Wednesday, May 29, 2013

James 5:13-20 - Pain, Perseverance, and The Prayer of Faith

 To be a follower of Jesus is to embrace a life that will certainly include pain and heartbreak. Citizens of the Kingdom of God seeking to honestly demonstrate their faith on this side of eternity, among the contrary empires of this present age, will suffer hardship. We live between two worlds. We are encouraged by the hope found in serving a King who has conquered even death, the only power that will equalize the most privileged king and the most impoverished child in India. His righteous judgments will end oppression, and set every captive free. But until the consummation of the Just Kingdom, oppression remains. Followers of Jesus live in resistance to the corruption in the world's empires and the demonic powers behind them. In our resistance, we will suffer pain, just as Jesus did before us.

James writes to a church scattered, a people who knew explicitly the pain of poverty and persecution. Even James himself succumbed to death as an insurrectionist by order of the Roman Empire in AD 62. Soon after his death and the fall of Jerusalem in AD 75, the church in exile would see their pain escalate. The early readers of James' letter were poignantly aware of the reality of grief, of pain in the soul, and of injury in the body. James begins his letter with this understanding.

James 1:17-18
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

James reminds us in the opening of his book that though we may experience hardship, though we may lack the wisdom to even know how to process our pain, our God is good. God loves as a good, wise, and gentle parent. God does not change, though our lives may seem to be tossed by waves of circumstance. Our faith is in one who is secure and unchanging. We place our hope in an unmoving foundation, not in our changing circumstance. God walks through our every storm.

Gifts of miraculous healing are given because God knows that we need them. Healing is a good gift given by a good God whose love is immeasurable and eternal. If we believe that God is real, that God is just, that God is love, we can pray in confidence, without fear, for whatever we need.

God's goodness is revealed in the reality of healing before we even ask. Our very beings are created, body, mind, and spirit, to heal itself beginning at the very moment of our injury. Our Creator designed us with healing right in the very makeup of our being. God is a healer by nature of himself. The same God that called the void into correct order and purpose in Genesis 1 has the power to heal you also. God is generous. Do not be afraid to ask.

The Gift of Healing

Gifts of healing were given to the church in James’ day and in ours. In the book of Acts, it says that God confirmed the preaching of the word with signs and wonders following it. This included healing.

Acts 14:3
So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders.

It is good to desire gifts of healing. We don’t desire healing so we can boast, but as a gift so we can love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

God’s sovereign acts of divine intervention demonstrate the love and freedom of the gospel. Love is central to all God does. As followers of Jesus, we must also be motivated by love. Whether we pray for God’s miraculous intervention, or march in a demonstration, or organize to feed and clothe those that can’t afford it, if we do it in the name of God, we must be motivated by love before all else.

Miraculous healing also demonstrates God’s authority as the very highest authority. If God has authority over illness and death, it must be higher than the corrupted pseudo-authority of the empire that we live to resist. If we may be healed by God's sovereign will, then there is nothing by which the powers of this age may persecute us that we cannot overcome in the authority of the True Kingdom. God's authority to heal demonstrates his authority over death, and if this is so, than we are empowered to live in resistance to any power on earth. If we will overcome even in death, than we have nothing to fear.

James 5:13-16
     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.

James encourages us to pray for healing. We may enter God's presence boldly, grateful for the healing already working in our body and soul even before we ask, confident that the one who has made our spirit alive can also bring life to our mortal flesh, submitted to his good will and purpose in our life as he answers our prayer as he wills. Miraculous healing glorifies God. It is his good pleasure to be glorified in your healing, and to demonstrate his love to you by his miraculous intervention.

James 5 describes a community in which the spiritual gifts are active, including gifts of healings. It gives us practical examples of how gifts of healing can be manifest in the church today. How do we pray when we pray for healing?

3 Types of Prayer in James 5:13-16

            James describes three kinds of praying, all three of them are ways of praying for people who are sick or suffering in some way.

1. Praying for Ourselves

James 5:13
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.

