53. Prayer and Healing

Meditations in James: 53: Praying out Sickness

Jas 5:13-15    Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.

There is one particular facet of the Christian faith that is so simple and yet so profound, and which goes to the very heart of belief and behaviour. It is that the Christian life is divinely supernatural.  What we mean by that is that our faith, our belief and our behaviour, if it is the faith etc. displayed in the pages of the New Testament, is to be saturated with the life of God. We are what we are because of God, we think what we think because of God and, finally and almost most importantly, we live lives that are guided and empowered by God. In other words we are people who are humanly impossible – but God enabled – and we do things that are humanly impossible – but are God enabled.  Nowhere is this divinely supernatural element more evidenced in us than in prayer.

James has just been exhorting us, as we saw yesterday, to live simple straight forward lives of transparent honest and integrity. He now peppers our consciousness with a variety of expressions of life involving prayer, as the most simple and straight forward way of expressing our relationship with the Lord. For James, prayer is a divinely supernatural activity that should be at the heart of our lives. He’s talked a lot in this letter about living in a world full of difficulties and so it is natural as he talks about prayer to ask, Is any one of you in trouble? because he almost expects that. Things do go wrong in this Fallen World, so he knows at any one point of time some of us will be struggling with difficulties of living in this world. What to do about it? He should pray. How simple, how obvious, but how often do we not think to do that?  Whether it is over such mundane things as a headache, or of losing or misplacing something, or of learning something new that seems difficult, is our natural first response to turn to the Lord and ask for His help?

We said this was both simple and profound. We said this was all about living divinely supernatural lives. We’re not going to pray unless we believe God will answer and do something to bring change – well, we might pray from superstitious belief or from legalistic ‘I ought’ motivations – but it is the belief that God is our loving heavenly Father who loves to do things for His children that brings the best motivation to pray.

But it’s not only when things go badly that we should pray; it’s also when they go well. Is anyone happy? asks James. We are happy when things are going well, when our horizon is not blighted by difficulties. Don’t only pray when things are going badly, implies James, but also let the joy that is in your heart when things are going well rise up in songs of praise directed to God. Sing praise to God. Songs are an expression of a joyful heart, so let your heart be released and let songs come forth that praise God for the good things He has done for you. Let this be your expression of thankfulness.

Is any one of you sick? asks James next, casting around to think of times when prayer should be the most natural of responses. It’s difficult to pray when you are feeling ill; it’s not a time when faith rises and you feel strong and good in Christ. Perhaps that’s why Jesus healed so many people, because he knew that sickness blights our relationship with the Lord and makes us focus on ourselves. No, James understood all this, which is why he knows we need help when we are sick. When you’re sick it’s difficult to see past the symptoms but the least we can do is call for help. The elders of the church are the leaders God has called into being (well they ought to be) to carry His authority and to exercise His power in such cases. So call for the elders and ask them to pray for you.

He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. There is the order of things. YOU call for the elders. YOU know when you need them. It’s not for them to come until faith in you accepts your position and is ready to receive their input. When they come they should do what the saints of old did as a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit coming to enable, they should anoint with oil. This is simply a faith sign, a visible help to faith that conveys an important truth. It is the coming of God by His Spirit that will bring healing, not anything magical. Note the phrase, in the name of the Lord. It is as they come aware that they are simply God’s representatives, seeking His guidance and direction and power. As they come like this, they come in a right attitude and are open for that divinely supernatural leading.

And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well. How simply it is said. It WILL make the sick person well.  What is the ‘it’ we’ve just referred to? The prayer offered in faith. Remember faith comes from hearing God, and so this prayer is a prayer that is energized by hearing God’s word and believing it. These elders have heard God speak into them His truth about healing and they know He wants to bring it. They pray in response to that, and therefore because they pray in line with His will, He comes and answers and brings healing.

The Lord will raise him up. Have you been cast down by sickness? Then call for your church leaders and ask them to pray for you according to what James says, and the Lord will lift you up. It may be as He heals you instantly or it may be as He starts you on a path of healing, but in whatever way it is, you will find yourself being lifted up.

