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.
Pray when you are in trouble.
What James is talking about when he says “if you are in trouble” is when you are suffering some kind of life difficulty. The circumstances of life have gone from good to bad to worse. The length of the money and the length of the month don’t seem to match. There have been misunderstandings or miscommunications and now there are fines and late fees to deal with. People around you are making life difficult for you. You find yourself between a “rock and a hard place.”
Paul knew what it was like to be “in trouble.” We read in II Timothy 2:9 that Paul suffered. Life was difficult for him simply because he preached the gospel. He says, “I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal.” Yet this same man could say, “Rejoice in the Lord and again I say, rejoice.” How could he experience joy while he was suffering? How could he keep from being discouraged and give up and give in to depression? How could he keep following the Lord and preaching the Word that kept landing him in jail? He could do it because he was in constant prayer mode with his Heavenly Father.
You see, prayer will keep us from grumbling and complaining. If we are talking to the Lord about our problems, some of the emotion that goes along with the suffering will be diffused and dealt with just through prayer. We won’t see ourselves as victims, but we’ll see that difficulties are sometimes just part of the landscape for us as humans and more specifically for us as Christians.
Prayer will give us a new perspective on our situation. We’ll feel differently about our suffering after we have taken it to the Lord. He’ll show us how suffering can actually serve us. James 1:2ff Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Perseverance is a good thing. Maturity and completion are good things. God doesn’t want us to lack any good thing. (Psalm 34:10) There is only one way to get perseverance. It is to have to struggle through something.
If you have a testimony it’s usually because you’ve suffered in some way. You’ve gone through something and you have overcome with God’s help. Listen, God can use your suffering to give others hope and encouragement. Thank God for those times of suffering in your life that made you stronger and more reliant on Him. Psalm 50:15 15”Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” You’ll have a testimony when you pray and see God’s deliverance. When you pray about your troubles, start thanking God for the way He will deliver you and use you to honor Him.
Prayer will keep us from worry and fear. Do you know that worry only makes our suffering worse not only for ourselves but also for the people around us as well? When you’re worried, you will either shut down or wear out the people around you. You won’t be able to do your work effectively. You won’t be able to engage lovingly with people. You’ll drive people away because people who are “Nervous Nellies” always wringing their hands with worry and talking about all of the negative possibilities drain those around them. Worry will put your stomach in knots, drive your sugar up and your attitude and outlook down. When you’re in trouble, don’t let your head and heart be given to worry, but give them to prayer.
Worry will do a lot to us, but prayer will do a lot for us. Prayer is to our soul as stretching is to our physical body. When we stretch, we release stress and strain and tension. When we pray, we do the same emotionally and spiritually. Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God,” and when you do, you will obtain a peace that will keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. When you’re in trouble, it’s not freedom from trouble that you need, but peace. Peace isn’t the absence of trouble, but the presence of God in the midst of trouble. The reason I say you don’t need freedom from trouble is that trouble is an ongoing part of life. You will always be facing something on some level. Jesus told us to be prepared for it.
In John 16:33 Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
James 4:6 tells us God gives us more grace when we need it. Pray in times of trouble to experience it. When we lived in Cincinnati, five years into our ministry there, the church went through an extremely rough time. The Senior Pastor had resigned on good terms and within a few months, things went south. The Executive Pastor resigned and left. The youth pastor resigned and left. The children’s pastor resigned and left and we wanted to leave. However, God didn’t release us. God didn’t “okay” our departure. I remember thinking, “How am I going to do this as the only staff pastor?” Listen, you don’t know what you can do until you are tested. You don’t know what you will do in times of trouble until you are given the opportunity. And hear me clearly, it wasn’t what I did, but what God did in me that became a huge testimony for God’s glory that is still being talked about today. You see, God enabled me to manage more, do more and be more than I had ever been. His grace at work in me enabled that church to continue on.
As I was preparing for this morning’s message and this thought that God gives us more grace than usual in times of trouble, I thought of a precious old hymn. I want to share it with you. I don’t know what you’re going through, but if you’re in trouble, pray to see the grace and peace of God at work in your life.
(I sing “He Giveth More Grace)
So when you are in trouble, pray to the Lord who is an “ever present Help in times of trouble.” Psalm 46:1
Pray when you are happy.
James tells us, “If anyone is happy, let him sing songs of praise.” I’d like this verse to reflect the idea that we ought to praise the Lord in prayer when we are happy. When things are going well, when we are grateful for an experience or opportunity, when we realize after encountering someone less fortunate how blessed we are, we ought to turn that contentment, that happiness into a prayer of thanks to our God. How would our daily lives change if we were daily counting our blessings and recalling them to God?
Every parent appreciates a “thank you.” Every parent appreciates when a child acknowledges that the parent has done something in love for them, perhaps something sacrificial for them. Perhaps there is nothing sadder than an ungrateful child. I wonder how God feels about that idea. When day after day He causes the sun to rise and set. When day after day He intervenes in our lives, gives us opportunities to see Him at work and to experience His love and we don’t take time to tell Him “thanks.” We don’t talk to Him about all we are thankful for and all that is right with our lives.
If you aren’t happy when you start to pray, you can get happy real quick by thanking God for all of His benefits. Psalm 103 says, “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 2 Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits— 3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, 5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” You may not be able to see or experience benefits that life offers during certain times in your life, but you always have a reason to be happy and thank God when you recount all of His benefits. They’re ongoing and unending. Whether gas prices are high or low, God has benefits for you. Whether the pain in your body has limited your mobility or you are having a pain free day, God has benefits for you. Whether the president you voted for is in office or not, God has benefits for you. Whether you get in to the college of your choice or the dream job, God has benefits for you. Whether your children are helpful or a handful, God has benefits for you. Whether your spouse sees and appreciates what you are contributing, God has benefits for you. And He is worthy of thanksgiving and praise at all times. Let Him know you are thankful and happy to be His child.
