James 5.13-18 Praying and Healing

January 10, 2010 Series: James | Retro-Faith

Topic: New Testament Passage: James 5:13–5:18

James 5.13-18 Praying and Healing

January 10, 2009

Sam Ford


13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 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. 15 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. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.


Child-like Faith & Prayer

Last week, Mark shared with us about the taking of oaths and vows.  And, at the heart of all of that is the call to just be “real”, stop lying, living for the approval of men, going beyond confessing our faith and actually living it.  Whenever I consider being “real” in my faith, I am always reminded of Jesus charge to have faith like a child—a simple, raw, bold, and at times completely irrational faith—like a kid, where anything is possible and explanations are simple.  This kind of faith is incredibly alluring—we see it in people to who just come to faith, young and old.  Then LIFE hits, and we become old-crotchedy-boring “Christians” who lack courage, and joy, and a child-like faith.   


James “Bare Minimums”

The entire sermon of James is about the bare minimums of genuine faith.  And what James says should make us uncomfortable (a little) in the same way we don’t like the child who calls it like it is.  In his essay, Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about such children, “A boy is in the parlor what the pit (2) is in the playhouse; independent; irresponsible, looking out from his corner on such people and facts as pass by, he tries and sentences them on their merits, in the swift, summary ways of boys, as good, bad, interesting, silly, eloquent. troublesome. He numbers himself never about consequences, about interests: he gives an independent, genuine verdict. You must court him: he does not court you. But the man is, as it were, clapped into jail by his consciousness.”  James is that boy who we feel is rude in public, but privately we know that he is write.  You just don’t say things like he says:  “Have joy in your suffering…if you don’t have works your faith is dead…your wisdom if from the devil…your tongue is full of hell.”  In saying these things, he declares without apology–THIS IS WHAT A CHRISTIAN IS and IS NOT…and THIS IS WHAT A CHRISTIAN LIVES LIKE.   He does not give us something “new” but the OLD RETRO standard practices of faith.  Today, this passage is about prayer—he says it 7 different times to explain 7 different contexts.   Believers pray and, to use Paul’s Words, they pray without ceasing on all occasions.    


V. 13 PRAYER in suffering & PRAISE joy
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.


The greatest weakness

Instead of prayer, we often give into the temptation to grumble, grit our teeth, or find some other way to “get through it” without God.  In truth, we don’t pray because we don’t believe it does anything.  Of course, some of us pray—at meals, before bed, even in moments of great need.  BUT James does not expect prayer to be a spiritual discipline we exercise periodically.  For the believer, prayer is a natural way of living, like eating and sleeping.  James calls for us to pray at two times, when we are suffering AND when we are prospering.


When we suffer

Suffering has a broad application, like “trials” in chapter 1.  Earlier, James used the prophets as examples of “suffering” they experience all kinds: Jeremiah experience opposition, Daniel was imprisoned, Ezekiel’s wife died, Hosea’s marriage broke down. Suffering or “trouble” can be physical, mental, personal, financial, spiritual, relational, religious, or any number of difficult circumstances where it is MOST difficult to be joyful.  And James counsels this person not to think more positively, pop a pill, or even to spend time going on a walk…he instructs them to pray. How often do we forget that we live in the middle of a war, a battle is raging, and we are constantly under attack (Ephesians 6.12ff)?


When we rejoice

Yet, James also talks about times when it is most easy to be joyful/cheerful.  Though times of suffering can lead us to despair, times of cheerfulness can lead us to laziness and complacency.  In our lives, the enemy constantly gives us whatever will lead us from a dependence upon and gratefulness toward God.  We are constantly struggling to actively live in the presence of God.  TRIALS OF POVERTY often lead us to find salvation in other Gods AND TRIALS of PROSPERITY do the same.   In those times of joy, we should SING.  The Greek Word “Psallo” is where we get the word Psalm.  We need sing praises to God, psalms to God, which are basically prayers put to music!  But how often do we go through the ROUTINE of singing as we do the ROUTINE of prayer? 


V. 14-15a Prayer for the sick

14 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. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.


Is anyone sick?

