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James 5:13-16  13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Does anyone besides me think of the song in the musical, Music Man, when you hear the word, “Trouble?”  “Oh, we got Trouble, right here in River City.”  Trouble is something we all have to deal with.  It can control us, or we can decide how we will be in control of ourselves when trouble strikes.  It can create fear or give us a reason to exercise faith.  It can cause us to isolate ourselves or it can propel us to walk in a way that others can see God in us while we face our circumstances.  We can’t control trouble, but we can live in such a way that trouble doesn’t control us.

I decided long ago that I wouldn’t be controlled by trouble.  I wouldn’t let it dictate to me how I would interact with God or with people.  I wouldn’t let trouble define me. Instead, I would choose to be refined because of it.  You can decide today how you will behave when trouble comes.  In fact, it is better to have a plan, a strategy, ahead of the troubling times, so that you are ready to respond rather to simply react with panic or fear.  I see three Christian principles in this text that give us an approach to trouble, three principles that can be applied in any circumstance. 

First of all, Trouble should prompt an upward reach.  James tells us here that when people are in trouble they should pray.  I think we know that as Christ followers, but I am not sure we understand what an invitation we have when we are given permission to enter the throne room of Heaven and to cast our cares upon the Lord.  Psalm 46:1 says,God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1   We access God as a refuge, and we access God’s strength as we look to Him in prayer.  I preached a message one time that asked the question, “Is God our first refuge or is He too often our last resort?”  Do we talk to everyone else about our problems or post about our problems or even worse, google solutions for our problems, instead of talking with God about what is troubling us?

We have a bad habit of trying to solve our own problems rather than seeking the wisdom that comes from God when we are in trouble.  We allow the “fight or flight” natural mechanisms to dictate how we act, and we often create more trouble for ourselves by making unscriptural and irrational decisions.

Listen, When you are in trouble, there is nothing more strategic you can do than pray. 

When trouble comes, it can make us feel as if we are powerless.  Too often we live convinced that there is nothing we can do to defeat trouble or to get through troubled times with a sense of confidence and victory.  Prayer, however, is the opportunity we have to be reminded that we are not powerless and that we are never without hope.

Dads and Moms, you may not know how to lead your children out of a certain situation, but you can pray that God will give you the wisdom to navigate whatever the challenge is.  You may not know how to approach that delicate issue at work, but prayer will give you the confidence you need to have that awkward conversation. You may feel trapped in the corner, but prayer will show you the way of escape that God has already prepared for you. Don’t underestimate the power of prayer, friends.

Prayer will absolutely help you get ahead of Satan in any circumstance.  When you pray, you keep Satan from getting an upper hand in the situation.  Prayer nullifies those fiery darts that come at you when Satan is in the mix in a situation.

When you pray you are inviting God to be the One in charge of your protection needs, your provision needs, your health needs, and your relational stresses, AND you are inviting Him to be your Defender. Exodus 14:14 says, “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”  We can be really quick to put our dukes up, to try to rush to defend ourselves, to clear our name, and in the process, we sometimes add fuel to the fire.  Sometimes, God wants to deliver us in silence.  Sometimes, we don’t need to say anything to anyone but Him. 

God can get you out of trouble or He can get you through trouble as you look to Him in prayer.  And I guarantee you will have a better quality of life, a better outlook on your situation and greater peace in your heart if you pray your way through your troubled time.  Listen, you can worry your way through trouble and be worn out on the other side.  You can eat your way through trouble and roll out at the end, literally roll out, more burdened and weighed down than you were before.  You can talk your way through trouble, all the while magnifying your situation and giving your circumstances more power over you than necessary.  You can try to manipulate the situation and get this person on your side or that person to cut a corner in order to prop you up, only to ruin your integrity in the process.  But when you pray, you hand the heavy lifting to God and you get to maintain your priorities, your place and your peace.