No matter how we may suffer, James encourages us to pray. This could include sickness. If we are sick, we can pray for ourselves, right then and there.

In the last passage (James 5:1-11), James is talking to persecuted and oppressed migrant workers, instructing them to be patient in their trial. Prayer would be essential for them. We follow the suffering Saviour, so suffering will be part of our lives, too. Prayer is essential for us.

James tells us that we pray for ourselves in any kind of suffering. We may even suffer as a victim of someone else’s sin, or as a consequence of our own. Jesus is our advocate, and answers our prayers, whoever we are.

2. Prayer of the Elders over a Sick Person

James 5:14–15

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.

In this passage, a sick person is being visited in their home. Sickness may make us weak enough that we can't get out to a church event. Since this passage describes being prayed over, and raised up, it brings to mind people surrounding a bed. This person is probably very sick.

The elders are pastors, or shepherds (literal) of the congregation (Acts 10:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1–2). When a sheep is wounded or seek, it needs a shepherd first. If elders are in a constant state of prayerful, studied faith, as is necessary for their role in the church, they will be good candidates for readiness to pray in faith for healing. The Bible says that Jesus is the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5), and the elders follow his example. As Jesus was always ready to pray for people’s healing, so also should the elders be always prepared to pray in faith according to God’s will when people in the church need prayer. Elders are to be rich in faith, expecting for God to work miracles in and through them whenever they are needed.

3. Praying for Each Other

James 5:16
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.

This general encouragement could be practiced anywhere. We can share our lives and our weaknesses with one another at a prayer meeting. We can have a private prayer at home for a friend. Groups of people can pray for sick friends with that person present, or from a distance. Our prayer is always that they will be healed. We can pray for each other! Any Christian can pray for healing for someone else.

The verse says that we can confess our sins to each other, that we may be healed. This doesn’t change the truth that we need only one advocate and high authority, Jesus Christ. This verse is not talking about needing to go to a priest as a go-between for you and God.

1 Timothy 2:5
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Confession of our sin is followed by repentance, a change in our behaviour away from sin. Sometimes, sickness is a result of our own sin. Sin is bad for us. It's unhealthy.

It is a theme of James that faith unaccompanied by works is dead. We may pray to be healed of addiction. If it is a prayer of faith, it will be followed by action, our abstinence from the object of our addiction. If we are to pray for healing from a God who heals, we should be willing to accept the consequences of living healthy with our new healthy body and soul.

If gluttony has made someone obese and caused them heart disease, they should repent.

If an alcoholic has ruined their liver by drinking, they should put down the bottle.

Ulcers can be caused by stress or workaholism.

God may want to heal us, but if we have been making yourself sick, we need to stop. Get healthy.

Sin rots us from the inside out. God promises to forgive us of our sin when we confess to him. He's given us his church on purpose. For those who have deep rooted, habitual sins, sometimes there are deeper roots of pain that need counseling or deliverance. So, we confess to one another. Sometimes, we need to talk it out. There is healing in the body of Christ, healing for your soul and body.

Ministering healing to one another in community happens in prayer, but it also continues to happen all the time as our shared community helps each of us to grow and change into the people God has created us to be. We share our sins and struggles honestly with one another, and are healed in the sharing, the prayer, and the walk of faith in freedom after we share. 

We all can and do pray for one another, preaching the gospel of freedom and love to one another in faith, and praying that God would miraculously heal the sick among us.

The Example of Elijah

James 5:17-18
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.

James makes no mistake that prayer is for anybody, from anybody, not something only reserved for certain people with a special gift. James is referencing the same story I shared in the post about King Ahab and King David. James says here that Elijah was just like us. We cannot claim that Elijah was somehow extraordinary and cannot serve as a model for our praying. This also means that Elijah’s life, lived outside of the mainstream and in resistance to the corrupt authorities needn’t be dismissed as an anomaly for followers of God. Elijah was just like you, living in resistance in the authority of the True Kingdom, just like you. You can be encouraged that your prayers will have great affect, like his that stopped the rain for three and a half years.

