February 9

…praying together even when we are apart…

If any of you are suffering, they should pray. If any of you are happy, they should sing.  If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.  Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven.  For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve. James 5:13-16 CEB

 

I have had numerous “soul groaning” (see Exodus 2:23-25) experiences in recent months (heck, I confess – years is more like it).  I bet you have as well.  I don’t think we live in these human bodies on planet earth without suffering.  I used to think that I shouldn’t talk about suffering, seeing as how I wasn’t having slave masters force me to make bricks out of straw and spit like the Israelites.  I thought – what is my suffering compared to the suffering of my friends who are homeless?  Or who am I to complain when my bondage to peanut butter seems like small potatoes compared to bondage to a harsh taskmaster like heroin?  I live in the land of opportunity, for goodness’ sake!  I have “first world problems” – who am I to complain, moan, mourn?   I’ve learned that God doesn’t ask me to compare my suffering to that of others and only groan when I can objectively measure my suffering as making the top ten list of worldwide suffering.  Today, I can tell you that I allow myself permission to groan without the need to compare.  I get sick; I am happy; I sin; I need restoration and forgiveness.  These are “soul groaning” experiences.

Recently, my soul has been groaning and I’ve shared my suffering with others – in particular, I shared with people who I know can relate to my specific brand of suffering.  The awesome thing that has happened in all this sharing and suffering is that my friends who have “gone before me” on this road of sadness are also uniquely qualified to pray, sing, anoint, and teach me how to live in healthy ways – even though my soul groans.  I think this is what these passages in James are getting at when the writer tells us to confess and pray for each other.

Practice:  Because of all this sharing, I have regularly received encouraging texts, emails, phone calls and check-ins from my friends.  This has been very restorative.  Maybe today you could take a few minutes, consider the suffering of self and/or others, and either reach out and groan, or reach out and comfort another whose suffering you “get”.  This is prayer in action.  Let me know how it works!

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February 7

…trusting in who God is, more than how we pray…

 5 But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask. 6 Whoever asks shouldn’t hesitate. They should ask in faith, without doubting. Whoever doubts is like the surf of the sea, tossed and turned by the wind. 7 People like that should never imagine that they will receive anything from the Lord. 8 They are double-minded, unstable in all their ways.  James 1:5-8, CEB

 

I’ve been talking so far this month about the relationship between trust/faith and prayer.  One of the things I find comforting, at the end of the day, is that God desires to transform us.  He wants to give us the ability to change, to be made whole, to be made new.  He doesn’t make a bunch of demands and then leave us to our own devices to accomplish them.  No, He goes to work in us shaping us and molding us into people who look more and more like Him.  In this way, I can take comfort in knowing that though my faith is imperfect, He is at work in me.  Not only that but I can ask Him to keep working in me and trust that He will respond.  I can ask for wisdom, in faith, with confidence, without being tossed and turned by the wind.

God is the giver of all good things and while I’m not everything I’d like to be- I have hope for change and transformation.

I suppose I’ll try to push that process along through prayer.

Practice:  Take a few moments today, and consider how who God is might fill us with a willingness to practice praying, even if we doubt ourselves and our capacity to pray (because we have a million good reasons to doubt ourselves).

January 31

Are you hurting? Pray. Do you feel great? Sing. Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven—healed inside and out.

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. Elijah, for instance, human just like us, prayed hard that it wouldn’t rain, and it didn’t—not a drop for three and a half years. Then he prayed that it would rain, and it did. The showers came and everything started growing again.

My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off. Go after them. Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God.  James 5:13-20 The Message

 

James has written a beautiful close to his letter to Christians in community.  I love how he suggests that we tell the truth about both our joy and suffering – seems to me like he is suggesting that we honestly express what’s going on inside us to our community.  He seems to encourage us to think of healing as a team event – we ask for healing, community responds, the Lord heals, restores, and sets us on our feet for a purpose.  He reassures us that even if our problem is our fault, our sin, our guilt and even our shame – no worries, he says, for forgiveness is real – inside and out.

After establishing these principles, he reminds us of the practices that support these concepts.  Confess.  Pray for each other.  Live together in health.  All this restoration and healing seems to move from celebration to rescuing (not in a naughty, codependent way).  Don’t write people off, he tells us.

I don’t know exactly what to make of the opportunity to prevent an epidemic!  But it seems to me that if we as a community could:  confess freely when we fall short in humility and freedom, knowing we are going to receive forgiveness AND commit to living kindly and decently in our homes, at work, and in our worshiping community – heck, who wouldn’t want to join in on the party?

Practice:  Maybe there is one small but sustainable action you want to commit to as a result of your time in the book of James.

