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Sunday, November 01, 2015

[Matt's Messages] "Prayer at Work"

“Prayer At Work”


Working for the Lord - Fall 2015
November 1, 2015 :: James 5:13-18

Our current sermon series is about work, careers, labor. What people do all day.

Do you remember this Richard Scary book?  I grew up with this one and our kids are, too:  What Do People Do All Day?

Great question! What we’ve been learning together is that God cares deeply about what people do all day. Not just what they do on Sundays at church.

But all day every day.

And that’s true about everybody, not just pastors and missionaries.

This book begins like this: “Everyone is a worker: Farmer Alfalfa, Blacksmith Fox, Stitches the tailor, Grocer Cat, Mommy, and Huckle.”

Even little Huckle is a worker!

And what we’ve learned these last two months is that God cares deeply about our work and that our work is worship. Richard Scary may not have known that, but we do. As Christians, our work is a key facet of our discipleship, our following of Jesus Christ.

Whether we are a farmer, a blacksmith, a tailor, a grocer, a mom, or work in the IT department, we are working for the Lord. Not just for our employers. But first and foremost, “It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

And we’ve been learning a lot about what that means over the last two months.

Today, I want to talk about “Prayer at Work.”

Not working at our prayer, not getting better at our personal prayer lives so much.

But the role of prayer in our work.

Should we pray about our work?

I think that’s a bit of a no-brainer, for Christians, isn’t it?

Of course we should pray for our work. Why wouldn’t we?

We know that we should be prayerful people praying about every facet of our lives, especially those things we do all day.

In the very next verse after our Hide the Word passage in Colossians 3 (after a sentence about masters providing for their servants what is right and fair) it says, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”

Followers of Christ are to devote themselves to prayer; and prayer for and on the job.

And yet, I think that we often neglect to pray for our work.

I think we neglect that prayer sometimes because we don’t think about our work as spiritual. Last week, we reminded ourselves that our callings, whatever they are are spiritual callings.

If you are a second grader named Huckle, you are called to be a student, and that is a spiritual thing to do.

If you are “Farmer Alfalfa” or “Stitches the Tailor,” you are called to that vocation and that is a spiritual thing for you to do.

So it calls for prayer. Our callings call for prayer.

And here’s one of the most encouraging things about prayer.

Prayer is powerful!

We should pray for our work because prayer is powerful.

And one the best places to see that is James chapter 5, verses 13 through 18.

We should pray for our work because prayer is powerful.

Did you catch all of the phrases about the dynamic power of prayer in this passage?

I tried to emphasize them as I read it to you.  The most obvious is the famous verse 16 when it says, “The prayer of a righteous man is POWERFUL and EFFECTIVE.”  Powerful and effective.  It accomplishes things. In King James language, it “availeth much.”  Prayer works.  Prayer gets things done!

We should pray for our work just because God says to.

But one of the reasons that God says to is because God loves to use the prayers of His people to accomplish things in His world. Prayer is powerful.

Three points about that this morning.

#1.  PRAYER IS POWERFUL WHEN WORK IS GOOD AND WHEN WORK IS BAD.

When is a good time to pray for your work?

Did you notice that James thinks that anytime is a good time to pray?  Look at verse 13 again.

“Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.”

Trouble-times, happy-times, and sick-times. That about covers it all, doesn’t it?

Anytime is a good time to pray.

When things are terrible.
When things are going well.
When you have to take a sick day.

Or like I did this Summer when you have to take medical leave.

Trouble, Happiness, and Sickness.

We’ve all experienced each of them to one degree or another.

And prayer is appropriate in each situation. Prayer is the right thing to do.  Prayer is powerful when work is good and when work is bad.

How are things going at work for you right now? Is work good or bad, for you at this moment?

Prayer is appropriate whether things are good or things are rotten.

Are you in trouble?  Literally verse 13 says, “Is any one of you suffering?”

Chances are a number of us are experiencing suffering right now at work. Work, because of the Fall can be very difficult, very hard and feel meaningless.

It’s a normal part of the Christian life to suffer.  James told his readers in chapter 1 to consider it PURE JOY when we face trials of many kinds.

But here we find out that joy is not the only response called for.  We are also called upon to pray when trouble comes.  To pray [yes] that God would take the trouble away and lift it off of our shoulders. To pray that the would heat die down. AND (more importantly) to pray that while the trouble is here, God would give us the spiritual strength to grow THROUGH that trouble and be faithful to Him IN that trouble.

