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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Church news 9/29: "Offering prayers of faith"

James had a lot to say about prayers of faith, and the September 27 sermon focused on the "who" and "how" of praying in faith.

Fr. David challenged us to avoid being "chicken Christians" when it comes to things like praying for healing. If the early Church practiced this kind of praying as a regular part of their life with God, why shouldn't we?

Citing the Baptist theologian John Piper, Fr. David pointed out three roles for Christians in their prayer life as recorded in James 5.

1.) Verse 13 says: "Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray." So first, if a Christian is afflicted in some way, he or she should first pray for his or her needs, coming to the Lord humbly in faith and with confession. (Note also the second part of the verse: "Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise." We can think of this as a kind of heavenly health insurance since we know "a cheerful heart is a good medicine." [Proverbs 17:22])

2.) In verse 14 James offers a second role for praying Christians: "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him... and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up." The elders are people of faith and leadership, sometimes in a formalized position within a congregation but not necessarily. They come together as a focus for prayer -- "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20) -- they anoint the sick person with oil, but they aren't healers. James makes it plain that the Lord heals and the Lord forgives.

3.) But what of Christians who aren't elders? Are they limited to praying only for their own needs? No! In verse 16 James says further: "...confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you might be healed." An interesting aspect of this is that, while praying for another you might be healed yourself, even when you don't realize you need it.

So we're to pray for ourselves personally, we're to call for the elders and accept their prayer intercession on our behalf, and we're to pray as a faith community for the needs of our family, friends and neighbors. And what will happen when we do?

James says, "The prayer of a righteous man (a person made right with God through faith) has great power in its effects," recounting Elijah's prayers that stopped rain for three and a half years and then started it again. "Great power" over the elements and great power over our lives is part of the promise for persons who are filled with faith and who are in deep communion with the Lord. How can we pray like this? Fr. David pointed to Jesus' teaching about prayers of faith in Mark 11:23-24:
"Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be thou taken up and cast into the sea'; and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it shall be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

Prayers of faith are first of all in concert with the will of God ("...not my will, but thine, be done", Luke 22:42). Second, they are prayed with no doubt in God nor in the power of God to answer. "There might be questions in your mind; we're human and so we question," Fr. David said, "but we need to keep in mind that our questions don't limit what God is able to do." Faith in our hearts and souls move us with confidence beyond the doubts in our minds.

Third, prayers of faith are prayed with trust in God, trusting that He is hearing us and understands the situation far better than we ever can, having made us. We are to 'trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight' (Prov. 3:5). Fourth, prayers of faith are centered in Christ with a focus that causes us to strive forward unto Him (Phil. 3:12-14), bringing us near to the "beatific vision" we are promised on the day when we will see Him face to face (1 Cor. 13:12).

May we make this kind of praying -offering prayers of faith- a priority in our lives!

Notes: Following the service, Alison Stone gave an informative presentation on Sunday School, including how the congregation can support the Sunday School program.

The Bon-Ton Community Day coupon books are now available; the Community Day sale is Nov. 14. Each $5 book includes numerous coupons including one for $10 off a single item and others for up to 30% off. The entire price of the book accrues to All Saints, along with added funds based on the number of books sold.

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