Faith, Prayer & Healing

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Sermon # in the series: Practical Spirituality: James
Scripture: James 5:13-18
Speaker: Pastor Fred Provencher

Introduction – How do we live in day to day in the conscious presence of God?

Last week we were challenged not to live as functional atheists. But what does it look like to engage God in the good times and the bad?

We are called to pray in times of trouble and blessing.

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.

James says when we face times of trouble we should pray. The word “trouble” refers to all the outside pressures that we face. For his 1st century congregation it would have been financial injustice and persecution. For us it includes that but can also mean divorce, business troubles, legal troubles or interpersonal conflict. James says when we face these things we should pray.

For some people this is easy. Times of trouble drive them to prayer. But others are reluctant to pray for themselves. Perhaps it is because they only want to focus on others but often it reflects an unwillingness to humble ourselves before God. Prayer can be humbling. It is an admission that we need help. It can even be humiliating, but it is a good humiliation coming as it does because we are facing the God who is over all creation. As God’s people we pray in times of trouble.

On the other end of the spectrum is the command to praise God when things are good. James says if we are happy we should pray. Again for some this is easy. We praise God when things are good but avoid him when we struggle. Others pray in times of trouble but forget about God when things are good. It can be humbling to praise God in the good times just as it is humbling to cry out to him in difficulty. Praise is an acknowledgement of need. As God’s people we praise him in good times.

 

But James knows that there are times when we not only need to pray but to ask others to pray for us as well. Sickness is one of those times.

 

We are to encourage others to pray for healing and forgiveness because the prayers of righteous people are effective

 

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.

            James encourages us to ask others for prayer when facing serious illness. His guidelines seem simple and irrefutable. Call the elders. They will anoint the sick person with oil and he will be made well. God will raise him up. There does not seem to be an exception and we are forced to ask why we often pray for people (even with anointing oil) who never experience healing. Is James wrong? Is the elder or the sick person to blame?

In the passage James says that if there is sin they will be forgiven. So is that the cause of sickness? Is it a reason why some are not healed?

            Is it sin?

It certainly seems like sin is the cause of sickness when you review the Old Testament covenant between Israel and God. Look in Deuteronomy.

 

Deut 28

28 If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:

You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.

The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.

 

15 However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:

 

God’s agreement with the nation was that they would obey him, even in things they did not understand like diet restriction and the Sabbath, and God would bless them. The blessings would be visible including health and financial stability. So James’s church assumed sin was the cause of sickness.

Was Jesus admitting this when he forgave the paralytic before healing him?

Mark 2

Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

 

            In this section as well as in other places, Jesus acknowledges that he has power over sin and sickness. But it would be wrong to think that Jesus is blaming this man’s paralysis on sin. Jesus is proving his power over both. This is even more obvious in John 9 where Jesus and his disciples encounter a blind man. The disciples ask him directly what sin caused this illness.

 

John 9

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

 

Jesus teaches us that often illness does not come from sin but because God has a special purpose for someone that can only comes through suffering. In John 9 Jesus heals the man and it becomes a testimony to many. Jesus may do the same thing through his servants today. The joy of healing can only come through infirmity. Sometimes we are called to suffer along with the rest of the culture – dealing with the economic collapse in 2008 or Super Storm Sandy in 2012. Other times he is doing something specific in us.

Probably the best example of suffering that is redeemed by God for good is Jesus’ own suffering and his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

 

Mark 14

35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

 

So to wrap up this section a few summary comments on unanswered prayers for healing. These in no way explain the mystery of prayer but they are important points in our understanding.

 

  • In James 4 the apostle says that sometimes we do not receive because we do not pray (prayerlessness). Other times we ask with the wrong motive. Always something to keep in mind.
  • Notice here that James says “if there is sin” This makes it obvious that there are many times when the cause is not sin.
  • The Apostle Paul asked specifically for healing of something he called his “thorn in the flesh.” And God told him he would not heal because Paul was more valuable as a humble, not completely whole, apostle. God told him “my strength is made perfect in weakness.“
  • All of us live in this broken imperfect world and until Jesus returns each person will face something that we are not healed from until the resurrection. This is part of participating in the suffering of the world as mortal people.
  • All healing is a work of Jesus and is a symbol of the kingdom of God on earth. He will reveal himself in healing people but healing will be incomplete until he sets up a new heaven and a new earth.

But let’s not explain away the passage and let’s not just talk about prayer. The important thing to do is pray.

 

We are to encourage others to pray for healing and forgiveness because the prayers of righteous people are effective

 

Notice in this passage that God calls us to pray with and confess to each other. This reminds us that while it is important to know that God will heal sometimes and not other times, the main thrust of this passage is to encourage us to pray for healing. We are to boldly ask for healing in faith. That faith assumes that we bow to God’s will as Jesus did. But we must not stop asking for answers. The main reason that James mentions Elijah at the end of this section is not because he is a powerful prophet but rather that he is “a human being, even as we are.” In other words Elijah’s story of answered prayer is meant to encourage us that God will answer our prayers as well.

 

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.

 

17 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. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

 

God calls ordinary people to pray so that he might do extraordinary things.

 

 

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