September 26, 2021
“Your Brain on Prayer” - James 5.13-20
Pastor Jacqueline Hines
This is the final Sunday of our September Season of Spiritual Renewal. We were reminded by Rev. Carolyn Cavaness to “Be Open” to God. Minister Ari Hauben called us to “Draw Near” to God. Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm declared to us that “Where Revival Begins” is with each and every one of us. Today, you will hear from the book of James that prayer makes the difference. Prayer changes things and it changes us for the better.
The church has not changed. We still
need to encourage each other. That’s why Bethel has a monthly News Letter.
United Methodist District Superintendents and Bishops also write letters to
pastors and churches to encourage us and remind us that God is able, especially
when there are political and spiritual issues on our hearts. United Methodist
Bishops from Africa to Argentina and other denominations too, I am sure,
With much care and consideration, James writes to the Church, even to us in the church today he writes with these sensitive words that remind us of a path that leads to peace and righteousness: In his letter James asks the question -
13 Is anyone among you in trouble? What a loaded question. Is anyone among you in trouble????
The 116, 000 persons evacuated from Afghanistan and the families of the 13 heroes whose lives were sacrificed know about trouble. Don’t they? Friends and family suffering from addictions or generational curses of poverty and promiscuity know about trouble, don’t we? Those impacted by earthquakes in Haiti and Hurricane Ida in New Orleans, the worst Hurricane in US history, 16 years to the day of Katrina, billions of dollars of damage and countless homeless and unspeakably heart wrenching situations – know about trouble. God knows. One trouble may not be as urgent as another’s. Whether big troubles or little troubles, all of us have had trouble. It’s part of being human. The good news is - God is with us every time trouble comes. God is with us to make us stronger or to remind us who is in charge. God is with us. How wonderful is that!
There is a gospel songs that helps us in times of trouble. It says. “…trouble in my way…got to cry sometime. Jesus will fix it, after a while. “The line - You got to cry sometime” stands out. There was an article from Crystal Caviness of United Methodist Communications entitled “Jesus Wept, So Should We.”*
She mentions that the human body produces three types of tears: basal, reflex and emotional [or as I learned once, tears can come from the eyes, the chest or from the depths of the stomach.] Basal tears keep our eyes lubricated, reflex tears are a reaction to irritants, such as onion chopping or smoke, and emotional tears are associated with emotions ranging from extreme happiness to stress, anger, pain and sadness. She says emotional tears can be held back and stopped, but that’s not true of basal tears that keep our eyes moist and reflex tears that may come with allergies.
It's the emotional tears that also release endorphins, those good chemicals that help ease both physical and emotional pain. When we try to keep ourselves from crying in an effort to be strong and when we wipe away our tears in shame, there may be a part of us that is hindering our healing and grieving process. There may be a part of us that is not wanting to be held in the arms of God. When we fight back those healing tears, there may be a part of us that is pushing God away. It’s something to think about, isn’t it? Trouble in our way…you got to cry sometime.
Pastor Adam Hamilton tells the story of how he worked as a teenager at a drive through in a fast food restaurant. His girlfriend Kathy drove up to the window and broke up with him. She did not order anything, she just announced “I don’t want to date you anymore” and drove off. Of course, he was devastated and asked the boss if he could take a ten minute break. He went into the employee lounge and began to cry. He could not hold back the tears. Within a few minutes Tim a coworker came in and held him as he cried. Needless to say that was a very powerful moment that helped him to endure and grow emotionally and spiritually.
In verse 13, James’ answer to our troubles says, “Let those who
are in trouble – do what?– “Let them pray.” That is the first thing James says.
Pray. Whenever we
We have seen the commercial that shows an egg frying fast on top of a car hood that has been baking in the sun. As the egg bubbles, a voice announces: “This is your brain on crack.” Well, it seems researchers have taken a look at the brain and offer us a scan of the brain that is peaceful and calm. They can announce: “This is your brain on prayer.”
Prayer changes us. James, the brother of Jesus is encouraging us to pray when we are in trouble. Praying does not guarantee a certain result, but those researching the power of prayer show that prayer is a good thing. Dr. Randolph Byrd a cardiologist at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine conducted a study in 1988. Data on about 400 patients showed that half were prayed for, not at their bedside, but at a distance. They did not know someone was assigned to pray for them. Those patients required less ventilator assistance, fewer antibiotics and diuretics, and had less pneumonia than the group that was not prayed.
Trouble aside, James the brother of Jesus goes on to ask, “Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” Music soothes and comforts us in wonderful ways. Music is a powerful way to celebrate the great things we have done by the power of God and it inspires us to connect to God and do the great things God has in store for us to do.
Songs of praise to God take us to higher heights and deeper depths
in our relationship to God and to one another. Psychologists have advised that
relationships become strong when we share 9 affirming words for every critical
word that we share with someone. It goes along with the saying that people
don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. A famous Maya Angelou quote resonates as well. She said
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what
you did, but people will never
Scott McDermott, a United Methodist minister, serving Washington Crossing UMC has prayed at least two hours a day for the past 25 years. He notes "I think we're wired for the supernatural." I agree. The children of God are wired for the supernatural. Our September season of spiritual renewal is a time to see and hear God close up. There may be something supernatural ahead of us.
James, the brother of Jesus goes on to ask in verse 14 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.
Answers can be complex. Sociologist Charles Perrow notes –“We don't understand the consequences that our prayers, if answered, might generate.” When we pray for our favorite team to win, or for someone to be healed instead of go to Heaven, we can’t know all the details of all the results. Whatever disappointment and suffering we endure after praying leads us to endurance. We grow stronger and learn critical lessons when we endure by God’s grace. Endurance builds character. And we all appreciate people with great character, especially in the church.
We might think that we have no time to invest in all that prayer requires of us, but in reality, no one has any time to pray. We have to take time from other valuable activities in life in order to pray. Prayer becomes a priority if we want more of God’s goodness in our lives. A life without prayer is a life full of unnecessary risks. We can believe that the enemy is praying, the witches and warlocks are praying their prayers of hexes and curses on Christians. We had better pray, too.
*Crystal Cavaness works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications August 26, 2021.