Navigating the Ups and Downs of Life
James 5:13-18 13 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14 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. 15 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. 16 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. 17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
Intro: James expresses the fact that life is made up of triumph and tragedy, of sorrow and joy. Sickness can trip us up and sin can entangle us. We rarely know what to expect. Life is often very unpredictable. Anyone who has had an accident or has had a family member suddenly get sick, can attest that life can change radically in just a matter of seconds. Tragedy comes in many forms.
-I read about a former female basketball player named Kia Jurgenson who was a student at a Christian University. She was a gifted, all state high school basketball player who loved the Lord; she received a full-ride scholarship and started as a freshmen on the University team.
-During those college years, Jurgenson contacted a dangerous form of meningitis with the result being that to save her life, the Drs. had to amputate both of her legs and most of her right hand. Needless to say, basketball was out.
-On the outside looking in we would say that Life has been unfair and cruel to her. Nevertheless, after a lengthy and arduous rehab, she was back at school the following fall. And you can just imagine what it was like when at a chapel service, she stepped up on the stage and up to the podium (on her prosthetic limbs) and thanked all the people for their prayers and support, but most of all Jesus for his steadfast love. Amazing, isn’t it? How do we respond to adversity?
-Let’s take a closer look at how we should approach the ups and downs of life.
1. Personal Prayer is the proper response to trouble
James 5:13a Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray.
-The word James uses here refers to suffering of any kind. It can include sickness but also covers death, disappointment, and persecution.
-When we’re in trouble, we are to pray as Psalm 34:4 reminds us: “I sought the LORD, and he answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.” When we’re in a mess we should pray for wisdom, strength, and for the removal of the suffering, if it is the Lord’s will. We have the privilege of prayer where we can go to God at any time, in any situation with whatever is on our hearts. I don’t know how people can go through hard times without the Lord in their lives.
-The Bible is clear that suffering is the normal expectation for every believer. Peter puts it rather bluntly in 1 Peter 4:12: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” But, even though we know life is never easy, we can give way to self-pity or get resentful and discouraged. When we sense that the pressures of life are greater than we can bear, James says, “Pray.”
2. Praise is the proper response when life is good!
James 5:13b Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.
-James is saying here that not everyone goes through troubles at the same time. God balances our lives and gives us hours of suffering and days of singing. Praying and singing were important elements of worship in the early church, as they are in ours.
-The word “happy” means to be of good cheer, and suggests a state of mind that is free from trouble. When we’re happy we’re to sing songs of praise. In Psalm 96:1-2, David calls us to, “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise His name; proclaim His salvation day after day.” We are called to sing songs of praise when we’re going through times of success because good times can lead to spiritual indifference.
-And so, we’re to pray when we suffer and we’re to praise when we have success. Now, let’s look at what we’re to do when we have sickness.
3. Requesting Prayer is the proper response to sickness
James 5:14-15 14 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. 15 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.
-The focus here is not on what God is able to do. We know that God can do anything He wants to do. God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). The focus in this passage is on what the church can do. These verses tell us how a Bible-believing church responds to sickness in its midst. What should we do for the sick? The answer is both simple and profound. We should pray that God would raise them up.
-Now James doesn’t appear to focus on who an elder is, possibly because his readers would already know. But since James doesn’t make too much of it, I don’t think we need to either. I think several of you could qualify as elders or spiritual leaders – people who know how to get a hold of God! James focuses quite a bit more on what kind of prayer should be prayed than on who is qualified to do the praying. The main qualities indicated here are righteousness, humility, and being full of faith- marks of maturity.
-So, as your pastor, I would encourage you to feel free to call people who are solid Christians whom you respect, and ask them to pray for you when you are sick. Yes, you can call me, and you can call our board members, but don’t limit yourself or God! Depending on the circumstance, maybe you just need to ask someone to pray for you over the phone. Miracles have happened over the phone! But there is something special about people going to someone’s house in person on a mission to pray for them. And it is kind of hard to anoint with oil over the phone. So let’s look at the model James gives.
