James does not limit prayer to suffering. Definitely, definitely, when we suffer, we have to pray. But we also pray when things are going great. Those prayers may sound pretty different, but we have to be conversant with God in good times and bad.
Think about it. If it’s true like we said last week, that God’s Covenant with us is like that of a marriage relationship…it doesn’t take much to understand that we talk to God all the time. Just like you talk to your spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend, or even just your best friend all the time.
So prayer is something for all seasons.
The conversations during good times are pretty restful. They can be playful. They can be about hopes and dreams and they can be full of gratitude and statements of absolute adoration. Or, they can be about nothing at all…and even those are good.
But when we do suffer.
When things are awful
We lean extra hard on the one with whom we are in love.
And even that can be full of gratitude
Even when the one we love doesn’t speak…but just listens
And holds us
And whispers, “you can’t see how it’s all going to work out right now…but I’m with you as we go through this”
And you’re just grateful for his or her presence.
The Catechism says that we pray to God because it is the most important part of showing our thankfulness to God. But it says something really interesting right after that. Because you would think the next sentence would be something like, “So when you pray, make sure it’s all about thanking God from saving your lousy soul from hell and damnation.”
But it doesn’t say that
It talks about groaning
It says that God has given us grace
God has given us God’s Holy Spirit
And our expression of gratitude is potent
in moments of groaning inwardly for these gifts.
Prayer is so crucial to our showing of gratitude to God
That God accepts it as gratitude even when we are groaning out
What the world is going on
I need grace!
Come on God!
What about those close to us who get sick for no apparent reason and no matter how hard we pray from the heart for physical healing…still die?
Sometimes we don’t get the answer we want.
And it’s awful
In our own community we have people who have buried brothers, fathers, and friends way earlier than seems right.
And we hate it.
Why God? Don’t you care about this pain? Did you have to have my brother all to yourself in heaven right now? I mean, you’ve got all eternity to be with him…and now I have be down here without him for decades.
Sometimes when we sit on the couch next to our spouse, our spouse doesn’t give answers. Sometimes all the spouse can say is, “I am with you and you are not going to go through this hell alone.”
When your spouse does that, our hearts still hurt like crazy, but we take some kind of comfort in her presence.
The truth is God doesn’t always flip on the light switch and give us all the reasons why this person had to die. Or why this ailment you’ve suffered with for years sticks with you.
But the prayer of faith James is talking about is really all about humbling ourselves to God. And sometimes that is going to mean trusting God when sickness takes life. Sometimes that means we’re just going to have to let God hold us on the couch while we weep.
God doesn’t take sickness and death lightly
Psalm 116 says, “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of one of his holy ones.”
That doesn’t mean God relishes death
It means that death troubles God as well
And God takes death seriously.
That’s why God pledges to save
And raise people up
Raise people up to the life of eternity with God.
That’s where we can rest in faith
That God isn’t forgetting the ones we love who are sick and dying
God is right in the room, preparing everything for an eternity where sickness and death are no more.
But it still hurts like hell.
It still seems like a bunch of needless pain.
And I’m not going to sit here and tell you that considering God’s grand plan of reconciliation for all things will make you hurt less
But I will tell you it means you do not hurt alone
You are not alone
You are a child of the God who wants you to talk to him.
Even if your words need to be “Why are you doing this to us?”
And sometimes our words are going to simply be
I believe…oh God help my unbelief.
And then we have to let God hold us.
It’s a big deal that James ends his letter this way.
Because after all of the tough talk against the rich
And after all the tough talk about envy and arrogance
and the urging he does to look only to God
James gives us the “here’s why you look only to God.”
Because when the struggle of life brings the kind of pain that threatens to swallow you up and obliterate your spirit
God is present
Jesus is right here.
Saying, yes, I know your pain is so potent you can taste it on your tongue
But I’m with you as you walk through these difficult rivers
I’m not going to let the flames of pain burn you up
Because I’m your Savior. I’m your lover
No matter what…I redeem you
You are not alone
I’ve called you by name
You are mine.