“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. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” (James 5:13-15)
In the sports world, the “go-to” player is the one expected to carry the team in “crunch time”—in critical, pressure-filled, often end-game moments. He is often the one with the skill, experience, and confidence to save the game. In the spiritual realm, there is only one “go-to” God and Savior, only one Helper and Deliverer in time of need (Psalm 121), especially in those difficult and even traumatic life moments.
It can be anything from a shocking medical diagnosis, a family crisis, a national tragedy, or the sudden loss of a loved one—any one of which can leave the adrenaline flowing, the emotions reeling, the mind perplexed: “What can I do? Whom can I call? Where can I go for help?”
While seeking medical help and emotional support are natural and important responses, our Great Physician through His Christian life counselor, James, also reminds God’s people of their vital response in such situations: Take it to the Lord in prayer. Call upon Him in the day of trouble. Seek His help and will.
And not only you, but enlist the prayers of your fellow believers as well, including the “elders” (pastors) of your churches. One of the shepherd’s greatest callings is to pray and care for his flock—personally, privately, but also publicly as the need and opportunity arises. Not only are these prayers of the righteous heard, they are also powerful and effective before the throne of grace (verses 15-20), including the prayer of the repentant heart for forgiveness.
The accompanying “anointing with oil” and “laying on of hands” likely reference outward signs that would indicate spiritual blessing. An anointing would indicate God’s blessing upon someone chosen for a special calling. Old Testament prophets, priests, and kings were anointed, all pointing forward to Christ, the ultimate “Anointed One.” Likewise, the “laying on of hands” in Scripture and in our usage today symbolizes the Spirit’s call and blessing today on the believer chosen to serve (Acts 8:17-18; 1 Timothy 4:14). Praying “in the name of the Lord” humbly recognizes in faith that Jesus is both the Savior Source of true prayer and the One Whose authority must lovingly prevail in answering our petitions.
“And the prayer of faith will save the sick and raise him up.” While our Lord and His disciples did through prayer heal the physically sick and raise the dead during their ministries, these miracles served to confirm His glory as the eternal Son of God (John 2:11), as well as to confirm the disciples’ apostleship. Once His and their ministries were complete and the written Scriptures available, there was no longer any need for these extraordinary miracles that accompanied the preaching of the Word (Hebrews 2:3-4). Nor is there evidence of these special gifts continuing in the church beyond the Apostolic era.
In all life moments, in joy or sorrow, “go to” the Lord for yourself and all in need. Seek the support and prayers of your shepherd and spiritual family. And your dear Father will hear and help and heal you in the most wonderful way imaginable.
David Schierenbeck St. Paul Park, Minnesota.