When W. A. Criswell was asked, “Do you believe in divine healing?” his response was simply, “Is there any other kind?” I love that! James 5 contains a passage of Scripture that addresses prayer. It’s often misunderstood, but if we grasp its meaning, we’ll unlock some amazing truths that will mature us in our prayer life.
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 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 sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. 19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. ~ James 5:13-20 NKJV
This passage is often used as the basis for anointing with oil. Years ago a man asked me, if his cancer returned, whether I would be willing to anoint his head with oil. Though I don’t interpret the passage to instruct this, I was and still am perfectly willing to do so (though I’ve never been asked to do so yet). I recognize there are differences of interpretation over this passage, an that I’m not a linguistic expert, but I’m convinced the passage is referring primarily to spiritual weaknesses, not physical illnesses. Having said that, I DO believe God heals the physically sick when He chooses to do so, but not upon our every request.
Knowing that James is speaking of spiritual suffering brings me great comfort. Ministry is tough sometimes in that we can’t always convince people to make wise, godly choices. We watch people making destructive decisions that we can’t stop. At the end of the day we sometimes throw up our hands and cry out, “I can’t fix this, all I can do is pray.” James stops us in our tracks and reminds us that praying is the very best thing we can do for those who are hurting.
Jesus taught us the techniques of prayer in the model prayer, but I want to give a challenge to put our learning into action – to be “doers” of this word, not hearers only. So let me give you three big action words for today…
James put it bluntly – “you don’t have because you don’t ask.” In the passage above, there are at least four commands to pray, plus other phrases related to prayer. The word “pray” literally means “ask.” We’re afraid of asking the wrong thing, or of asking too much, but our problem is usually not asking enough. Ask, and ye shall receive! God will teach you, as you grow, to ask things in accordance with His will. He never promises a “Yes” to every prayer, but He promises a response to every prayer of His children. What are His common answers?
- Slow! (In time, have patience.)
- Grow! (Yes, but you need more maturity first.)
I love that James included the allowance of anointing with oil because it’s something we can do. Instead of the word normally used for ceremonial anointing, James uses the word for massaging with oil. Pray, ask, request, but then do something. Get on your feet and get started. Pray for healing, but see a Doctor. Pray for financial provision, then work your tail off. Pray for souls, then witness. Act.
Don’t make the mistake of believing that you’ll always receive what you ask for – that would be a spoiled mindset. Rather, trust that God is always listening and always responding. He has ordained that prayer will be the means of accomplishing heavenly things on earth – prayer is His divinely chosen method, and He is totally trustworthy to uphold His end of the agreement. Pray, act, and trust Him along the way.
Prayer is a journey that we grow through as we live this life. It’s practice for our first face-to-face encounter with the living God. So enter the schoolroom of prayer and allow the Master Teacher to instruct you. Decide to earn a PhD in prayer.