Wednesday, May 10, 2006

What Prayer Life Should Be Like

This is my personal summary of the expository preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on James 5:12-15 on 7 May 2006

Last week we expounded on being a witness to the Truth. Lies will last a moment but Truth lasts to all eternity. All our words are heard by God who will bring us to judgment some day. Recapping the earlier chapters, James shows that faith and works are united. The book of James was addressed to the 12 tribes of Israelites, the people who have received the law. The law reveals to us that we cannot fulfill the law. Therefore if we try to be righteous through the law, we will surely fail. But by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have a new life and now we can walk out a righteous life by faith. Speaking the truth is an important part of this life of faith. If we always lie, we will trap ourselves and betray the Truth. Before the throne of Judgment which we all have to face some day, we will not be able to stand.

Verse 13 asks us to pray when we are in trouble. What is the connection with being a witness to the Truth? What troubles are meant here? Many people avoid many things they ought to do for their own interests. They think it is better to be relaxed, to be silent on what is right such that they can escape trouble. Therefore, many Christians will not bear testimony when they should. They play safe and for their own safety they constrain their speech.

In order to bear testimony for the Truth, we need to be prepared for persecution and difficulties. This is where verse 13 comes in, exhorting us to pray when we are in trouble. Prayer is different from supplication. The verse here says to pray. It is not saying to raise supplication that God delivers us from troubles. When we tell God our difficulties, it is not really supplication. It is a communication. It is pouring out our hearts to God. A person who can only ask of God but never knows how to pour out his heart to God cannot be spiritual.

None of us likes a friendship where people keep demanding of us. However, this is the most prevalent religious motive. It is mostly out of self-seeking motivation. We make use of God to fulfill our own needs. Many so-called prayers of faith are for self-interests so they are not of much value.

Phil.4:4-7 says to rejoice and to have no anxiety. It teaches us to pray, to supplicate, and to give thanks. All these 3 elements of communication, of asking, of appreciation, are the different aspects of prayer. We cannot just keep asking and never pour our hearts to God and never give Him thanks.

Psalms 2 says that the Son can ask from the power of God and God will hear Him. Jesus Christ in John 17 said, “Glorify Me as I have glorified You on earth.” Christ asks of what is indeed His, but He has also fulfilled His responsibility.

Verse 13 goes on to say to sing when we are happy. Christianity is the only faith that sings. When we have true relationship with God, we are inspired by Him and will naturally create great music.

Great religious music is only found in Christianity because it has the concept of God's creation, of salvation, of revelation, of forgiveness of sin. The blessings are so abundant that if we do not sing songs of praise to God, the rocks will cry out! So great is God’s grace that after being beaten badly and thrown to prison, Paul sang praises to God. So great is God’s grace that while marching to His greatest sufferings, Jesus sang hymn on His way to Gethsemane. Christian joy is the true joy that is not shaken by circumstances.

At the height of thanksgiving, not only will Christians sing others' songs, they will write songs for others to sing. In the Guinness Book record, it is written the Christianity is religion that has produced 500,000 hymns (according to Rev.Tong, there are definitely more than that because his hymns are not yet numbered in the list and there must be a lot more that are missed out). No religion can produce all these songs. By looking at the aspect of music alone, we can choose Christianity as the best faith.

Verse 14 is the only place in the Bible that talks about asking elder to use oil to pray for the sick. Oil represents anointing, which means the presence of the Holy Spirit with us. Verses 14-15 mention quite a lot of things: we can pray for the sick, it is best to get elders to pray, we need the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the prayer must be done in faith, it comes together with confession of sin, and the prayer is to be done in the name of the Lord.

Who are the elders?

There are 5 offices that are appointed by God – Apostles, Prophets, Preachers, Pastors, and Teachers. The first 2, Apostles and Prophets, are of greater importance than the other 3, because they are the foundation of the Church (Eph.2:20-21), which rests on yet another foundation, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the cornerstone. The Old Testament bears the sign of the Prophets, while the New Testament bears the sign of the Apostles. The offices of the Apostles and the Prophets have ceased because the Revelation is complete and the canon is closed. The other 3 offices appointed by God, Preachers, Pastors and Teachers are still continuing for all generations.

