Why is our post-modern Christianity more defined by being “losers” than being “more than conquerors”? A family in the Gaza Strip city of Rafah made news when they bought two lion cubs from a local zoo, keeping these unusual pets in their home. The 2-1/2-month-old cubs now play with Saed Eldin al-Jamal’s grandchildren at his home and already eat about 1 pound of meat a day. Al-Jamal said Saturday that he knew the cubs eventually will become dangerous. He said: “In one month, they will start being kept in a cage for our own safety.”
Why are we so flippant with spiritual things and so flirtatious with the carnal things? The answer-WE ARE NOT ALLOWING THE DISCIPLINE OF PRAYER TO REFINE OUR FAITHFULNESS TO GOD!
In James 4, prayer defeats our three enemies:
- Be faithful to conquer the flesh.
James 4:1-3 “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”
The flesh is human nature apart from God.
The appearance of conflict among the followers of Jesus stirred James to intense indignation. The severity of his tone in this section is accented by the absence of the words “my brothers,” which James used so frequently in other parts of the letter. He revealed the cause of conflict-carnal prayerlessness. If we are not properly talking to God, we are improperly talking at and about each other!
The correct way for Christians to have their legitimate needs met is by asking God. One reason a believer does not receive what he asks for is that he asks with wrong motives (lit., “evilly” or “amiss,” kakōs). The verb ask is in the middle voice, meaning, “ask for yourself.” The purpose clause that follows further clarifies, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. “Spend” could be translated “squander.” It not outright rebellion but selfish independence that leads to immorality!
On author observed, “It is strange that, while praying, we seldom ask for change of character, but always a change in circumstance.” As the Christ faced the cross, He instructed His disciples, Mt 26:41 “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt. 26:41). Prayer alone brings a complete, pure dependence upon God’s soothing and stabilizing peace.
- Be faithful to conquer the world.
James 4:4-5 “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?”
The world is human society apart from God.
A recent trend in the sporting world is what is called “Foot Golf” which is now available on 225 courses in the United States alone. It involves playing on a golf course with soccer ball and a 21 inch hole. In like fashion, a prayerless believer falsely believes they can “have it both ways” and don’t have to pick a side between God and this world!
Wow! Adultery? That is strong language. Spiritual adultery is being married to Christ (Rom. 7:4) yet loving the world. In the OT, God called Israel’s idolatry ‘adultery’ because the idols had robbed Him of the people’s devotion. Sanctified prayer alone protects us from this moral failure.
It is striking to me that in life of Daniel, Babylonian and Persian kings came and went but prayer kept him loyal to God (Daniel 1:8; 2:27-28; 6:10-11, 21-23, 25-27). Prayer alone brings God’s refining loyalty.
- Be faithful to conquer the devil.
James 4:6-7 “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
The devil is human worship apart from God.
Warren Wiersbe writes, “Christians who live for the world and the flesh become proud, and the devil takes advantage of this situation, for pride is one of his chief tools. God wants to give us more grace—more than anything Satan can give! The Christian must use the Word to resist Satan (Luke 4:1–13), and this the Spirit will enable him to do. But God cannot help the Christian who is proud, who refuses to repent of sin and humble himself. Grace is for the lowly, not the lofty. We must first submit to God; then we can effectively resist the devil.” God-honoring prayer and human pride cannot be in the same place!
As you probably know by now, Dearborn, Michigan currently has the largest single concentration of Arab Muslims in North America. There are tens of thousands of Arab Muslims from Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq living in East Dearborn, making up almost 1/3 of the population. In some districts it is common to see store signs and billboards written in Arabic. The Islamic Centre of America in Dearborn is the largest mosque in the US. Dearborn is one of the few places in the US where one can actually hear the call to prayer publicly over a loudspeaker. The answer to these false religions that promote worship without the one, true God is ONLY PRAYER to that one true God!
After Christ learns of his disciples unsuccessfully trying to cast out a demon, how does He respond? “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Mt. 17:21). Without vibrant prayer, the devil always wins.
According to James MacDonald, “The reason God responds to persistence in prayer is because prayer is changing the one who prays. As we pray, God is making us spiritually fit to receive what He is already willing to do. Prayer changes us into the people who can participate in the greater work of God without being spoiled by it through pride or becoming discouraged by the increased weight of greater fruitfulness.” (MacDonald) Prayer alone brings our humility and God’s grace to conquer these three primary enemies!
Note the earlier warning in James 3:15, “This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” If you are overwhelmed or intimidated, remember prayer enables us to stay faithful in the face of battling the “wise” world, the flesh, and the devil!
As you examine your life, the blunt truth is any of these enemies defeating you indicates a weak or nonexistent prayer life! Change the trend of the battle with intentional, sincere prayer. Schedule it. Treasure it. Persevere in it. Enlist others in the we-will-win army of it.
This is an excerpt from the sermon Upward Prayer.