Philippians 4:5-7 says,  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  I’ll read on in a second where Paul talks about the need to pray in every situation, but as we do, we can do so with the confidence that the Lord is near.  What a friend we have in Jesus.  He is always on call.  He isn’t far off.  We don’t have to beg Him to care.  We don’t have to worry if we are bothering Him.  He is right there, right now, in every situation.  Paul goes on to say: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Prayer will enable you to maintain your peace.  Your heart can be triumphant in trouble. 

Cultivate a lifestyle of prayer whereby you pray multiple times a day.  When you do, you remind yourself that God is in charge and you will receive supernatural benefits from calling on Him.  Allow trouble to move you to reach upward for Jesus.

Second, Trouble should prompt an outward connection. We are supposed to look to other people to help carry our burdens when we are in trouble.  The Body of Christ, the Family of God is a gift to us when we are struggling.  We aren’t supposed to “suffer in silence.”  We aren’t supposed to suck it up and just do the best we can. We aren’t supposed to hide when we are hurting. There are people we can talk to and people that can pray with us, agreeing with us for God’s best in our situation.

James says in 5:14 that people who are in trouble should call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.

Now, oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.  We use it here at our church.  It is our custom.  It is Scriptural.  Our obedience to do things God’s way delights the heart of God, and I believe obedience releases the power of God to move in our circumstance.

Beyond that, what if the reason anointing oil was to be used was more than to symbolize the power of the Holy Spirit to come on the scene?  What if God knew that in our humanity, we sometimes struggle to admit our need?  That we sometimes struggle to let other people into our lives when we are struggling?  That our pride keeps us quiet and self-reliant rather than God-reliant and reliant on the Body of Christ as God has ordained?

Like what if the reason that anointing with oil was instituted was because we are made to be touched by other people when we are hurting, and the only way to get some of us connected to the Body in those moments is to request that we have someone put oil on their finger and to place it on our forehead and in the process put their arms around us and pray a prayer that reassures us that everything will be OK?  What if help in trouble is supposed to come through a connection with God’s people? What if that is one way that we experience the power of God?  Could it be that the connection we have with people of faith has been designed by God to be a conduit for the healing power of God? 

Maybe help in trouble comes as we make our requests known to God AND to other people in the Family of God?  I believe it is so.  Galatians 6:2 tells us to bear one another’s burdens.  I believe we not only need that physical point of contact, but we also need to hear the prayers of other people.  As we listen to others intercede for us, we see their faith in motion.  Sometimes our faith is weak, and we have to lean on the faith of someone else.  Sometimes our faith is weary and being able to hear someone else express faith in prayer brings repair to our own faith. 

Another staff member and I had the privilege recently to meet with a couple who are truly desperate for a move of God in their family.  The situation is dire.  It is dark.  It is heavy.  It has been ongoing.  Help has been sought in multiple ways, including through prayer.  Persistent prayer.  We listened and God gave some special insight to the other staff member.  We prayed.  And when the meeting was over, after the second prayer, one of the two people lifted their head and said, “I feel hope.”  That is the power of prayer in the context of Christian connection.  That is the power that results from praying in agreement with other believers.

I had an experience on Wednesday about an hour before church that gave me a few heart palpitations.  It was an attack out of nowhere.  I knew if I was going to be able to lead the service that evening, I was going to have to get some people to cover me in prayer.  I reached out to three people before church, and during the service, while Pastor David was getting ready to lead prayer, I went to Cassie Escue and just said, “I need prayer.”  I could literally feel her holding me up as I reached for her and she hugged me and asked for God to intervene.  I didn’t share any details with her.  To this day, she doesn’t even know why I needed prayer, but God used her to bring help to me in a moment that I needed my mind to be sharp and my heart to be clear to do what God needed me to do.  I know how to pray.  I was praying, but I also needed the reassurance that comes from knowing that people were walking with me.

