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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lenschow

Prayer for Healing

James 5:14-16

1. Recognize the Context: Previous context-James 5:13

Verse 13 presents two contrasting situations and two responses. James asks if anyone is experiencing “trouble.” The word trouble indicates suffering misfortune or enduring hardship. Back in verse 10, he used a form of this word to describe the suffering endured by the Old Testament prophets. He followed their examples with the misfortunes experienced by Job.

This person suffering misfortune, for whatever reason, is instructed to pray. The content of the prayer is not specific. However, James has already considered asking for wisdom from God in hardship (1:5-8) and asking God with the right motives (4:2-3).

In the second situation, James asks if anyone is happy. The word happy refers to being cheerful and encouraged. This person is instructed to praise. The call for praise is found most frequently in the book of Psalms. However, we see the encouragement to praise and rejoice in the New Testament, no matter the situation (Acts 5:41, 16:25). The form of praise could be singing a Psalm or something more spontaneous (Eph 5:19, Col. 3:16). It could be with or without instruments. The emphasis is on rejoicing and expressing thanksgiving to God.

For James, whether life is good or bad, our focus should be on God.

2. Read the Scripture: James 5:12

14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them 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 them up. If they have sinned, they 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 person is powerful and effective.

3. Reflect on the Scripture:

In verse 14, James presents a third situation to consider, physical illness. If someone finds themselves sick, they are encouraged to have the church leaders pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord (Mark 6:13).

The prayer offered in faith is powerful and effective (verse 16) and will bring about healing and forgiveness. James then encourages the confession of sins to one another. Although sin and forgiveness may be connected to sickness, this is not always the case (Mark 2:1-12).

Personal note: What about healing in our world today?

Some today say healing was for another time, but it is not an experience for believers today. They usually include all gifts that could be viewed as “miraculous” or “supernatural.” Others would say healing is a guarantee for every believer today, and this verse affirms that every time the sick receive prayer, they will be healed. If a person is not healed, it must be an issue with their faith.

I do not agree with either view. Based on my understanding of Scripture, Church History, and experience, like many things, I think healing is a little more complicated than these polarized positions. But I believe this verse is one of several verses necessary to develop a biblical understanding of healing for the church today.

To state my position briefly, I believe God heals people miraculously today through the prayer of other Christians. I also believe leaders are supposed to pray for a person's healing today as the leaders did in the 1st century. I think by God's sovereignty, some people will be healed, and some will not. Although I would add all believers receive their ultimate healing in death or Christ’s return.

Even after 40 years within the Christian Faith, I don’t fully understand this issue. However, I agree with the words of Ralph P. Martin in his commentary on James, “The reason why some people recover and others do not remains a mystery to faith, since the NT contains accounts of both recovery (in the Gospels and Acts) and nonrecovery (1 Cor. 11:30, 2 Cor. 12:1-10).”

-Word Biblical Commentary, James, p. 208.

4. Relate to life:

Now it's time to get specific and respond today. Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message. To pray:

Today, prayerfully consider how you understand healing.

Today, prayerfully consider how your church understands healing.

To do: (work produced by faith with the Holy Spirit’s help) Given the prayer suggestions above, how do you need to respond today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers. Have a conversation with your pastor, church leaders, and other believers about healing in the church today.

To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passage.)

Read and study the verses above.

Use or another Bible app, to do a search on healing. Study these passages. Share what you discovered with someone.

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