-There are at least 4 steps in the process of praying for the sick.
Step #1: The sick person calls for the elders/prayer warriors. The word “sick” is very broad. It includes any serious physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or relational problem that has become too heavy to bear. Elders are called because they represent God’s church and because they know how to get in touch with God.
Step #2: The elders/prayer givers go to the sick person. They go together because there is strength in numbers. And, by going in person, their prayers can be much more fervent, heartfelt and earnest. In addition, by going to the sick person, the elders communicate the message that the church has not forgotten those who are sick.
Step #3: The elders pray and anoint with oil. When the elders come to pray, James tells them to anoint the sick person with oil. The word literally means to “rub” oil on him. The type of oil is not specified but it was probably not Pennzoil! It was most likely olive oil.
-Oil in the Bible was often used as a symbol of health and vitality. Kings were anointed with it as a visible symbol of God’s presence through His Holy Spirit. The same is true here. There’s nothing magical or supernatural about it. By anointing with oil, we are giving a humble reminder that all healing must come from God. It builds faith and says to the sick person, “God is here and He is able to heal you.”
-Notice that the anointing is to be done “in the name of the Lord.” This is very important because it reminds us that God is the ultimate source of all blessing and healing. The power is not in the elders, in the oil, or even in the prayers -- but in the name of the Lord.
Step #4: There is healing. Verse 15 makes a rather bold promise: “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well…” This fourth step is simply the expected result of steps 1-3: The sick person is healed. James uses an unusual expression to describe the elders’ prayer. He calls it “the prayer offered in faith.” This particular phrase is used nowhere else in the New Testament. In one sense every sincere prayer must be offered in faith or it can hardly be called prayer at all. When the elders pray, they are to come to God with an attitude of complete trust that He can and will do what is needed in every situation.
-The text says nothing about how the healing will come, nor does it rule out medical care. In fact, oil also had a medicinal property to it and may have communicated to James’ first century readers that God heals through prayer and medicine. Whether quickly or slowly, by miracle or by medicine, or by some combination of the two, God is able to heal His children.
4. Confession and Praying Together bring healing
James 5:16-18 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. 17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
-One of the many benefits of confessing our sins to God and to one another is that it disarms the Accuser (Satan). Getting it out in the open removes the secrecy, where shame and failure thrive.
-It is so important that you confess your sins to God and to others. Sin can work its way into our bodies, causing us to feel like we’re wasting away.
-We need to own our sins don’t we? If you can think of something right now that you’ve done, or are still doing, confess it to another Christian. The word “confess” in this verse means, “to say the same thing out.” Find a fellow believer and agree with what God says about your sin.
-Not all sickness is caused by a particular sin, but some illnesses stem directly from our sinful actions and attitudes. Until those things are confronted and confessed, it is pointless to pray for healing. When someone asks for prayer, it might be a good idea to ask about their spiritual condition. Are they conscious of any sin that is standing between them and God, blocking His healing power?
-Verse 15 seems so confident and sure that we struggle a bit with it. James states without any qualification that the sick person will be healed. Period.
-It is an undeniable fact that not everyone we pray for and not everyone we anoint is healed. Tony Campolo tells a story about being in a church in Oregon where he was asked to pray for a man who had cancer. Campolo prayed boldly for the man’s healing. That next week he got a telephone call from the man’s wife. She said, "You prayed for my husband. He had cancer." Campolo thought when he heard her use the past tense verb that his cancer had been eradicated! But before he could think much about it she said, "He died." Campolo felt terrible.
-But she continued, "Don’t feel bad. When he came into that church that Sunday he was filled with anger. He knew he was going to be dead in a short period of time, and he hated God. He was 58 years old, and he wanted to see his children and grandchildren grow up. He was angry that this all-powerful God didn’t take away his sickness and heal him. He would lie in bed and curse God. The more his anger grew towards God, the more miserable he was to everybody around him. It was an awful thing to be in his presence.
