How to Pray in an Unstable World?

How do you pray when faced with changes that will affect the rest of your life? How do you pray for others facing change? How should we pray living in a fast changing, uncertain, unstable, volatile world?  As we have been discovering these Sunday evenings, prayer is one of our greatest privileges. As Tim Keller says, Tim KelletT As God’s children, we come freely and boldly to His eternal throne and share with Him whatever is on our hearts, our hopes, our fears, needs and our questions. In the book of James we are encouraged to:

Pray for the Suffering (James 5:13)
Pray for the Sick (James 5:14)
Pray for the Straying (James 5:19-20)

  1. Prayer for the Suffering

“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” (James 5:13)

The word trouble means “suffering in difficult circumstances.” As we go through life, at times we endure difficulties that are not the result of sin or the discipline of God. What should we do when trouble comes our way? We must not take it out on others (James 5:9); nor should we blame the Lord. Instead we should turn it into a prayer. We must ask God for the wisdom we need to persevere and for God to be glorified (James 1:5). Then God will give us the grace we need to endure.

And God can use us to accomplish his perfect will. The apostle Paul prayed that God might change his circumstances, but instead, God

“… said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9–10).

Our Lord prayed in Gethsemane that the cup of suffering might be removed, but it was not; instead the Father gave Him the strength He needed to go to the cross and die for our sins. Clearly we don’t all go through troubles at the same time: So James also says “Is anyone happy?
Let them sing songs of praise.” (James 5:13).

When you think about it God may give us a few hours of suffering but also days to rejoice if we would but recognise his blessings.  The more mature we become the more we will rejoice even when we are suffering. When Paul and Silas were languishing in the Philippian jail. “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises to God” (Acts 16:25). So, pray for the suffering.

  1. Prayer for the Sick

“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. 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. 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.” (James 5:14–16)

James is not giving us a blanket formula for healing the sick. In the churches I have pastored, I have often prayed for the sick, and invariably God has brought healing. But most times, healing has been slow, partial or gradual.

In some cases God has called the person home. Is James giving general instruction on prayer here?  In this example, he associates sickness with sin (5:15-16). In most cases sickness is not because of sin. But here the Greek text says, “If they have been constantly sinning.” This parallels what the Apostle Paul says to the Corinthians “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” – meaning have died (1 Corinthians 11:30). James is therefore probably describing a believer who is sick because they are being disciplined by God. This explains why the elders or leaders are to be called. Most occasions when someone asks for prayer we don’t need the Church Council present, we simply pray with them there and then. We offer prayer every Sunday after the services in the Tower. And if a person is in hospital, or unwell at home, one or two of the pastoral team will gladly visit if requested and pray with them. The church leaders are only needed in cases of discipline. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul instructs the believers to dismiss the sinning member from the assembly until they repent of their sins. That is why James says here “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16).  It is not the anointing with oil that heals, nor even the prayers, but God who heals.

The Greek word translated “anointing” is a medicinal term. Kiwoko Hospital which we use as our base for Christianity Explored in Uganda has its mission statement painted on the wall at the entrance of the hospital “We treat, Jesus heals” God can heal with or without prayer or medication; but in each case, it is God who does the healing.

As I visit the sick, I do not always know how to pray for them. Will God heal? Will God give them courage to withstand the pain? Or will God call His child home?

I do not know; therefore, I must pray, “If it is Your will, please heal Your child.” There are some practical lessons here that we must not overlook. For one thing, disobedience can lead to sickness. Second, sin affects the whole church. We can never sin alone, for sin has a way of growing and infecting others. Third, there is healing (physical and spiritual) when sin is dealt with.  James writes, “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other”. So, do not hide sin or delay confession. James is not suggesting confessing our sins to a pastor or priest. We confess our sins first of all to the Lord. But we must also confess them to those who have been affected. Private sin requires private confession; public sin requires public confession. So, pray for the suffering. And pray for the sick.

  1. Prayer for the Straying

“My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back,  remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19–20)

While James did not specifically name prayer in these verses, the implication is clear. If we pray for the sick, surely we must pray for the sister or brother who strays from the truth. The verb “to wander” suggests a gradual moving away from the will of God. Usually sin is the result of slow, gradual spiritual decline. And remember one person going astray can lead others astray.
This is why we have a mutual responsibility to care for one another. Notice the person had “wandered from the truth” (James 5:19). The truth means, of course, the Word of God. Unless we stay close to the truth of the Bible, we will inevitably begin to drift. Hebrews 2 says,
“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” (Hebrews 2:1). Jesus warned Peter that Satan wanted to test him, and Peter refused to believe Jesus. He even argued with the Lord! When Peter should have been praying, he was sleeping. No wonder he denied three Jesus times.  What are we to do when we see a fellow believer wandering from the truth? We should pray for them, to be sure; but we must also seek to help them. If we are going to help an erring brother or sister, we must do so in love, for “love shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

Our theme tonight was ‘How to pray in a volatile world?’  James teaches us how to pray for the suffering. How to pray for the sick. How to pray for the straying. If we truly desire to be effective in praying for others, we must begin with ourselves.

James’ letter could be titled, ‘The Path to Spiritual Maturity’. Here are a few questions from the book of James to help test our maturity and resolve in prayer for others:

  1. Am I becoming more patient in the trials of life?
  2. Do I play with temptation or do I resist it?
  3. Are there any prejudices that still shackle me?
  4. Am I learning to control my tongue?
  5. Am I a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker?
  6. Am I a friend of God or a friend of the world?
  7. Do I make plans with or without consulting God?
  8. Am I greedy or generous with money?
  9. Do I pray for wisdom when I find myself in trouble?
  10. Am I regularly praying for the suffering, for the sick and for the straying?

This week has indeed been a defining moment in the life of our country. How are we going to rise to the challenges we face? With fear or faith? With dread or rededication?

The Archbishop’s have issued a litany and prayer for use in churches following the Brexit Referendum. Let’s close by saying it together,

Holy God, in whom we live and move and have our being,
we make our prayer to you, saying,
Hear us, Lord of life.

Lord, graciously hear us.

Guide our nation in the days and months ahead
to walk the paths of peace and reconciliation.
Hear us, Lord of life.

Lord, graciously hear us.

Give to our leaders wisdom and sensitivity
to work for unity and the common good.
Hear us, Lord of life.

Lord, graciously hear us.

Mend broken relationships
and restore to wholeness
whatever has been damaged by heated debate.
Hear us, Lord of life.

Lord, graciously hear us.

Sustain and support the anxious and fearful
and lift up all who are dejected.
Hear us, Lord of life.

Lord, graciously hear us.

With you, Lord, is the well of life
and in your light do we see light.

Hear us, Lord of life and peace:
and make us whole.

With you, Lord, is the well of life
and in your light do we see light.

Hear us, Lord of life:
Heal us and make us whole.

Eternal God, Light of the nations, in Christ you make all things new: guide our nation in the coming days through the inspiration of your Spirit, that understanding may put an end to discord and all bitterness. Give us grace to rebuild bonds of trust that together we may work for the dignity and flourishing of all; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.







With grateful thanks for Warren Weirsbe for content and inspiration.