In his excellent little book, A Man’s Guide to Work: 12 Ways to Honor God on the Job
by Patrick Morely has a great chapter on prayer at work.  And he lists 3 ways that we don’t normally pray for our work.

It’s good to pray for our co-worker’s salvation.

But do we pray for our problems at work to be solved?

Do we ask God’s aid in our business?

Morley has 3 sections where he shows how biblical it is to pray for”

-The success of a specific idea.
- The success of a specific task.
- The success against a specific threat.

Are you in trouble? Pray.  Prayer is powerful.

Are you happy? Are you cheerful? Are things going your way right now?  Did you close the big deal? Did you make your goal? Did you get through that problem?  Good times do come at work.  What should you do then?  James says (v.13) “Let him sing songs of praise.”  Those are prayers, too.

You know, those are the times when I am the most tempted to forget to pray.

When trouble comes, that’s one thing. I want out. I need help.

But when happiness comes along [what do we do?], we’re too busy enjoying it to offer prayer and thanksgiving and songs of praise. We forget.

That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to ask for testimonies of God in our work during this sermon series. I have lined up 3, Dan Kerlin already gave his.  We have another coming up in a few weeks.

But today it was going to be Blair who gave a testimony.

Because his story was one about answered prayer on the job.

I won’t tell it very well. I wish he was here to tell it for us.

But one day when he was a supervisor at Shawville Station in the winter they had some big mechanical problem and something bad was going to overheat and meltdown or explode or something like that.

And Blair was in charge and also didn’t know exactly what to do.

So he prayed right there on the spot.

And there was this pipe thingy (I told you I wouldn’t tell the story very well) that they cleared off of snow, and he stuck his hand right in it and right there brought up this thingamajig that was clogging up this doohickey.

And it solved the problem! The crisis was averted through God’s answer to prayer.

And Blair wanted you us all to know that God answers prayer. That’s one of the reasons why he sang (v.13) “songs of praise.”

James believed that prayer was “the thing to do” in every situation that we get ourselves into.  He believed that prayer was powerful when the trouble comes and when we are happy.

Most of us are a somewhere in between. We’ve got a little rain at work and a little sunshine.  What should we do?  We should pray.  Prayer is powerful in the good times and the bad times.

Now, v.14 starts to talk about another kind of real life. Something we never want, but we can all expect in this life.

Sickness.

And the thing to do when sick is to pray and ask for prayer.  V.14

“Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.”

I learned this Summer how sickness can get in the way of work.

Now, this verse is the only verse in the Bible that talks about this “elders and oil” thing.  So, there have been a lot of interpretations of what this means over the years.  Because it’s not perfectly clear.

The oil might be one of (basically) two things: a medicine (or something that stands for medicine) because oil was used medicinally in the ancient world (so we should also be using medicine with our prayers) OR an outward sign (like communion or baptism) of an inner reality–the reality of being set apart in prayer (sanctified to God in prayer).

And I tend to lean a little towards the second one–that it’s an outward symbol of prayer marking this person off as one whom we are asking God to heal in His holiness.

But either way, the emphasis here is not on the oil itself but on the praying in the name of the Lord.  V.15

“And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.”

Notice that!  The prayer offered in faith makes the sick person well.  Not the oil.  So, if you call the elders and ask us to pray for you in this way in your sickness, DO NOT think that the oil has supernatural healing properties.

Prayer has supernatural healing properties when God answers it.

But the oil is either medicine or a symbol–an aid to prayer–not healing in and of itself.

The picture here is someone who is laid up and can’t get to church.  So they call the elders.  Why the elders?  Probably because they represent the whole church. They are to be spiritually mature Christians who are growing discipleship and trying to leading others there.  And they are supposed to have faith.

And they arrive on the scene, and they pray OVER him. Notice that word OVER.  Interestingly, this is the only time this word “over” is used with the word “pray” in the Bible. And I think the idea here is that the sick person is flat on their back and the elders gather around, anoint and pray in the name of the Lord.

Some of you came and visited me in the hospital in July and prayed like that over my hospital bed.

“In the name of the Lord;” more than just tacking on “IN JESUS NAME WE PRAY AMEN” onto the end of the prayer. It means praying in the authority of Jesus. It means praying by the merit of Jesus. It means praying according to the reputation of Jesus.

And...it means praying for the WILL OF JESUS. In other words, if the Lord decides in His wisdom to say NO, that will be okay with these believers, too. Because at some point, He will say NO. All of us will taste death unless we are in the generation alive when Jesus returns.

