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A Hand Up [6-11-23]

June 11, 2023

James 5:14-18

“A Hand Up”

Have I told you that James 5:14-18 is a passage that keeps giving generously, both in insight and instruction? Here’s one final look:

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. 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. 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.

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

As we’ll see, this is a clarion call to prayer. Pray in all things.

Here’s an interesting juxtaposition. In a new study from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, 49% of respondents said they believe in God with “no doubts.” The other 51% land somewhere between “sometimes” and “never.” 38% said that at some point in their lives, they committed themselves to Christ. Which is interesting, when you consider that around 22% said they attend worship 2-3 times a month.

One last finding has to do with what we’re talking about today. 80% of total respondents said they pray almost daily. I’d love to do a deep dive into those details. To whom are a majority of Americans praying? Why are they praying? What do they expect from prayer? Interesting stuff.

Let’s now look at what James says about prayer. Here’s an overriding principle on prayer to keep in mind:


All of us who have ever prayed for a loved one who was dying from a disease, illness, or accident knows the depth of this affirmation. As was said in a tribute to pastor and evangelical apologist Tim Keller:

The Lord saw fit to use cancer to lift the veil. The faint

whisperings from another world have become clarion, and the claims of this reality have faded evanescent.

You know people were praying for Keller. God answered according to His sovereign will.

How does James 5 direct our thoughts in light of the pain, sorrow, and suffering of this world?

First, when James asks, “Is anyone among you sick?” we need to understand what that word means. It’s not as clear as it seems. Most commentaries explore two possible meanings.

We’ve all heard of those odd cults and churches who take James 5:14 to its literal extreme.

Several years ago, a young girl fell into insulin shock. It was during some sort of church function. Rather than immediately calling 911, they prayed

over her. It did not end well.

In another church, their young adult ministry was doing something outside when a college-age member fell off a cliff. He died. But rather than calling 911 immediately, they gathered around his body to pray for a resurrection.

Someone once told me he was at a healing service where they prayed for someone with a glass eye to have his sight restored. As the claim goes, after fervent prayer, his good eye was covered, the glass eye was removed, and he read out of the empty socket.

Finally, a few months ago, leaders from Bethel Church {they actually produce some good praise music} participated in a revival service at a church in Missouri. A woman in attendance had {supposedly} lost three toes in a horrible accident. Someone on the prayer team said God wanted them to pray for her toes to grow back. And they did. All three. They described what they saw with their own eyes as three toes sprouted from the stumps.

Here’s the interesting thing. No one produced medical records indicating if she had lost her toes. There was no evidence of the before and after of the incident that led to her becoming toeless. No one has seen the supposedly newly healed foot. And best of all, in this age of an abundance of recording devices, not a single person thought to get video proof of the alleged miracle. But boy-o-boy were they quick to pass the offering plates after telling this story. And retelling it in the days ahead at other services with other offering plates passed.

Now, understand, I’m not sharing these stories to question the possibility of healing through prayer. I am not that cynical or skeptical. I am simply realistic. As Jesus cautioned in Matthew 10:16-17:

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard.”

When it comes to healing and prayer, we need to be level-headed about such things.

With that in mind, let’s look at verse fourteen and the word translated as

“sick.” It can go one of three ways:

  1. Physical illness.

  2. Emotional distress.

  3. Or both.

While the most common reading of verse fourteen assumes physical illness, there’s significant evidence that it’s more likely spiritual or emotional distress.

It begins with a look at the previous verse, thirteen. James contrasts a happy attitude or spirit with one that is hurting. It is not unreasonable to think he carries that same context into verse fourteen.

Here’s a breakdown of the Greek word translated, “sick.” The Greek word is astheneo. As it is used in Scripture, its primary meaning, in a range from most common to least common, is:

  • To be weak, feeble, to be without strength, powerless.

  • To be weak in means, needy, poor.

  • To be feeble, sick.

Make no mistake. There are several words used in the New Testament that can refer to sickness or disease. Astheneo may refer to sickness. That’s how it is used in some places in the New Testament. But the common agreement among those who study Greek New Testament words is that the primary meaning of astheneo is “to be weak, to be feeble, to be impotent.”

What we have here are two ways to understand “sick.” The first is the assumption that “sick” refers to physical illness or ailment or disorder. That is the direction many, if not most, commentators take the text. However, context and word use can lend a different sense.

Look at verse fourteen in the sense of someone being weakened by a battle. They are fighting for their life. There’s some sort of turmoil, caused either by spiritual or emotional or physical distress. They’re in the middle of a battle. They are losing ground. As James acknowledges in verse fourteen, they are at the point where they’re defeated. They have been struck down on the battlefield. Whatever put them there, they are weak. Mentally, emotionally, physically weak. It is a horrible place to be.

What does James say when you find yourself there? He says to pray. If you are suffering, pray. When you’ve hit rock bottom, pray. When you don’t know what else to do, pray. More than anything else, you need to be connected to God. Prayer does that. Jesus modeled it throughout his ministry. Prayer keeps our hearts and minds focused on God.

We know the primary purpose of prayer is building and maintaining our relationship with God. But what trap do people fall into? They think of prayer as asking God for things. For some, prayer is like bringing a shopping list to God. There are people who pray when they want something from God or they want God to do something that their hearts or minds have determined they want or need. There are people who primarily pray to God when they are in trouble. Just about every week, in the classified section of the local paper, this ad appears:

Pray 9 Hail Marys for 9 days. On the 9th day publish this prayer and

make 3 wishes. Your wishes will be granted.

People are interesting.

Here’s something you might want to write down:


So, when you are floundering, and you don’t have the strength to move forward, what does James say to do? Right…call for the people of mature faith in the church and ask them to pray for you. Go to the spiritually mighty. Draw on their strength. What a beautiful thing that is.

And then, what does James say is the result of such prayer? “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” The Lord will raise him {or her} up. Such a wonderful promise.

The Greek word translated “raise up” is egerei. It can be translated:

  • To arouse, cause to rise.

  • To cause to rise from a seat or bed.

  • To cause to appear, bring before the public.

  • To rebuild, to build up.

  • To stand from a prone or sleeping position.

  • To restore from a dead or damaged state.

As you can hear, there are a variety of meanings. I think as James describes it, the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is weary and has lost heart.

Until next time, I close with a story of strength from those we love.

A man writes:

I lost the woman who was the center of my universe for 60 years earlier this year. Later in the year, I lost, due to illness, a large part of my hearing, which left me almost unable to communicate with family and friends except through written messages. I became very isolated.

Before Christmas, I had been invited by both of my children to their houses for Christmas. My plan was to attend Sunday service and then go to my daughter’s and then to my son’s later that day. Things changed. I woke up psychologically and physically exhausted. I sent a note to my kids and told them the situation and that I was going to spend Christmas by myself. They both replied that I should rest.

Well, at 3 in the afternoon, while I was at the kitchen table, my granddaughter’s small dog came out of nowhere and started jumping all over me. He was followed by her and her folks. Just like that, my Christmas was great, thanks to my angelic wife who taught our children how to help people. Later that day, my son showed up with dinner for me. What I thought was going to be a lonely day turned out to be one of the best of my life. I am truly blessed and grateful.

Those are the kinds of healing relationships James is calling us to. All through the power of prayer.

Until next time:


To the Glory of God Alone

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