There is more to come about this in the following verses, but for the moment there is plenty here to stir our hearts and minds into faith. Go back over these things. Check them out, one by one. Pray, or seek prayer. It is the doorway to this life that is divinely supernatural. Be blessed in it!

36. Frailty

Meditations in Job : 36.  The Frailty of Mankind

Job 14:1 Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.

When reading Scripture, it is important that we always examine the context and realise that words spoken in one context may have a different purpose than when spoken in another. We say this because similar words to those found here were spoken by Eliphaz (e.g. 5:7 man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.”) and Bildad (e.g. 8:9 “our days on earth are but a shadow.”) but in their case they sought to show that Job is part of the sinful human race and that he should repent of his sin. Now when Job says similar words he is asking the Lord why He bothers with frail mankind.

“Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.” (v.1). This is his starting point and, as we’ve commented before, it is only half a picture, even though it is true. Living in this fallen world does mean that things go wrong and part of our life mission, if you like, is to learn to overcome difficulties.  “He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.” (v.2) The older you get the more you realise just how fleeting life is. You look back over the years and wonder where they have gone. As you look around you, you see people who seemed to be snatched away by death in youth or middle age and realise that life is indeed very frail. You read of floods, hurricanes, train crashes and so on, and realise that we are not the masters of our destiny.

He wonders why God bothers with us. “Do you fix your eye on such a one? Will you bring him before you for judgment?” (v.3) It’s like he says, “When I look at our lives in this fallen world, our weakness and frailty, I wonder why you should bother to play around with us; you know what we’re all like.”  He realises it is a fallen world and we are fallen people and so asks, “Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one!” (v.4) Because we are fallen, how can God make us pure. We are inherently sinners and so it is a constant struggle to be pure – that is why he had continually offered sacrifices on behalf of his family. We are in God’s hands, so what’s the point: “Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” (v.5) God can take us any time He wishes and indeed, He knows exactly how long He’s decreed we will be on this earth, so what’s all the fuss about! He concludes with a plea: “So look away from him and let him alone, till he has put in his time like a hired man.” (v.6)  In other words, please leave me alone and let me work out the time you have allotted me. There’s no point in anything else (implied).

Then he turns and considers the futility of death in humans. He compares us with trees: “At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant.” (v.7-9). That’s the truth; cut a tree down and shoots will come forth and life will continue, but that’s not how it is with us: “But man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more.” (v.10) When we get ‘chopped down’ and die, that’s it, the end!  “As water disappears from the sea or a riverbed becomes parched and dry, so man lies down and does not rise; till the heavens are no more, men will not awake or be roused from their sleep.” (v.11,12) In the same way that a water bed dries up, so when a person dies their life ebbs away and nothing is left.

Now as we’ve commented before, in the midst of his suffering, Job loses perspective and so only sees half a picture, and indeed, because he lives so early in human history he hasn’t the revelation of the Bible. What he has just said is only half true. Yes, we do life in a fallen world and we are inherently sinners and we will one day die, but there is very much more to the picture than that. We are creatures who are made in the image of God and although we are fallen, God has worked through His Son at Calvary two thousand years ago, to redeem us, so that we can be truly called children of God, so we can live out meaningful, purposeful and glorious lives for however long we have on this earth, with all of His grace that is available to us, and then we ‘emigrate’ and go to heaven to live with God for eternity. Now if you are unsure about this, please read back over this last paragraph for this is the clear and distinct teaching of the New Testament.

We may not always understand what is going on in life – and indeed some would say we never truly know what is going on this side of heaven – yet God IS with us and He IS for us, and His grace and wisdom and power IS there for us, to help us through. Yes we can blow it and we can mess up, but even in that He IS working for our good. Trials, tests, and temptations may come but His objective in allowing them, is to teach us to overcome with His help. So important was what I said in the previous paragraph, that I am going to conclude this meditation with it again, so please read it through carefully, for this IS the teaching of the New Testament:

We are creatures who are made in the image of God and although we are fallen, God has worked through His Son at Calvary two thousand years ago, to redeem us, so that we can be truly called children of God, so we can live out meaningful, purposeful and glorious lives for however long we have on this earth, with all of His grace that is available to us, and then we ‘emigrate’ and go to heaven to live with God for eternity. We ARE people of purpose, and as the Westminster Catechism starts out:“What is the chief end of man?  Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.”

