It is not an easy thing to discern where a given soul is headed. The elders of the local church are called with the task of determining the credibility of the professions of those under their care. Because we are all sinners, the presence of sin in a man’s life does not answer the question. Because we all profess Christ, the theological accuracy of ones grasp of the gospel does not answer the question. It is a sticky business indeed.
In our day we, as with every other day, suffer from syncretism, the blending together of the worship of the living God with the worship of the spirit of the age. There are many who profess the name of Christ, who in turn lie like, think like, feel like, hunger like their unbelieving neighbors. Will these prove to be skin-of-their-teeth Christians, or will they prove to be wolves amidst the flock?
Though by no means a cure-all for this challenge, one unexpected test may be found amidst the surfeit of wisdom found in James 5. Who are your friends? When you find yourself in need of aid, to whom do you turn? James tells us, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (verse 16). Now this certainly could be understood as yet another call to righteousness. Do you want your prayers to be effective, to avail much? Pursue righteousness.
That, however, has not been my perspective of late. In this great time of need that the Sproul family finds themselves in, I find myself giving thanks not only for my friends, but for the righteousness of my friends. I am forced to confess my own weakness as a righteous man. I am, however, blessed to confess that I have been blessed with righteous friends. We not only have, literally, thousands praying for us, but we have godly men and women praying for us. As I type my eldest is on the phone with Beall Phillips, a saintly woman and longtime friend of the family. Her prayers, according to James, availeth much, as do the prayers of her husband and children, all of whom manifest the righteousness of Christ in their loyal love to my family.
On my computer, as I type, the music of Nathan Clark George is playing. He too, along with his wife Patsy, are godly, and prayerful for me and mine. My mother, my father, my sister, the Steiman family, the Deweys, Windhams, Murphys, Hays, and dozens more families at Saint Peter Presbyterian in Virginia are praying prayers that availeth much. The saints at Saint Andrews here in Orlando, the saints at Heritage Covenant in Centreville, Tennessee, all of these are not just praying, but praying with power.
My desire here, however, is not merely to give thanks, but to encourage us all to pursue godly friends. Those who make friends with the world have only the world to pray for them. Those who love the saints, on the other hand, have those covered by the righteousness of Christ Himself praying on their behalf.
As the Sprouls move into what we expect to be the most difficult days of our lives, we know not only that we are not alone, not only that we are joined by thousands of pray-ers, but that we have righteous men and women lifting us up to and through the one Righteous Man, whose prayers are not for health and comfort, but that we would be conformed to His image. And His prayers availeth everything.