ.

James tells us that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. What is a righteous man in the Biblical sense? Well, Jesus taught us that today in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee prayed on the basis of his own supposed goodness. But in Jesus’ eyes the Pharisee was not righteous. He did not go to his house justified. The sinful tax collector, on the other hand, prayed on the basis of God’s mercy. And it was the tax collector who went down to his house justified. In the Lord’s eyes he was the righteous one. No one, you see, can be righteous in God’s sight if he trusts in his own merits and good works. The Bible teaches us that we are righteous only through faith in Christ. Only by trusting in Jesus’ perfect life and in his shed blood can we stand approved in God’s sight. A righteous man is one who trusts in Jesus alone for forgiveness and salvation, and no way in himself.

God accepts, hears and responds to prayers only if they are made through faith in Christ. So let’s be clear on this point: The prayer of the Hindu, the Mormon, the Muslim, the Buddhist, of one who believe in Judaism, or the one who makes intercession through Mary, is not heard by God. Yes, God knows all things. He is certainly aware of their prayers, but they are to Him nothing but noise. He turns a deaf ear to all prayers that do not come from believers in Christ. 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

When God checks the vital signs of prayer, he first looks to the heart. Does the prayer come from one who knows Jesus as Savior and Lord? Does the prayer come from one who fully realizes his own unworthiness to ask anything of God, but, yet, who is bold to ask for Jesus’ sake? If not, then the prayer is being directed to an idol, to a nothing. All the praying that goes on in this country at public assemblies and meetings is usually not offered in the name of Christ. They are offered to some nameless, vague deity, and not to the only True God—the God of the Bible. It should go without saying that God is not pleased with these prayers, and that we as Christians should not join in them.

How does praying through Christ encourage us to a more lively prayer life? Has it ever happened to you that because of a guilty conscience you neglect your prayers? You’ve committed some sin and so you don’t consider yourself worthy to petition the throne of grace. You think that because of your sinfulness God won’t listen to you. My friends when we pray in the name of Christ we are praying in the name of the One Who died as our substitute on the cross. In him we are cleansed of all sin. Because of Jesus, God has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west. As we hold tightly to the cross with one hand, we can reach up with the other hand to God in prayer, completely confident that God is listening. Jesus’ blood is our absolute certainty that despite ourselves, God will accept our prayers.

Another vital sign of true prayer is that true prayer has definite priorities. Imagine someone setting about to repair an old dilapidated house. But right away it becomes apparent that their priorities in fixing the house are all mixed up. They replace the linoleum in the kitchen, but don’t pay any attention to the sagging foundation. They put in new light fixtures, but disregard the leaky roof. They carpet the bedrooms, but ignore the rotting floor boards.

Could it be also that our prayer life is often like that. When God checks the pulse of our prayers does he find them all tied up with bodily and physical concerns with very little regard for the more critical matters of the soul and eternal life. If we read our text carefully we find that while James encourages us to pray in times of trouble and sickness, he is even more concerned that Christians attend to matters of faith and forgiveness in their prayers.

Where are your priorities in prayer? Do you and I spend more time praying for a bigger income as opposed to a bigger faith? Do we pray for the academic success of our children, but neglect praying for their spiritual and eternal success? Do we pray that our loved ones be healed of their bodily diseases, but fail to pray that their souls be healed by learning to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. The LORD certainly wants us to bring all our concerns to him, whatever they may be. No prayer of the Christian is unimportant to God. All are worthy of His time and attention.

Yet Christian prayer has definite priorities. When we study through the LORD’s prayer we find that contained in that prayer are seven petitions—seven prayers in one prayer. Only one of them, my friends, exclusively deals with bodily matters: the one in which we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The other six, in one way or another, are praying for the success of the Gospel in the hearts of people. They are all tied up with the theme that sinners may come to faith, that they may grow in their faith in Jesus and the forgiveness he won for all people.

Focusing on prayer’s priorities gives our prayer life a fantastic energy. We have big things to pray for dear Christians! Satan is intent on dragging down to hell as many souls as possible. We can pray against his schemes. Praying is one way we can get personally involved in that great battle in which the souls of mankind are at stake. One can only imagine what might happen if each one of us were to get down on our knees at home this afternoon and pray for the success of our missionaries in India and Nigeria. How many countless otherwise damned souls might be delivered into God’s paradise as a direct result of our prayers. One can only imagine how many straying sheep might return to Christ’s fold if you and I would everyday ransack the gates of heaven with the prayer that God would rekindle their faith in the Savior. Right now our CLC has a shortage of pastors. We’re tempted to throw up our hands and wonder what to do. Pray is what to do. If every member of the CLC would earnestly ask God to supply workers for His harvest fields, how long do you think it would take before the need is met? One can only imagine what could happen if every member of our congregation prayed, every day, for the success of our Gospel witness in Rapid City. How long would it be before our little church couldn’t hold the swarm of rescued sinners that might flock into it as a result?

One can only imagine … and that’s the problem. We can only imagine because we pray to little … to lethargically … and often without the proper priorities. Today God calls us to remember that the fervent, courageous prayer of the believer is powerful and effective! We can believe it or not, but it says so right here in God’s book. We can go on dreaming about the awesome things God will do through our prayers … or we can begin today and put the LORD to the test, which is what He wants us to do.

The last vital sign of true prayer is that true prayer expects powerful results. Example after example of the power of Christian prayer is given to us in the Scriptures: Moses prayed and God divided the Red Sea. Hannah prayed and little Samuel was born. Hezekiah prayed and 185,000 Assyrians were slain in 12 hours. Daniel prayed, and the lions did not lay one tooth or claw upon him. The church in Jerusalem prayed and Peter was delivered from prison.

And please note that prayer is powerful and effective not just in the hands of the so-called super saints. Elijah was a man just like us. He was a sinner. But his prayer actually stopped it from raining for three a half years. Then his prayer actually brought an end to the long drought. James is telling us that there is no reason why your prayer and mine can’t accomplish equally great things.

Do you know that the Bible teaches that Christians actually rule the world through their prayers? 2 Thessalonians 3:1 says that because of Christian prayer the Word of God spreads throughout the world. According to Jeremiah the prayers of believers help to preserve and prosper good government. According to 1 Timothy 2:1-3 and Psalm 76:6 peace in the world is maintained. Psalm 5:5 and Psalm 55:23 teach that because of Christian prayer the wickedness of violent and bloody men is brought to a stop. God has promised to work great things through the prayers of His saints.

Because Christ has forgiven all of our sins there’s nothing to stop our prayers from finding their way into God’s ear and heart. Let’s pray for all things, but especially those things which have to do with the souls and eternal destination of our fellow man. Let’s pray realizing the true potential and power of Christian prayer. AMEN!

—Rev. Michael Wilke

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Rapid City, SD

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