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Pray for those who are suffering

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Today’s bible study is James 5:16: 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.

This seems to be a familiar and comforting verse for many Christians, since we do practice prayer every day and believe in the power of intercessory prayer for those who are suffering, ill, or dealing with personal sorrow or tragedy. While it is not terribly confusing, it is interesting to look a bit deeper into the letter of James.

The latter of James is one of the few books of the bible to be names for the writer of the letter. The actual writer may remain uncertain, since there are five persons by the name of James mentioned in the New Testament. It is also one of the few letters which does not allude to Jesus or to direct quotes that were spoken by Jesus.

Our verse today deals with relationships. It also deals with prayer, introduced with a series of three questions: Is anyone suffering? Is anyone overburdened? Is anyone sick? The answers are brief and clear: pray, sing, and call the elders of the church. This is the only place that elders and church are mentioned in the letter of James. They have a pastoral function, praying and anointing with oil, a ritual associated with healing the sick.

The act of anointing was not to be construed as healing in and of itself. It was done in the name of the Lord and accompanied by a prayer of faith. It is the Lord, not the elders, who heals, and it is a prayer of faith which appropriates God’s healing power. The addition of forgiving sins implies a connection between sickness and sin, but the connection is not as clearly drawn as in the Gospel of Mark. Today, a connection is definitely recognized, spiritually, psychologically and physiologically. This is why many of us have prayer lists and prayer chains, using the enormous power of intercessory prayer involving many Christians simultaneously.

This is what we, as Christians, do continually. We do it in the silence of our thoughts, in the company of others, in our houses of worship and in the darkest hours of our lives. We pray when we are saddened, sick, worried, frightened, uncertain, or overburdened. We pray individually, with our families, with our church families, and with the greater community of faith. So, never underestimate the power of prayer.

References: The People’s New Testament Commentary by M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock and The MacArthur Bible Commentary by John MacArthur.

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