James 5: 13-18: “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. 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. 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 heavens gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.”
The theme of this passage is prayer. This entire section of James’s letter is caught up by issues involving prayer. Prayer is mentioned in every verse. James mentions prayer eight times in the six verses. He addresses the prayer of the individual (v. 13), the prayer of the elders (v.14 – 15), the prayer of friends for one another (v.16), and finally the prayer of the righteous prophet Elijah (v.17 – 18). Although healings, the anointing with oil and confession are addressed, the emphasis is on prayer.
When ought we to pray? The shortest answer is: “Always pray!”
Simplistically, from our perspective, life consists of two things: the bad things and the good things. James has a word of encouragement for us no matter what we might be experiencing. When things are bad, he tells us to pray. When things are good, he tells us to praise. Praise, which is directed to God, is also a form of prayer. Therefore both in times of trouble and in times of triumph we pray.
There are many responses to suffering. Some of us worry; some of us vow revenge against those who have caused the suffering (consciously or sub-consciously); some of us let anger burn inside us. Some constantly complain. But James says the correct response to suffering is to keep on praying about it (see also Psalm 30; 50:15; 91:15).
James encourages us to pray in adversity. He links this prayer to joy. At times we find it impossible to embrace pain and loss, but this is the very
time we need to bring our broken heart to our loving God in prayer. In difficult times, such as the death of a loved one, we need to be honest and admit that God’s ways are often hard for us to take. It is at times like these I reflect on the encouragement given to me by Bishop Alf Stanway, “God trusts you to trust Him”.
Not all suffering is as difficult to bear as a death, but to find joy amid any adverse situation is foreign to our culture. We live in a social and cultural world in which a great premium is placed on the elimination of discomfort. For example we are bombarded with advertisements that offer comfort in everything, from leather car upholstery, to sofa – recliners, to never-ending travel to low house payments; these advertisements show how much of an appetite we have for the elimination of stress and pain. If we are fortunate enough to be happy, we should thank God by singing praises to the Lord (see also, 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19-20).
In every situation of life says James; “Always Pray”.