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Righteous Living and Prevailing Prayers

 

Luke 18:1-8; James 5:13-16

 

Jim Davis

 

When people write letters addressed to God, many find their way to Jerusalem. Each year thousands of them end up in a Jerusalem undeliverable mail department in the Jerusalem Post Office. The London Times reported that one such letter was found in October 2003 by the Jerusalem postal workers. A man was asking for 5,000 shekels, which is about $1,000 in U.S. currency. He wanted the money to address the poverty issues in his life. The postal workers were so moved by this particular letter that they raised 4300 shekels to send to this man. The man wrote again. He said “Thank you God for the contribution, but please the next time you send money, don’t send it through those postal workers? They stole 700 shekels.”

 

I wish all of our prayers were prayed with such confidence. Confident prayer requires believing God wants to answer your prayer.

 

Luke 18:1-8

18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'

 

4 "For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'"

 

6 And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" NIV

 

This parable is not about persistent prayer. It is not about begging God. It is about God’s willingness to answer your prayer. If you can harass a person who has no concern for God or man into giving you what you need, surely you can get God to answer your requests. It is about confident prayer. Jesus knew there was no way we could have a viable prayer life without confidence in God’s willingness to bring swift justice to our lives in whatever circumstance. Jesus taught his disciples to pray and never give up, then he impresses the disciples with God’s willingness to answer prayer.

 

James 5:13-20

13 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 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. 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. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

 

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. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

 

19 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. NIV

 

These verses remind me of Paul’s words: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV). To pray continually we must learn to pray in every circumstance—in good times and bad.

 

Powerful Prayer Is for Those Seeking Righteous Living

 

Effective prayer must emanate from those seeking to live right. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James’ primary emphasizes isn’t on prayer but on righteous living. Righteous living results in powerful prayers.

 

God answers when we are seeking to do the right thing in every circumstance—when we seek to live blameless. Are you in trouble? Are you happy? Are you sick? Are you convicted of personal sin? James says we must prevail through prayer. We must call out to God in every circumstance.

 

Righteous living isn’t perfection. Righteous living is hungering to do the right thing. It is not always being right but it is about seeking to do the right thing.

 

James says the prayers of those seeking to do right are powerful and effective regardless of the circumstances. This world often makes doing the right thing difficult. The difficulties encountered as we seek to do the right thing often blind us to the rewards of righteousness. The reward of righteous living is powerful prayers—power to overcome in every circumstance as we seek to do the right deeds in our circumstances. This places us in the will of God.

 

The psalmist describes the desire of a righteous person.

 

Psalms 84:10-11

10 Better is one day in your courts

than a thousand elsewhere;

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God

than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield;

the LORD bestows favor and honor;

no good thing does he withhold

from those whose walk is blameless. NIV

 

The psalmist says God is a sun and shield to those who seek him. This means that his Holy Spirit is present to guide and protect. Understanding this motivates our desire to be in his presence. It motivates us to live righteous lives.

 

The earnest prayer of the person seeking to live righteous is powerful and prevailing. It doesn’t seem hard to pray when you’re in trouble. It is praying when you’re happy that’s difficult. It is especially essential to pray in happy times. A time of happiness tends to make us focus on our elusive feelings rather than God—we may fail to give God credit for our happiness. Happiness should result in praise to God.

 

Sin makes prayer difficult—especially when we are driven by guilt over our failures. The sacrifice of God’s Son means your sin and guilt has already been forgiven. Guilt and shame are great as long as they motivate us to turn to God. Satan seeks to step in when we fail and use these otherwise spiritual healthy emotions to drive us into depression and away from God.

 

1 John 1:8-2:2

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

 

1 John 2

2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense-Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. NIV

 

Prayer Provides Access to God’s Power

 

There is only one way to pray fervent energy filled prayers—by understanding your helplessness without God. Our deepest need is to live righteous lives. Nothing will raise need awareness more than seeking to do right, for the moment you decide to, Satan will unleash the forces of hell upon your life. The moment you declare your intent to live righteous living is the moment that you declare personal war on Satan. You will immediately discover your need to pray for God’s protection. Satan will seek to intimidate you to retreat, but you must pray for God’s protection.

 

Do you know what made the kingdom of God so near and dear in the first century? The central message of the kingdom was that God rules in heaven and on earth. He rules over the satanic forces of our world. James is pointing us to God’s sovereign rule as he speaks of Elijah’s prayer. He prayed for it not to reign. God is control of heaven and earth. There is no way to build the kingdom of God without acknowledging the fact—God rules.

 

First century Christians knew God was in control. The other day I went on a canoe trip with the kids. Blaine Philipson was in the canoe with me. We took a wrong turn through the downed trees left after the hurricane. We were pushing our way through the water lilies with our paddles. We realized we had taken a wrong turn. We backtracked to where we were, but we weren’t having much luck finding the right opening. Blaine asks me if we would make it out before 5 p.m. It was only noon, so I assured him we would be back. Then he ask me how would they find us if we didn’t make it back. Keep in mind alligators are laying on the bank of Hillsborough River. This kid is thinking, “If he can’t find his way out now, how can I know we will get out?”

