THAT YOU MAY BE HEALED…
Bro. Mathew Paul, Coimbatore
In this passage from vs13 onwards, James is talking about three kinds of prayers: 1) Individual prayer
2) Prayer by the church
3) Prayer for one another
We will try to briefly look at each of them in this article.
1. Individual prayer
“Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray” (Js.5:13). This verse speaks about individual prayer. In this verse prayer is recommended for the one who suffers. Does this verse mean that only those who suffer need to pray? One principle of Bible interpretation is that no verse of Scripture should be taken in isolation and be interpreted thus. Each verse must be understood only in its context. There is the immediate context where that text is found and there is the wider context of the Scripture itself. Here the immediate context is the sufferings of Job in the previous verses. That does not add any thing to the meaning of the text. The immediate context strengthens what the text says: when some one suffers instead of murmuring or complaining, he/she must pray.
But the wider context of the Scriptural teaching on prayer is not merely that only those who suffer must pray. See what our Lord says in Lk.18:1 “…that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” This is clearly the Scriptural teaching. Men ought to pray always. Pray without ceasing (1Thes.1:17), Devote yourself to prayer (Col.4:2) etc. are clear commands of the Scripture. No one reading the Scripture can escape such references to prayer.
Why is there such an emphasis on prayer in the Scripture? I see two unavoidable reasons for such instructions. The first reason is that man is basically a dependent being. Physically we depend heavily on the air that we breathe and the food we eat. No one can imagine physical life without depending on them. Likewise we depend a lot on people around us. Imagine an individual in total isolation. What kind of dress is he going to wear? What kind of food is he going to eat? What kind of house is he going to live in if he was all alone in this world? People around us make our lives so easy and we all depend on the society that we live in. This is not only true for our physical existence, but also for our mental well being. We need the moral support of people around us to make our lives happy. If there is no moral support from any one around, our lives will become all the more difficult. Then we all know that man is not merely body and soul. Man has a spirit and that spirit in man craves for the Infinite Spirit who is God. Man can ultimately be satisfied only by totally depending on God for His spiritual survival. Without this dependence on God, man would be left alone and he would be a ‘cave-dweller’ spiritually. So for his spiritual well being, man ought to depend on God in prayer regularly.
Another clear and simple reason as to why men should pray is clearly spelt out in Scripture when it says, “Ask and you shall receive” (Mt.7:7); “…you have not, because you ask not…” (Jas.4:2). From these and other verses it is clear that God does not interfere in our lives without our asking for it. Based on the Scripture we can categorically say that God does not, God will not, yes indeed, God cannot work in our lives without our prayer. That sentence may sound a little harsh; but I strongly believe that it is true. Can God save a person who does not want to repent and call upon His name in faith? No; it is not possible according to the Bible. So prayer is a must if the Lord must work in our lives.
Men ought to pray always. That is what the Bible teaches. Failing which, men should pray at least when sufferings come. In other words, sufferings are occasions when God is prompting us to pray. God is calling us to pray by the sufferings that He sends in our lives. “Call upon me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you and you will glorify me” (Ps.50:15). Troubles and sufferings are occasions when God gives us an opportunity when He would specially work for us. So let us learn to pray when sufferings come. Tragically many believers begin to murmur and then begin to doubt the goodness of God when sufferings come. When we react that way, we are losing the opportunity of a mighty work of God in our lives.
The verb used in this verse is present imperative. That gives us the idea that prayer must be the continual attitude of our lives. It can very well be translated, “be praying” as found in the Analytical Literal Translation. Yes, the Bible expects every believer to have the habit of prayer. Continue steadfastly in prayer (Eph.6:18). Let us develop an attitude of prayer whether we are suffering or not. Let us pray especially when sufferings come.
The biographical sketch of the famous hymn-writer Joseph Scriven who wrote, “What a friend we have in Jesus”, tells us that prayer does not necessarily eliminate all troubles from our lives; but prayer can transform burdens into blessings and that in suffering a child of God can truly sing. That’s why James says in the same verse, “If any one cheerful, let him sing praises”. Indeed, prayer can change every suffering situation into a cheerful one!
2. Prayer by the church
V.14 talks about praying as a church. “Is any one among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church…” I think this is a much misunderstood text in the Bible. Based on this text there are ‘healers’ who go around selling the so called ‘anointed oil’ to poor patients in churches and make money out of it. There are other well meaning believers who ignore this verse of Scripture as though it was not meant for them.
Let us look at the text. It is instructed to the one who is sick to call for elders to come and pray. It is not the other way around. It is not for elders or evangelists to go around with ‘anointed oil’ to heal the sick. I believe in divine healing and I remember using this text when we found our little daughter who was just three months old with a rare kind of cancer. We took our cue from this verse and on behalf of the child we called upon the leaders of our worshipping community to anoint the child and pray for her and for us before she was sent for medical care. Doctors told us that there was no proven medicine for that type of malignancy. They also said that the child would die in two weeks’ time if some treatment was not given. They treated her for forty days as an in-patient and one year as an out-patient. The Lord has marvelously healed her and now at age thirty she runs a small ministry accepting throw-away children and bringing them up in the fear of the Lord.
Sickness is another occasion when God is calling us to pray. This time, more than individual prayer the Lord instructs us to call for the elders of the church. Community prayer has its special place in the economy of God. God has placed us in His church which is His body on earth. The church as the community of God enjoys special privileges which individuals do not enjoy. United prayer must be practiced as commanded in the Scripture. Here in this passage, it is prayer for healing of the individual. Some sickness may be the result of individual’s sin (1Cor.11:30) and sicknesses of this kind are healed when prayed over as a sign of forgiveness.
Often our corporate prayers do not have efficacy because individuals who come together to pray do not practice secret prayer. Those who practice secret prayer, those who live in an attitude of prayer, when they come together for corporate prayer, there is much power there. If our church prayer meetings must become powerful, individual believers must be taught to pray in secret and to live in an attitude of prayer.
To be continued......