It’s not quick or convenient.
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)
“Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness.”Martin Luther
In the early 1990’s I began to see some new insight about praying “over” the sick. I wanted to try it out in real life. What would happen if I got my elders to pray over a weary believer until refreshing came, and then pray the prayer of faith? The first time we tried it in a service, I asked if anyone had a chronic condition that had not responded to prayer. A lady came forward who was facing surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome in her hand. I called for my elders, sat her in a chair, and we prayed over her. We spoke healing promises and prayed in tongues. When I sensed the presence of God come on the lady, we prayed with her using the format in Mark 11:24. We believed we received healing, and began to give thanks. While the others continued in thanksgiving, I walked away to pray for several other people who had come forward for prayer.
As I was praying, I heard my wife say, “Virgil, come here!” She was emphatic. I walked back to the little group of elders. Judy grabbed the lady’s hand and held it out to me. “Look at this!” As we watched, the ligaments and small bones in the back of her hand appeared to be moving around under the skin. She said she could feel them moving. It was kind of spooky. After a bit, the movement stopped. She reported that she was pain free and able to move her hand and wrist in ways that would have been very painful before. The next week, her physicians confirmed the healing and the surgery was cancelled.
Thank God, the prayer of faith as we understood it worked! I say “as we understood it,“ because we were a Word of Faith church. That’s my background and it’s what I taught my people. To us, “the prayer of faith” meant Mark 11:24. With that as our paradigm, we assumed that when the weary believer was refreshed, she would be able to then pray the prayer of faith and receive her healing. As good faith folks, we were happy to add our agreement to her faith. Hey, it worked, and I’ve used that method many times with good results.
Since this passage in James is the only one that speaks specifically to Christians, I continued to use it, meditate on it, and pray about it. As questions came, I tried to find good answers. We have addressed a number of them: 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 “the sick” who is healed in verse 15?
As I noted above, being from a Word of Faith background, I always assumed that “the prayer of faith” meant a prayer based on Mark 11:24: I pray according to the will of God, I receive the answer now by faith, and I begin to thank God for the answer and act on my faith.
One day it dawned on me that that may not have been how James meant it, or how his 1st century Jewish-Christian audience (See James 1:1) understood it. They hadn’t read Mark 11:24. Their context would have been the training they had received in synagogue as well as any exposure to the teaching of the Apostles since their conversion. While praying in faith as we have described it certainly works, the original intent may have been something slightly different.
James had already told them some things about praying in faith. In talking about asking for wisdom in the midst of trials, he said:
But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.James 1:6-8 NKJV
Apparently the one who prays in faith stays steady, unmoved by the winds of circumstance. Some other translations of the phrase “the prayer of faith” offer ideas: “the prayer made in faith (GNB),” or “prayers offered in faith (GW).” Rather than our Mark 11:24 faith formula, James may have included any prayers that proceed from faith, and are made in expectation that whatever God has promised, He will do. I pray expecting the results I am promised, and I don’t waver. That is praying in faith.
In James 5:16, James transitions smoothly from the elders praying over the person to the saints praying for one another. I don’t think this is an accident. He’s not changing the subject. It’s still about healing prayer. James is blending the elder’s prayer and the prayers of other believers as “prayers of faith.” He seems to be saying that both of these prayers, if done in faith, will have predictable results: “That you may be healed.” He uses an illustration of healing prayer that would have been very familiar to his Jewish audience: Elijah. He makes the shocking statement that you and I are just as qualified to pray this way as Elijah was, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.”
The Jewish Christian reader would have thought immediately of the classic story of Elijah’s prayer for rain. Let’s take a quick look at it, becaue it’s supposed to be a picture of a regular human praying in faith.
And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.1 Kings 18:41-46 ESV
I love this story! Elijah gets bold with King Ahab, telling him to fuel up, the rain is coming. He then proceeds to pray. After a bit he sends his servant to look for any sign of rain. Why? Because he expected it to rain! “I prayed, it must be gonna rain!” He repeated this process 7 times. He prayed, therefore he was sure the rain must be on the way. “Go look again!” Elijah is our example of faith. He prayed with expectancy: he fully expected the answer to come. He prayed with perseverance: He didn’t quit until he saw the answer.
The prayer of faith can certainly include the Mark 11:24 model prayed by the elders or the refreshed believer. It can also be the prayer of the elders as they pray over the weary believer, or it can be the prayers of other believers prayed with perseverance and expectancy until the answer comes. We can deploy all these weapons in the battle to bring healing to our covenant partners when they can’t access it for themselves.
Once we engage, we follow the Elijah example. We don’t quit until we see the cloud, the subtle sign that says the answer is ours. We expect it every time we look. We expect refreshing for the weary and healing for the sick, the perfect will of God.
Next Steps: We looked last time at some of the ways we pray when we pray “over” someone. Let’s visit those again:
- We lay hands on him. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name… they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Mark 16:17-18 ESV
- We speak the Name of Jesus: James 5:14; Song of Solomon 1:3 “Your name is ointment poured forth.”
- We do it in faith, expecting the weary to be raised up. James 1:6; 5:15
- We pray in the Spirit, speak the Word, and persevere. Ephesians 6:17-18
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—Ephesians 6:17-18 NKJV
These verses in Ephesians, connected with James 5, lead us into the realm of making intercession for those who are sick. Whether I am physically laying hands on the sick person and praying over him, or I am in my own prayer closet praying unyieldingly for his healing, I want to be effective. That means I want to persevere in faith, expecting the results that the bible promises. The tools I have at my disposal are in the list above. I have authority in the Name of Jesus, I have the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, and I have the ability to pray in the Spirit.
This mindset will take a huge change for most of us in our world of quick and convenient everything. Often, the real things of the Spirit are neither quick nor convenient. Are we willing?
I’m again asking you to take part in a determined, unyielding, inconvenient calling to bring weary believers into contact with the healing power that God provides. Pray in the Spirit, persevere, expect!
In our next lesson, we’ll remind ourselves of the power of “praying in the Spirit,” and why it’s so important in seeing the sick healed. We have been entrusted with a gift. It’s our responsibility to learn to use it for the benefit of others. It’s time to pray!