Day 328: The effectiveness of prayer

Psalms 108-110; James 4
(Psalm 107 was read on Day 271)

I’m going to depart from my usual big picture approach and share a personal story which highlights only one verse from today’s reading… And that one verse is not from Psalm 110 (one of the most amazing Messianic Psalms – one in which Jesus, himself, uses to prove his divinity). Rather, I’ve chosen a verse buried in the plethora of wisdom sayings in James. So here goes…

I and my three children were involved in a horrific vehicular accident in which my middle daughter was critically injured. She was life-flighted from the scene. Upon arriving at the hospital, they immediately performed a CT scan of her body. The CT scan showed massive bleeding and swelling in her brain. Her eyes were fixed and dilated.

The neurosurgeon on call performed an emergency craniectomy in which he removed a portion of her skull and inserted an intraventricular drain – both of which were done to relieve the pressure in her brain. Once the pressure began to decrease, my daughter’s eyes became responsive to light.

She survived the surgery, barely. The surgeon informed my husband that she might not make it through the night.

That night, as my husband was lying beside her hospital bed, he awoke to see a friend, standing and praying over our daughter. It was 2am and dark in the ICU room – but there he stood, praying.

He wasn’t alone. Countless others prayed for our little girl. The church held special prayer meetings for her. They called the congregation to fast. People in our community, school and neighborhood prayed and prayed and prayed.

She made it through that first night. Then the doctor informed us that things would get worse before they got better. So many came to see her in the ICU – and each one prayed for her life.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16, NIV).

By God’s grace, our little girl survived. Did the prayers of God’s people affect the outcome? According to James, yes, because prayer is effective. Will God always answer our prayers so quickly and affirmatively as he did for my daughter? No.

Prayer is a mystery. It’s hard to reconcile the effectiveness of prayer and God’s sovereignty. Personally, I get frustrated when my prayers seem to be ineffective as I watch marriages dissolve, children abandon the faith and loved ones die. But regardless of my limited understanding, while Jesus was on earth, He commanded us to pray. And he not only commanded us to do it, he also stressed the importance of persevering in it.

My daughter survived, but she lives with a severe traumatic brain injury. I feel like I ask God over and over again to help my daughter recover. Will God answer all of my prayers this side of heaven? No, probably not. But Jesus told us to pray, so we pray.

I think He knew that in the face of seemingly unanswered prayer, we would need that extra encouragement to persevere. I believe perseverance is key. So regardless of how I feel about the effectiveness of my prayers, I ask God to help me persevere in prayer. Because somehow – in the spiritual realm – in a way that I can’t comprehend… prayer works.

Day 327: A humble response to a gracious God

Psalms 105-106; James 4

Psalms 105 & 106 are historical Psalms. Psalm 105 focuses on God’s faithfulness while Psalm 106 highlights Israel’s faithlessness. Overarching both historical accounts is the fulfillment of God’s Covenant promises to Israel (105:7-11; 106:44-45).

These two Psalms paint a beautiful picture of God’s sovereignty and grace. Listen to the psalmist’s description of God’s dealings with the patriarchs…

When they were few in number,
of little account, and sojourners in it,
wandering from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another people,
he allowed no one to oppress them;
he rebuked kings on their account,
saying, “Touch not my anointed ones,
do my prophets no harm!” (Psalm 105:12-15)

This is a God worthy of our praise…especially considering the sinfulness of humanity – so aptly described in Psalm 106 and James 4…

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? (James 1:1-4)

Who is this God that stoops to have a relationship with sinners? Why would the creator of the universe desire to have a relationship with usThe answer is mysterious and should evoke a humble gratitude – a heart willing to submit to One so powerful AND so good!

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:6-8).

Day 326: The power of the tongue

Psalms 103-104; James 3
(Psalm 102 was read on Day 228)

James warns us in Chapter 3 of the destructive power of the tongue…while today’s Psalms display the redemptive power of the tongue! These Psalms should be spoken aloud. The power of poetic praise is like a balm of truth for the poor in spirit.

Use your voice to speak the steadfast love of the Lord!

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:8-14).

Day 325: Faith and Works

Psalms 98-101; James 2

Some believe that James’ emphasis on works contradicts Paul’s teaching of justification by faith, alone (James 2:24). But when James speaks that faith without works is dead, he is speaking of a flimsy belief that even the demons share (James 2:19). Both Paul and James teach that works are an outward evidence of an inward saving faith.

If someone claims to believe in Christ, but their life shows no evidence of this belief, then there is no evidence of a saving faith. In this sense, James’ claim that “faith without works is dead” makes sense. James uses the example of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. This act revealed or “justified” the existence of Abraham’s faith as described in Hebrews 11:17-19. Without the outward act to prove his faith, Abraham’s faith was as good as dead (James 2:17).

Bottomline, our actions reveal our beliefs. To use James’ example in the beginning of Chapter 2, if we treat rich people with more kindness than the poor, we believe we have the power to judge others. If we judge others instead of showing mercy, we believe we are not in need of mercy ourselves. For better or worse, our outward actions reveal the inward state of our hearts.

What works do others see in your life? Do others see acts of mercy & compassion? I shudder to think of what others might see in me! I pray for God’s strength to not just be a hearer of his word but a “doer” as well!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture (Psalm 100:2).

Day 324: Be Doers of the Word

Psalms 95-97; James 1

The book of James was written by James the Just, the half-brother of Jesus. The book begins similarly to an epistle, but after the greeting, the rest of the book is a collection of wisdom sayings focusing on works of righteousness.

Thinking of James as a list of Christian proverbs is a helpful framework from which to read James – especially since he covers a broad range of topics throughout his book. He covers trials, temptation, poverty, blessings, anger, speech, obedience and social justice in the first chapter alone!

The main emphasis of this first chapter is for Christians to not just be hearers of the word, but doers as well (James 1:22). As we hear the word of God, our hearts are either hardened against it or softened under it. There really is no middle-ground… Our response to God (even on a daily basis) is either humble repentance and faith or a hardness of heart that leads to self-will. James is pleading with Christians who are experiencing great poverty and persecution to trust in the almighty God and submit themselves to His authority by acting in obedience to His word.

For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness (Psalm 95:7-8).

How will you respond to Him today? With indifference or defiance? Or with humble dependence and obedience? 

But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing (James 1:25).