Sunday, September 16, 2007 -
James 5:13-18 - “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.  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 one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  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.  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.  Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”
What does the Holy Spirit do inside my own skin to help me pray? Most of us have some general concepts that flock around mysterious, religious sounding terms like anointing and blessing and flowing and reviving and the like. But what actually happens when the Holy Spirit helps me pray? Surprisingly, I chose a text that doesn’t specifically mention the Holy Spirit at all. But I think you’ll start to see His work more clearly.
1) FOR STARTERS, EFFECTIVE PRAYER IS PRAYER DIRECTED TOWARD A SPECIFIC END OR GOAL
We need to proceed carefully here. When I say effective prayer needs a definite object I don’t mean prayer should be selfish. James has already dealt with that problem in James 4:2-3 - “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
But prayer doesn’t have to be selfish to be specific. Our opening text is full of examples. In verse 13 there is prayer for human suffering as well as thankfulness praise for God’s presence and blessing. In verses 14-15 there is a corporate plan for praying for the physical needs of the church family. In verse 16 there is a corporate plan for confessing and receiving cleansing for personal sin. In verses 17-18 we have the example of Elijah praying for rain for the crops of the nation.
One can see this over and over in the Scriptures. People who prevailed in prayer in the Bible were always specific and focussed in the prayers. They were people who prayed about something. Check these references for yourself: Abraham (Genesis 18:20-33), Jacob (Genesis 32:22-32), Moses (Exodus 32:7-14), Elijah 1 Kings 18:36-46), Daniel (Daniel 9:1-4, 15-19), and Jesus (Luke 22:39-46). They prayed with specific intentions. While not many would agree with everything Charles Finney wrote, he has some powerfully relevant things to say about prayer: "A person must have some definite object before his mind. He cannot pray effectually for a variety of objects at once. The mind is so constituted that it cannot fasten its desires intensely upon many things at the same time."
2) EFFECTIVE PRAYER FOLLOWS THROUGH ON SPIRIT GIVEN DESIRES - There are two lessons that we need to consider here:
a) The Holy Spirit gives spiritual desires to people - You would only see this indirectly in our text from James. Elijah is the example James chooses to excite the passion for prayer in this church. Elijah prayed for drought and then rain. Most people forget the first part of that request.
But what made Elijah pray for drought? Who does that? Elijah did because the people, under the leadership of wicked king Ahab, were turning their backs against God. Elijah prays for God to close the heavens of rain and then open them again three and a half years later. And he does it - though James assumes the story is well enough known he doesn’t have to point out the obvious - all at the command of God.
Of course, one learns what this is all about over time. God is very patient. One of the ways to recognize the Spirit’s work prompting prayer is to take note of concerns and inclinations that grow beyond the ordinary in your daily life. Or watch for an unusual sense of weight and burden over an issue that wouldn't normally move you so. Watch for passions that don’t go away with a good night’s sleep.
b) Prayer is deepened when we follow through on what the Holy Spirit’s prompting with diligent prayer - The Holy Spirit influences, calls and invites us to partner with Him in fervent times of focussed prayer. But we must pray. After He speaks to our hearts there are two mistakes that can short-circuit His workings through us:
i) We can divert our attention to other things and not heed the Spirit's summons to prayer. This probably happens more often than we realize. Many of the Spirit's inclinations in our hearts are quenched before fulfilling their divine intent. Other pursuits, distractions, and the time pressures of the day can pull us away from the call to some specific spiritual task - Matthew 13:22-23 - “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.  As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."
ii) We can offer up a quick prayer for the Lord to work in that situation. True, this may be better than nothing. But does it honestly line up with James’ model as pictured in the prayer of Elijah? Or does it line up with the passionate intercession we studied last week in the prayer of the church in Acts 4:23-24, 29-31?
James simply mentions the prayer of Elijah without describing it. First Kings tells us Elijah prayed seven times for rain. And he would have kept on praying had he not seen the answer on the way. He put his head between his knees. This was hardly a quick mention of his desire while waiting for a red light to turn green.
Jesus dealt with this theme of persisting in prayer repeatedly: Luke 11:5-10 - “And he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves,  for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him';  and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything'?  I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.  And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
Look at the shocking term Jesus uses in His parable in verse 8 - “I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.”“Impudence.” There are times we risk looking impudent in our refusal to quit asking. There are times we risk looking stubborn. Not always, perhaps. But during those times we sense the Holy Spirit drawing us - burdening us - with a call to prayer. Don’t quit too soon. The simple rule here seems to be that I should remain at prayer until: a) the answer is seen and the prayer is no longer needed, or b) there is a clear indication from the Lord that he has another answer in mind and the burden of prayer is lifted by His sovereign hand, rather than lost through my own laziness or lack of concentration. And that does happen sometimes. For an example of this see David's prayer for his sick son in 2 Samuel 12:15-23.