 

Blaine was having a hard time placing his trust in me because he questioned if I was really in control. I tried to assure him we would eventually get back, but he was having a hard time believing me. Of course, we made it back at 12:30 p.m.

 

Prayers are dependent upon believing in God’s absolute rule. Nebuchadnezzar was one of most ruthless rulers on earth. He took pride in what he accomplished through his reign of terror, but God reminded him who placed him upon his throne.

 

Daniel 4:28-37

28 All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, "Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?"

 

31 The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, "This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. 32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes."

 

33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.

 

34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.

 

His dominion is an eternal dominion;

his kingdom endures from generation to generation.

35 All the peoples of the earth

are regarded as nothing.

He does as he pleases

with the powers of heaven

and the peoples of the earth.

No one can hold back his hand

or say to him: "What have you done?"

 

36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. NIV

 

We need to remember Daniel’s vision when we pray. He lived under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. The wise men of Babylon were always plotting his demise, but Daniel relied on God through prayer.

 

Daniel 10:10-14

10 A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 He said, "Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you." And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.

 

12 Then he continued, "Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. 14 Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come." NIV

 

The only way for me to keep my sanity is to remind myself—God is in charge of the world order. He will reign as he sees fit. Nebuchadnezzar was reminded God appoints the rulers of this world. Daniel was reminded that God hears the prayers of those who humble themselves before God.

 

God rules for your good. He established Nebuchadnezzar as king to bring Israel to repentance. Yet, he also used what he was doing through Nebuchadnezzar to bring Nebuchadnezzar to humbly repent of his arrogance.

 

Salvation history is about God ruling in the affairs of men and women to bring about his kingdom rule on earth. Regardless of what is going in the world. Regardless of who rules, you must remember God rules through them. We shouldn’t take pride in our leaders—we should strive to see what God is seeking to accomplish through their rule and humbly entrust ourselves to the sovereign ruler of the universe.

 

Jesus taught us to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Elijah was doing just this when he prayed for it not to rain for three and a half years. Ahab and Jezebel ruled Israel at this time. They were more wicked than any rulers before them or after them. Elijah challenged their wickedness through appealing to God through prayer in hopes they would be brought to repentance.

 

Remember God’s Plan Is Inclusive

 

We may think God rules in an arbitrary manner—he doesn’t. Remember God has the intricate details of your future in view as he rules heaven and earth. This seems to create a problem in the minds of believers. If God already has the plan for my life—he won’t change his plan for my personal life.

 

God can give you the righteous desires of your heart without altering his plan for your life. God is smart enough, wise enough and powerful enough to include your wishes into his plans. It is much like our plans for our family. We have a goal in mind, but we alter what we are doing at the present to include the children’s desire, but our goals are never changed.

 

James says Elijah was a man of like passions—that means he was just as human as each of us. He had his moments of victory when he killed 450 prophets of Baal. He thought his victory alone would rid him of his problems. It didn’t. Jezebel sought to kill him. He ran for his life. He became discouraged. He prayed the kind of prayer you shouldn’t pray when it seems as though Satan has won. He prayed, “God take my life, I am the only faithful one left in Israel.”

 

He prayed this prayer after he had ask God to stop the rain for three and a half years. It was immediately after God had revealed himself to Israel on Mt. Carmel. It was after he had slain all the false prophets. Now he is running for his life!

 

God answers earnest prayers.

 

James 5:17-20

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. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

 

19 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. NIV

 

Effective prayer is triggered by people who know how much they need God. Prayer should revolve around real needs—daily bread—God’s rule to be established in your life—your need to forgive others as you have been forgiven—for God’s protection.

 

Paul reminds us that God shall supply all our needs, but we must understand our needs. Many think, well, I have a good salary. I can pay my bills. I have good health. I’ve got a good family. I am enjoying being single. I’ve got a good job. I take vacations. I have nice clothes. I don’t have any needs. If I did, I could manage for them myself.

 

The sin of self-sufficiency prevents effective prayers. The darkest moment in a Christian’s life is when he/she looks God in the face and says, “I don’t have any needs.” The church at Laodicea felt no need.

 

Revelation 3:15-17

15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. NIV

 

Jesus was knocking on the door of the church of Laodicea. She didn’t see her need therefore she didn’t let him in. God’s blessing is triggered when we understand our lives are so needy that only Jesus can fill our needs.

 

Conclusion:

 

God’s plan includes lost sinners. Pray for God to lead you to some lost soul. Mary and I were eating at the Pizza Hut on Park Blvd. We struck up a conversation with the waiter. He was going through family problems. I gave him a church business card and invited him to church. I pray that he will find God’s direction for his life.

 

Matthew 9:35-38

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." NIV

 

During those times you don’t know what you can say or do to lead someone to the Lord, pray that God will open their heart. Ask God to give you wisdom to say what he wants you to say. Only God can change hearts. When you see your kids go astray and don’t know what to do—PRAY FOR THEM—ask God to intervene.

 

 

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