God a Stronghold

God in the Psalms No.14

Psa 9:9 The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble

We have seen previously the Lord who is a shield (Meditation 3) and the Lord who is a refuge (Meditation 11) and now we consider an extension of this, to God who is a stronghold. We saw that a shield is something you hold out between you and an enemy for protection, but a refuge is something you run into so that the strength of the refuge protects you. A stronghold is a development of the idea of a refuge.  Indeed it is something you run into for protection, but the picture is a much stronger one.

When David escaped from
Gath, he fled to the Cave of Adullam (1 Sam 22:1) where he was joined by his family. This place was then referred to as a stronghold (v.4,5).  A stronghold is a fortified place with strong defences. That is the difference between a refuge and a stronghold. A refuge is simply a general term for a place of retreat and safety, while a stronghold is a particular type of refuge, a strongly defended refuge. David frequently retreated to this particular place for safety and security (1 Sam 24:22, 2 Sam 5:17 , 23:14). In Psa 144:2 David piles on this imagery: He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge”. There fortress and stronghold are really one and the same thing, a strongly defended place of complete security. A refuge is somewhere you go to peace and protection, but a fortress or stronghold is somewhere you go to specifically withstand the enemy who comes to attack.

Thus it is that David speaks of going to the stronghold “in times of trouble”. The trouble he refers to is his enemy (v.3,6), other nations (v.5) who may be described as ‘the wicked’ (v.5). He has seen the Lord dealing with them (v.3-6). So many of the things about the Lord come together in this Psalm. The Lord who is enthroned (v.7,11 and Meditation 2), the Lord who judges (v.8 and Meditation 12), and the God who delivers (v.3-6 implied and Meditation 4).  In all these ways the Lord acts as a stronghold, a place of strong defence. Because He is The King who is reigning, enthroned, because He is the Judge who stands against and judges against unrighteousness and because He comes to deliver, He is a stronghold, a place of strong security. When David is in trouble, when nations rise against him, when enemies come and oppose him unrighteously, he knows that when he runs to the Lord, the Lord WILL stand against unrighteousness, He will deal with the enemy, and so David can feel entirely secure. There is no way that the enemy can come and get him when he’s with the Lord.

It’s not merely that the Lord is a refuge, as good as that is, but the Lord is a stronghold, a strong place of defence that will not be breached and so there is utter security with him. To get a sense of the strength that is conveyed with the picture of a stronghold we need to go to countries that have castles and see the incredibly high and thick walls that were utterly impossible to scale or breach. This is a stronghold, a place that is impregnable and which cannot be breached. It is a picture of total and utter security. There no stronghold like the Lord. Because He is who He is, with all His might, power and authority no enemy can get through Him to us when we are ‘in Him’. This is the sense of security the Lord wants us to have. We are secure, not because of anything we do, not because of our activities, but simply because we are ‘in Him’ and He is utterly impregnable!  Is that the sense we have when troubles come on us? We run to the Lord, we call on Him and He draws near, and then comes the sense that all these troubles mean nothing because He surrounds us, He is our stronghold.

(This will be the last of this particular series for the time being. )

13. Troubled mankind

The Anguish of Job – Meditation 13

Job 5:7 Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.

As we start in chapter five, Eliphaz continues to roll out his world view that he uses to seek to bring Job to a place of repentance. The only trouble is, as we’ve seen from the early chapters, this isn’t about Job’s sin. He hasn’t sinned. For some of us, the idea that a person hasn’t sinned causes a difficulty. Recently I was in a conference where the speaker asked us, “Who here hasn’t sinned today.” Not wanting to cause an upset I kept quiet, but my heart said, “I haven’t, or at least I have not been conscious of sinning. If I had, if the Holy Spirit had convicted me of a wrong thought, word or action, I would have repented of it, but that had not happened. Do we struggle over this? The apostle John said, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.” (1 Jn 2:1). Most of the time we should not be sinning as children of God led by His Spirit but, yes, there will certainly be occasional times when we will get it wrong and need to repent.

So Eliphaz continues: “Call if you will, but who will answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn?” (v.1) Which angel can you call upon who will side with you and listen to you, knowing you are in the wrong (implied). That’s what he is saying. How different from today when we know we have an advocate. The apostle John who we quoted above continued, “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1b) Isn’t that wonderful! Jesus who is seated at his Father’s right hand speaks up for us when we get it wrong, because he’s died in our place to deal with that particular sin!

Then Eliphaz brings more oblique criticism: “Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple.” (v.2) He is obliquely warning Job against feeling resentful and implies if he does get resentful about what is happening to him he reveals himself as a fool and will be killed by that resentment. If Job feel envious about his friends who aren’t suffering as he is, that too will be destructive. More and more oblique condemnation! This is not what Job needs to hear, but perhaps it is all part of the testing process that he is going through. Eliphaz’s condemnation continues as he brings authority to what he’s just said: “I myself have seen a fool taking root, but suddenly his house was cursed. His children are far from safety, crushed in court without a defender.” (v.3,4) Surely this has got to apply directly to Job. It is too close to what has happened to be coincidence. Could Eliphaz have two people of acquaintance whose family appears to have been cursed and crushed? Again he is indirectly implying that Job is a fool. Not nice!

Then he turns to an analogy based on what he has seen, upon this very situation: “The hungry consume his harvest, taking it even from among thorns, and the thirsty pant after his wealth.” (v.5). Yes, when this rich man is brought down the poor and needy swarm in and “consume his harvest” and grab for everything there is. Everything of his is up for grabs. But why is he saying this? Because he wants to apply it in his analogy: “For hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground.” (v.6) When these people come and plunder the rich man’s harvest, it’s not the soil or the harvest that cause the hardship or even the people taking the harvest that is just lying there in the fields. No, that came before. The hardship and trouble was caused by sin (implied). “A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7). That is true. Sin does bring its own harvest, but you can have trouble without having sinned and that is what this whole story is all about and Eliphaz doesn’t understand that because a) he hasn’t been in the courts of heaven to see what caused all this and b) he has this simplistic view of sin and judgment that is not the whole picture.

He concludes this part with that verse that is so well known that we have at the start of our meditation: “Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” It is so simple this philosophy. In the same way that sparks from a fire naturally go up in the heat, so it is natural for any human being to suffer. Suffering, says this doctrine, is a natural part of human life. And there we have a half truth. Yes, we live in a fallen world where sin and its effects prevail and so we suffer, but that is only half of the picture. The other half is that we have a loving God who sends a Saviour for us, to help us, deliver us, life us, encourage us, heal us, and generally bless us.

Yes, get all miserable about the tough world in which we live in if you have to, but the picture is far bigger! That is a godless picture left like that, but this world is not God-less, this is His world and He is here with us in it! He is here to redeem us and deliver us in it. Sometimes He redeems us by delivering us out of this world into the next (e.g. James Acts 12:2), and sometimes He delivers us from death and prison in this world (e.g. Peter – Acts 12:5-11). Sometimes he brings healing and deliverance (e.g. man at Gate beautiful – Acts 3) and sometimes He asks us to live with it (Paul – 2 Cor 12:7-9). Sometimes He calls for us to die as martyrs (ten of ‘the twelve’) and sometimes He grants us to die of old age (the apostle John). Don’t try and make a doctrine out of what God will do, because He’s not a machine. He decides on the basis of His wisdom, what is the right thing in every situation, and it will be unique for that situation – but He will be there for us working for our good in it (Rom 8:28). That is the wonder of this story and of our lives, God is there in the background working out His purposes and they are for our good.

I wonder, when we get to heaven, if we encountered Job, what he would say to us? Wow, yes, it was tough for a few days (weeks or months?) and the anguish was almost unbearable, but actually I had an encounter with God like I’d never had before and I was a different man afterwards and it was good. But that is all yet to come. For the moment Job is having to tolerate pain and anguish – and a ‘friend’ with some unhelpful religion! We need the bigger picture, Eliphaz! Trouble isn’t all there is!