Prayer is a mystery to most people, and many Christians are not satisfied with their prayer life. And because we do not understand the purpose and power of prayer, we often neglect it. Pastor James helps relieve our confusion. He teaches us when to pray and how to pray effectively.
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will make the sick well, and the Lord will raise them up. And anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.
James mentions three occasions that especially call for prayer. He first asks, “Are any among you suffering?” The Greek word translated “suffering” is cacopathia, “to be in distress or under great pressure.” The word is used in verse 10 to describe the hardships of the prophets. Their writings reveal that much of their suffering derived from spiritual and emotional anguish. When you are hurting spiritually or emotionally, how do you tend to respond? Many of us become angry or fearful, but James says the appropriate response is to pray. We can pray for deliverance, and we can pray to the strength to persevere, but most of all we are to pray for the wisdom that will enable us to see our troubles from the right perspective and celebrate them (James 1:2–5).
Why do we ignore prayer when we are experiencing spiritual or emotional pain? Lots of reasons. Some of us don’t pray because we do not know the power of prayer. Perhaps we have tried it before without success. Some of us don’t pray because we’re ashamed–we know our suffering is the result of our own bad choices, and we’re uncomfortable confessing this to God. And some of us don’t pray because of pride–we are convinced we can find a solution to our problems without God’s help.
James encourages us to pray when we are hurting, but he doesn’t stop there. He also tells us to pray when things are going well: “Are any of you cheerful?” he asks. “Then sing praises!” To praise God is to thank him for his blessings, so praise is a form of prayer. When we’re feeling up we can talk to the Lord, and when we’re feeling down we can talk to him. I appreciate that counsel because my life is a roller coaster of emotional ups and downs. James instructs me to pray when things are falling apart, but he also reminds me to be sing praises and enjoy life when things are going well.
The third occasion when prayer is especially appropriate is when there is physical suffering. “Are any among you sick?” James asks. The word translated “sick” refers to serious illnesses. It is used, for example, to describe Lazarus and Dorcas. How sick did they get?
Next time we will look at how we can overcome emotional, spiritual, and physical hurts by the power of prayer, but we need to lay some groundwork because there is so much confusion on the subject of divine healing. First, let’s consider the three kinds of sicknesses mentioned in the Bible:
- Sicknesses that are the result of sin. Sometimes the illness is the consequence of a specific sin (e.g., we worry a lot and develop high blood pressure or an ulcer), but most illnesses are simply byproducts of the Fall. Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and the earth was cursed with pestilence, pain, and death. Every human being suffers and dies under this curse, and it will remain in full force until Christ returns.
- Sicknesses that are redemptive in nature. Like those in the first group, these illnesses are caused by sin, but they are different because their purpose is to bring a believer back into God’s will. The church in Corinth was abusing the Lord’s Supper (some observed the ritual with proud, unrepentant hearts), and the apostle Paul tells them this prompted the Lord’s discipline: “That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died. But if we would examine ourselves, we would not be judged by God in this way. Yet when we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned along with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).
- Sicknesses that are platforms for God’s glory. The story of the blind man in John 9 is a good example: “As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. ‘Rabbi,’ his disciples asked him, ‘why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins. This happened so the power of God could be displayed in his life'” (John 9:1-3). Another example is found in the story of Lazarus’s healing. When Martha and Mary expressed concern about the seriousness of their brother’s medical condition, Jesus said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).
The Bible teaches us that all illnesses are a result of sin, but some are purposeful. There is nothing terribly complicated about this, but Christians have developed very opposing attitudes about healing.
Next: how prayer and healing are connected.