“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 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 of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”
James 5:13-15 ESV
How do you respond to trials in your life? In other words, what do you do when things aren’t as they should be? When you or someone you love is hurting and broken? This may be a surprise to many, but the life of a Christian is not without its sufferings. Whether it be physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, every person experiences some sort of sickness or trial at some point. James assumes that in this scripture, but what he’s ultimately trying to get people to understand is that what really matters is how you respond to your sufferings.
how should we respond?
The answer is brutally simple: prayer. Some of you may have just mentally checked out, because you’ve heard that prayer is the answer about a thousand times. For others, this might be the first time you’ve ever considered having an active response to suffering. Regardless of where you are in life, I want you to know that your circumstances should not rule your life. What I mean by that is this: just because you’ve been sick for years, or you’re hurting because people have rejected you or you’ve been dealing with a sin for so long that you think there’s no way out doesn’t mean that has to be the normal for you. James is saying that if anyone is suffering or sick, they should pray for deliverance from their situation. Furthermore, we are to “call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over [you] anointing [you] with oil in the name of the Lord.” Calling for the elders simply means to call for other wise, mature, faith-filled Christians in the church to pray OVER you. What does praying OVER you even mean? Think of what it’s like to throw a blanket OVER someone. They’re completely covered. We are to pray OVER those who are suffering so that they are COVERED with prayers. God is so attracted to those whom we call His attention to. He can’t resist coming to be with those who are covered in fragrant (faith-filled) prayers. When James says to anoint those who are suffering and sick with oil in the name of the Lord, he’s saying that when you’re covered in prayer you’re marked (anointed) by the promise of the Holy Spirit to come and heal you.
what happens when we respond?
The scripture says that “the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” The operative word here is save. In Greek, this word is sozo which means to make well, restore to wholeness, to heal. This means that when a person is covered in these faith-filled prayers, God’s desire is to restore and heal. We can never understand the timing of God’s response to these prayers, but we can always bank on the faithfulness of God by trusting that He hears us and desires to heal in His timing. James also emphasizes that it is the Lord, not our prayers, who raises up those who are suffering. Images of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44) come to mind here. Jesus sees sickness, suffering and death, and in His power and goodness He responds to those who call on His name.
The last sentence of these verses is a bit of a curveball. “And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” So does this mean that those who are sick or suffering have inherently committed sin? No, not quite. In order to understand this last sentence, we really have to hone in on the Greek word sozo again. James is saying that when a person prays with faith, God responds in such a way that not only will He heal someone emotionally, mentally and physically, but He desires to root out and save them from the sin issue, if there is one, that has caused this turmoil in a person’s life. Think of addictions. Whether it be an addiction to pornography or social media, God isn’t hoping to only help someone stop looking at a screen so it doesn’t consumer all their time. He’s wanting to help you stop looking at a screen AND dig deep down into your soul to save you from seeking intimacy in all the wrong places. That’s what God does. You give Him all your problems and suffering, and He gives you Himself.
We declare that you are the one who raises us out of suffering and sickness. We ask that you would give us the courage to ask those around us to pray for us in faith. We thank you that you are a loving Father heals. We invite you to come and heal the wounds in our souls and empower us to do the same for others.