Together and Prayer

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 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 5:13-20 (NIV)

Have you ever noticed how much more effective a group is in solving a problem than one individual is alone? Bringing a variety of perspectives together often results in a solution which one perspective alone could not have achieved. In addition, having many hands and heads working together increases the rate of outcome and lessens the burden of the individual. This view has led to sayings such as, “two heads are better than one,” or “many hands make light work.”

In the letter of James we hear a discussion of community and prayer. The writer impresses upon the receivers the importance of turning to one another when they are experiencing troubles. There is an understanding that when someone turns to others, the response will be to join with the troubled one and use the power of prayer. The letter clearly emphasizes how powerful prayer can be to bring about healing and restoration. A reader gets the sense that believers in Christ are to care for the needs of one another.

As we read this passage written a few thousand years ago, we see reflections of the role the church is to play in people’s lives. The church is to pray for those who are troubled, sick, or fighting sin. These prayers are called intercessory which occur corporately as part of worship services and individually through prayer chains or during home visits. The church is to also be engaged in bringing those who have wandered from the truth back into the fold. This is the role of reaching out, hearing confessions and providing assurances of forgiveness.

An important reality which we all must remember is that while this happens on a corporate level, usually in the midst of a worship service, each of us have a responsibility to make sure these things occur as part of our daily life. We are supposed to reach out to other believers when we are dealing with challenges in our lives. We are to be available to one another when there is a need. The power of prayer is to always be utilized as a tool of response. We are the church, individually and together.

Making Requests

Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
    for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
    and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
    for you, Lord, are good.

Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
    toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
11 For the sake of your name, Lord,
    forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

Psalm 25:4-11

We make requests of people all the time. As parents, we ask our children to put away their toys, clean their room, hang up their coats, take the dogs out, and the list goes on ad nauseam. In the work environment there are requests going both ways between employer and employee; i.e., employers request tasks to be completed, employees request time off. Everyday life is filled with examples of requests being made and being fulfilled or granted.

In the midst of Psalm 25, we see a series of requests being made. First is a request for the Lord to show us the Lord’s way. A request is then made for the Lord to teach the Lord’s truth. The requests continue with a desire for grace and mercy to be shown instead of our rebellious behaviors. The Lord is acknowledged for the way in which the Lord instructs sinners and guides the humble. Requests, confession and praise fill these verses.

These verses serve as a guide in regard to how we need to humble ourselves and seek the Lord. Each of us are aware of the times we rebel against the Lord. Those times when we choose to exert our independence so we can go the direction which we think is best in our lives. Often we discover that such rebellion leads to problematic results. This is when we must humble ourselves and make the above requests of the Lord. The first request should be for mercy, forgiveness and grace. Then a request to be taught, or retaught, about the Lord’s ways, paths and truth. Because of the Lord’s great love for us, we can be assured that these requests will be granted.

Make your requests of the Lord. Then humbly learn and strive to rebel no more.

Confession

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
    to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
    in burnt offerings offered whole;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Psalm 51 (NIV)

One of the most challenging actions for most people is admitting when he/she has done wrong. There is not a person alive who has not taken an action or said something which impacts another in a negative way. As humans we make bad choices, act in hurtful ways, and say hurtful words. How we handle conversations with others afterwards, especially someone we may have wronged, speaks directly to who we are as a person. It has been said that confession is good for the soul. The reason for this is by not honestly admitting our shortcomings a burden is placed upon us which impacts us emotionally, spiritually, and even physically. Relationships can be harmed when we do not own up to our negative behaviors. The well-being of others can be strongly impacted by our silence or lies used to cover up. Confession releases all the negative and allows for reparations and healing.

The psalm for today is a confession. It has been attributed to David. He seems to have written it after Nathan confronts him regarding Bathsheba. This is a confession to the Lord with a request to be forgiven and cleansed of sin. It is a psalm where most of the words could be said by almost all of us at various times, or possibly daily.

Let us follow David’s example. With contrite hearts, come before the Lord and acknowledge any sin. Request forgiveness and cleansing. Receive the Lord’s compassion which comes for unfailing love.

