It’s time we got serious about this!
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. (15) 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. (16) Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. (17) Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. (18) And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.James 5:14-18 NKJV
“Is anyone among you sick?” James uses personal, singular terms in reaching out to the sick: Any-one, let him call, pray over him, anointing him, etc. All this is geared to the many ministering to the one. The question James asked was, “Is anyone among you sick?” He didn’t couch it in “big net” terms, “All the sick should come forward for prayer.” No, his expectation seemed to be that sickness among believers would be a rare thing, and that there was a specific method to be followed in that case.
One of my most precious memories in ministry involved a man who was the grandfather of a church member. He was hospitalized with kidney issues related to diabetes. My wife and I were asked to go pray for him. Our training led us to use the method of anointing with oil and praying the prayer of faith. The gentleman was barely conscious, but when we put the oil on his forehead and began to pray, he came fully awake. By the time we left, he was alert and feeling well. It was truly dramatic! The doctors were amazed, and plans were made to release him the next day.
The next morning , we received a call that he had taken a turn for the worse. In fact, a nurse had mis-read his insulin order and given him a double dose, plunging him into a coma. We hurried back to the hospital where we found him unconscious. We repeated the procedure of the day before, and sure enough, he woke up and resumed his recovery. Granddad was fine. God’s Word worked. I was thrilled, but it rekindled some questions I had about this passage.
I couldn’t figure out the rationale for this “oil and elders” formula for praying. The first thing that puzzled me, was the purpose of the oil. I see it in the Scripture. The practice was apparently not uncommon in the time of Jesus. His disciples used it in Mark 6:13 and healed many who were sick. There are recorded instances of using olive oil in the treatment of disease and injury, as in the story of the Good Samaritan. This doesn’t seem to be the sense in which the oil is used in Mark or in James. In Mark it says the disciples “healed them.” James says it’s the prayer of faith that saves the sick, and the Lord who raises them up. So why the oil?
That connects to my second question: Shouldn’t the prayer of faith heal the sick even without the oil? We’re faith people. We teach people to live by faith. We encourage them to build their faith. In our movement, we have had thousands of sermons on the kind of faith described in Mark 11:24. Many of us have received healing and other blessings from the Lord using this verse as our template: I find the will of God in His Word. Faith comes. I pray, believing that God hears and answers at that moment (1 John 5:14-15). I read on to verse 25, where I find that I must live in forgiveness in order to receive God’s blessing, so I check my heart toward others. I stand, thanking God for my healing. (For more instruction on faith, See Healing Helps 12 and following.) Why can’t I dispense with the oil and the elders and just pray the prayer of faith for the sick person?
As we continue to explore ways to help Christians receive the healing that God has purchased for them, these questions are important. You see, this passage in James is the only place in the Bible specifically targeted at sick believers. James expected that sickness among believers would be rare, and that if it did occur, the sick person had the responsibility to ask for help. This help was to come from a specific source and through a specific method. The outcome was clearly supposed to be positive: “the prayer of faith WILL save the sick, and the Lord WILL raise him up.” No room for “maybe” here, no “If it be thy will.” You call, they pray, God heals.
You know it doesn’t always work that way. If we’re honest, most of us have experienced those seasons when the enemy strikes, we pray, but the answer seems slow to come. In those moments, I usually don’t need a bible lesson or the loan of books and tapes. I need someone to come along side and pick me up, help me fight, even carry the load for me for a while. If someone I know is struggling with healing, my job is to locate them and help them where they are. The will of God is that they be healed, and James 5:14-18 tells us how to help them. One thing is very clear: the result of elders, oil, and faith is supposed to be healing. In order to improve our results, let’s be sure we understand the instructions and how to apply them in a way that maximizes positive outcomes.
Remember, your faith is designed to work for you. You can pray the prayer of faith and receive for yourself. You’re a Christian. You have access to the Father in the Name of the Son. Jesus said to have faith in God, then told His disciples how to use their faith:
So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.Mark 11:22-25 NKJV
Notice that these instructions are all addressed to “you.” This is a direct instruction to the ones doing the praying. You have faith, you pray, you believe, and you forgive. All these are issues of the heart that no one else can see. I can confidently use my faith for myself because I know what’s in my heart. I know the life challenges I face on other fronts. I know what God may be dealing with me about. In prayer for others, It’s more complicated. I can’t see their heart. I don’t know where their faith is. I don’t know what other challenges may be distracting them or draining them of faith and strength. I don’t know what battles they’re still not recovered from. There are many things about the situation that I simply cannot know.
