Last weekend I began a series of posts on James 5:13-20. You can read Part One here. I wrote a bit about verse 13 in that post. Today, I'm moving on to talk about verses 14 & 15, which say:
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.
Before I talk about these verses, I want to make sure I'm clear about one thing: I don't want this post to become a debate about praying for healing and how it should or shouldn't be done. Nor do I want it to get to the place where we're making judgements about why someone was or wasn't healed after being prayed for. This is a subjects that hits close to home for some people, including myself, and I don't want to offend anyone. I simply want to encourage you to think about this and wrestle it through with God.
OK, with that out of the way, back to James 5:14-15. The truth is that these are not my favourite verses in Scripture. They're probably some of my least favourite. I've often struggled with what James has to say here, because I could give a list of many times when I or someone I know has prayed for God to heal someone and has asked elders and others in the church to pray for healing, yet the healing being prayed for hasn't happened. How do we reconcile those times with James' words here?
For me, I had to stop and take a look at the verses carefully first. How often do we call on people in the church - on the elders of the church - to pray for us when we're sick? Or do so on behalf of a loved one who is sick? Doing so requires that we allow people in - that we open ourselves up to more than just being a face in the crowd. Maybe that holds us back from asking for that.
I wonder if our hesitancy at times to do this is because we have experiences in the past when prayers for someone's healing seemed to go unanswered. And so we don't ask anymore. But, the way James puts it here, this doesn't seem to be something we should only do if we feel like it. For me, James seems to be saying that we should just this.
So, what do we do with the part here where James says that "the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well."? I know I've prayed for people to be healed before and I've prayed believing that God was able to do it and the person hasn't been healed. And in those situations, I've been far from the only one praying. That makes it hard to read a Scripture like this one. I often find myself questioning my faith when it comes to this. "Did I really believe God would heal that person? Did I believe enough that God would? Did I need to pray more for that person to actually be healed?" Almost as if my prayers and what I (and often others) want is all that matters.
But, I don't think James' intent was to make us feel that way. When I read these verses in the context of what is around them, it seems to me that James intended them as an encouragement that prayer makes a difference. An encouragement that when we pray God can and does act. Because we know that, we can confidently pray for God's healing in someone's life and whether He heals them or not, God heard our prayers. Even when God doesn't answer our prayers the way we would like, the fact that we prayed deepens our relationship with Him and that is His ultimate goal anyway.