Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. – James 5:14-15
I’ve heard people take these words from James and claim them as a promise that God has to keep. I’ve heard these same people say to a sick person, “We’re going to pray for you and God is going to heal you because that’s what the Bible says.” That may be comforting on the front end, but there are at least two problems with it.
First, if the person isn’t healed what does that mean? Were the people praying not righteous enough, or did they not pray in the right way (as if we could control God’s actions by jumping through all the right hoops)? Is God somehow punishing the sick person? There are all sorts of bad conclusions to be drawn, and unfortunately people draw them.
Second, understanding James’ words as a promise that prayer will cure sickness contradicts one of the most prominent themes of James’ letter, that Christ-followers are to patiently endure suffering, trusting that God can use such experiences to sharpen our character and deepen our faith. If all you have to do is pray and anoint people to take away their sickness and suffering then who needs endurance?
I think it’s helpful when thinking about prayer and sickness to understand the difference between healing and curing. Curing means eliminating sickness and restoring someone to health. And sometimes that happens, and when it does we give God thanks and praise. Healing means bringing people to wholeness, providing what they need to live joyfully even in the midst of sickness and suffering. More often than not healing is the real power of prayer in the face of sickness. I’ve known many people who have been cured, but they aren’t healed. And I’ve known many people who have died from sickness, but they died healed. They were whole.
Are you in need of healing? Perhaps you’re struggling in the depths of depression. Perhaps you’re in the grip of addiction. Perhaps you’re lost in the anxiety of a frightening diagnosis. Perhaps you’re wrestling with chronic pain. Perhaps you’re broken-hearted over an unreconciled relationship. Whatever your need let me encourage you to share it with your community of faith and invite someone to pray with and for you. Prayer matters. Healing happens.
If you live near Prince of Peace you’re welcome to come to the Healing Prayer service this Thursday. You can find more information here.
Jeff Marian is Lead Pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN