Praying and Singing James 5:13 8-7-16

“Praying and Singing” James 5;13; Psalm 40:2,3 8/7/16 at LMPC by Dr. Ben Sloan

To See a video of this sermon, click here

He lifted me out of the slimy pit; out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in Him.
Are any among you suffering?  They should pray.  Are any cheerful?  They should sing songs of praise.

I was listening to the opening ceremonies where they interviewed Allyson Felix a four time USA Olympic Gold medal winner.  This Olympics was particular hard for her- she will be running the 400 meter.  But not long ago she faced terrible ankle injuries that were so bad she could not walk.  The interviewer asked her how she got from not being able to walk to being an Olympic contender.  She said, A lot of [physical] therapy, a lot of support, and a lot of prayer.  I am here by the grace of God.”

People handle stress in different ways- exercise, vacation, games, sleep, but two of the best things that sustain me are prayer and singing/music.  That is what James and scripture are commending to us.  Life is stressful.  Stress doesn’t just come when bad things happen.  It also comes when good things happen.  Perhaps the most stressful I have been is when my daughters got married- and I really had very little to do in it or with it.   Kay and I slept for about 18 hours a day the week after their weddings.  But having a new baby, getting a new job, moving to a new place- those can be exciting but also stressful times.  It is important to remember prayer and singing as not only resources, but great resources for us.

Prayer is an important thing.  90% of Americans say they pray regularly.  Gallup Poll says more Americans will pray this week than will exercise, than will drive a car, than will have sex or go to work.  People see a deep need to find inner peace. It is more than meditation that tries to make the mind empty.  Prayer releases the worries into the hands of God.  The Bible says, “Cast your care on Him for He cares for you.”  We cast our cares on God through prayer.  John Baillie prayed, “Lord help me carry my burdens.  Help me to carry the burdens of others, Then Help me to relinquish all my burdens to you.”  Philippians 4:6,7 says, “Be anxious about nothing.  But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God then the peace of God that passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Prayer allows us to focus on someone or something (or some problem) for a moment and then release them to God.  Prayer also changes our focus from earth to heaven- it fixes our eyes on Jesus the author and perfector of our faith.   Learning how to pray is important too.  PRAY- Praise, Repent, Ask, Yield;
If any of you are suffering- in the hard times of life- prayer is important.  It takes our suffering and lifts it up to God.  I can remember some of the hardest times in life- when Kay was going through chemo; when our kids were going through tough times; when I had my own health issues; when money was tighter than tight- prayer is a means of grace.  It is a way to get in touch with God’s salve.  Flannery O’Conner writes that in the early days of her writing when she felt she could not do anything but mediocre work that she absolutely needed to pray.  She was full of gifts- but needed to not be self-absorbed .  She prayed, “O God make my mind clear.  Please make it clean…Please help me to get down under things and find where you are.”  Tim Keller speaks of living in New York City through and after 911 and finding out at the same time his wife had Crohn’s disease and he had thyroid cancer.  He said he absolutely HAD to pray.  His wife told him- you and I have to pray each night.  She then told him  “Imagine you were diagnosed with such a lethal condition that the doctor told ou that you would die within hours unless you took a particular medicine—a pill every night before going to sleep.  Imagine that you were told you could never miss it or you would die.  Would you forget?  Would you not get around to it some nights?  No… Well if we don’t pray, we are not going to make it because of all we are facing.”  (Prayer Keller).  Mother Teresa said that she could not have helped so many with their suffering without prayer.  When you suffer, James says, Pray.  Job, who suffered extensively had a very intense prayer life that saw him through.  In fact, God told Job’s friends that they needed Job to pray for them.  When the Jews went through exile they survived as a nation through a deep prayer life.  Jesus, when suffering in the garden sweating drops of blood was consumed with prayer, and on the cross prayed continually.  When Jesus died the disciples were “constantly in prayer together” (Acts 1:14).

Singing songs of praise is important when we are cheerful.  We do not always sing the blues.  When the good times come- praise extends them and stretches them out.   But it also allows us to thank someone, so that we get all the credit or this cold-uncaring-non-existent thing called “Luck” gets all the credit.  Praise changes us and changes things too.  It changes our attitude and lifts our head up.  But praise is a positive way to live.

I always like for us to think- what is the alternative?  If we refuse to pray to God when we are suffering- do we just keep a stiff upper lip? Or just wallow in our anxiety?  Or worse- curse the God who made us and allowed us to feel both good and bad?  The alternative to praise is to praise ourselves- or boast.  Or say, “Boy was I lucky” which really means absolutely nothing- and gives credit to nothing and no one. Luck is cold, uncaring, fatalistic, and has no rhyme-reason-or purpose.  God has a purpose.  We are called to glorify Him when we have our thorn in the flesh that hurts; and we are called to glorify Him when the thorn is gone and we see our way clear.  Prayer is a kind of tune  that tunes our hearts to God.
The Psalms are God’s songbook.  It contains an ancient version of the blues- but also a lot of uplifting and strengthening songs.
Someone asks,”How do I keep from falling asleep?  I can’t imagine being still for that long and not falling asleep.  Prayer seems boring compared to all the stimulation I get.”  We watch so much TV, hear so much stuff from headphones or radio, we see so much from computer screens and cell phones it is hard to sit down quietly for even five minutes.  But it is a healthy thing for us.  Someone else asks, “How do I keep my prayers from being so dry?”  The answer maybe found in praise.  I do not think music and singing to God is boring.  In fact, music is very uplifting.  As you praise God- you find joy, you experience hope, you get a more positive outlook on things.
In the Disciple Bible studies I will lead on Mondays and Thursdays- we will not just study the Bible, but we will do some practical prayer exercises and also some service exercises as well.
I fast forwarded through James a little bit to come to these verses about prayer and praise.  For today I want to celebrate the praises we have had in this church.  Sara has been playing for us- and doing it with great skill for 25 years since the second Sunday of July 1989- she went away for a few years but has been with us since 1997.  Part of the reason our church has grown has been our wonderful choir and music.  Many of you have told me you joined our church because of our choir- and Sara has played a major role in that.  She has been faithful in her playing and praise.  Johann Sebastian Bach wrote, Music is an agreeable harmony for the honor of God and the permissible delights of the soul.”. … “The final aim and reason of all music is nothing other than the glorification of God and the refreshment of the spirit.”  This is praise.
James says if you are suffering pray and if you are cheerful praise.  What this means is to pray to God all of the time- about everything.  Lift up your life and your concerns and your joys to God.  Today we will have communion.  The liturgy of communion begins with “Lift up your hearts; we lift them up to the Lord.”  That means to pray.  Let us lift up our hearts to God.