I know we know we aren’t alone because God is with us, but it is an extra comfort to share a burden with someone we can see face to face as well.  Romans 12:15 tells us that we are to “weep with those who weep.”  What that means is when you hurt, I hurt.  When you are in trouble, I am in trouble.  In a sense, every struggle we have is corporate to a degree.  Now, it isn’t our practice to have open mic night so that everyone can just come forward and broadcast their struggles to the world.  That isn’t the essence of the text here in James, but what we can understand is that God has placed us together in this family for a reason, and part of that reason is to care for each other in troubling times.  Our prayer counselors will maintain your confidence regarding prayer requests, and if you are in trouble and want someone to talk to, I can almost guarantee you that I know someone else who has walked a similar path, someone who trusts God and has come out victorious, who would talk and pray with you. 

Don’t let trouble disconnect you from the Body of Christ because as you do, you are removing yourself from a source of power that can help fortify you while you are struggling.  Sometimes when people go missing, and I go on a mission to find out what has happened, often there has been upheaval, trouble, a crisis, or some kind of catastrophe in a relationship that has left people feeling embarrassed or like they might be judged if anyone knew their story. Rather than come and be supported, they stay home and suffer.  I’m telling you God wants to love you through His people.  You may have good reason to keep people at arm’s length.  You may have suffered hurt in some church setting before. I know it happens, but don’t turn away from the helpful resources that exist because of something that happened in your past. Look to someone who is spiritually mature and receive what God wants to give you through His church.

So, trouble should prompt an upward reach and an outward connection.  Finally, James tells us that Trouble should prompt an inward look.  Sometimes the trouble we find ourselves in is the result of poor decisions we have made. Sometimes the only way out of trouble is to confess that we have caused our own problems.  Verse 16 says that we need to take an internal look and see what we might need to come clean about, what we might need to confess, in order for the confusion and clouds to clear in our situation.   Maybe we need to own that we are the reason we are in trouble.  James says, Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.

This is a critical step that would be easy and convenient to skip. It’s not fun to admit we have done something wrong, to admit we have violated God’s laws, to humble ourselves and to ask for forgiveness, but it’s a must if we are going to get the help from God that we need. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened to my prayer.”  Unconfessed sin can separate us from the help we need in troubling times.

What does the end of our James passage say?  It says, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

What kind of person can offer a powerful and effective prayer?  A righteous one.  Now, if you are a believer, you have been given the righteous of Christ.  That is supernaturally gifted to you.  That means you have right-standing with God because of Christ’s perfection.  So, we aren’t talking about your track record, but God’s.  However, willful sin, continuing to do what God has convinced you is wrong, is in opposition to God’s plans for you.  God cannot and will not bless sin.  God will rescue us from sin, but He won’t rescue us so that we can remain in sin.

I should also mention that those who are doing the praying, like our prayer counselors here at TVCOG, should also make sure that they are clear before God before they offer prayer for anyone else. As you move into place be praying, “Lord, deliver me from any evil.  Cleanse me from all sin.” And if you ever got to the point where you cherish sin in your heart and would rather sin than submit to the Savior, you would need to step down from the prayer ministry.  Too strong?  Don’t we want folks to come and get help?  I’m just repeating what James is saying.  If we don’t examine ourselves appropriately, we can’t get the help we need, and we won’t be used of God to help others get what they need.

So, the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.  We cannot say we rely on the righteousness of Christ and then be too proud to admit when we fail.  Because if we aren’t willing to confess, we aren’t fully relying on God’s righteousness to cover us.  He covers what we confess. A lack of confession in our lives not only points to our desire to do life our way, but it also spotlights our refusal to deal with sin God’s way.  I would call that a double affront to the holiness of God.  God gets to decide how sin is dealt with.  He punished Christ on our behalf, but He calls us to a confessional life that allows what Christ died for to be made manifested in our lives.

Are we going to rely on God and rely on Him to be at work in the church or are we going to rely on ourselves and hope for the best?  If you are choosing the latter, I’d love for you to look me in the eye and tell me how that is working for you. 

You can’t always control whether trouble finds you, but you can be in control as you reach for God, as you connect in faith with other believers and as you look internally to see what might need to be altered in your life.  Trouble can actually take you to a place of triumph that easier times would not.   

James 5:13-16  13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

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