James 5:13: Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praises.
WHY is it that prayer is always the last recourse when we have problems? Is there unconsciously something embarrassing about having to depend on prayer?
James has come full circle from commanding to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (1:2); and now he concludes his epistle by commanding his readers to “continually or habitually be praying” whenever anyone is “suffering” (kakopatheo), a word made of two words, kakos, “evil,” and pathos, “passion,” that is, to “suffer evil or be afflicted.”
In 2 Tim 4:5, Paul wrote to “endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” The context is a reference to adversity from without, but in spite of it, Paul’s readers were to carry out their ministry.
James was writing to Jewish believers in the Early Church who had fled Israel due to the persecution in Acts 8:1-4. They had lost everything as they fled, becoming a people without a country on earth. Their citizenship was in heaven, and that was their hope. There is no suggestion here as to what the object of their prayer should be. It could be an exhortation to pray to understand the wisdom of God in the face of loss and horrible pain, and learn to be content. They will never endure without this inner strength from time spent in the presence of God. Humanly speaking, if Christ needed to pray for the strength to go through the day of His crucifixion, how much more do we need to find the same inner strength through prayer!
Paul went through not only persecution from without, but also physical affliction from within his body. Three times he prayed to be alleviated from his affliction. God answered his prayer by giving him His wisdom for why his affliction was necessary: Paul had been specially privileged to receive “abundance of the revelations” of the NT, which could result in his being “exalted above measure” (2 Cor 12:9). Then God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” As a result of Paul’s prayer time with God he learned “most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” The wisdom of God may not be the way we would want it to turn out, but it usually results in benefits to others. The “power of God” is defined as the manifested sufficiency of the “grace” of God in agonizing situations. Is this good enough for us?
To the opposite extreme James wrote to those who are “in good spirits” (euthumeo, “cheerful”). This is not a reference to happiness, which is dependent upon circumstances, but a “cheerfulness” that is from the heart, as when Paul and Silas sang in the prison at Philippi (Acts 16:25). The command to “continually be singing praises” is what Paul wrote of those “filled with the Spirit,” to be “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord…” (Eph 5:19-20a). Great attitudes are contagious. This is how we are to “encourage one another” (1 Thess 5:11). If this is the test of the effectiveness of our prayer life, do you pass? Do our prayers make a difference?
Proverbs 15:15, “All the days of the afflicted are evil, but he who is of a merry heart has a continual feast.”
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The writer is a professor at Liberty University, the world’s largest Christian university.