There are 3 other offices that are appointed by the apostles. They are the elders, deacons and other ministry workers. Paul says to appoint elders from among us. Elders have shepherd function in the church and are not to rule over the sheep. They are to have very clear understanding of the Truth, to be pastoral and love the sheep, and to watch over the church.

When we pray for the sick, we rely on the Holy Spirit's anointing. We come to God through Jesus Christ. It is important to come through Jesus' name otherwise we will be stopped by the principalities of the air. We need to call on Jesus' name which is above all names. In the name of Jesus Christ, God recognizes our prayers because of His promises in Jesus Christ. So God is willing in Christ to heal us, we will be healed.

This is to not to be mixed up with the wrong healing theology that teaches us as though we can manipulate God by using Jesus' name to get anything we want. We need to understand that praying in Jesus' name means God grants what Christ wills. It means our prayers must go through Jesus' approval. As to Christ's will, we can see from the prayer He taught us. “Father in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.” If we cannot hallow the Father's name, we have no right to pray in Jesus’ name.

There is a lot of profound meaning just in these 2 verses on healing as it tells the relationship among sickness, sin, faith, confession, etc. Sometimes God might allow us to be attacked because of our sin. But not all diseases come because of sin. Similarly, God has the power to heal but we cannot turn around and trap God in “Jesus’ name” and say He must heal us. The prayer we are taught is the prayer of faith and submission. We have faith in God Almighty to heal, but we also submit to His sovereignty in not healing us, if He so wills it for His own reason. So we let God be God, Almighty and Sovereign.

So in our response, we can pray. We can ask church elders to pray for us. We should ask in faith. We should remember that sickness and sin have a relationship so we need to examine our lives. We have to pray in Jesus' name. We have to pray in submission. We need to see all these elements in totality so that it gives us a balanced view to correct our faith. He is both the sovereign and the powerful God.


At 2:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hai Lin,

Could you please explain to me what is my understanding from your summary..the annointing is the holy spirit Himself, Am I right? I asked my friends,about what is the annointing and she said it is not Holy Spirit....Can we found any verse in the bible about the annointing...

Thank you Lin,

Best regards,
Desy N

At 1:06 PM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Hi Desy,

I've not studied much on anointing itself, but I have always known it to be related to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Want to make sure I'm not just giving you flippant answers on this topic unfamiliar to me, I use Bible tools and did a word search on 'anointing' and 'anoint' over NIV Bible just now & found 27 occurrences for each, mainly in OT. Of course, you can always go to KJV, and even study the original Hebrew/Greek word to have a more thorough picture, but I'm just doing a very brief study to give you an overall response. Stands to be corrected as well.

The word 'anointing' often comes with anointing oil. So I search for the verb 'anoint' as well. Here are my findings.

Who & what gets anointed?

In OT, priests, kings, prophets, sacrifices, the altar, the tabernacle get anointed. There are both obvious & less obvious references in OT that point to Christ. Christ is the ultimate Priest, King, Prophet and He is the Lamb that was slain, and is the anointed One.

In NT, 3 occurences on 'anointing', first is to Christ in Heb.1:9, the second and third in 1 Jn.2:20 and 27, both talking about believers anointed by the Holy Spirit that grants us the power & understanding to know the Truth. There are only 2 occurences on 'anoint' in NT. One is on Mark 16:1, where the Marys anointed the body of Jesus.

Another one is James 5:14 in this exposition, anointing for the sick for healing, the first and only time the Bible talks about oil anointing to pray for healing of sickness. We know that true healing comes from God so is by God's power. So the oil anointing, together with faith, and prayer in the name of the Lord, all are related to the power of the Holy Spirit.

