“Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to 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).
Quote rock band, R.E.M., “Everybody hurts.” Not deep, but true. Pain and suffering are part of life in this fallen world, but they do serve a purpose beyond just reminding us of the consequence of sin. According to James: “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray.” Suffering drives us to the throne of God’s grace in Christ. The suffering Christian is not an orphan, even though it might feel like it at times. Instead, pain quickly brings us to the end of ourselves and shows how much we truly need Christ.
Sometimes, especially when things are going our way, we can get the idea that we sustain the universe. Then, when opposition, struggles, or just pure, raw pain comes along, we realize how frail we really are. At the same time, for those who love Jesus, anyway, the sufficiency of His grace becomes abundantly real.
Now, James didn’t promise a quick-fix for every traffic jam or a miracle cure for every stubbed toe. Rather, he told us to pray. We’re to commune with God about everything. We’re to draw near to Him to find grace to help in time of need. God doesn’t guarantee that He’ll snatch us conveniently out of the jaws of death, but He promises to see us through our sufferings.
When we’re cheerful, James tells us to sing praises. Singing that involves more than our mouths or the words. It expresses our hearts. When a Christian sings out in heartfelt worship, God smiles. He delights in the genuine praises of His children. I wonder if the reason Paul and Silas could sing so boldly in the Philippian jail after suffering so unjustly was that they had become so accustomed to expressing their love for God in song that it had become second nature to them.
When we’re sick, James says we’re to call for the elders of the church. In fact, he says so rather emphatically: “He must call for the elders of the church” (emphasis mine). Here’s a case for having a plurality of elders. Unless the church is extremely small, it’d be impossible for a solo pastor to keep up with his church in such matters. Having a team of elders to divide the responsibilities, would multiply the church’s ministry resources and encourage numerical and spiritual growth.
The elders of the church are to engage in intercessory prayer for ailing members. They’re to pray fervently and specifically for the sick, even anointing them with oil. Oil seems to have symbolized the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. It had no magical properties. Some people use it today, but we must never let our symbols and rituals supplant the reality of the Holy Spirit. The elders are to call upon the Spirit of Christ with boldness and humility befitting their office, to intercede on behalf of the ill person, seeking mercy and favor.
I’ve heard some people exclaim, when the elders prayed but the person wasn’t healed, that he or she lacked the faith to receive their healing. Such an attitude belies the real fault. James said that “the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick,” but whose prayer and whose faith is he talking about? Well, the one praying, of course. And who’s that? The elders!
James placed the burden of faith squarely on the elders’ shoulders. Now, we don’t make God do what we tell Him. Faith responds to what God has said. Someone wisely said that if you don’t know what God is telling you to do next, go back to what He clearly told you last and wait until He clarifies the next step for you.
Again, James hasn’t given us a formula to make all our ills and ailments go away. He has told us how we’re to minister to one another in the body of Christ and how we’re to turn to God in good times and bad.
I pray that the Lord will show you His grace in the midst of your pain as well as your joys.