March 29th Virtual Service and Pastor Cheol’s Sermon: Do not panic, but pray in times of suffering

Please join us for our March 29th Virtual Worship Service!  You can reach the service on YouTube by clicking the following link:

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Sermon Message

March 29, 2020 [Purple] Fifth Sunday in Lent
James 5:13-18

Do not panic but pray in the time of suffering

Out of our control

Ever since the coronavirus was announced as a pandemic, fear has been rising all around the world. Just a few weeks ago, all the schools were closed and churches had to cancel their services. Then last week, we got a strict order from the governor stating that all of the nonessential businesses must be closed and we must stay home for the whole week. Last week was probably the worst week in our history. But I have heard that following weeks will be much worse, and that this horrible situation will continue for months. Lots of people shouted in panic, “I have never experienced these things in my life.”

From time to time we find ourselves in the middle of a crisis. Whatever it is that happens, if it is out of our control, we begin to be afraid and panic. And this coronavirus is something that is out of our control. Have you ever asked anyone how they’re doing, and they responded, “I’m doing okay under the circumstances!” You know there are things simply out of our control. Think about the weather. Whether you like today’s weather or not, you have to live with it. You can’t control your circumstances at work. You can’t control your neighbor’s lifestyles. You can’t even control your own kids, right? There are so many things we can’t control by our power. It is just because we are human beings. Maybe, we have to set aside our worry and just entrust this coronavirus to God as we know God is the only one who can control all things that happen.
The power of praying together

Anyway, I am just like you guys. When things are not in my control, I feel agitated in my heart. Along with you, I am so upset that I can’t see you guys and worship God in our church. “O Lord, didn’t you call me to serve your people and worship you with them as their pastor or friend? But how can I do my job unless we can come together? How can I comfort your people from anxiety and strengthen their faith? What can I do at this challenging time?” These are the questions I have been struggling over the past week… With my anxious heart, I come to the church, kneel down to pray, and lift up all your names. I feel so powerless because there is nothing I can do only except pray. One day when I prayed to God as usual, however, He inspired me with bible verse from the book of James: “Are any among you suffering? You should pray.” (v. 13).

When I talked with you on the phone last week, just checking on how you are doing, I came to realize that my questions are yours as well. Each of you asked me “How are you doing? How is your mom doing? How are our sisters and brothers doing?” Of course, you guys are also God’s servants, and as God’s servants you want to take care of people in suffering, right? Just like me, you are struggling with questions like “What can I do in this time of suffering?” To help answer your questions, let me share with you my inspiration and ask you to pray with me. “Are any among you suffering? Let us pray!”

In today’s passage, James calls us to pray for healing when we are suffering: “Are any among you suffering? Are any among you sick? [you should pray!”] (vv. 13-14). But if we read it carefully, we realize that his instruction is not an individual prayer but a communal prayer, which means praying all together for those in suffering.

If my sense is right, however, most people are not good at sharing their vulnerability with others. If they happen to suffer from illness, their first reaction is to try to handle it on their own. But that is not God’s will for the body of Christ. Instead, James instructs us to call the elders or leaders of the community, bring other members together, confess our sins to one another, and to pray for one another, so that we may be healed (vv. 14-16). He really says when we pray together, healing grace will be given to us.

Yes, we believe God hears our prayer and prayer changes things! But we also know sometimes that’s not true. Maybe there have been times when you prayed and nothing seemed to happen. Even faithful people can become terribly sick and die although they pray for God’s healing. How do we reconcile this reality with the promises of God’s healing in this passage?

Perhaps the healing James mentions is not just about physical healing. If it is only for physical healing, he should recommend that we take the sick to a physician. Perhaps praying together for the sick goes deeper than the physical condition. If you know someone is praying for you, you may feel your heart, your emotion, your spirit is touched by God’s hands, and you may get assurance that you had partners for the journey ahead.

Prayer is not only about our pleas to God. Rather it builds a relationship. It brings us companionship. It connects us with God and one another. Indeed, James calls us to pray together, sing songs of praise together, call for the elders and members together, confesses our sins to one another. These are all about relationships, companionship, and loving and living together as a family. Even if we suffer for a while, we can quickly overcome it because there is always grace and power when we share things together as a family.

Friends, I haven’t seen you for the past two weeks. Yet I feel much closer to you than ever before. I believe it is because I keep you all in my prayers every day. In today’s passage, James instructs us to ask the elders of the church to pray for the sick (v. 14). I want to let you know I am in prayer for you, my family. I pray for God’s protection for your lives, your family, and your workplaces. But friends, a pastor is not the only one who is called to pray for the church family. Each one of us is called to pray for one another, that we may have God’s healing grace (v. 16). And I know you have kept me and all of us in your prayers. We must not let anyone among us suffer alone. We as a family in God should reach out to each other in prayer.

With this spirit of our family-ship in God, let us look around our world. Just as the church is the body of God, this earth is the body of God. Just as all the members of this church are our family, all human races living on the earth are our family in God. Today our world has been shaken and threatened by the power of the coronavirus, and we have to see millions of people who are suffering. We feel broken-hearted because we know they are also God’s children and our brothers and sisters in God. What can we do in this time of challenge? We should take this global disaster as ours and pray for God’s salvation for our world.
The power of prayer

We must never underestimate the power of prayer. God answers our requests for help exactly as we ask, but sometimes not. Either way, the Bible calls us to be faithful in prayer. Ephesians 6:18 teaches us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” In James, we hear that “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly… that the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.” (vv. 17-18). Was there magic in his prayer? No, prayer is not about magic. It is about moving God to take action. James even says in today’s passage that it is more powerful and effective to pray all together than pray alone.

Our world is suffering and many people among us are suffering. What can we do? In the midst of this challenging time, let us stop panicking but pray for one another, pray for those who are suffering, pray for those who fight on the front lines, pray for our leadership and pray for our wounded world. The Bible says that “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” (v. 16). Amen. —— =