God's Prescription for Suffering and Blessing
June 19, 2016 Speaker: Reid Strahan Series: James - A Portrait of Living Faith
Passage: James 5:13–14
James 5:13 and 14 are favorite verses of mine, because they describe the reality of my life, and my emotions, and circumstances. And they counsel me on how to handle my emotions and circumstances. They tell me what to do in the ups and downs and ins and outs of life. Many people miss the blessing of this counsel, because they consider is too simple.
But here in these 2 short verses, is a recipe for living. It is the medicine you need for your soul. If you need to know how to get through the drama of your life, here it is: You pray when you are in trouble. You sing praises when your are cheerful. If you are in any kind of suffering, prayer is God's prescription for your heart. Call out to God in your affliction and trouble! But when you are happy, then God's prescription for you is to let loose and sing praises! Dance, shout, clap your hands!
Someone paraphrased vs 13 like this: If anyone is in trouble he should pray, if any one is not in trouble he should sing praise. That pretty much covers all of life! So now you know what to do for your whole life! Then verse 14 adds, If any of you are sick, if you are overwhelmed with the most serious issue of life, your health, you should call for the elders of the church to pray for you.
The first thing that jumps out to me from these verses is the reality that we all go through a great variety of changing circumstances and emotions. We experience suffering and being cheerful. Life is not either/or. I don't know about you, but the range of emotions I can experience in one day, sometimes scares me. Our suffering ranges from the small irritations of life to unbearable pain; Our joy ranges from a quiet sense of well being to joy that we cannot contain.
For an education on the full range of your emotions, read the Psalms. You will find tears and sorrows and feelings of despair, but also dancing, and clapping and shouting for joy. There are times the psalmist is down in the pit, flooding his bed with his own tears. And there are times where, like the psalmist, we are in the broad place of abundance, times where all we can say is, “my cup runneth over”. Life has suffering and blessing!
Have you ever accepted that reality about life? When you are suffering in your soul, very soon, you may be cheerful again. David said, “Weeping may last for the night but joy comes in the morning”. It is also true that when you are cheerful, some kind of suffering or trouble may be just ahead. David, said, “O Lord, when you favored me, you made my mountain stand strong, but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.” He felt blessed, and strong, then things fell apart and he felt as if God hid his face from him.
Based on this truth from James, I am absolutely sure that not everyone of us came here this morning in the same state of mind. Some here may be suffering in some way. You are facing some great need, or some unresolved problem, or you are in some kind of pain. Cindy and I spent a year in 1983 in a “suffering mode”. Others were light-hearted, and having a good time but that was not our experience. At times, in coming to church we felt like we were coming from a bloody battlefield, while others were coming from a party. We didn't resent that, but it was so obvious that our life was SO different from others for that time.
For some of you, things are going well, you may have some small irritating trials, but overall you are in a season of blessing and happiness, in your soul you are basically cheerful.
Some here may be sick. Something is wrong in your own body. This is perhaps the most difficult kind of suffering. Satan knew this in dealing with Job. Satan said Job can handle ordinary affliction but strike his flesh and bones and he will curse you to your face. So Satan went out and afflicted Job with painful sores.
Whatever your condition, God speaks to you this morning, through James. “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? He should sing praises. Is any one of you sick? He should call for the elders of the church to pray over him...”.
This means you are to take everything you experience to God. You are to go to God when things are going wrong, and when things are going great. You are to draw near to God when you are at your lowest low and at your highest high. All of life is to be experienced with God. There is to be prayer, OR praise without ceasing, as you go through the drama of your life!
There is to be no wall between your life and God, no wall between your experience of life and your experience of God. No mood or emotion or circumstance should separate you from communion with God, OR from turning to God! You are to come to God in joy and sorrow, in elation and despair, in hope and in fear, in peace or in conflict. In every emotion of life you are to WALK THROUGH IT with God. You are to turn to God when you are in trouble, when you are happy, and when you are sick.
A person who looks to alcohol as the basic solution to life, will turn to drinking in sorrow and in joy. If he is is trouble he will drink to drown his sorrows, if he is happy he will celebrate by drinking. No matter what the circumstance or the emotion, he sees drinking as the thing to do. James tells us, if we see God the Savior and Solution to life, then we see going to God as the thing to do. If we are in trouble we will turn to God in prayer, if we are happy we will celebrate with praise.