Read if you want:  James 5 and Hebrews

January 30

Friends, don’t complain about each other.  A far greater complaint could be lodged against you, you know….What a gift life is to those who stay the course!  You’ve heard, of course, of Job’s staying power, and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end.  That’s because God cares, cares right down to the last detail.  James 5, selected verses

Here are some important points that James is making in his final chapter:

  • Compassion and empathy are birthed as we become willing to acknowledge all the legitimate reasons we give other people to complain about us.  Just keep that in mind.
  • Staying the course has long term pay-offs, but it isn’t easy to do so in a microwave world.  Maybe those who are experienced in staying the course can encourage newbies.  Or, if you self-assess as a newbie, find an experienced person and ask for some tips for patience.  (As an aside, I am appalled at the quick fix mentality in the world of recovery – particularly on the part of naïve family members.  True transformation isn’t instant and maybe the length of the process, although initially discouraging, when explained kindly, could turn out to be an encouragement.  People with quick fix expectations might experience some relief at knowing that what feels like slow going, is really patience and persistence in action.)
  • God is the one who brings our willingness into fruition.  This is motivated by his caring, not an insatiable desire to feed his God-ego or assuage his insecurities.   God cares, right down to the last detail.  Yay!

Practice:  Would it help to pray, “Lord, I miss details, could you help me notice all the ways you care for me, down to the smallest detail today?”

Read if you want:  James 5, Hebrews (13 chapters, maybe do this in four or five days?)

January 29

Meanwhile, friends, wait patiently for the Master’s Arrival.  You see farmers do this all the time, waiting for their valuable crops to mature, patiently letting the rain do its slow but sure work.  Be patient like that.  Stay steady and strong.  The Master could arrive at any time.  James 5:7-9 The Message

After the heaviness of realizing our own shortcomings, I appreciate the image of patient waiting for God to bring the rain.  It brings several thoughts to mind:

  • Most of the heavy lifting in life transformation is on God, not us.  There is some stuff we are supposed to do, but the outcome of the work, the results, the measuring and assessing – that’s on God.  We need to keep taking the next right step, but the journey is a God thing.

We plan the way we want to live, but only God makes us able to live it.  Proverbs 16:9 The Message

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.  Proverbs 16:9 NIV

  • I think as always, motivation is a key component to our work.  If we’re determined to take an action because we have expectations of the results, I suspect we’re missing the boat.  It’s like when we women go on diets so we can fit into a certain dress for a particular event.  What happens after the event has passed?  Most of us regain our weight.  But what if we saw our food intake as “unto the Lord”, fuel for the body so that we might run the race he has set before us?  Then, our weight is a by-product, not a goal.  This subtle shift seems to determine whether people who lose weight keep it off or bounce between the ‘ideal’ and the not quite best weight from eating in unconscious, unhealthy ways.
  • Strong and steady sounds more like a marathon than a sprint.  People who make meaningful lifestyle changes usually do so by taking small steps consistently in a certain direction.  What small steps might we take away from our month in the study of James?  What small, barely perceptible different choices could we make daily that might add up to a bumper crop a year from now?

Practice:  How about taking a few minutes and examining your own personal motivation for why you do (or do not do) certain behaviors?

Reading if you want:  James 5 and 2 Peter

January 28

13 If any of you are suffering, they should pray. If any of you are happy, they should sing. 14 If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve. 17 Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. 18 He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit.  James 5:13-18, CEB

 

I believe I’ve written about this before so I won’t belabor the point but we see here that there are various forms of prayer that we do depending on our circumstances.  Well, perhaps James simply instructs that prayer is the appropriate response to just about anything in life.  However, each prayer looks different depending on the circumstances.  We can praise when we’re happy or ask for comfort in the midst of suffering.  We can pray for wellness when we’re ill.  We should also pray for others when they are ill.

Whatever you’re dealing with in life today, take it to God in prayer.  Whether you’re suffering or happy, well or ill, seek out the giver of all good things.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

January 27

If you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for you, is evil.  James 4:17 The Message

Ouch.

Practice:  Maybe make a list of all the ‘evils’ or ‘do goods’ in James, and spend some time thinking about how you are participating in evil.  For those of us who practice a 12-step tradition, this sounds an awful lot like steps 4 and 5, right?  But in this instance, I’m suggesting it more as a way of raising our awareness of our powerlessness and unmanageable lifestyles.  If you take the time every day to bother with reading these wordy devotionals, I can only assume you are a person who wants to be a decent human being.  So, for today, see if you can become more aware of how evil is alive and well in you, and then ask the Lord, “Get down here!  I need your help!”

Reading if you want:  James 4 and finish up 2 Corinthians