We are in a time of prayer and fasting. 21 days of creating space for God to speak to us. 21 days of clarity in hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit. 21 days that I believe will equip us for the rest of this year. If you haven’t begun to fast, I encourage you all to pray about it and to really do it. I promise you that when you come out of it, you will be better than you are when you started.
We also want to remind you guys to be keeping your dream journals. As you are praying, write down the things you are praying for, write down the what God is speaking to you. This is not about naming it and claiming it or anything weird like that. This is about convincing yourself of the truth that these things are within your grasp. I am praying for a building of some sort that we can initially house a group of interns going through a discipleship process with us for… knowing that something like that would be the first piece of a much bigger picture. And so I visualize that in my journal, not because pasting a house into a notebook means that I am going to get that house, but because it shows me that this is actually tangible. And if God is big enough to give whoever owned the house before us the house, then he is big enough to give it to us now so we can use it for his kingdom.
Margie has this absolutely incredible dream for a community soccer field and community garden right around the corner from here. Its such a beautiful dream and she has been not only taking pictures and praying about it, but she is crunching numbers, she is figuring out what it is going to take to do this… That is what dream journaling does for me. It motivates me. I see the things that I am praying for, and it reminds me that as impossible and far away as these things seem, they are not to big for God and they are things that other people have done, so why on earth could I not do it?
I just felt like I needed to clarify that as we are all working together towards a better Detroit, where the gospel is more evident than it ever has been. The bible says to write the vision down and to make it known.. so that he who reads it may run! if it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. (Hab. 2:2)
But I don’t know what is harder. Fasting, or prayer? Fasting obviously takes a much larger toll on your body and takes an incredible amount of self-discipline… but truthfully, for me, I think prayer takes even more self discipline. I can deprive myself of anything. I can go several days without eating… even if I am not fasting, if I am driven enough in a moment for something, I get irritated if I have to stop to eat. I do love food, but I also like to focus. But its very hard for me to focus on prayer. Probably because I prefer to be doing things, tangible things, that I can see the immediate result of.
But I have seen the long term effects of my prayers, and I have seen the long term effects of my “lack of” praying.
One is beautiful, and the other is very dark.
I think that for a lot of us, even though we come to Equip, and we pray for an hour in this reverent place, there is something in the back of our minds that wonders, “Does this actually work?”
I know I am guilty of that. There is a couple in Lansing that when Dawn and I first got married, they really reached out to us and in several ways mentored us and helped us learn about production and tech and all of the things that we really did for the last 8 years almost full time. I remember before we moved to California, they bought us a new laptop to take with us. I remember the day they gave it to us, the smiles on their faces to be doing something so kind for a couple of just married kids who had absolutely nothing.
Their names are Jeremy and Val. And Val had her entire life battled cystic fibrosis. Her brother and her both had it, and her brother ended up passing away in 2011 when he was 25 years old… and we said so many prayers for this kid, and for their family.
And for the last ten years Dawn and I have joined with their family praying for Val, for a miracle. We have attended prayer meetings essentially called around healing for Val. I remember time after time, with everyone gathered around her, putting their hands on her, praying and praying for this miracle that only Jesus can provide. I remember conversations we had with them about how they wanted kids, but the doctors said there was no way she could handle it. But they were so optimistic that they would one day have kids. I think Dawn at one point even told me, “I would be willing to carry a baby for them if it meant they could have one.” That was just how much they meant to us.
A few years ago, her lungs basically completely gave out, and so everyone prayed and rallied, and she got put on a list for a lung transplant but it was very uncertain if she would get it. But by the grace of God she did. I remember that day well. Hearing that they were on their way to the hospital, and praying for the transplant because her body was so frail from the disease that it was very risky but everything went amazing. And they added an unknown amount of years to her life because of it. It was one of the biggest answers to prayer I have ever seen.
Over Christmas, their family went down South for a vacation and when they were in Georgia they got into a car accident. All of them walked away from the accident shook up, but Val had to go to the hospital because her body was already more frail so the damages were much greater to her body. Right away, the word got out, and people began to pray for her like all the other times that she was in the hospital. It had kind of been her second home her whole life, every couple of months she was in the hospital for a month or so, so I didn’t think too much of it.
But on Tuesday, while we were roasting coffee, I got a text that Val had died. From complications of a mix of her cystic fibrosis coupled with the car accident that their family had been in.
Man that news just crushed me. I told Zach and Chris, “I don't know how I am going to tell Dawn this” - it was just a big blow.
You pray for someone for years and years and years and years and years and then suddenly something like this happens and you start to wonder “God were you hearing any of this?” “Does any of this actually do anything?”
and you forget about how your prayers guided Val to live more than 20 years past the life expectancy of someone with her condition. And you forget about how your prayers saw her through hospital visit after hospital visit… you forget how your prayers saw her through a lung transplant that added even more years to her life.
And it is easy to not see the way that God is working through our prayers because he is not working the way that we think that he should be. As if there is a formula for the way that God has to respond to our every wish in exactly our timing and in exactly the way that we think it should be.