James then gives a THIRD situation where we should pray, SICKNESS.  This can mean physical sickness, but depending on the context, the term can also refer to spiritual or mental weaknesses (Rom. 5.6; 6.19). It can even refer to a troubled conscience, severe depression, or one overwhelmed with anxiety (Rom.4.1-2; 1Cor. 8.7-10).  It is not only those who might find themselves suffering with a specific illness or disease, but even those who have felt defeated, weary, because of a trial of suffering.  Asking a question like “Is anyone among you sick” is like when I ask does anyone need prayer in a group and you hear crickets.  We are so slow to admit we need help, either because we are blind to it, or we want to fake out others.


Call the Elders

James says ASK FOR HELP.  The beauty of this passage is that there is implied a relationship with a church community, with people who trust enough to call, or care enough to call for their friend who “weak”.  And, there is also the implication that there are elders READY to care and shepherd.


Anoint with Oil

James tells the elders to anoint with oil. Oil was used in the ancient world as a kind of medicine (Luke 10.34). Other ancient sources attest to its helpfulness in curing toothaches, paralysis, or other similar maladies.  In the time and culture of James, olive oil was used as common medicine.  The Bible teaches that olive oil had medicinal qualities (e.g Good Samartian applying oil to wounded man).  The oil also has symbolic significance.  The disciples used oil in their healing ministry at least once (Mark 6.13), but the purpose is not explained.  Mark 6.13  13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.  All healing has a spiritual dimension just as all illness is essentially a result of sin.  In Jesus’ day, people over-spiritualized illnesses as we have seen some churches do in our day. More commonly, however, is modern day culture’s tendency to de-spiritualize illnesses completely.  Our technological advancements and medical discoveries cause us to deny any connection between sin and illness.  The goodness of God is evident in all of amazing ways we can be helped medically today. And, while God does heal through various means, all too often, we seek material solutions for spiritual problems. There is no such thing as non-spiritual healing” (J.A. Motyer). 


When was the last time you did this?  Why not?  WE DON”T DO THIS because, such a practice is completely counter cultural.  We think, haven’t we outgrown this?  Isn’t this what they did in the ‘old days’?  Isn’t his practice archaic and irrelevant for pastors and churches today? Isn’t that what the Charis-maniac churches do?  This kind of attitude develops when faith is little more than a social club, the church is another option among other helpful communities, our gathering just a club activity, as opposed to the church, people of the living God, the follows of Jesus Christ, the possessors of the Holy Spirit individually and corporately.


A prayer of faith

There is POWER in prayer.  James says the prayer of faith, the heart behind the prayer, not the prayer itself, NOT THE OIL will save.  Does that mean that everyone can be healed if they just have enough faith?  No.  Contrary to some popular heresies, God does not heal as a reward for faithfulness—as if he owes us healing for our faith.  Paul couldn’t heal his own thorn in the flesh.  Timothy had stomach problems.  A prayer of faith is in contrasted against faithless prayer—the kind James calls “double-minded” or ‘selfish”.  It is not a prayer that creates faith, but a prayer that evidences a heart true FAITH of absolute trust in Jesus—that though he may not stop all sickness and death right now- our goal is to know Jesus who, by fact of his resurrection, will stop all our sickness and death in eternity. 


V. 15b.-16a Prayer of Confession

if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. 


Unconfessed Sin and Sickness

James then James shifts gears. By using the word THEREFORE, James makes a connection between sickness, sin, and forgiveness.  Certainly, not all illnesses are the result of personal sin, but James urges us to consider the possibility.  It’s not that we should examine our heart every time we get a sniffle, but at some level the practice of sin, the harboring of bitterness, the a heart of rebellion (even if the mouth and body confesses otherwise) can cause sickness.   In his letter the Corinthian church Paul says that there is a connection between sin and sickness: 1Corinthians 11.28-30. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.


In Psalm 32, an adulterous King David speaks about the power of unconfessed sin; how a spiritual problem has physical and mental effects:  Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.      2  Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.      3  For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.    4 For day and        night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. 


Confession & Healing

James says again, THERFORE, to deal with this confess your sins to one another.  Confession is not a religious ritual where you go into a closet, kiss beads, and declare hail marys.  Quite simply, confession is admitting your sin.  It is the hardest thing to do. Literally the greek, ‘exo-homo-logeo”- “to speak out the same”.  In other words, we need to SPEAK the same thing as God and everyone else who sees the reality of the sin in our lives.  We are not to hide behind the bush like Adam, we are to admit our sin because it cleanses the soul. N.T. Scholar Curtis Vaughan calls confession, “the vomit of the soul.” Healthy confession is like healthy vomiting, yummy.   I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity;

          I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. 

