Is anyone among you sick? He should call in the church elders (the spiritual guides). And they should pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Lord’s name  (James 5:14).

Sick? Worn out? Weighed down by sin?  James again prescribes prayer for each of life’s troubles. Funny how our hearts turn to God when we’re desperate.  The most often prayed prayer to reach heaven is probably, “Help!”   

I remember how a special bond developed with my own children when they were weak or sick.  I wonder if God feels especially near to us when we’re  in distress.  James encourages us to cry out to God and to call upon one another during our times of sickness.  Ask the leaders of your community of faith to pray for your healing, he urges.

His instructions might surprise you.  Not only are the leaders to pray over the sick brother or sister, but they are also to anoint him or her with oil.  The use of oil in this context may not be strictly spiritual; the word for “anoint” can also indicate a medicinal purpose.  In other words,  when someone is sick, medicine and prayer work together in the healing process.  I have a friend in the medical profession who sees his role as part of the church’s call to minister to the sick.

I like the Amplified version’s description of what happens to the sick person as a result of the elders’ prayer:

And the prayer [that is] of faith will save him who is sick, and the Lord will restore him; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven (James 5:15).

The prayer of faith will save the sick person.  Notice it’s not just any prayer but the “prayer of faith,” or as some translations say, “believing prayer.”  The sick person is “saved”  by the prayer of faith. Saved comes from the Greek word, sozo. It often refers to spiritual salvation, but can also mean ” rescue, deliver, or heal.”

I’m acquainted with some passionate believers in India.  They plant churches in remote villages where medical care is scant.  Grave illnesses often threaten the lives of villagers. If a doctor can be found, a rarity in itself,  the medical treatments often fail. Villagers often cry out to any number of countless Indian gods, to no avail.

Inevitably, the villagers will call upon these church planters, in desperation, to pray for their dying loved ones.   Time and again, God has miraculously healed the sick in response to their prayers.  The result? Entire villages throughout India have put their trust in Jesus Christ, the “true God who heals.”

But notice the second part of James 5:15.   Tucked in like an afterthought, James reminds us:  If the person being prayed for has sinned, he will not only be healed, but also forgiven!  These Indian believers are stunned to realize the “true God who heals” also “forgives.” because of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

What a joy for those long held captive by generations of fear. And what joy for us to know we can come to God in prayer, trusting His Son to save us and heal us, setting us free with forgiveness of our sins.

Lord, this prayer is powerful stuff!  When I am sick or burdened, don’t let me struggle alone. Remind me to call upon you but also to ask others to pray for me, to lift my arms when I am weak, and to intercede for forgiveness when I sin.  Help me to realize the connection we share as members of the body of Christ.  And together, we know both community and greater power in You! -Amen

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