Epistle of James 5, 13-20 Prayer!
Dear community, today it’s about prayer. I read a sentence that touched me because it emphasizes the importance of prayer. The sentence sounds like this: „If, however, prayer dies, then atheism, so to speak, gets right without any arguments. This makes sense: when no longer being prayed, the belief in God, or at least a personal God, who speaks to the people and to whom we can speak human beings, is at stake.
On this basis I would like to look at the text from the letter of James today. Prayer as a whole is of course too big a topic for a single sermon and so I would like to consider 3 big W’s in connection with the scripture heard today: When do we pray? How do We pray? and What are we praying for?
Of course, this „We“ is as diverse as we are here today. I do not know for what or when or how you pray, that’s quiet clear.
Therefore, right at the beginning of this sermon, I beg you to forgive me for the poverty of human language and not to hear any teaching or paternalism in any of my words. Because I do not want to teach or pretend to explain the world to you, but I would like to make a journey together with you through the various forms and possibilities of prayer. If this journey succeeds, then when we go home, we may end up seeing more clearly where we are and what might be possible.
I think that every speech or sermon, every thought and expression of prayer is first of all faced with a huge problem: the problem of a bad conscience. As soon as the talk of prayer is given, every Christian and every Christian involuntarily, but with a very high probability, first of all gets a guilty conscience: Yes, I could have prayed more. Yes, I was often too busy with myself, yes you should …
I think you know what I mean. In our Christian way of thinking, we know the Bible passage, „Pray, never cease,“ and every non-prayer becomes automatically a failure. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we see prayer as our part, our obligation, our task in the relationship with God. We behave as if we had a contract with God and our contract, our job, is to pray. Through this contract thinking, we then get a peculiar image of God that sees in God, so to speak, the other, admonishing, contracting party, which now demands our doing.
And this fundamental and peculiar attitude that we assemble ourselves then leads to the said bad conscience as soon as the prayer comes up.
Only – the bad conscience will not get us!
We have a guilty conscience and we become queasy and in reality we hope that this feeling will pass again. Or can be displaced, but that’s why we do not change our behavior. That’s why we do not start to pray more or differently.
I think that feelings of guilt are not able to motivate or inspire us. Imagine only once the posture to these words: Naughty, guilty, bad conscience. I get to the following picture: Somehow small, protective, perhaps holding his arms in front of his face. Everything goes in the direction of protection, defense, passivity. Out of this attitude, we do not become human beings to pray.
Therefore, I invite everyone here and now to put this guilty feeling about our prayer aside. I realize that this attitude has grown, so it will not be so easy to get rid of, but to engage in prayer at a different depth, we now put our guilty feelings aside.
Then we can turn to the first verse of the text: „Is there any one among you who is praying; is someone of good cheer, who sings psalms. „And we arrived at the first“ W „: When do we pray?
I ask you to ignore the guilty feelings and not to evaluate this question immediately. So in the way: „Aha I only pray when I’m suffering, when I need something from God, but I thank God far too little.“ This is a rating and that prevents us from perceiving when we pray.
Two pictures from the New Testament may help us here. One is the image of the Father who sees his oncoming son, running in the opposite direction, falling around his neck and kissing him (Luke 15:20), and the other image is a question of Jesus:
„Who of you would give your child a stone when it asks for bread or a snake when it asks for a fish?“ (Mat 7: 9)
In our reflex to rate, we forget all too fast, who is our counterpart. I, I’m really hard to think of God as a master of beancounting who’s just busy managing my good and bad deeds. I can not imagine that. When I read the Bible and talk to my siblings, I do not have the impression that I’m praying to a bean counter. But I pray to a father who loves me.
But let us return to the „when,“ when do we pray: we pray when we want to relate to God, when we have something to ask, to thank, or to mourn. I think that’s normal, we do not talk to our children or parents all the time. The connection seems important to me, so that we could talk anytime. For me personally, this connection with God has become important, because I do not have to do everything on my own. That I can open myself and I am willing to let God work, I experience as an important support.
With this we can also move on to the second „W“: how do we pray?
In „How do we pray,“ I think, it’s exciting to look at how I speak to God. As a father, as a master, as a Jesus, as a brother, however, I think each and every one of us has his preferences here. Then there are the most varied prayer postures, some are familiar to us, others are rather strange to us. There is the silent prayer, only in thought, but there are also spoken or sung prayers. Of all the wealth that is available to us, we often only use a small share. Maybe it’s worth it to try another approach from this abundance.
The last „W“ I wanted to look at is what we pray for. And after that is not nameable, because there are just so many prayer requests, I thought that we could look at the „what“ for how we deal with something like „failures.“ What if it happens differently than we prayed? That should happen from time to time.
So I no longer believe that it depends on my belief that my prayer is answered by God. So that if something did not happen or otherwise, I would have believed too little. That would mean that it depends on me and not on God. I also believe that with every request, no matter what, whether for healing, for salvation, for peace, whatever – we should always remember what we are doing: we ask God for something. We have nothing to command God. That is a mistake. With our request we urge God to act, we ask Him to do something. Imagine someone just comes in to your apartment or front door and starts vacuuming. Or sit down next to you and start combing your hair. Nobody wants that, because you have to ask before and wait for the answer. My prayer asks God to act.
When God acts or does not act, the question is often asked how a loving God, so much suffering, can tolerate this world. That’s a very legitimate question, but it’s almost a sermon of its own. Very briefly, just two considerations: First: a great deal of suffering that we perceive, whether war, hunger or exploitation, is not caused by God. God is neither a warlord nor a factory owner. Much suffering comes from people who want to rule or are greedy. And secondly, the god I believe in is not Zeus. He does not become a bull, nor does he kidnap the Europe, and this god does not hurl lightning that would destroy the wicked. My image of God has a loving God in mind and this love needs voluntariness, love can not be forced. It is this freedom that makes it possible for man to be evil. My consolation in all this suffering is always that God has said, Due to my thoughts reflects the Lord like this “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.“(Isa. 55-9) My consolation is God’s Greatness and wisdom. And all sorrow keeps asking me: What can I do, what is possible for me, where does it take me and where does my arm and hand reach?
Prayer, it is also called the breathing of Christians.
Very briefly, I summarize my selection of the most important thoughts:
- Guilt does not help us. They do not have the power to motivate us.
- The connection to God is the important thing. Not that I’m always talking, but that I could talk anytime. It is the connectedness that carries me – always – in speech and in hearing.
- Every prayer is important because it asks God to act. Please allow God to act as he sees fit.