     6     Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;

        surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him.   7  You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. 


Confession to & Prayer for one another

Confession is not just to God.  And James says that confession is not just for the priests or the elders.  It is intended for all those in gospel grounded relationships.  1John 1.8-9 says there are two kinds of people, those who admit their sins and those who don’t.  Most of us don’t admit our sins, especially not to one another.  But without that kind of transparency, we can’t in fact have genuine relationship.  In fact, I would argue we can’t have the kind of relationship God wants us to have with anyone, without Jesus.  1John 1.5-7 5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.


For Healing

We walk in the light because there is healing there.  The problem is, light doesn’t take away our sin, it exposes it for everyone to see.  We expose ourselves to a bit of shame, but also invite people to help us grow.  As we choose to stay in gospel community, we live out the gospel most beautifully; we confess our sins to one another without fear of rejection.  And the ultimate goal is not AFFIRMATION of my sin, but HEALING.  Such healing never comes from silence.   


V. 16b-18  Prayer of the Righteous Man – HOW WE PRAY

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.   


The Prayer of a Righteous man Elijah - 1Kings 16-18

James ends this section speaking to the POWER of prayer.  The Elijah as the prophet of God during the time of the wicked King of Israel named Ahab.  Instead of leading, like many men before and after him, he allowed his evil wife Jezebel to lead him into sin, specifically, a cult worshipping the false God named Baal. So, God punished the nation by holding back the rain for three and a half years.  Eventually, Elijah challenged the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel as a contest of the God’s—450 vs. 1.  They built a sacrifice and called to heaven for their “god” to consume it.  All day long the priests cried out to their god, limped around the alar, even cut themselves and bled over the sacrifice, but no answer came.  At one point, (18.27) asks if perhaps their god can’t hear them because he is going to the bathroom.  Finally, at the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah repaired the altar and prepared the sacrifice. He prayed but once, and fire came from heaven to consume the sacrifice. He had proven that Jehovah was the true God. But the nation still needed rain:  Kings 18.42-44 And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. 44 And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”


Elijah – A nature like us  17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours 

He WAS A MAN.  There was nothing special about Elijah. . He was not perfect, in fact, right after his victory at Mr. Carmel Elijah became so afraid of what Jezebel (Ahab’s wife) would do, he ran and hid.  He was a righteous man because he obeyed and trusted in God.  This is not super-Christian stuff, this is normal life-is-hard and I’m not going to fake it stuff.  I’m no spiritual giant…no, but you have a GIANT inside your heart.


We don’t pray long enough  he prayed…he prayed again 

He PRAYED AGAIN.  Elijah was not only believing in his praying, but he was persistent. “He prayed... and he prayed again” (James 5:17–18). On Mt.Carmel, Elijah continued to pray for rain until his servant reported “a cloud the size of a man’s hand.” Too many times we fail to get what God promises because we stop praying.  He was patient but actively so.  He was persistent because he was desperate.  Why aren’t we desperate?


We don’t pray hard enough he prayed fervently

He prayed FERVENTLY. The Greek literally says “he prayed in prayer”.  In other words, when he prayed he actually prayed.  Many people do not pray in their prayers as much as they just talk. They just lazily say religious words, and their hearts are not in their prayers.  And Elijah prayed on his face. When was the last time you prayed on your face? On your knees?  Weeping? Arms hight? 


Conclusion – ROAD GROUPS

I want to pray like Elijah.  I want to be that the ordinary person that God uses in extraordinary ways.  And much of that ‘extraordinary” comes through prayer IN COMMUNITY.  Do you have someone you could call in an emergency?  2 am call? Do you have someone who prays for you?  We all need that person, those people.  The biggest issue for most people that come to our church, singles, couples, young, and old, is that they feel alone.  You were built for relationships, specifically, relationships rooted in the presence of God—relationships in which you can confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.  Relationships where we walk in the light—fully exposed to one another—like children who don’t have it all figured out—together trusting in God for things ONLY he can do.  

More in James | Retro-Faith

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James 5.19-20: Wandering and Finding

January 3, 2010

James 5.12 Oaths and Vows

December 27, 2009

James 5.7-11 Suffering and Waiting