Help is on the way!
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. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, 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 heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.James 5:14-18 ESV
“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”Vince Lombardi
The more I look into these verses from James, the more I believe they hold keys to a dramatic increase in our success in the healing ministry. God is so gracious, that He has given us many good results using this “elders and oil” method, though we’ve had very little insight as to how it works. That is about to change. In our last lesson, I identified 5 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?
After some thought, I am adding one more:
- Who is “the sick” who is healed in verse 15?
Last time, we came away with three powerful truths. In answer to the question , “Why the elders?” we recalled the importance of responsibility and authority in prayer. It’s vital that we have someplace to call when we need help. It’s important to be connected to a local body of believers. We also noted the power of the prayer of every believer and the importance of praying for one another. We can all be powerfully involved in bringing healing to others in our local community of faith. We have responsibility and authority! In that discussion, we also recognized the clear expectation of James: the prayer of faith will save the sick and the Lord will raise him up. We need to develop that same adamant expectation as we apply the process.
Before we look at the oil and the prayer of faith, it’s important that we identify who James was speaking to in these verses. He starts with the qualifier, let the sick person call for the elders. Then, referring to the ones who called for prayer, he says the prayer of faith will “save the sick.” The word “save” must mean healing. That’s what we’re talking about, right? The Greek word is sozo, the same as for our salvation from sin, but it’s a word with a wide variety of applications. It means deliverance from danger or catastrophe of any kind. In this case, the need is for deliverance from sickness. The question then remains, if the Christian can pray in faith and be healed, why do the believers in this verse need the elders to come pray over them? Who are these “sick” people?
One day while listening to Rev. Bob Yandian teaching on these verses, I heard him say that the term “sick” in verse 15 is different from the one in verse 14. “Is anyone among you sick?” uses the Greek word “asthenéō,” meaning “without strength, powerless, or sick.” It’s commonly used in the New Testament to indicate physical illness. In verse 15, “the prayer of faith will save the sick,” uses a different Greek word for “sick,” kámnō. The Complete Word Study Dictionary tells us it means, “Primarily to work, be weary from constant work. When used in connection with asthenéō, to be sick, it suggests the common accompaniment of sickness, weariness of mind which may hinder physical recovery.” Now that’s a different picture.
Looking a little more closely into that second word, we find it used in only 2 other places in the New Testament, and in one place in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament from which many New Testament writers quote. To get a sense of the meaning kámno had to people in that time, let’s look at these three uses: :
- Hebrews 12:3 ESV “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
This is directing us to Jesus and His determination to press on through the torments of crucifixion so you and I could be saved. When we’re tempted to get tired or fainthearted in “the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1b NKJV), we’re encouraged to think of His endurance in the face of trial. Notice also in verse 1, that our weariness can be intensified by weights and sins. The burdens of life and our own moral failures can wear us down and cause us to become fainthearted, or, as the King James says, “faint in your minds.”
- Revelation 2:2-3 ESV “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. (3) I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.”
Here, Jesus is commending a church for not growing weary while doing the work of the Kingdom. They are also standing up for the truth in the face of false teachers and persecutions. The implication is that the work of the Kingdom and the spiritual battles that go with it can cause us to weaken.
- Job 10:1 KJV “My soul is weary of my life; I will leave my complaint upon myself; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.”
Job is lamenting all the trials that have come upon him. He’s even angry with God, and feels unfairly treated. All this has caused him to have a “weary soul.” His mind and emotions are ready to give up the fight. Life has worn him down. Notice how a weary soul pushes him to complain and blame God for his own dilemma. That’s a common symptom of weariness. (See Numbers 21:4-6)
James is telling us that the sick people we are praying for are weary, tired from the battle. They may have been facing a long struggle with illness and have become tired. They may have been worn down by other circumstances and trials in their lives. They may even have grown weary in doing the work of God. For whatever reason, they are mentally, spiritually, or physically drained. In this moment, they need their church family to carry them. They call for the elders of the church.
In one church we served, there was a lady who was one of our most faithful members. She served in several ministries, and she and her husband were in every service. She was a woman of faith who prayed for others with wonderful results. One evening I got a call that she was in the hospital in great pain. Before the night was over, the doctors had removed her gall bladder, and she was facing a lengthy recovery. God was faithful, and her recovery was supernaturally swift.
When I spoke to her about the episode, she said, “I prayed, but it just seemed like I didn’t have the strength to fight.” You see, she had a daughter who was causing problems at home. She was spending time and emotional energy on a rebellious, troubled adolescent. It consumed her prayer life and drained her devotional time. She also continued to care for her other children as well as fulfill her commitments in the church. When the attack of the enemy came at her, she was too weary to hang on to the promise of God for herself. I was reminded of what Paul said to the Galatians:
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. (Galatians 6:9 NKJV)
It’s possible to get tired while doing good. It’s possible that this weariness can cause us to lose heart, thus missing the harvest of our faith. The term “lose heart’” is a translation of the Greek word ekluo. The King James Version translates it “faint.” It means to turn loose or relax, to release your grip. Isn’t that what’s happening to us when we begin to tire? When the battle is long, our failures seem many, and the end doesn’t seem to be in sight, it’s easy to just relax our grip on the promise of God.
Thank God, when life has worn you down and sickness has you at the point of giving up, of turning loose of your faith, He has provided a way to help you through. That’s the very moment when you need someone else to grab hold with you, an intercessor who will grab you with one hand and the promise of God with the other. Someone to hang on until you’re strong enough to hold on again. If we take a little liberty with the translation of James’s instruction, we could say “the prayer of faith will save, heal, and deliver the sick believer who’s gotten too weary to receive on his own, and the Lord will raise him up.” That’s good news.
Here’s the Point: The life of faith is not a walk in the park on a sunny day. Sometimes it’s quite challenging. In addition, life in the work-a-day world brings its own stresses and difficulties. In some cases, we may struggle with personal moral failure, repeatedly succumbing to the same temptation. We’re tired of failing. Condemnation begets doubt and we turn loose of the promise. Sometimes, we’re faced with overwhelming need in the lives of those we love. We’re weary of seeing them suffer, yet our efforts to help seem to fall flat. We exhaust our own resources pouring into their lives. Other times, we have ministry responsibilities and expectations that push us past our limits. We’re tired of feeling inadequate, but we faithfully drag ourselves ahead until we’re ready to drop. Whatever the cause, we all get tired. When that happens, God still wants us healed, and He has provided a way for us to get help.
Next Steps: We may still not know about the oil, or what it means to pray “over” someone, but we know who to call when we’re sick and too weary to hang on. We also know that God’s intended outcome is healing for the weary believer. Those two things are a good start. Next time we’ll look into those other questions. For now, Take the step of faith: call for the elders of your church, believing that you will see the results that James so boldly proclaimed. God wants you healed, and so do we!