-But the lady told Campolo, “After you prayed for him, a peace had come over him and a joy had come into him. Tony, the last three days have been the best days of our lives. We’ve sung. We’ve laughed. We’ve read Scripture. We prayed. Oh, they’ve been wonderful days. And I called to thank you for laying your hands on him and praying for healing.”
-And then she said something incredibly profound. She said, "He wasn’t cured, but he was healed." (Tony Campolo, "Year of Jubilee," Preaching Today Tape #212)
-When we pray the prayer of faith, all kinds of things can happen. But understand how easy it can be to talk yourself out of faith.
-One pastor tells of a man in their church who got really sick. He was rushed to the hospital and was put on a ventilator. After a couple days, his kidneys shut down and he went into a coma. The doctors told the Pastor to help prepare the family for his death.
-So he told the family what the doctors had told him. When he met with the dying man’s son, the son said, “No, I’m not going to believe that. He’s going to get better.” The Pastor tried to help him see that there was no hope. Later that night the Pastor got a call from the man’s son. The dying man had come out of his coma, his kidneys were working and he was breathing on his own. A few days later he was released from the hospital and returned home.
-God can do anything He wants to. If God wants someone to live, He will respond to the prayer offered in faith. We should always pray in faith for God to heal someone, and not give up until God makes it clear. F.B. Meyer writes, “The greatest tragedy is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.”
-How, then, should we pray for the sick? We should pray…
-Aggressively because God can do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine.
Fervently because the fervent prayers of a righteous person are powerful & effective.
Submissively b/c God’s understanding of the total situation is much greater than ours. Just because we think physical healing would be best doesn’t mean that God agrees w/ us. We should ask for what we want w/o telling God how to answer our prayers.
-Healing is more than getting over a physical sickness. It involves coming into a right relationship with God first and foremost. Then it touches every part of life -- body, soul, and spirit. It involves the healing of broken relationships and brings us to a place where we can receive God’s blessings in a new and powerful way.
-Healing is not becoming what we were before the sickness but becoming all that God intends us to be. He will even use the sickness to accomplish His purpose in us. When we pray for healing, we should not focus on the physical to the exclusion of the spiritual, emotional, & relational sides of life. We are not healed until we are made whole on every level of our existence.
-Now, two truths emerge from this passage: 1) It is not always God’s will to heal physically or no sick believer would ever die. 2) It is often God’s will to heal which is why this passage is in the Bible.
-Sometimes we focus on one statement to the exclusion of the other but both are true, aren’t they? Part of our problem is that is we have lost our faith in God’s will to heal, and the role of other believers in the healing process.
-We are to be people of prayer. In order for our prayers to make a difference, we must be people of vital, living faith, ready to pray even in desperate circumstances.
-When Hudson Taylor first went to China, he made the voyage on a sailing ship. As it neared the channel between the southern Malay Peninsula and the island of Sumatra, the missionary heard an urgent knock on his stateroom door. He opened it, and there stood the captain of the ship.
“Mr. Taylor,” he said, “We have no wind. We are drifting toward an island where the people are heathen, and I fear they are cannibals.”
“What can I do?” asked Taylor.
“I understand that you believe in God. I want you to pray for wind.”
Taylor responded, “All right, Captain, I will, but you must set the sail.”
The captain was agitated and said, “Why, that’s ridiculous! There’s not even the slightest breeze. Besides, the sailors will think I’m crazy.” Nevertheless, the captain finally agreed. Forty-five minutes later he returned and found the missionary still on his knees.
“You can stop praying now,” said the captain. “We’ve got more wind than we know what to do with!”
-Folks, God is willing to answer ¬when we pray with faith. He will heal and He will lead us through times of suffering, during times of success, in times of sickness, and even when we’re trapped in sin. He wants us to come to Him in faith (believing Him) and be willing to do things His way.
Portions of this sermon were adapted from Brian Bill, Sermoncentral.com