Movies like “Fletch Lives” and “Leap of Faith” poked fun at the stereotypical, televangelist, faith-healing frauds, but for many people the images in those movies are what we picture when we hear someone talk about healing. There have been a lot of abuses and misuses of healing in the church and on television and for that reason many people have abandoned the idea of healing altogether.
In James 5:13-16 we find a very clear outline of what healing is supposed to look like within the Church. “13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 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 one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 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.” (James 5:13-16, ESV)
There are a lot of different responses we might have when we are suffering. We might whine, complain, grumble worry or get discouraged, but James is suggesting that when we are suffering we should turn it over to God in prayer.
Then James moves on to good times. So often we are quick to blame God for the bad things in life and yet very slow to give him credit for the good things. It is almost like we expect things to always be good and so we only really take notice when something goes wrong. Making a point to give praise to God for the good things helps us maintain a right focus on him.
After talking about times of suffering and times when we are cheerful, James moves on to talk about what we are to do when we are sick. He tells us that we are to call for the elders to pray for us. Notice that there is a difference between what we are to do when we are suffering compared to when we are sick. I don’t believe that James is saying that we are to sit and try and deliberate about what our trouble is so that we can decide whether we are to pray for ourselves or call for the elders. I believe that James is suggesting a next step that we can take.
The word that James uses here to talk about those who are sick can also mean weak. Regardless of why we are suffering we should bring our needs before God in prayer. We also might reach out to our relatives and friends or put something on the prayer chain so the church can be praying for us. But James seems to be suggesting a next step we can take when those problems continue or we need a special touch. He tells us to call on the elders. This is not simply referring to those who are older than us, but to those who have been specifically set aside for a position of authority within the church. These people are called to be overseers who care for the spiritual needs of those within the church.
In this passage James points out a very specific process for seeking Christ for healing. He says that we are to call the elders to pray for the person and anoint them with oil. This is not some kind of magical spell or incantation. There is not some specific maneuver that needs to be done in the right way to bring healing. Healing does not come from using the right kind of oil, or saying the right words in the prayer, or having the oil applied in the right way or anything like that. The healing comes from Christ.
Notice how James specifically points out praying and anointing in the Name of the Lord and that it is the Lord who will raise him up. The Lord is the one who does the work. Healing should focus us on Christ, not on some person and not even on our own ability to believe strongly enough. Any healing service that takes the focus off of Christ and puts it on some person or some special process is a problem. Christ is our healer.
Notice also that confessing our sins is mentioned in this passage. Sometimes our sickness or suffering is a direct result of our sin. There are very real consequences for our sin and sometimes God might allow bad things to happen to us as discipline or just as a natural consequence of a wrong we have done. God also may allow sickness into our lives in order to get our attention and to help us see something in our lives that needs to change. So if we are refusing to acknowledge our sin and are determined to ignore what God wants for us, then there is no way we should expect his healing. So it is important to take the time and see if there is some sin that needs to be dealt when we seek healing.
However, sometimes sickness is not related specifically to some sin in our life that has not been dealt with. Notice that James says if he has sinned he will be forgiven. That word “if” suggests that we can be sick and not have some sin that needs to be forgiven. Sometimes we just get sick, because we are living in a broken world. Even when we are healed from a sickness we will eventually get sick again and eventually we will die. Sickness, pain and death are a natural part of living in this broken world. That means that sometimes we just get sick. But when we are sick it is a good time to pause and seek God and to let him reveal to us anything he might want to reveal to us.
This process for healing includes examining our hearts and confessing sin and having the elders pray for us and anoint us with oil. That is the process, but notice that it begins with a request from the one who is sick. This, in and of itself is an act of faith, so let’s not take it lightly. It is not simply a last ditch effort or a whim, it is a specific decision to trust in Christ as our healer.
James gives us a clear process for approaching Christ for healing and it looks very different from what was pictured in the movies I mentioned at the beginning of this blog. We do not need to abandon healing because of the abuses we have seen, we simply need to get back to the biblical foundation for healing like we see in this passage. So my challenge for us is to utilize this process that God has laid out for us. If we are sick, we should call for the elders of the church to pray over us and anoint us with oil in the name of the Lord.