Now I would like to focus in now on the experience of suffering or being in trouble. “Is anyone of you in trouble? He should pray”. Your primary response to trouble is to pray. Prayer is the way to obtain deliverance from your affliction and it is the way to endure your affliction in peace, and comfort UNTIL it is removed.
The word translated trouble in the NIV is translated “suffering” or “afflicted” or “suffering hardship” in other translations. It is a word that means suffering of any kind. It includes all types of problems, emotional, physical, financial. It is the opposite of feeling cheerful. It would apply to all outward troubles AND to that inward suffering. If you back your car out of your garage WITHOUT opening the garage door, that is outward trouble. I know I have done it twice. But then comes the feeling of frustration, or anger, or discouragement, which is an inner kind of suffering.
What do you do in these small kinds of suffering or in really major suffering? You pray! You talk it over with God. When you get into conflict with your wife or have difficulty with your children, or your car breaks down, or someone says something mean about you, you pray! Go to God, depend on God. You ask God to keep you from sinning. You ask for help, to do what seems impossible to you. You ask God to encourage you. When things go wrong, when life hurts, you go to God who will comfort you in all your affliction. He alone will satisfy you with his lovingkindness in the darkest night. You go to God as your comforter, your friend, your help, your rock and fortress, your strength and shield.
David said, “Out of the depths I have cried to you, O Lord”. I used to have a plaque that showed the waves of the sea, with only one hand sticking up out of the water with the words of this verse, “Out of the depths I have cried to you, O Lord”. When you feel that you are sinking, pray!
It is NOT just that it is a good idea to pray in trouble, it is THE RIGHT THING TO DO. The NASB says “Is anyone among you suffering? THEN HE MUST PRAY”. This is the one absolute for a child of God in who is in any kind of suffering. You should go to God. You can turn to self pity, and grumbling, or to despair. You can run around telling every person who will listen, how bad you have it. You can try to drown out your pain by overeating, by turning on the TV, by cursing, by yelling at your wife or kids. James says, “You should pray”. Psalm 62:8 says to pour out your heart before him.
We can share our problems with others, but if that becomes a substitute for pouring our your heart to God over the things you are suffering it will keep you from knowing and experiencing God. There is a vast difference in people who just tell other people their problems, who just complain, and those who PRAY when they are in trouble. It is in trouble that you will get to know God as your helper, your savior, your shield and defense of your life.
What do I pray when I am in trouble?
One: Describe your condition to the Lord, including exactly how you feel. Psalm 102:7 “I lie awake; I am as lonely as a solitary bird on a roof top”. “Troubles without number surround me”. “All my enemies whisper together against me”. “My close friend, whom I trusted, has lifted up his heel against me”. You tell God those kinds of things.
Two: You bring your needs to him.. Lay it all out before God. Tell him all that you feel is threatening you or hurting you, or troubling you. In Isaiah 37 King Hezekiah received a letter, threatening him and his people with complete destruction. The letter taunted him, saying do not let the god you depend on deceive you...we have destroyed all the other nations, do you think your god will deliver you? Verse 14 says, “King Hezekiah received the letter and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and SPREAD IT OUT before the Lord. HE TOOK THE LETTER AND OPENED IT AND SAID GOD, READ THIS. He said, “Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.”
How often I have been in trouble and been reminded of the terrifying trouble Hezekiah was facing and how he spread it out before the Lord.. and I go and do the same thing.
The Roman Centurion who was commended by Jesus for his great faith, simply came to Jesus and said, “Lord, my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering”. Jesus said, I will come and heal him. Sometimes prayer is nothing more than telling him your condition, spreading out your issues before God.
Three: Tell him what you want him to do. The blind man Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus from the side of the road. Jesus stopped and he said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The Lord says that to you.... Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” As new men and women in Christ and who abide in Christ and his word...ask whatever you wish!
What is it that you want God to do for you this morning? What is it that you want to see God do in your life? What is it that you want to see God do through you? Through this church? Pray for what you want!!
John Rice said, the Christians way of getting things is to ask. Rice quote. “The outside unbelieving world expects to get things by work or by planning or scheming or by accident, but God's children are taught that they are to get things by asking and that the reason we do not have is that we do not ask.”
This very passage teaches that prayer accomplishes much. People get healed through prayer. Rain stops and starts. THINGS LIKE THAT can come about though prayer. So ask what you want.
Four: Ask him to deliver you. Isaiah 44:17 talks about a heathen man who use part of a log to roast his supper and then takes the rest of the log and carves it into an idol. The verse says, “He falls down before it, he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god”.” The problem is not asking for deliverance from your affliction, but in looking to someone or something else other than God for your salvation in a situation. PRAYER IS TURNING TO the LIVING GOD and saying, “you are my God, deliver me”.
