Prayer lists and remembering the sick in our petitions to the Lord are time-honored traditions in the church. Not only that, these are biblical practices. James writes,
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. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (Jas. 5:14-15).
These verses raise a number of questions: What kind of healing is this, miraculous or non-miraculous? What’s the oil for? What is meant by the phrase “prayer of faith?” While these are important questions, they deserve more study than a bulletin article can possibly provide.
For now, let’s concentrate on the lessons these verses on prayer make plain:
- We should pray when illness comes. When we are sick, God can help (2 Kgs. 20; Phil. 2:27). All healing is ultimately from God. Over the main portal of the Presbyterian Medi- cal Center in Manhattan are the words: “All healing is of God; physicians only bind up the wounds.” This is not the same as saying that all healing is miraculous. A miracle is something that is contrary to the course of nature. God heals, but he does it providentially, that is, through the laws of nature. Sometimes God’s will may not yield a recovery. Rather than remove the illness, he may choose in his infinite wisdom to give us the grace to bear it (2 Cor. 12:8-9). Regardless of the outcome, we should pray like Jesus who said, “Not as I will, but as you will” (Mt. 26:39).
- God expects us to do what we can. In this instance, James referred to the elders using oil perhaps as medicine. There is nothing in the Bible contrary to modern medical practices. Luke himself, the author of Luke and Acts, was a physician.
- The work of elders is important. They are the shepherds of God’s flock(Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). As a preacher, I can personally say that it is a great honor to be called upon to serve when someone is struggling with an illness. One of the most fulfilling privileges of my life is to hold someone’s hand and utter a prayer to God on her behalf. But that is a role I play as a Christian, not as a preacher. On the other hand, praying for the sick and consol- ing those who are struggling is part of the job description of an elder, and the church should esteem those elders very highly who perform this work of love in the name of their Lord (1 Thes. 5:12-13).
Is anyone sick? Let him pray.