Title: "What to Do With Our Troubles"
"Is anyone among you in trouble?...
Is anyone happy?...
resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
Is anyone among you sick?"
With little exception, if any, every adult experiences times of trouble, whether it is illness, marital, finance, work, our children or circumstances in general. We have also experienced times of happiness. This week, Author and Bible teacher, Charles Price, concludes his series from the book of James by giving us a biblical response in times of trouble and happiness, with an emphasis placed on what James teaches our response should be when seriously ill.Click here to read entire article: (click to expand or compress)
We have all experienced hardship of some sort, and the key to what James says our response should be when in trouble is to pray. He tells us, “…as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered… The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (5:10-11). Trouble does not evaporate, but through prayer, we find the patience and perseverance to endure them, knowing God is working for the good in our troubles.
James says, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (5:16). We may think we are far from righteous, so will our prayers be effective? We first need to understand what it means to be righteous. Righteousness in the New Testament does not mean perfect, but it means to be forgiven of our sin, united to Christ and clothed in His righteousness. This is the person who is powerful in their prayers, not because their prayers are powerful, but because God is listening and He alone is powerful.
James gives Elijah as an example and says, “Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops” (5:17-18). We know Elijah was a human being, but we may not agree that he was just like us. He was a prophet; in fact, a super prophet, one of the few who performed miracles, and one of the heroes of the Old Testament. In the New Testament, he appears with Moses and they join Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. James says he was a human being like we are, yet it does not appear that way.
But that is only part of the story. After Elijah had seen the prophets of Baal defeated, he went into a dark valley of depression and said, “I, only I, am left.” Why? Because he was a human being. When he spoke boldly and courageously to King Ahab, Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, said she would kill him. Elijah was afraid and went into hiding; one moment courageous, the next cowardly; one moment full of faith, the next full of failure. Why? Because Elijah was just as human as we are.
James is saying Elijah was a man of prayer who saw things happen, not because he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but because he was an ordinary man who had learned to relate everything to God. There was nothing intrinsically special about Elijah himself, but because he was a man of prayer God intervened in his life. In our own times of trouble, we need to go to God in earnest prayer and be patient; persevere because God is bringing about something good.
James asks, “Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise” (5:13). Praise is different than worship. Worship is acknowledging who God is. Praise is acknowledging what God has done, and we say , “Thank You, God.” When life is going well and we are happy, do not take it for granted, but sing songs of praise, and give the gratitude to God where it rightly belongs.
The next question James asks: “Is anyone among you sick?” And he says, “Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 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. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (5:14-16). There are seven elements within these verses of which most are relatively easy to understand, but the last one may be interpreted in two different ways.
The first aspect is that the person is stricken with an illness serious enough to have the elders come to them and pray over them. To “pray over them” suggests the person is bedridden, unable to go to them. To call the elders of the church would include church leaders, those of spiritual maturity and experience. Secondly is the oil. There are basically three positions held within the Christian church in regard to the use of oil. It is considered sacramental, medicinal, or symbolic. In Scripture, oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. The third element is symbolic in the oil being used for anointing, and becomes an aid to faith in that it is the Holy Spirit one is looking to for healing.
The fourth aspect: “And the prayer of faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.” In the New Testament there were remarkable healings through Jesus and His apostles, but there are also healings that did not take place. Paul, who had healed many, was not himself healed from an ailment that plagued him. Neither were his friends, Epaphrodtus, Trophimus and Timothy. God has good reason for everything He does or does not do, and it His prerogative whether or not to intervene in our illness.
The fifth element is the key, in which James says, “Anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.” What does it mean, “in the name of the Lord?” This is to pray under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and in accordance with His will. Jesus made remarkable promises about praying in His name. “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). “…whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you” (John 15:16). “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive….” (John 16:23). “In His name,” is not because we have initiated it, hoping God will conform to our will, but because God has initiated it, and we are conformed to His will. These two aspects are married together – the ‘prayer of faith’, which is absolute confidence in the Lord’s ability, and ‘in His name’, which is absolute conformity to the will of the Lord.
The sixth aspect is in the person confessing their sin, which makes right their standing before God. The last element, “The Lord will raise them up.” There are two ways to read this. The first is simply that the person is made well and healthy again. John Stott points out that the term “he will be raised up” is used elsewhere in the New Testament, but only in relation to the resurrection, so this could also suggest that on the person’s deathbed, they are getting right with God, confessing their sin, and are going to be raised up at the resurrection. One does not exclude the other.
God may heal a person physically, but they will one day be fully healed. This world is a temporary home in which we are only passing through. There is a better, fuller and greater home to come where our tears will be wiped away, our ailments gone and our bodies replaced with a new one. In the meantime, we are to pray in the name of the Lord, and cling to the eternal fact that to be absent from the body is to be in the best position we will ever be in. It is to be with our Lord. When in trouble, when happy or ill, we have an invitation to do business with God, in which the big picture is not about today, but about God’s working in our lives as a whole.