Daily Update #302

16 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. 17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. 19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back,20 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 5:16-20Sadly, we now reach the end of our series on the book of James. I have always loved his clear, practical and challenging teaching. This James is probably the one who led the church in Jerusalem and was the eldest brother of Jesus. His teaching certainly echoes that of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Some 45 years ago, I was asked at the interview for my one year teacher training course at Newcastle University ‘which person in history do you admire the most?’ My reply was that apart from Jesus Christ it was the German monk and theologian Martin Luther. He had bravely inspired the 16th century Reformation which had transformed Europe and  made it possible for millions of people, including us, to come to a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Strangely, Luther described this book as “an epistle of straw for it has no evangelical matter about it.” Maybe his ‘blind spot’ over James was due to his massive admiration for St Paul’s teaching? Anyway, today James concludes not with a whimper but with a bang. Quite abruptly, and without any personal remarks or farewells, James ends by reminding his readers of: i) the power of prayer and ii) the need to rescue believers who have gone astray as well as those yet to trust in Jesus as their Lord.

1. Prayer. St John’s has learned a lot over recent weeks about the power of persistent and intense prayer. We have seen that, as James says here, “the earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results’ (v16 – New Living Translation). James refers in verses 17 and 18 to the impact of the prophet Elijah’s prayers. Elijah has always been greatly respected by the Jews as a heroic ‘prayer warrior.’ However, like us, he could lack confidence in himself and in God. At times he wanted to run away and hide! If we are right with God, we too can pray boldly and with perseverance. When we hand over situations and people to God, we can trust Him to act. We have done this of late and seen God’s limitless mercy and grace at work! Each day, “let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

2. Retrieving Those Who Stray From The Truth: This may not be a recognised ministry in the Church but we are called to seek out those believers who have strayed into sin, as well as non-believers (v19-20). James views this rescuing of those who have wandered from Jesus and His people as a matter of spiritual life or death. Anyone who has drifted away from Jesus and His truth can come back to Him and seek His forgiveness. He doesn’t send us out alone on this search and rescue mission. In the parable of the lost sheep Jesus is the Good Shepherd known “to look for the one that wandered off. And if He finds it ..He is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off” (Matt. 18:12,13). James also exhorts us in verse 20 to share the joy and security we have in Jesus with those who have not yet entrusted their lives to Him. We know from our own lives “How happy is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1). Let’s show it!

Lord Jesus, thank you that we can pray in your name with boldness and bring the Father’s compassion, grace and mercy into all situations. Teach us to pray faithfully for the safe return to you of any stragglers and wanderers from the truth. May there then be great rejoicing in heaven as a result.

Tomorrow’s passage:  Habakkuk 1:1