Let Him Pray
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? 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; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.
~ James 5:13-15
Prayer is the Christian's greatest but most frequently ignored privilege. The creator and sustainer of the universe has granted each of His children direct access to bring their burdens, their hopes, their fears, their plans, and their desires to Him. Jesus the Son of God can sympathize with our weaknesses, because He has been “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).
Over and over in Scripture, the Lord urges us to draw near to Him, but for various reasons, we are often too reluctant to avail ourselves of this open invitation. For many of us, the idea of watching an hour of television seems routine, but the thought of an hour of prayer seems extraordinary, even sacrificial. This would not be so if we recognized the profound benefits of open communication with the God of grace.
One of the benefits of prayer is the stability it provides in the midst of the vacillating circumstances of life. James exhorts us to turn to the Lord not only during times of sorrow, but also during times of success. “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises” (Jas. 5:13). When we experience emptiness, distress, and affliction we should cast all our anxieties upon God, knowing that He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). When we experience joyfulness and cheer, James tells us to channel part of our exuberance in the form of thanksgiving and praise to God. The verb translated “let him sing praises” is also used in Romans 15:9 (“I will sing to Thy name”), 1 Corinthians 14:15 (“I shall sing with the spirit”), and Ephesians 5:19 (“singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord”). Music enhances individual and corporate worship because of the way it prepares the heart and helps us express our emotions to the Lord.
Sickness is another circumstance that calls for prayer. “Is anyone among you sick? 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” (Jas. 5:14). The word translated “sick” in this verse speaks of the weak condition caused by an illness. In verse 15, James uses a different word that means “to grow weary.” The person in mind is weakened and weary due to a sickness, but there is no indication that he is at death's door. James tells us that during times of serious illness, it is good to ask representatives of the church to come and pray for the restoration of the one who is sick. The “elders of the church” are spiritual leaders who have a close walk with the Lord, and the act of anointing with oil symbolizes the healing effects of prayer and enhances faith, especially since it is done in the name of the Lord. It is not the oil but the Lord who does the healing.
This passage does not teach that it is wrong to seek medical help. It is erroneous to teach that seeing a doctor indicates a lack of faith. We are dealing with a both/and rather than an either/or, since God can work through both prayer and medicine.
Whether we are cheerful or sorrowful, healthy or sick, God wants us to draw near to Him. In any and every circumstance, we can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:12-13).
Lord, imprint the power of prayer on my heart. Amen.
~ Ken Boa