Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
To wrap up our series on The Story of Jesus: The Healer, here are some final thoughts:
Several years ago, my father suffered a major stroke (technically a “subarachnoid hemorrhage”). The first doctor who examined him told my brother there was “zero chance of meaningful recovery.” Eventually another doctor revised that prognosis and told us he believed that my father’s condition could be reversed with an appropriate surgical procedure. We authorized the procedure and we prayed. Within 24 hours my father woke up from a coma and within a month he was driving a car and working again. We praised God.
Less than a month later a woman approached me after a worship service and told me that her father had experienced a similar stroke but that, despite their desperate prayers for healing and recovery, he had never regained consciousness.
I can’t begin to estimate how many times I have been privileged to pray with and for people who are sick. I’ve prayed in hospitals and in homes; for those who want to be restored to physical health and for those who long to be released from this earthly life. Some people that I have prayed with have recovered completely. Some have died. Some got better for a while then got sick again and died. I don’t have any idea how many people I have prayed with God has chosen to heal; and I don’t know why he chose not to heal so many. But I do know that he has invited us to pray for physical healing. James writes:
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.
Is James saying that every sick person will get well if we pray following his instruction? Is there special healing power in the oil he talks about? Is this a “prayer formula” that, if followed in detail, will result in physical healing every time? These are good questions.
One of the basic rules for interpreting any particular passage of Scripture is to understand it in the context of God’s word a as whole.
We know, for example, that Jesus did not heal every sick person that he came across. In John 5 he walks through a whole crowd of sick and infirm people and chooses one paralyzed man to speak to and ultimately heal.
We can also assume that those Jesus did heal eventually experienced physical death from some other cause.
We also know that although every human life is created by God and is precious in his sight, this earthly life pales in comparison to the eternal life that awaits those who die in faith.
The Apostle Paul writes:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Phil. 1:21
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Cor. 4:17
So I don’t think James is offering a guarantee of physical healing through prayer. But I think he is saying that prayer gives us access to the God who has both the power and authority to heal the sick.
As the creator of all life, God can and does heal. Sometimes he heals through what we would call “natural processes”; the human body’s seemingly natural ability to heal (but which was created by God to do so). Sometimes he heals through the medical sciences, which also are a gift from his hand. Sometimes he heals supernaturally; that is, as a response to prayer that we do not fully comprehend from our human perspective. And sometimes the healing he brings is not physical and temporary (as all physical healing is temporary), but spiritually and eternally.
James simply wants us to know that when we are sick we are invited to pray for healing. What an unspeakable privilege of faith; what a wonderful blessing of the gospel!
Pastor Brian Coffey