Devotional: ‘Ministering To Those Who Are Discouraged’

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James 5:13 Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms. 14 Is any sick among you? 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:

Shortly after I became a pastor someone who was sick asked me to come to their house and to anoint them with oil and prayer. I fulfilled what I read in James’ instruction as sincerely as I could; yet they still died of cancer. Down through the years I have had other similar experiences. For a long time I questioned if perhaps the reason these individuals died was because I did something wrong or because I failed to have enough faith. It was not until I began to study various commentaries that I started to understand what James was saying.

We should note that James not only mentions the sick, but also the cheerful. “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms.” What is the link between suffering and singing in this passage?

Many believe that James was not referring to those who were physically sick, but rather to those whose sickness was either emotional or spiritual. In other words, if there is someone among you who is cheerful at this time, let that individual be thankful and praise God. But if there is someone among you who is struggling emotionally or spiritually because of some adversity, let that individual call for the elders of the church to come and lift him up through their prayers.

What about the anointing with the oil? What role does it play? The Bible Knowledge Commentary states-

“James is not suggesting a ceremonial or ritual anointing as a means of divine healing; instead, he is referring to the common practice of using oil as a means of bestowing honor, refreshment, and grooming” [1]

In support of this interpretation the BKC also references Matthew 6:17. In this passage Jesus told those who were fasting to not go around with a long gloomy face, but instead to anoint themselves with oil. Throughout the Bible oil is often used as a symbol of rejoicing. “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness…” (Hebrews 1:9) The oil James speaks of is not medicine nor something magical that can miraculously heal us. It is a symbol of gladness.

Whenever we are down emotionally, we should not be content to remain in that state. Instead, we should pray and seek the prayer support of others. The Bible says that it is the ‘joy of the Lord that is our strength.’ [2]

[1] Daniel R. Hayden, “Calling the Elders to Pray,” Bibliotheca Sacra 138. July-September 1981:264

[2] Nehemiah 8:10

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