God is pleased when we call upon him to deliver us in trouble. The theme of Psalm 107 is that the Lord delivers men from manifold troubles. It describes men who were prisoners in the deepest gloom, men who were near death, people who were lost and hungry, men on a ship in danger of sinking. After each description of trouble it says, “then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble and he saved them out of their distress” Four times it repeats this! Then the Psalm ends, “whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord”. If you are wise you will consider that the Lord delivers those who cry out to him.
I am confident that if you read your Bible and you will have courage to ask God to deliver you! Psalm 50:15 “Call upon me in the day of trouble and I will rescue you and you will honor me.” Psalm 55:17 “But I call to God and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in my distress, and he hears my voice”. Psalm 118:5 “In my distress I called on the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free”. No wonder James says, “If anyone is in trouble he should pray....
Five: Through prayer express your total trust in God in the midst of trouble... even if you don't see the Lord remove it. Although I believe we should expect amazing answers to prayer there are some answers that will not come until the resurrection. David said, “My times are in your hands”. We should acknowledge that too. Lord, I am in your hands. There are times we must trust God through a season of trouble, or through things we don't understand.
There are times to pray, “If it be possible let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done”. There are times we want one thing yet it becomes clear that we must drink the cup that God gives us to drink. It is not what we wanted but we must resign ourselves to it, with complete trust in God. Some of you have been through those experiences with God. The answer is prayer. Totally entrust yourself to God, just as Jesus did. Jesus did drink the cup (and you may too), he did go to the cross, but the Father did not abandon him to the grave. And he will not abandon you either!
Six: Pray about all things at all times with thanksgiving and you will have peace. True prayer guards your emotions from worry and fear and despair, even in your suffering. David said, “I sought the Lord and he delivered me from all my fears.” When you are down you have to fight for joy, for relief from fears and discouragement, and you do that through prayer.
If things are going well sing praise
NIV says, “Is anyone happy? Let him sing praises.” ESV - Is anyone cheerful, KJV - Is anyone merry. If things are going well, if you have any measure of happiness within your soul, then let loose and sing praises to the Lord. Do what Psalm 100 says to do, “Shout joyfully to the Lord, worship the Lord with gladness, come before him with joyful songs”.
When you are happy, you can throw a party and celebrate. You can take photos and put them on facebook. You can grab a coke and a bag of chips, or get out a big bowl of ice cream. You can do those things and celebrate in the presence of the Lord, but if you do them WITHOUT turning to God in praise and thanksgiving and shouting for joy, you have not done what you ought to do when you are happy! NASB says, “he is to sing praises” other translations, “he SHOULD sing praises”.
You should sing praises when you are cheerful, because it acknowledges God as the source of your prosperity and good circumstances, and your happiness. If you are cheerful, you have a great blessing from God! And you should praise God for it!
Alfred Plummer said, “He who is cheerful has a priceless gift which is a blessing to himself and to all around him, a gift which makes life brighter to the whole circle in which he moves. Most of us take far too little pains to cultivate (cheerfulness), to retain it when it has been granted to us, to regain it when we have lost it or thrown it away.”
Use EVERY blessing, every good thing, no matter how small as an opportunity to praise God and express joy. “Bless the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name..and forget none of his benefits, who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your years with good things....”. The more conscious of all that God has done for you, the more cheerful you will be and the more you will be singing praises.
The NT picture is of church being a place where people filled with the Spirit are ready to burst into singing at any time. Ephesians 5:19 “Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord”
Sing by your self. Sing in church. Sing in your heart. I love to sing when I am vacuuming on Thursday afternoon. I love all kinds of worship, I love hymns, I love anthems like it is well with my soul, but we also need cheerful happy songs to sing when we are cheerful and happy. There is a place for solemn worship. But there is a place to shout and sing and dance before the Lord.
If you need help with this I invite you to make reading from the book of Psalms a regular part of your life. CS Lewis, “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.”
But the main thing to take home from this is: Turn to God in all the drama of your life. Live life with God and in God, so completely, that you are always connected to God, either praying or praising.
More in James - A Portrait of Living Faith
July 17, 2016The Important Work of Turning a Wandering Brother Back to God
July 3, 2016God's Pathway to Healing
June 26, 2016Healing and the Heart of God