June 12, 2022
Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. 14Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: 15And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he has committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. 16Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
For the average American, these are difficult times. Certainly, other countries are experiencing much the same, and worse. James was acutely familiar with trying times, losing his life to persecutors not long after this letter.
I have heard some ask “why pray” when going through troubles. They infer that action is required, and even that prayer is useless. First century Christians are far more dependable witnesses when it comes to overcoming in the worst of turmoil, those that threaten life itself.
Speaking from his own experiences, James encourages us to pray when we are beset by trying times. In these times we learn that Christ’s Holy Spirit within us is indeed a great Comforter. That comfort can come in various ways, from filling us with peace even in the worst of times, to even providing miraculous intervention just when we need it most. Prayer directly links us to God Himself, enabling His intervention.
James also reminds us to keep that relationship alive, even in the good times by praising God for his good favor. You know we are all guilty of crying out to God when things are tough, then pretty much ignoring Him when all is well. Sometimes we’re that way to each other as well! Failing to be thankful breaks relationships. Sure, God loves us, but that causes the break to be all the more grievous for Him. Then, when trials come around again, we start with a deficit we must overcome.
James isn’t finished! Next, he tells us that when we are sick to call the elders of the church to come and pray for us while anointing us with oil -a sign of health and prosperity. Why anoint with oil while still sick? It was considered an act of faith, similar to Joel 3:10s “let the weak say, ‘I am strong'”.
For us it means to begin trying act and do as though we were not sick at all. Of course, there are limitations to this. First, we cannot act beyond what we believe. At the same time we cannot end treatments prescribed by our doctors unless our doctor says we no longer need them. As the saying goes, there’s a fine line between faith and foolishness. We must exercise some wisdom to ensure we do not cross that line!
James also wants us to understand that it is God who heals and strengthens us, not our own actions, medicines or doctors. How often have we heard of some miracle drug, rather than our miracle working God?
He also addresses the fact that some illnesses or trials come as a result of our own sinful lifestyle. In such cases it is not sufficient to provide healing unless the root cause is dealt with.
Because we do not see the number of miracles seen during the time of the disciples, many have decided that these things have ceased. Generally, they believe God may decide to perform a miracle today, but the work of the Holy Spirit through individuals ended with the last of the disciples. How do they reach that conclusion? I’m concerned that it may be through arrogance, since there are no verses in the Bible that supports such a belief. They look at the physical evidence and, since they are just as righteous in their thoughts and deeds as the disciples, they decide it’s God who changed.
James sums up this section by saying “the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous avails much”. He goes on to compare us to Elijah saying he’s no different than us. (James 5:17-18 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.)
God’s promises are not temporary. He does not selectively continue some while halting others. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Our task is to do as James prescribes and keep praying our way through the bad times and praise God during the good.