In our last Blog, we spoke briefly of depressed Christians and how those in the ministry should treat them. My point was this: depression is an illness and should be treated like any other illness. In my studies of depression, I kept coming back to the 5th chapter of James.
James 5:15 is rarely the topic of Sunday morning services. It is a bold statement:
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.
When I read this verse I must wonder why, then, we do not see more people healed. Here are a few thoughts.
First, we cannot center our beliefs around any one verse. Months ago, I reminded my readers that the phrase “by his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5), which so many (including me) quote when praying for healing, is a single phrase in verse within a larger context that deals with our iniquities and transgressions. Taken in context, the word “healed” could be referring to healing from injurious sin as much as physical health.
So, here in James, let’s look at the context, James 5:13-18 (ESV):
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. 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. 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. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
The first thing that I notice is that there are three types of prayer mentioned in this paragraph.
- Personal Prayer: is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.
- Corporate Prayer: 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.
- Intercessory Prayer, or Praying for each other: pray for one another, that you may be healed.
I have heard Christians state that they get as much (or more) spiritual growth from staying home and enjoying family activities or watching sports as they do from going to church. That is because few of our churches provide an environment conducive to spiritual growth. Few exhibit the love and power of God, and one reason for that is because they do not follow the prayer guidelines presented in James 5. Instead of heart-felt, faith-driven prayer, most churches have “pastoral prayer.” What is pastoral prayer? It is a well-rehearsed pattern of platitudes and florid speech designed to teach or lead the body of Christ to the altar of God. In most cases, it doesn’t teach at all. What it really accomplishes is to extinguish conviction in the hearts of those who need to fall on their face and repent. Pastoral prayer also keeps our services orderly so that we can get to the dinner buffet before the Baptists. A church seeking spiritual growth and healing would do well to follow the guidelines in these verses and rediscover true prayer. An individual seeking to join a church that is a true spiritual body of believers, would search for a church like that understands prayer as outlined in James.
The second thing I notice is that James implicitly tells us that not everyone’s prayer will be answered. Those whose prayers are answered are those who pray fervently from a position of absolute surrender (which may be gained through suffering), bathe themselves with the prayers of faith-filled mature Christians, demonstrate a measure of their own faith, and confess their sins to their brothers and sisters in Christ.
- 1st, Is anyone suffering? Let him pray. The first condition we see is that one must be suffering. If we dig a little deeper, we see that the word suffering means “suffering from evil.” James wrote this epistle to the twelve tribes that had been scattered around the world. Most of the Jews around the world suffered persecution, and it is with persecution in mind that he wrote this letter. Persecution leads to absolute surrender to the power and love of God. It is when we are surrendered – at our weakest – that He exhibits His strength and rescues us.
- 2nd, Call for the elders of the church who will pray over the sick and anoint with oil. Surround the sick and suffering with men and women of faith, mature Christians who have learned to trust in Jesus at all cost. Anointing with oil is symbolic of the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, who works with the authority of the Father. Hebrews 1:9 expresses the understanding of the 1st Century Church as it pertained to the anointing oil, there was a relationship between the anointed and the degree in which they loved the righteousness of God (Hebrews 1:9 ESV):
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”
- 3rd, the prayers must be made in faith. We must believe that God is able and willing to rescue us and to heal us physically, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and financially. Remember, God wants the best for His children, just as we want the best for our children.
- 4th, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. This requirement is the reason that most churches do not exhibit spiritual growth and power. People will not confess to one another. I don’t see anywhere in the Bible where Jesus or an apostle asked the multitude to raise their hand it they had an unspoken request. Sure the Bible says that God knows what you need before you ask, and the Bible says that the Spirit prays when you don’t know how, but that is a far cry for saying you don’t have to ask, or you don’t have to share.
Prayer must be fervent and the pray-er, righteous. The KJV used the word fervent, which is perfect here. The NIV misses the implication all together, and even the ESV, misses the point. The image I chose for this blog is that of a long-abandoned hospital because it implies that all hope is gone. It is that attitude – one of hopelessness – that God wants us to take. It is human nature, that only when we have lost faith in ourselves that we will trust in God and others who are devoted to God. That is what the KJV means by fervent.
Who is righteous enough to have their prayers answered? I trust only in Christ. It is only His righteousness that God honors.
There is a definite correlation between sin and answered prayer. We will look at that next.