When someone is not receiving by their own faith, they need help. It’s OK to call for help when healing doesn’t come right away. It’s not a sign of weakness or inferior Christianity. I love the confidence James expresses in the Lord and the process: “the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” God wants us to help each other, and He has given instructions on how that’s to be done. So here’s the brutal truth, and it jars me when I think about it: If this is not happening as the rule in our churches, then we need to dig deeper, we need to know why we’re not seeing the results that are promised. It’s not time to give up, it’s time to get going!!!!!!!
In order to be more effective, let’s look into a few pertinent questions:
- Why call the elders?
- Won’t the prayer of faith always save the sick?
- Why the oil?
- What does it mean to “pray over” someone?
- Who is qualified to do the praying?
Let’s start by considering the “call for the elders of the church” clause. We spent a lot of time on the subject of authority and responsibility. We found that God gives authority to go with responsibility. The implication of that principle is that the people who have responsibility in my life also have authority to a higher degree than the man on the street. When I need prayer I look first to my spouse, then my family, and then my pastor. Herein lies the power in calling for the elders. The leaders in my local church have responsibilities to me by virtue of our relationship and their calling. That means they also have increased authority to pray for me and to speak into my life.
It’s God’s plan that when someone is sick and healing doesn’t come, that they have a body of believers around them to surround them, protect them, pray over them. When James’s letter was read in the churches, the people immediately understood that he was talking about the elders of their local assembly. They didn’t have a phone or a television, or a wi-fi connection, they had a family of faith. For us, the point is that you need a local church with some elders who know how to pray. Don’t call the TV preacher, call your church family first.
For our “faith” crowd, it must be emphasized that you need to humble your faith-filled self and call for help. It’s not an indictment of your faith. In fact, obeying the Scripture in anticipation that God will fulfill His Word is the very essence of faith. When your church sends someone to pray for you, receive it for what it is: God’s method for getting you healed. The results promised in these verses are amazing! When the elders (or whoever they send in their name) pray, the results are healing and forgiveness. It seems that even if your own sin caused your illness, you can still be healed. (Note that the healing comes first, then the forgiveness). You don’t have to be perfect to be healed.
In verse 16, James makes an interesting transition. He artfully moves from the prayer of the elders to the broader power of praying for “one another.” Healing comes when we’re transparent with one another and pray for one another. This is you and I praying for each other with no “super Christians” in attendance. We can do this ourselves! In describing the nature of this “one another” praying, James ascribes tremendous power to the prayer of anyone who’s righteous:
”The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. (17) Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. (18) And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”James 5:16b-18 NKJV
If you’re a believer, if Jesus Christ is your Lord, then this section is talking about you! You have been made righteous through faith in Him. (Ephesians 4:24) You have as much prayer power as Elijah had. He said that Elijah was just a regular guy, a human, who was in covenant with God. Well, that’s who you are! The least of us in the Body of Christ can pray for the sick after this manner and expect the promised results: healing and forgiveness.
What’s the point: God has made specific provision for Christians who are having a hard time getting healed. As a Christian, God has given you connection to a local community of believers and the power to pray for one another. You have a responsibility and authority to do so. If you find yourself in ill health and your prayers seem ineffective, call for the leadership of your church. Don’t ever be intimidated about calling for healing help, or unwilling to provide healing help when called. We are in this together. God wants us healed, all of us!
NEXT STEPS: It’s time we get serious about praying for our brothers and sisters in need of healing. This is where we step up into a new level of power and demonstration in the Church. No longer do we settle for a pat on the back and a prayer of sympathy. We all have Elijah-like power and authority. Our connection to each other gives us a special place of responsibility. Let’s take every opportunity to use it. Remember the Bible facts: You are a righteous person, your prayer avails much, and the outcome is healing and forgiveness of sin for the one in need. Pray for one another that you may be healed. It’s time.
Next Time: We will continue to analyze this extraordinary passage on praying for sick Christians: Why the oil? What does it mean to pray “over” someone? When should I call for help? Remember, God wants you healed, and so do I.