James 5:13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.
We pray best whenever we are in trouble. We do not have to read a book on prayer, take a class on prayer, or ask someone else to pray for us. When serious trouble comes, we know how to pray. Prayer suddenly becomes our native language.
On a Friday afternoon, when I was in the third grade, I walked home after school through a neighborhood park. A construction project had begun, and I saw a floodlight on the ground with a sticker that said, unbreakable glass.
I had never heard of unbreakable glass, and I wondered if it was possible. So I picked up a board and hit the glass as hard as I could. To my dismay, the unbreakable glass shattered into a million pieces. Why did they call it unbreakable glass?
I looked around to see if there were any witnesses, and to my alarm, I saw a girl who was two years older than me. She asked my name, and all I could think of was John Smith. She said, No you’re not. You are Shane Houle, and you are in serious trouble.
I went home and prepared to die. Even if I explained myself, who would believe I did not intend to break the glass? All I could do was pray. So I prayed most of that night, and most of the following day.
That Sunday, in church, I told God that if he would keep my secret, I would become his servant for life. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months—and God kept my secret. And several years later, he collected on my promise. Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.
James 5:14-15 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.
The lack of modern medicine compelled people to look to God whenever they were sick. Jesus was famous for healing (Luke 4:40), and commissioned his apostles to heal (Matthew 10:1). Others in the church also had gifts of healing (1 Corinthians 12:9, 28, 30). So it is no surprise that James encouraged suffering Christians to call for prayers of healing. But what was the oil for?
The Good Samaritan cared for the wounded man by pouring on oil and wine (Luke 10:34). The prophet Isaiah spoke of open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil (Isaiah 1:6). The disciples anointed many sick people with oil and healed them (Mark 6:13). Oil was thought to be medicinal, and was used along with prayer.
But oil is also symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed [David] . . . and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David (1 Samuel 16:13). And, The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me (Luke 4:18), said Jesus.
When the elders were invited to pray for the sick, they may have applied the oil medicinally, or to symbolize the Spirit’s power to heal, or both. All healing is a gift from God, whether it occurs naturally or supernaturally, with or without prayer, with or without medicine.
James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
Sickness may be the result of sin (Psalm 38:3), so we should examine ourselves for unconfessed sin whenever we are sick. Ordinarily, confession should be made to those whom we have sinned against. If we have sinned against God, we should confess to God. If we have sinned against our neighbor, we should confess to our neighbor. If we have sinned against a group, we should confess to the group. This should always be our practice, whether or not we are sick, and whether or not we hope to recover.
A pastor was forced out of his church by a man who then became the minister. Some time later he became ill, and called the former pastor to his death bed. He said the reason he forced him out was because he wanted his position. Soon he died, but at least he cleared his conscience before he stood before God.
James 5:19-20 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
As soon as we come to Christ, our sinful nature wants to lead us away from him. Since all God’s people are prone to wander, we have a duty to go after strays, and bring them back to the fold.
David spied on Bathsheba while she was bathing, and summoned her to his palace (2 Samuel 11:1-27). One thing led to another and she became pregnant. Then, to save his reputation, David had her husband killed. Suddenly, this man of God was up to his eyeballs in moral failure, and refused to come clean.
Months past, but there was still no repentance—just a fallen soldier enmeshed in his own sin. Finally, David’s friend Nathan came by, and helped restore David to God (2 Samuel 12:1-13). David came back to the Lord because of Nathan’s help.
A common theme I hear from men is that, at one time, they were not doing well spiritually. The train was off the track, and they were far from God. Then God sent a Nathan to help them go forward again. If someone you know has wandered from God, perhaps you can bring them back. Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
Reflection and Review
- Why does desperation help us pray?
- Why was oil used with prayer for healing?
- Has God ever sent you a Nathan?