So… For each of these three weeks, we are going to look at prayers in the bible. Today we are going to look at “The Prayer of Faith” found in James 5:13-16.
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 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. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
First of all, notice what it says at the beginning. “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.”
Prayer is so much more than requests. Its first and foremost an acknowledge of the glory of God. It praises right off the bat… “You are God, and I am not.” So many of us get into this routine where prayer becomes our battlecry and praise gets left out of the equation entirely. We go to God when we need something. When we need more money or we need healing or we need a circumstance to get better. But more than any of those things it is the utmost sign that you are in relationship with Jesus. You go to him when you are hurting, and you delight in him when you are happy.
There is a time for everything, and Jesus wants to go with you through all of those times.
Next, this passage couples prayer with repentance. Because they go hand in hand. It says that if you are sick, confess your sins, and you will be healed.
Here is another thing that I love about this prayer. It is about praying for each other. Its a community effort, its about coming together and the power of people coming together… coming to the church and letting the elders pray for that person. The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick. Pray for one another.
Timothy Keller wrote this amazing book on prayer, and I love what it says right on the back of the book. Its powerful. It says:
“Prayer is the only entry way into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change - the reordering of our loves. Prayer is how God gives us so many of the unimaginable things he has for us. Indeed, prayer makes it safe for God to give us many of the things we most desire. It is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life.
We must learn to pray. We have to.”
My favorite line in this quote just emphasis’s what I just said… “the way we finally treat God as God.” If you pray for something and it happens, you aren’t going to think “I did that!”
No! You know that God did that. You asked for it and it happened. But what about when it doesn’t happen?
Because James calls this prayer that he gives us, a “prayer of faith” -
Faith is a very tricky word, one that we have been dealing with in the series we have been doing on Sundays.
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”
But a lot of people teach this, and its very hard to fathom. This flawed idea is that if you pray for someone, then there is no room for doubt. And that even the slightest shadow of doubt cast in your conscience of your prayer, will hinder it.
And if you pray for something, and it doesn’t happen, then it must be because you don’t have faith.
But that myth is completely shattered by what Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:11-13:
“The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.”
Catch this. If we deny him, he deny’s us. Because that is the justice side of God. He can’t accept someone who has denied him until they accept him. But if we don’t have faith, he still does… because that is the mercy side of God. He can’t not be faithful.
This is an example in Mark 9, when Jesus heals the boy with an unclean spirit. This kid is foaming at the mouth and convulsing on the floor, and when Jesus asks the boy’s Father “how long has this been going on?” The man tells him that it has happened since the boy was very young. This kid would throw himself in bodies of water, he would throw himself in fires, it was a very destructive demon! And so the Father says to Jesus, (v22) “if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus responds by saying “IF? Don’t you know that anything is possible for the one who believes?” He is asking this Father, “Do you have faith? Do you believe?” and its so interesting how the man responds. He says “I believe! Help me with my unbelief!” (v24)
Basically the man was saying, I do believe, but sometimes I doubt. We have been living in these dire circumstances for so long, my kid has almost killed himself time after time after time. sometimes I wonder! I want to believe that it will be different, but sometimes I doubt. Help me with that doubt!
That was enough for Jesus. This man who believed and unbelieved all at the same time was enough to get Jesus to move on his behalf. He healed the boy and then told his disciples that the type of demon they were dealing with can not be driven out by anything but prayer.
Prayer matters. It can do anything. It is more powerful than your doubts. It is more powerful than anything we try and get control of.
But it is not a get out of jail free card for anyone who asks for anything. Its not. At one point James even says, “you don’t get what you ask for because you ask selfishly.”
The idea is, “we don’t really know how to ask.” That is why we do things like fast… so that we can have a clarity that we have lacked for so long because of the toxins in our bodies that cloud our minds, or the toxic garbage we put in our heads with our media when we let that junk tell us who we are instead of what the bible and the Holy Spirit tells us.
That is why we are fasting so intensely for 21 days to start off the year. Because we want to have to best year we have ever had. A year filled with faith goals and God sized dreams. Don’t miss this next point: We don’t want to be grounded in reality when it comes to our prayer lives, but we do want to be grounded in truth. And the truth is, God hears our petitions, and he partners with our dreams, but he does it in his way, and he does it in his timing. Thats what Hab. 2:2 tells us.. make the dream known, but then have patience… because God’s timing is perfect. He sees the things that we don’t see, and he knows the things that we don’t know.
I love how “The Prayer of Faith” ends, by saying:
“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
A righteous person understands the heart of God, and understands just like James 4:14 says, “we don’t know what tomorrow brings.”
Guys our lives are vapor. They are here today, and gone tomorrow. And there is literally no better way to live the fullest life than to pray to God with a clear conscience and a clear mind, and to hear from him so that you know the best way to spend those days.”