Powerful praying for divine healing is not limited to a special sort of person, like the elders. We are encouraged to think of our praying in the same category with a great miracle worker of the Bible. Elijah wasn’t perfect. He didn’t have it all together. He doubted. He made mistakes. He suffered depression and despair. He questioned God (1 Kings 17 – 2 Kings 2).  No one is excluded. Every one of us can pray in faith that God will work miracles according to our prayers.

The Prayer of Faith

James 5:15
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.

            “The prayer of faith," will heal the sick. This is an absolute statement. Why, then, are people sometimes not healed, though prayer is offered without a doubt? I believe James is speaking if a special gift of faith, given to the church by God, so that we may pray with certainty. If God reveals to the person that prays that someone will be healed, they may pray with authority according to God’s will.

1 Corinthians 12:7-9, 11
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit … All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

There is a faith that comes as a special gift to pray for something extraordinary. There is a gift of faith that can remove mountains (1 Corinthians 13:2).

Mark 11:23–24
Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea’, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

The power of prayer is not in the prayer itself, or in the person that prays. The power of prayer is in God, the one to whom we pray. God will sometimes give a person a certainty that the prayer they are praying is according to God’s will, and will result in miraculous intervention. This is the prayer of faith, a prayer of authority that speaks with the assurance that God will answer the prayer as it is asked. This is why the prayer of faith will always heal a sick person. So the elders at the bedside of the sick person in James earnestly desire a spiritual gift of faith so that they might pray the prayer of faith, and this prayer will result in God’s demonstrative healing power manifested in the sick person’s life.

The prayer of faith will heal the sick. We are to deeply desire spiritual gifts.

Correction Heals the Body

1 Corinthians 12:12-20
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body”, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body”, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

We need each other in the body of Christ.

There is an attack against the notion of truth in our society today. It is offensive, and even intolerant to suggest that there is an absolute truth, and that what you believe is it. Many would call this oppressive.

The common postmodern attack on truth is an indirect attack on the notion of its existence rather than a critical examination of its claims. Truth is attacked as a political weapon, by which men oppress women, and whites oppress blacks, and western culture oppresses eastern culture, and the rich oppress the poor, and Christians oppress Muslims, and straight people oppress homosexuals, and so on. So the way that the claim to truth is attacked is not by showing that it's false or distorted, but by calling it names.

Don’t fall for this deception. Stand for truth as it is, within its own arena. Critical thought, reason, and argument are not wrong. Truth sets us free. It does not bind us. Do not use truth as an excuse to oppress anyone. We only speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), and we love even our enemies (Matthew 5:44). How much more should we therefore speak in love when speaking truth to someone in error within our own community?

James 5:19-20
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

This is one of the reasons God gave us the church. We pray for each other when we’re sick or hurting. We submit our faith and our belief to one another as we share our lives together. Christians living in the new covenant can and do sin. We are not yet perfect. Our security is in God, not our own perfection. God uses the Body of Christ as his means to keep us in the truth. Our salvation is personal, and we have only one mediator. But our life walked in faith is also a community project.

God uses us to minister his work in the world. We are agents of the coming Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power (1 Corinthians 4:20). We are ambassadors of this Coming Kingdom, demonstrating and declaring the truth of the highest authority manifesting love and justice in the midst of the corruption of the present age of empire. We participate in the kingdom as we go into all the world and preach the gospel, as we share our things as though they are not our own, as we pray for one another when we are sick. God’s desire is for us to be healthy and whole. We are healthiest when we are not sick, when we are forgiven. God uses us to minister this healing to one another and to the world.

Life in the body will include hardship and pain. Our hope is in the truth that we will be made whole even through our pain, as God redeems for our good even the worst that can be thrown at us on this side of eternity.

James 1:2-3
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Even the most privileged among us in the community of Jesus followers will experience difficulties by virtue of being a part of this community. James 1:27 tells us that the demonstration of our faith is to share real life with widows, orphans, and foreigners in their distress. James is telling us that a life that follows Christ lives in solidarity with the most vulnerable and oppressed, making their struggles our own. We are in this together, seeking freedom and justice for everyone.

It is a sober and humbling task to share in God’s work of maturing grace together when our friends are going through difficult times. During times of sickness or loss, we may feel inadequate to know how to counsel, correct, or comfort a friend. But James assures us that whether the trial is our own, or we share in the suffering of others, God will give us the wisdom we need to endure.

James 1:4-8
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

As hard as it may be for the most privileged to honestly and humbly submit themselves to walking real life with the oppressed and hurting, others in the body of Christ may have a different challenge. When we are hurting because of circumstances and loss, it may be difficult to hear counsel and encouragement from someone who seems not to be sharing our same struggle, no matter how sincere their intentions, or how good and right their counsel may be. God’s comfort and healing for each of us is perfect. That comfort is given to us through our brothers and sisters, the Kingdom manifest among us with skin on.

For Those in Grief

            Comfort and wisdom spoken in love through faith is a medicine for our souls. But while God’s words are perfect, the church is not. During a time of loss or pain, it can often be very difficult for friends to know just what to say or do to communicate their desire to comfort or understand. With the best of intentions, you may hear such sincere attempts come in a certain reminder that in time, your grief will pass.

Many times, such assurances may be accepted and even helpful. From a certain perspective, it is true. However, if you find such assurances somehow don't land with you, it's okay. In truth, hearing that the grief you're feeling right now will ever leave you may strangely feel like bad news, even in your pain.

I'd like to offer a different assurance, in two parts.

First, your grief is not bad. Though your loss may be a tragedy, or injustice, the grief you experience in its wake is not. It is not wrong. It is not evil, sinful, unholy, or anything for which you should feel ashamed. Your grief is natural. You may be processing a change in the programming of your very soul. You may feel angry, playful, lonely, silly, or sad. You may want to be alone, change your hair, write, party, or just be quiet and cry. For none of this should you feel guilty. Neither should you feel the process is one you must complete as quickly as possible.

So, when your friends remind you that your pain will pass, remember that this does not mean it or your responses to it are something you need to first seek to transcend in the present, or just wait out like a bad dream. You have permission to embrace your grief for as long as you need it to last.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, in all the ways that matter most, your grief will in fact never pass. I mean this in the best way. In this season you may feel like this grief you have is far too important to release. Whomever or whatever you lost was precious to you. In your grief, their value becomes immeasurable. How can life possibly ever be the same now that this person (or job, or marriage, or loss of some other kind) is gone from your life? Your grief honours what you have lost, how could you ever seek anything other than this grief, and in moving on, twice lose them? The ghost of the one you lost visits you in your grief, even in your pain. It may seem a sacrilege to imagine a life that continues without it.

Here is the hopeful truth: life will not be the same. And that is okay. The pain you feel in your grief right now will subside, but the changes that have happened in you will remain. You really are different now. You will heal. You will grow. If you allow the Suffering Saviour into your heart, the Holy Spirit will work this for your good. As you learn to heal, forgive, let go, and process this change in your life, submitted to the one who knew and loved you before you were born, you will become even more the person you are than you were before your loss. This is a gift. And this will honour your loss in all of the best ways.

Though the severity and frequency of your pain may pass in time, your grief will not. But your grief will change. It may not ever even become less. But you will grow to contain it. In your growth, may you become even more acquainted with Jesus, man of sorrows, and may the journey be sweet, healing, and true.

Humility, Community, Authority

            Let us walk humbly together, sharing honestly in our pain and in our joy. Let us pray always for the strength to persevere in any trial, placing our faith on the certain hope that in the darkest times, Christ is still present with us, and will see us through to a greater end. Let us be close enough to God in prayer that we may be called upon to exercise our faith in his good gifts for miraculous healing whenever it is needed. Let us have the humility and willingness to serve one another in our darkest times, so that we may also share in the joy of each other’s testimonies when God manifests miraculous healing. And he will.

Click the image to read the entire series from James