“Is anyone among you suffering?” – James 5:13
Is anyone among you, reading this, suffering?
St. James has some wisdom from God for you today.
The first thing James tells you to do is to pray. Of course, you already knew this, but maybe you have become discouraged in your prayers. Maybe God has not seemed to be working quickly enough in healing you.
James’ counsel (and commandment) is still to pray. Remember that the purpose of your prayers is not only for the relief of your suffering but also for the healing of your soul. It is in the act of humbly praying for your daily needs that you honor God and receive His blessings – however He chooses to dispense them to you. The chief blessing of all, however, is in being in the presence of the Lord, which is the essence of prayer.
If, on the other hand, you are cheerful today, then sing psalms (verse 13)! Sometimes we forget that God desires and promises to be with us not only in our suffering but also in our joys and happiness. While it’s true that the poverty of suffering is likely to lead us closer to God than our happiness, God is with us in our joys. Why not celebrate your happiness with God, and not by yourself. The danger when God gives you good things and you celebrate with yourself and apart from God is that the message you are sending yourself is that you are the source of those blessings. Wasn’t this the repeated, perseverating pattern of Israel in the Old Testament? The Israelites sinned and were judged. They cried out to God, and He delivered and blessed them. Then, when God blessed them, they used those blessings to walk away from God and back into sin.
So if you are cheerful today, celebrate with God. Sing psalms of praise and thanksgiving to Him, for He has been the source of your joy and happiness.
But James’ real concern is with those of you who are sick today. While he appears to be speaking of physical sickness, both words he uses in Greek for “sickness” also relate to being weak. I think it is reasonable to assume that James’ wisdom about how to alleviate physical suffering or sickness applies equally well to other kinds of sickness or weakness.
And what is James’ wise commandment? That you call the elders of the church and let them pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Notice that like Paul, James thinks that the Church, the Body of Jesus Christ, should be involved in your healing. Remember how Paul taught that God works through the Church, which is His presence on earth? As God’s ordained representatives of His Church, the elders of your church have God’s authority to pray over you and anoint you with oil.
Maybe you should give it a try!
Notice as well that James connects your sickness or weakness with your sins. Without saying that your sickness is necessarily due to your sins, James certainly seems to allow for the possibility. He moves seamlessly from the elders praying for sickness to the forgiveness of sins to confessing sins and praying for one another that you may be healed. Again, James assumes that this will be done in the context of the local church. Without denying the importance of others praying for you and hearing your confession, for James it appears that it is particularly the elders of the church to whom you should go for healing and the elders of the church to whom you should confess your sins. This is only one of the passages that strongly suggest the appropriateness of confessing before the elders (or presbyters or “priests”, which is a contraction of “presbyter”) of the church.Too often, I find that we all want to handle our sins and our sufferings by ourselves. We may even pray to God, but we leave out God’s chosen means of healing and reconciliation, which is the Body of Christ, the Church. James’ words challenge us to humbly go to the church and have our ordained leaders apply God’s healing on behalf of Christ and His Church.
There is one final point I’d like to mention. Since James is so full of wisdom, even though we’ve spent 8 days reading his one little letter, there is so much more to receive. One of the most important ways that we can all be God’s ministers of reconciliation and healing is in turning back a brother to the Lord. The elders or priests have particular roles in regard to this crucial ministry, but you all have an equally essential calling to be God’s minister.
If someone you know is walking away from God and you have the opportunity to walk alongside him and turn him back toward God, you may have saved a soul from death. Every day we all need to confess and repent, which is to turn back to God. But unless we are already walking with God we will not have the strength to turn back. The maelstrom of the world will suck the weak ones under.
But you have been appointed by God to be His chosen minister to turn sinners back to Him. It is through you and me, who are the presence of God in that person’s life, that God will work His ministry of healing and reconciliation. And this is the most important kind of healing that we can pray for and act upon.
Of all the wisdom that James gives to us, perhaps this is the second most blessed one of all (after the looking out for our own souls by humbly drawing near to God): that we take every opportunity to bring spiritual healing into the life of another by turning him back to God.
God desires for us to be His ministers of reconciliation and healing.
Let’s do it!
Prayer: Father of heavenly lights, who is the Giver of every good gift, I ask for the gift of healing in my life. Heal me from my physical suffering and my spiritual suffering. Cure me, especially, of my pride, in the ways it shows up in my life. Especially give me the humility necessary to confess my sins both before You and before Your church, your people. And when you have blessed me with cheerfulness, make me to sing your praises.
Points for Meditation:
- If you have been blessed by God recently, celebrate today with God, by singing psalms of praise and thanksgiving. Share your joy with at least one other Christian.
- Ask God to bring to mind one person He has called you to help bring back to Him. Make explicit plans to go and see that person, making sure to pray.
- If you have been struggling with particular sins, go seek the elders of the church, or some other mature Christian in your life, to pray with you.
Resolution: I resolve today to seek God’s healing in my life. If my sickness or weakness is great enough, I will seek healing from the church elders.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson