Have You Ever Asked Your Church Elders to Visit and Pray with You?

One of the blessings of being a pastor is the opportunity to be part of a team of elders who visit church members in their homes for the purpose of ministering the Word and praying with them in times of suffering. Sadly, many church elders forgo this blessing and many believers do not request these kind of visits from their shepherds. Perhaps this neglect is rooted in ignorance and misunderstanding of the admonition and comfort found in the book of James.

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. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

James 5:13-18

Every verse in the above paragraph contains an explicit reference to prayer. Prayer, however, is not a discipline that James merely taught. He lived it. According to church history, he spent so much time in prayer that his knees became as calloused as those of a camel.[1] In today’s reading, “Old Camel-Knees” clarifies that one way we trust God in times of suffering is by calling our church shepherds to visit and pray with us and for us.

Following quick-fire exhortations to the suffering to pray, and to the cheerful to sing (see 5:13), James instructs the sick to “call for the elders of the church” to come to their home, or hospital, to pray. The word sick refers to bodily weakness but may denote any kind of weakness, whether mental, moral, or spiritual. James places the initiative on the sick person themselves to “call”—if possible. “Pray” is the central verb, the specific activity of the elders, while “anointing” is an activity secondary to praying. The oil is probably simple olive oil, an oil commonly used to honor guests. In this context, the oil probably symbolizes the presence of the Spirit and the healing power of God. James does not regard the oil itself as a healing agent or the anointing as possessing magical power; it is “the prayer of faith” that heals (v. 15).

The prayer of faith produces three results. First, the troubled believer may be restored, which may include physical healing, if God wills: “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (5:15). Second, if spiritual healing is necessary, God will use physical pain to lead the sufferer to confess their sin with a broken spirit. As a result, their sins “will be forgiven” (v. 15). Third, if the sickness results from sin, which is not always the case (see John 9:1–3), repentance will yield practical righteousness. The “righteous person” (James 5:16) is not someone who never sins but someone who, when they sin, humbly deals with their offense. When this kind of person offers the prayer of faith, it “has great power” (v. 16).

Suffering should always drive us to pray for ourselves, but it should also compel us to reach out to our church shepherds. Prayer ministry is a gracious provision from the Lord in times of sickness and pain and one of the beautiful features of God’s design for his church.

  • TALK TO YOURSELF. J. C. Ryle wrote, “We should cultivate the habit of expecting answers to our prayers. We should do like the merchant who sends his ships to sea. We should not be satisfied, unless we see some return.”[2] When you pray, do you have the expectation of the merchant? Why or why not?
  • TALK TO GOD. Read Psalm 66:18. Do you have any unconfessed sin that you need to talk to the Lord about?
  • TALK TO OTHERS. Are you sick? Why not call the elders of your church and ask them to come to minister the Word and pray with you? Are you a church elder? Consider teaching this Scripture and making sure your flock understands your desire to serve them in this way.

*Adapted from REMADE: Embracing Your Complete Identity in Christ

[1] Matt Erickson, “Old Camel Knees: A Brief Reflection on the Remarkable Prayer Life of James the Just,” Renovate (blog), August 29, 2019, https://mwerickson.com/2019/08/29/old-camel-knees-a-brief-reflection-on-the-remarkable- prayer- life-of- james- the- just/.

[2] John Charles Ryle, “Prayer,” in Practical Religion: New and Revised Edition (London: 1900), 91. Available online as “A Call to Prayer” at https://www.monergism.com/call-prayer.

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