“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.” (James 5:13 – 15)
The writer of the letter of James is an optimist – that is sort of a very mild critique. There are worst things than being perpetually optimistic. I am in the process of reading a good many books that point out the blessings of being positive and optimistic. But quite honestly, these books are easier to take than the optimism that the writer here has. The books I am reading admit and acknowledge that tough things happen, and that the initial response to sadness and set backs is to grief, mourn, complain, rail, and all sorts of other negative responses. The point is in each story and each book is what you do after that. But here the writer of the letter from James says that everything will be better if you praise and pray.
Maybe his exhortation is not meant to overlook the natural human response, but to (as the books I am reading say) change your attitude and hand it over to the Divine. That is a underlying theme in a lot of the stories and books I have read.
“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” (Verse 16)
I also feel discomfort at the idea that sins can lead to ill health, either emotionally/psychologically or physically. But the writer does not dwell long on that theme.
“Elijah was a human being like us, 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 the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (Verses 17 – 20)
I have to sit back and consider the progression here: from suffering which stands in contrast to joy; from ill health to recuperation and healing; and then to sinning which can be forgiven. Confession leads to healing – now is that of the body or of the spirit? Or perhaps the writer means both? And where we end up is at fervent prayer, which is a theme throughout. Not only is the writer of the letter from James an optimist but he is also a “wanderer”. And despite the sense you might get from my comments, that is a good thing.
If “James” is truly the disciple turned apostle James, his Christian life and faith are grounded in fortitude and the teachings of Jesus Christ. My contention is that he makes it seem so easy to turn around suffering to change it into healing and redemption; to take suffering and change it into joy; to recognize one’s own sin and confession that it is changed to forgiveness. Not everyone has experienced pray like that. And not everyone has the depth and breadth of faith to pray that deeply and wide.
What is your experience of prayer, beloved reader? Who were the people in your life who taught you to pray? Did they teach you or model for you the experience of pray like this? Is this something you would want in your life? When we hear the experience of others, we measure it and test it against our own lives. And if there is a dichotomy between our experience and the experience of others, we may dismiss the experience of others. But the lessons in the books I have been reading have made me stop and consider that just maybe what was true for them could be true for me. I would like to believe so. Maybe you would like to also. Shalom & Selah!