Pray when you are sick.
James 5:14 “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.”
In the Bible there are two terms used for “anoint.” One is used to refer to anointing in a ceremony. When Samuel anointed Saul and David with oil to declare them King, the Greek translation of a particular word is used. In this passage it’s a different word altogether. It is the same as the word in the parable of the Good Samaritan. If you remember that story, the Samaritan took the victim who had been beaten and bloodies by robbers, anointed him with oil and took him to an inn. The term “anoint” is the word used for medicinal purposes. When James wrote, Elders were serving to meet the medical needs as well as the spiritual needs. After doing what was medically needed, James says that they should pray over the sick person.
When you look at the healings of Jesus, they always involved physical touch. The power of God flowed through physical touch. Perhaps God instituted the anointing with oil for healing because without us being prescribed to touch those who are suffering in their physical bodies, we might never do so. Maybe some feel that “touching” someone else who is suffering isn’t the “macho” thing to do or it feels awkward, but by asking us to anoint with oil, God is giving us permission and encouragement to touch people in His name who need healing. Letting someone touch you, letting someone lay hands on you is an act of humility. When you come forward and let us anoint you, you are admitting you need something only God can provide and you are asking Him to allow His healing Body, the church, to be used by Him to help bring it to pass. It’s awfully hard to be a content, growing, and healthy Christian if you are a loner because God didn’t set it up that way. We are supposed to be a Body, to function like a Body and to rely on other in times of need.
Oil is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit, so when we pray for healing by anointing with oil, we are engaging the whole Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit. We pray to the Father in the name of the Son through the power of the Spirit! That’s powerful!
Notice what James says happens when we are obedient in this matter to be anointed and prayed for. The person is healed. Why don’t we always see healing? Perhaps healing always occurs, but our definition of healing and God’s may be two different things.
Tony Compolo tells a story about being in a church in Oregon where he was asked to pray for a man who had cancer. Compolo 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.” Compolo 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.” Compolo 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 Compolo, “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).
Pray when you have sinned.
Why is it such a big deal to pray about sin? I mean, if you are doing something God disapproves of, why not just change what you’re doing or quit what you’re doing and move on? Why do you actually have to confess it in prayer and ask for forgiveness?
One answer is clear in this passage. Unconfessed sin can cause us physical problems. We are so intricately made with body, mind and spirit being so intertwined that something that impacts our spiritual life and relationship with Christ can also create emotional and health problems for us. That doesn’t mean if you are sick in your physical body that there is sin in your life, but we see from this passage sin can create sickness.
Just like we are encouraged to let the Body of Christ touch us, we are told to talk to the Body of Christ about our sin as well. Just as we need God’s healing touch to flow through the Body, we also need the encouragement, support and accountability that come from living in a confessional relationship with one another.
Perhaps the most important reason to pray about our sin is that it has created a break in our relationship with God and has established a relationship with the powers of darkness.
I John 3. Turn there with me quickly. Look at verse 7.
7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.
Sin creates a disconnection between us and God and forms a connection between us and Satan. You can’t just decide to do better or to discontinue sinning and think that will make you right with God. There is an intermediate step called “confession” which will cut the relationship between you and Satan and will restore the relationship between you and God. How does it happen? How did Jesus destroy the devil’s work and how does He do so today? It’s through His blood.
We’re told in I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” HOW does He forgive us? He forgives us through the blood of Jesus. I John 1:7 says, “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” You can’t just walk away from sin and the connection you have with Satan. Unless the blood is applied to your life, Satan will follow you around with shame, condemnation, and guilt. He’ll be at your side, reminding you of everything you’ve done wrong.
In the 14th century, Robert the Bruce of Scotland was leading his men in a battle to gain independence from England . Near the end of the conflict, the English wanted to capture Bruce to keep him from the Scottish crown. So they put his own bloodhounds on his trail.
When the bloodhounds got close, Bruce could hear their baying. His attendant said, “We are done for. They are on your trail, and they will reveal your hiding place.” Bruce replied, “It’s all right.” Then he headed for a stream that flowed through the forest. He plunged in and waded upstream a short distance. When he came out on the other bank, he was in the depths of the forest.
Within minutes, the hounds, tracing their master’s steps, came to the bank. They went no farther. The English soldiers urged them on, but the trail was broken. The stream had carried the scent away. A short time later, the crown of Scotland rested on the head of Robert the Bruce.
The memory of our sins, prodded on by Satan, can be like those baying dogs – hounding us with guilt and shame. But a stream flows, red with the blood of God’s own Son. By passing through that stream, by God’s grace through our obedient faith, we are safe. No sin-hound can touch us. The trail of sin is broken by the precious blood of Christ. http://www.nsdca.com/files/2008news/Bulletin_24Aug2008.pdf
The relationship with Satan is severed and he can’t use anything against us that God has forgiven and forgotten. We’ll be able to throw it back in his face as a testimony and trophy of God’s amazing grace.
“There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”
— William Cowpe
Are you in trouble? Why not come and pray? Are you happy? Why not come and give God thanks for His many blessings. Are you sick? Let’s pray again. We’ll anoint you with oil and believe God for His healing in your life. Is Satan nipping at your heels, trying to remind you of everything you’ve failed at? Get him off your trail by coming to confess your sin and as you do, plead the blood of Jesus over your life.