Confession and Praise

On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors. They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God. Standing on the stairs of the Levites were Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani. They cried out with loud voices to the Lord their God. And the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah—said: “Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.[a]

“Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.

“You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous.

“You saw the suffering of our ancestors in Egypt; you heard their cry at the Red Sea.[b] 10 You sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his officials and all the people of his land, for you knew how arrogantly the Egyptians treated them. You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day. 11 You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters. 12 By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take.

13 “You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. 14 You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses. 15 In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them.

Nehemiah 9:1-15 (NIV)

In my faith tradition, we use a fairly standard worship liturgy. As part of our liturgy, we have a time when we corporately and individually confess our sins. After we confess, the worship leader assures us of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. This is followed by singing of praises to God, most often using a doxology. The pattern of this portion of liturgy comes from the practices of the early Christian church.

The passage for today shows that the pattern of confession followed by praise may have found its origin with the Hebrew people. The Israelites had been called to account because after returning from exile, they began to intermarry with people from lands bordering Judah. God had instructed them not to do this because of the risk of the Israelites succumbing to worshiping gods which the foreigners worshiped. After having their sin pointed out, the Israelites confess, send away the foreigners, and enter into acts of repentance. The Levites then lead them into worship of God and a recalling of all God’s acts of compassion and salvation. The pattern of confession, assurance, and praise is seen here.

The question which comes to mind is, can this pattern only be followed as part of corporate worship? The answer is emphatically NO. We can use this pattern in our personal life at home. All of us struggle with sin every day. Setting aside time to confess these sins is important. While we do not have a worship leader at home to give us words of assurance, we can speak these words to ourselves. We can also open Scripture and read to remember God’s acts of grace, compassion and forgiveness. Then we can offer praise and thanksgiving to God in response.

Making Mistakes

There is not a person alive who has not made at least one mistake over the course of their life. Mistakes are a part of the human experience. How we react when we make a mistake is the most telling part of who we are as a person. The human instinct when a mistake has occurred is to attempt to cover up the mistake. We want an endless supply of white-out. Okay, I realize that many young people have no idea what that product even is anymore. Maybe a better illustration would be our desire to have a backspace key on the ready at all times. The point is that we hope that no one else notices the mistake, and we can eliminate the evidence as soon as possible.

Times occur when we cannot eliminate the evidence of our mistake. So we may attempt to justify the mistake or blame someone else for it happening. We want to reduce our responsibility for the mistake as much as we possibly can. The mistake does not go away, but we feel better about ourselves if we can become a much smaller player in whatever has led to the mistake in the first place.

We deal with some mistakes by trying to repress it. Our efforts are directed toward hiding the mistake. We may choose to not talk about it with anyone and if they bring up the mistake in conversation, we change the subject as quickly as possible. Putting the mistake out of our thoughts becomes the goal. Max Lucado once described this approach in this way, “That’s like walking around with a pebble in our shoe—it causes us so much frustration that our whole body compensates for its presence, when all we have to do is take it out and toss it away.”

Some mistakes in life are minor and have little impact on others or life in general. Other mistakes have a significant impact. The key is stepping up and being honest about mistakes which we make. We have to take ownership of the mistake and where necessary apologize and seek forgiveness. This approach does not cover up the mistake but it can be a tremendous step in correcting the mistake. Healing can take place once the mistake is out in the open. We are able to move forward without having to hold on to the mistake.

God is aware of the mistakes we make whether we are willing to own them or not. God does not need us to admit our mistakes. Yet, God knows that if we are to heal after making a mistake, we need to admit it. The Church has come to term this as confession. The terminology we use is not important but the act is very important. If we do not admit our mistake, then it is just as Lucado states, it is like a pebble in our shoe which brings us discomfort, pain, and endless frustration. The promise which God gives to us is that our mistakes are forgiven and forgotten. They are tossed away as Lucado suggests.

Making a mistake is human, admitting it and then letting it be thrown away is the correct response.