So, we pray in the NAME OF THE LORD.  Trusting that the LORD can raise this sick person to life if He thinks that is best. “Not my will, but yours be done.”

And prayer is powerful...v.15

“And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.”

Prayer is powerful! When God says, “Yes!” then the sick person is (literally) “saved.” The Lord will raise him up. It’s effective.

Now, you’ve noticed something in v.15.  James has connected sickness with sin.

“And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.”

We don’t tend to think this way, but sometimes our sicknesses can be a result of our sin. Notice I said SOMETIMES!  James says, “IF he has sinned, he will be forgiven.”

Don’t assume that someone is sick because they are sinning. Often our sickness is just a part of living in a fallen world. But there are cases in the Bible that show us that our sicknesses may have a spiritual root to them. And therefore, part of the remedy for them, is not just prayer but repentant prayer.  Confession.

Let me give you #2.

#2.  PRAYER IS POWERFUL WHEN RIGHTEOUS PEOPLE PRAY.

Prayer is especially powerful when it is coupled with righteousness.  Right living.

When sin goes out the window, power comes into the prayer life.

However, when sin is present, prayer lacks power.

This is a biblical concept.

Psalm 66:18, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened...”

1 Peter 3:7, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”

When there is righteousness, there is power and effectiveness in prayer.

When there is ongoing unconfessed sin, there is weakness and ineffectiveness in prayer.  V.16

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed [both physically, I think, and spiritually]. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

Prayer is Powerful When Righteous People Pray.

Can you see how that might change your prayers for your work?

So, how do you get righteous? And how do you know if you are righteous enough?

Well, what did we learn in the book of Romans about justification?

Justification, righteousification is by faith alone.

You get righteous by putting your faith in Jesus Christ and no other way.

That’s what Martin Luther rediscovered 498 years ago yesterday. Yesterday was the 498th anniversary of when Martin Luther nailed up his 95 theses to get the Protestant Reformation underway.

He was redisovering the gospel of grace.

Here’s the good news!

Your own righteous, your own attempt at living a right life and doing the right thing things is actually worthless before God.  It is a self-righteousness that you have worked up. And it doesn’t cut the mustard.

The righteousness that we need has been provided by the bloody death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ.  My sin on Him, His righteousness on me. That’s the deal when we come by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for saving.

That’s the righteousness you need.

And you need, not only positional righteousness, but practical righteousness.  To grow in faith and obedience to Christ.  To become what you are.  To become (by faith) what you are (by faith).  To walk it out.

To live out a righteous life by faith in Jesus Christ.

We will not be perfect in this life.  But we are to strive by faith towards perfection.

And that’s how much righteousness is needed for powerful effectiveness in prayer–striving towards righteousness is what is needed.  Stumbling.  Walking. Running towards right living by faith in Christ.  Confessing sin when it happens.   Repenting of heart idolatry and turning towards righteous acts of love.

Confessing your sins to another brother or sister.  Maybe a brother or sister that you’ve sinned against. Maybe just someone safe that you can talk to and confess to so that it really seems real that you are owning your sin.

“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

What is hindering your prayer life today?

What sin is standing in the way of powerful and effective answers?

Confess it to the one you’ve sinned against today. Turn from it.
Confess it to God today.  Turn from it.
Confess it to a safe person today so that they can pray for you, and you be healed.

And...so that your prayers can be powerful and effective.

Turn from it. Turn from it.

Do you want more positive answers to your prayers at work?

“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

And one more point from verses 17 and 18.

#3. PRAYER IS POWERFUL WHEN REGULAR PEOPLE PRAY.

Prayer is not just powerful when righteous people pray, but when regular people pray.

Regular people, like...Elijah.  V.17

“Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.  Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”

Now, Elijah’s job was to be a prophet. And he was a good one. And he saw lots of miracles happen in his ministry.

And here’s one. He prayed, and the rain stopped in Israel for 3.5 years. And he prayed again, and God gave rain again.

That’s quite a miracle.

And it must have taken quite a guy to pull it off!  Right?

James so, “No.” James says, in fact, “Elijah was man just like us.”

Elijah was a regular joe when it came to his humanity.

It wasn’t because Elijah was so great that the miracles happened, it was because God was so great that the miracles happened!

Prayer is powerful. It is a mighty weapon.  It heals the sick. It holds back the rain when God wants it to!

Prayer is powerful weapon. But God has placed it in the hands of regular people–like you and me.

You don’t have to be a spiritual giant to pray. All of us can do it.