I want to give you another Tim Keller quote as I begin to wrap this up… this one is from one of his sermons, he inspired a lot of these thoughts and its helped me a lot this week. He says this: “God will either give you what you ask, or he will give you what would have asked for if you knew everything he knows.”
And though we will never be God and we will never fully know all that he knows, like we said Sunday, heaven is ALWAYS moving… and when we fast, we get clarity and space in our spirit where we are genuinely ready to hear from God about how he is moving… its almost like as we fast and pray, we begin to learn how we should pray, because we will understand the heart of God more and more. He knows what is best for Detroit. He knows what is best for Southwest Detroit, and our neighborhood, and for the field around the corner, and for the discipleship program we want to start. He knows what house we need, or what apartment we need… He knows what is best for Courage Church, and Mount Hope Church, and my family and your family and for the family that maybe feels like they have lost a lifelong spiritual battle as their final prayer seemed to go unanswered and they have to now bury a child for the second time. But like James 4:6 says, “God gives more grace.”
I want to show you this post that Val’s mom posted on her Facebook timeline the day she died, because it is beautiful:
“The news is bittersweet. Val Masterson Leonard is dancing and rejoicing with Daniel Bat Masterson. I’m so going to miss her… But she is perfectly healed now. She is in my heart forever, and in my future. Eternity in heaven is a wonderful promise. We made it through this storm clothed in God’s peace. He is forever faithful.”
And until you can position your life with the understanding that God is always faithful, you won’t understand everything that happens. You won’t understand why some things work out, and some things don’t. Why some prayers get answered so clearly, and others seem to be ignored.
Prayer is about establishing a secure relationship with Jesus. It is what will now cover and comfort this family in its darkest hour. It is a shield of hope when your whole world feels lost, and its breathe into your dreams when it feels like they are dying. We need it in our world more than ever, and we need it in our church more than ever.
And here is the last thought. We made the point earlier that this prayer is what is called “The Prayer of Faith,” and that one thing that makes it different from some of the others prayers in the bible, like “The Lord’s prayer” which we will study next week, is it is also specific for how we are supposed to pray for each other. For some, this comes naturally, for others, it comes a little harder. I resonated with what Tim Keller said at the very start of his book.
He starts his book on prayer that I told you about in the first message, by telling a very revealing story and unfortunately it resonates with me greatly now. In fact, I have heard numerous stories from other pastors who struggle with the exact same thing that he talks about, and after first speaking this message had more pastors come up to me and share that they struggle with the exact same issue. He tells a story about how in 1999, which was TEN YEARS after they had founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City… so he was already lead pastor for ten years when this happened… His wife came to him and said to him, “We are not going to make it, if we don’t start praying together.”
He records her saying this: “Imagine you were diagnosed with such a lethal condition that the doctor told you that you would die within hours unless you took a particular medicine - a pill every night before going to sleep. Imagine that you were told that you could never miss it or you would die. Would you forget? Would you not get around to it some nights? NO - it would be so crucial that you wouldn’t forget, you would never miss. Well, if we don’t pray together to God, we’re not going to make it because of all that we are facing. I’m certainly not. We have to pray, we can’t just let it slip our minds.”
He had been a pastor for ten years and he didn’t pray regularly with his wife. He prayed for others, but they didn’t develop that time together until 1999.
That is me… even now. Its easier to admit it when its a testimony, its harder to say when you are walking through it.
Its very hard for me to pray with my wife.
I pray for her in my quiet time, I pray for her throughout the day often… but we don’t really sit down and pray together. She asked me today, “Do you even pray for me? Because you don’t ever pray with me.” and I told her that praying with her is one of the hardest things in the whole world for me. I said that I feel like she would just “see right through me” because she knows all the reasons why I probably am not qualified to do anything like pray for her. She knows how much of a jerk I can be and she lives with my bad side more than anyone who sees me on a Sunday or who I pray with on a Sunday or at Equip.
And I think that is a common problem with people. A lot of people struggle praying with people who they live so much life with, for various reasons but I think that the biggest reason is that the people who see who you are when the door is closed, when you are under the most stress and pressure, and in your best and worst environments, know that you are just as screwed up as they are. And most people want people praying for them who aren’t as screwed up as they are.
Well in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I am just as screwed up as any of you… But do you think that when life hits someone, like the way that the Leonard and the Masterson family got hit this week…
that they are not going to accept your comfort and your love and your prayers of compassion because of what you did on Saturday night?
No. People in those moments need your prayers.
Prayer is about connecting to God’s heart, and God’s heart is for people. And that makes the “Prayer of Faith” in James so special.
Because it tells us how we are supposed to do this, with each other. We are supposed to anoint one another. We are supposed to pray OVER each other… we are supposed to confess our sins to each other.
So today, as you write in your dream journals and you pray, take some time to find someone else and pray together. Remember, the prayer of faith will save someone who is sick… We need each others prayers. And we need to be praying for each other. So we are going to take the rest of the time, and pray for our dreams, our families, our lives, and our church… but make sure you pray with someone else.
Pray for someone else dreams, and family, and life. Do it all.