I also just briefly read through John Calvin's commentaries on James 5:14 and basically he has the same view on this.

You can always use online Bible tools like to do word search. Hope that helps.

At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hai Lin,

Thank you for the clear explanation. I will take note on that...and read further

At 2:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mej, enjoy your clear, simple and concise devotions. Keep it up. :) God-sis

At 2:10 PM, Blogger Julie said...

The Holy Spirit with in us

Easter, Ascension and Pentecost - recently read and this helped me understand the Holy Spirit

At the resurrection of Christ, God the Father poured forth a first gift of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of His only-begotten Son. We see the work of the Holy Spirit in the disciples who encounter the Risen Lord in that privileged 40 days of His appearances to them in His glorious body after the Resurrection. But the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit looked for completion, a second gift of the Holy Spirit, enabling the disciples to bring Christ to the whole world. Once Christ had ascended to the right hand of the Father and the disciples had completed a novena (nine days) of prayer for the new gift of the Holy Spirit, God the Father poured out the second gift of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. The Pentecost gift of the Holy Spirit transformed the disciples. With the Easter gift of the Holy Spirit, they had come to faith in the Risen Christ and to life in the Church, but they were timid and fearful about proclaiming faith in Christ to others and bringing the life of the Church to others.

Once they had received the second gift of the Holy Spirit, they were bold and courageous in announcing the faith to all. By the grace of the Pentecost outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the first disciples went out into the whole world to preach the truth of Christ and to bring the love of Christ to all the world, especially through the sacraments. It is clear how the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit are inextricably related to one another, as three moments in Christ’s one work of redemption.

Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist

Reflection on the three events of the Resurrection helps us to understand our own life in Christ. Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father, has, with God the Father, poured out the Holy Spirit upon us for the first time at our baptism. Baptism is our personal Easter. The first outpouring of the Holy Spirit, through the cleansing and life-giving waters of Baptism, washed away the stain of original sin from our souls and brought our souls to life in Christ, in the Church, His Mystical Body. Through baptism, God the Father has chosen us as His true sons and daughters in Christ, His only Son.

The first outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our lives at baptism is completed by a second outpouring at confirmation, strengthening and increasing God’s life within us, so that we may not only have faith in Christ but also proclaim faith in Christ to the whole world. Confirmation is our personal Pentecost. From the moment of our confirmation, we are to witness to Christ before others. We draw upon the grace of the Holy Spirit each day to be faithful to Christ, to the promptings of the Holy Spirit within us, so that in everything we think and say and do we will be true to our identity as sons and daughters of God.

The life of the Holy Spirit within us, through Baptism and Confirmation, is healed and nourished through the holy Eucharist, Christ’s true Body and Blood given to us as heavenly medicine and food.

With our First Holy Communion, we enjoy the greatest gift which God gives to us in the Church, the gift of His Son’s very life, first given up for us on the cross at Calvary. So essential is the holy Eucharist to our life in Christ that Christ instituted this sacrament on the night before He died, so that the gift of eternal life which He was to win for us by dying on the cross and rising from the dead would be ours always in the Church. Those who have come alive in Christ through baptism and are Christ’s witnesses in the world through confirmation desire to be in Christ’s company and to have full communion with Christ. Christ comes to us in holy Communion to be received into our inmost being. Christ accompanies and leads us on our life-pilgrimage, especially through participation in the holy Eucharist. That is why participation in Sunday Mass is a solemn obligation for us, under pain of mortal sin. That is also why many in the Church participate in Mass daily or several times a week in addition to Sunday Mass. By an act of spiritual communion, we express our desire for Christ, even when we are unable to receive Him in holy Communion.

During the Easter season, let us return often in prayer to our baptism, confirmation and First Holy Communion, remembering their source in Christ risen from the dead, ascended to the right hand of the Father, and sending forth the Holy Spirit. Let us recognize how Christ lives within us through the sacraments. Let us thank God and ask God for the grace to live ever more fully in Christ, faithful to the grace given to us in the sacraments.


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