Today, we delve into the very last passage in James, thereby concluding our study through this book. It has been a wonderful time of deeper learning, and to do it with all of you who have joined me on this has only added to the whole process. As I studied this book, it has sometimes left me feeling how short I fall in my ways, but then I am reminded that it sure is a tall order if we try to live out our faith in our own strength. The key is to remember how much we need the Lord and the importance of abiding in Him. As he is our vine and we are his branches, we are to remain tethered to him so that our lives honour and glorify Him. And one of the vital ways we stay connected to Him is through prayer.
James here ends his writing with an emphasis on prayer.
James 5:13-16 “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
Prayer of Faith
Prayer, our privilege, and our responsibility, through which we commune with our Sovereign loving God, taking to him our worries, cares, mistakes, thanks, and praise. It keeps us focused on Him, it prevents our hearts from feeling overwhelmed, it helps stop our tendency to stray for temporal comfort and most of all reminds us that we need him every single day. These above verses are such a wonderful reminder of the importance of prayer, both personal and corporate. And the importance of repentance and forgiveness to be able to stand before God with clean hands and a pure heart.
But verse 15 can be easily misunderstood “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.”
At first glance, the verse might read like God promises healing to the one who has prayed in faith. But we read in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 of Paul pleading with the Lord for the thorn in his flesh to be removed, yet God didn’t grant his request. Instead, God supplied Paul with His all-sufficient grace, so that Paul would learn to boast in his weaknesses as he depended on God (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Sin and Sickness
Sin can lead to consequences manifesting as sickness but not all sickness is the result of sin as we see in Job’s story.
In sickness, we are to pray, we are to pray with faith. It is not so much about mustering more faith on our own but knowing that we can go to the Lord with anything, and everything, even to help with our unbelief, as the father of the sick child did in Mark 9:23-25. It is also knowing that we do not have to be sinless to petition to the Lord and be heard. The Lord is willing to hear our hearts, but we are not to treat his mercy and grace with an attitude of callousness to achieve our momentary need and then forget about him because the Lord will not be mocked, a man reaps what he sows (Galatians 6).
It is Well
The surety in the verse is that the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well. I think we often interpret ‘well’ in the way we wish for the prayer to be answered. It can definitely mean a physical answer to the prayer. But as scripture reminds us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), so ‘well’ can be more than just physical.
Horatio Spafford the man who penned the famous hymn ‘It is well with my soul’ wrote those words after immense personal loss. He lost his four-year-old son, and the Great Chicago fire of 1871, ruined him financially. And shortly afterwards, His wife and daughters travelled ahead of him to England, all four of his daughters died as their ship sank in the Atlantic Ocean. His wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone”. Shortly afterwards, as Spafford travelled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died. Looking at Spafford’s words, what did it mean to be well, it was more than physical restoration of what he lost but a spiritual restoration, to find peace, comfort, strength, and rest in the Lord.
In Daniel 3 we read the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; they knew God could save them from the fiery furnace that King Nebuchadnezzar wanted to throw them in, but they said, even if he does not, we would not worship you. In other words, it would be well with their soul with how God chose for their story to go.
We go on to read in James that ‘The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.’ And it is then James gives us the example of Elijah. James 5:17-18 “Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again, he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”
We can lessen the value of our prayers because we might not think they would be as powerful as Elijah’s, but James words here tell us that they can be. Elijah had a nature like us, he was a sinner too, someone who fell short, but he believed in the power of prayer and led a faithful and righteous life being diligent in prayer.
Our daily living may not be perfect, but we have to reflect on our pursuit and abiding in the Lord for a righteousness that is pleasing to the Father. It is not about having a legalistic approach to how we live but a genuine intent for righteousness that finds its grounding in Jesus for then our hearts too will be aligned to His and so will our prayers.
James finishes with a focus on helping a sinning brother/sister in Christ.
James 5:19-20 “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”
We are not to turn a blind eye and quickly exclude someone who wanders and at the same time if we find that we misstep, we are to be open to correction. There is a blessing for the one who loves a brother/ sister enough to confront them in love and help bring them back from the error of their ways.
With these parting words reminding us of the Lord’s heart towards restoration of those who sin, may we too be encouraged to live out our faith even when we do stumble. It is God who enables and empowers, let us abide in Him to effectively live out our faith.