Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 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. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:13-16)
Have you ever thought about the fact that James doesn’t qualify these statements?
When he says, “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up,” he doesn’t add, “but sometimes people die.” When he says, “Pray for one another, that you may be healed,” he doesn’t add “but it might not always be God’s will.”
Daniel Doriani points out that James encourages us to pray with expectancy:
“Either the sick person or a close friend should expectantly call the elders. And the elders themselves should trust in God’s goodness and power. God will not heed a gathering of skeptics who spin out a dead ritual.”
I was arrested by that word “EXPECTANTLY.” The sick person or a close friend should EXPECTANTLY call the elders. And the elders, too, should have expectant faith – they “themselves should trust in God’s goodness and power.” So often, when I pray for others, I have little or no expectation that anything will happen.
James doesn’t qualify his statements because his emphasis is on faith. He wants us to trust in our God of awesome power. James knows that not everyone is always healed. James knows that eventually everyone will die. God didn’t heal Timothy – he had frequent stomach ailments (1 Ti 5:23). Paul left Trophimus ill at Miletus (2 Ti 4:20). God didn’t deliver Paul from his thorn in the flesh. Yet James also knows that many times God DOES heal and raises people up from their sickbeds. When we pray, we should try to focus on God’s goodness, power, and compassion, and not be dismayed because he doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we’d like him to.
So keep praying with expectant faith. Keep asking him to bless, and even heal, unless God makes it perfectly clear that’s not his will. God would not give us means to receive blessing (e.g. prayer) if there were no blessing to receive.