The greatest Christians of every generation are certainly prayerful people. They are humble, dedicated disciples who take time to talk to the Lord. Are you a disciplined, prayerful person? In other words, do you pray regularly and fervently each day? Is prayer a vital part of your life?
Prayer is a strong theme in James 5:13-18. In fact, some form of the word is used in each of those six verses. Let us consider the first two verses at this time - "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 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" (5:13,14).
The word used in verse 13 for suffering is a term that refers to afflictions in general. As we make our way through life, we will all inevitably face sorrow and suffering (in varying amounts). The causes of our suffering are many. Often we suffer because of sin (our own or someone else's). Sometimes we suffer because of circumstances. Suffering sometimes results from foolishness or poor judgment. If a child of God is suffering afflictions, whatever they may be, James instructs him to pray. Prayer is a proper response to suffering, not the making of oaths (5:12). When the troubles of this world fall upon our shoulders, instead of becoming worrisome complainers we should ask God for wisdom to cope with our problems and the strength to overcome them. Isn't it comforting to know that even when others fail us, God will not? God is always there for his children, but He does expect them to come before His throne in prayer.
The word used for cheerful indicates the idea of joy, a frame of mind that is free of anxiety and disturbing problems. A proper Christian response in this situation is singing! "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Col. 3:16).
Is it acceptable to sing when we're suffering and pray when we're cheerful? Of course! We are to "pray without ceasing" (I Thess. 5:17) and also "Rejoice always" (Phil. 4:4). Many of the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that Christians sing are in fact prayers to God! Even if the last word in a song isn't amen, if the lyrics address deity by praising Him and making petitions before His throne, we are praying! The natural human tendency is to pray more fervently when being afflicted, but let's make sure we pray to our Father at all times--not just when we need Him to carry us through a tough situation.
The sickness mentioned in James 5:14 is unquestionably physical in nature, not spiritual. How can I be so sure? Because of the phrase at the end of verse 15, which says - "And if he has committed sins..." Whatever illness James was considering in verse 14 may or may not have had anything to do with sin (hence the use of the word "if"). Since we know that spiritual sickness is always the result of sin, then it can be concluded that the sickness James referred to in verse 14 must be a physical malady.
A Christian who became seriously ill was to contact the elders and have them to pray with him and on his behalf. They were also to anoint him with oil by the authority of the Lord. What exactly does that mean? I personally believe it to be a component of the miraculous healing that was available through the hands of certain Christians in the first century. Why do I believe this? For several reasons, but the main one is seen in verse 15 which we will consider tomorrow.