You don’t have to be Billy Graham or Henry Blackaby or the Apostle Paul to expect powerful answers to prayer.

You just have to be connected to an Almighty God!

Prayer Is Powerful When Regular People Pray!

On the job.

Don’t wait until you have arrived and are a super-saint to pray for your work. It won’t ever happen.

Elijah was just like you. And God did big things through him.

God can do big things through your prayers as well, if you will trust them to Him.

Are you praying for your work?

Whether it’s good or bad or somewhere in between?

Are you regularly praying for the things going on at your workplace?

You should. God is calling you to pray for your work.

Now, some of you are saying in your minds, “We are not allowed to pray at our work.”

Prayer meetings are forbidden and if we pray on the 50 yard line we might lose our job.

Some of us should pray publicly anyway. That’s what Daniel did. And he opened the windows to face Jerusalem so that all could see that he did.

But Nehemiah didn’t. Nehemiah prayed on the job and nobody knew about it or made a fuss.

Let’s turn there real quickly as we close up this message today.

Turn to Nehemiah chapter 2. Pew Bible page #472.

Nehemiah was the Jewish cupbearer to the king of Persia. A major position in the government. And he was upset that the walls of Jerusalem his beloved homeland were broken down.

If you read chapter 1, you see what Nehemiah prayed on his own time when he wasn’t on the job. He prayed for success for a big work project!

But in chapter 2, he’s on the job.  Look at that. Verse 1.

“In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; so the king asked me, ‘Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.’ [Not how you’re supposed to be before the king.] I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, ‘May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’ The king said to me, ‘What is it you want?’ [Watch this!] Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it’” (vv.1-5).

Now, we see in the next few verses that God answered this prayer.

He gave him this work to do and as the chapters unfold He answers more prayer and gives them success in their work.

But my question is, how did Nehemiah pull off the prayer in verse 5?

Did he say, “Excuse me, King, I have to go over here and fold my hands and get on my knees, I’ll be right back.”

I don’t think so. He just prayed right there in the moment in the quietness of his heart.

I think that’s what most of our prayers at work will be like.

Just quick little signal flare prayers, “Help, Lord!”

Now, there will be times and places when you gather a prayer group at work. Sure do that if you can.

But there will be plenty of other times when you just simply offer a Nehemiah 2 prayer.

Each week of this series, I’ve been having a different group stand for us to recognize.

Today, I want us to celebrate everybody involved in education and child care.

If you are a teacher, a teacher’s aide, a babysitter, a daycare worker, a school administrator, a TSS, a wrap-around, a learning support person, a guidance counselor, a computer lab person, or you provide office support for a school, whatever, I want to ask you to stand if you are involved in education and child care.

Thank you!

We just prayed for you all a couple of months ago on Back-2-School Sunday.

But shouldn’t just do that once a year.

You have such an important job if you care for little ones and then students of all ages.

And you need to be prayerful people.

I’ll be honest, I’m glad that our schools no longer have organized prayer by the teachers and staff and administration.

That might surprise you.  But because we live in a pluralistic society where not all of the teachers, staff, and administration of our public schools are evangelical Christians, I’m glad that they do not lead our students in whatever prayers they might think are appropriate.

If we have a Muslim teacher or Buddhist teacher or atheistic teacher, in our schools, which in our First Amendment America is perfectly legitimate, I wouldn’t want them leading our students in their formal prayers.

So, I’m glad that there are no formal organized prayers by the school.

But I’m also glad that our schools: West Branch, Philipsburg, and Clearfield especially are full of people like you who are praying every day when you are there.

There is prayer in our schools. The Christians who are there should be doing it.

I saw it in September at the See You at the Pole, a number of students but also staff showed up to pray for West Branch.

That’s awesome.

And I expect God to answers those prayers in big ways.

We should pray for our work because God has made prayer powerful.

It’s powerful when work is good and when work is bad. And everywhere in between.

Prayer is powerful when righteous people pray. So we need to trust in Jesus for the gift of His righteousness and then we need to regularly repent of our sins and walk daily in righteous so that God can use our purified prayers.

And prayer is powerful when regular people like you and me pray.

Elijah was just like us.

We have different jobs but the same God.

And He is calling us to pray for and at our work.

Let’s do it right now.


***

Messages in this Series

01. Working for the Lord
02. Is Work - Good Or Bad?
03. Why Work?
04. Working at Witnessing
05. Get to Work!
06. Work and Rest
07. Called to Work
08. Prayer at Work

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