Many of these prayers come from the resources of the Episcopal Church, especially The Book of Common Prayer and Enriching our Worship 2. They are reproduced here in keeping with the copyright guidelines of the publisher. All rights are reserved to the Church Pension Group as publisher. Any of the following prayers may be adapted as needed.
A Prayer In Response to Gun Violence
Let us lament with all those who are touched by gun violence
Let us lament the shooter’s choice for violence
Let us lament laws that allow violent men easy access to guns
Let us lament our politicians’ unwillingness to work for change
Let us lament with the hearts broken by loss today
Let us lament all the lives cut short today
Let us lament, O God, and then let us rise from our knees to work for change
In the name of Christ, the prince of peace. Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King, Executive Pastor and Canon for Social Justice
A Prayer for DACA Dreamers
Most Holy God, in your word we read so many stories about the ones you have protected as they left home in search of a better life. Your servant Ruth said, “Your people will be my people, your God, my God.” You loved her and found a place for her in Israel. Scripture inspires us to strive for greater hospitality to the poor, the weak and strangers.
You have blessed us with dreamers who arrived here as children and today seek a way to make their contribution to our common life. We pray for them now. We pray that they will be allowed to work, study and live in safety. We pray that those in authority may turn away from the demons of prejudice, fear and scarcity, that they will set their hearts on acts of mercy. We pray that you will give us vision and inspire our concrete actions as we seek to realize our goal of liberty and justice for all.
May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Malcolm Clemens Young, Dean of Grace Cathedral
Give us Hope
When evil darkens our world, give us light. When despair numbs our souls, give us hope. When we stumble and fall, lift us up. When doubts assail us, give us faith. When nothing seems sure, give us trust. When ideals fade, give us vision. When we lose our way, be our guide! That we may find serenity in Your presence, and purpose in doing Your will.
John D. Rayner
For Trust in God
O God, the source of all health: So fill my heart with faith in your love, that with calm expectancy I may make room for your power to possess me, and gracefully accept your healing; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lord Jesus Christ, by your patience in suffering you hallowed earthly pain and gave us the example of obedience to your Father’ will: Be near me in my time of weakness and pain; sustain me by your grace, that my strength and courage may not fail; heal me according to you will; and help me always to believe that what happens to me here is of little account if you hold me in eternal life, my Lord and my God. Amen.
As Jesus cried out on the cross, I cry out to you in pain, O God my Creator. Do not forsake me. Grant me relief from this suffering and preserve me in peace; through Jesus Christ my Savior, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
O heavenly Father, you give your children sleep for the refreshing of soul and body: Grant me this gift, I pray; keep me in that perfect peace which you have promised to those whose minds are fixed on you; and give me such a sense of your presence, that in the hours of silence I may enjoy the blessed assurance of your love; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
In the Morning
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.
In the Evening
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’ sake. Amen.
A Child’s Prayer
Jesus, our Redeemer, Good Shepherd of the sheep, you carry the lambs in your arms. I place myself in your loving care. Stop my pain, give me help and strength, and raise me up to a life of joy. Hear me, I pray, for your dear Name’ sake. Amen.
Gentle Jesus, stay beside me through this day . Take away my pain. Keep me safe. Help me in my fear. Make my body strong again and my heart glad. Thank you for your love which surrounds me always. Amen.
For a Sick Person
God of all comfort, our very present help in trouble, be near to me. Look on me with the eyes of your mercy; comfort me with a sense of your presence; preserve me from the enemy; and give me patience in my affliction. Restore me to health, and lead me to your eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Christ, light of light, brightness indescribable, the Wisdom, power and glory of God, the Word made flesh: you overcame the forces of Satan, redeemed the world, then ascended again to the Father. Grant me, I pray, in this tarnished world, the shining of your splendor. Send your Archangel Michael to defend me, to guard my going out and coming in, and to bring me safely to your presence, where you reign in the one holy and undivided Trinity, to ages of ages. Amen.
For One Suffering from Mental Distress
Blessed Jesus, in the comfort of your love, I lay before you the memories that haunt me, the anxieties that perplex me, the despair that frightens me, and my frustration at my inability to think clearly. Help me to discover your forgiveness in my memories and know your peace in my distress. Touch me, O Lord, and fill me with your light and your hope. Amen.
For Recovery from Sickness
God, the strength of the weak and the comfort of those who suffer: Hear my prayers and grant me the power of your grace, that my sickness may be turned into health, and my sorrow into joy; for Jesus Christ’ sake. Amen.
Spirit of all healing, visit me, your child; in your power, renew health within me and raise me up in joy, according to your loving-kindness, for which I give thanks and praise; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
For Strength and Confidence
Gracious God, only source of life and health: Help, comfort, and relieve me, and give your power of healing to those who minister to my needs; that my weakness may be turned to strength and confidence in your loving care; for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.
For the Sleepless
Holy and Blessed One: shine on me as I lie sleepless. Illumine my spirit and give me rest in you, so that I may recognize you as the true God who brings us out of darkness into our eternal light. Amen.
O God my refuge and strength: in this place of unrelenting light and noise, enfold me in your holy darkness and silence, that I may rest secure under the shadow of your wings. Amen.
For Sanctification of Illness
Sanctify, O Holy One, my sickness, that awareness of weakness may add strength to my faith and determination to my repentance; and grant that I may be made whole, according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
Before an Operation
Loving God, I pray that you will comfort me in my suffering, lend skill to the hands of my healers, and bless the means used for my cure. Give me such confidence in the power of your grace, that even when I am afraid, I may put my whole trust in you; through our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Keep me, Holy One, as the apple of your eye. Though I fear anesthesia, help me rest myself in your watchful care, and awake in the firm hope of your healing. Amen.
For an Extended Course of Treatment
Strengthen me, O God, to go where I have to go and bear what I have to bear; that, accepting your healing gifts at the hands of surgeons, nurses, and technicians, I may be restored to wholeness with a thankful heart; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
For Survivors of Abuse and Violence
Holy One, you do not distance yourself from the pain of your people, but in Jesus bear that pain with us and bless all who suffer at others’ hands. Hallow my flesh and all creation; with your cleansing love bring me healing and strength; and by your justice, lift me up, that in the body you have given me, I may again rejoice. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
In Times of Personal Distress
Lord Christ, you came into the world as one of us, and suffered as we do. As I go through the trials of life, help me to realize that you are with me at all times and in all things; that I have no secrets from you; and that your loving grace enfolds me for eternity. In the security of your embrace I pray. Amen.
Thanksgiving for Recovery
God, your loving-kindness never fails and your mercies are new every morning. I thank you for giving me relief from pain and hope of health renewed. Continue the good work begun in me; that increasing daily in wholeness and strength, I may rejoice in your goodness and so order my life always to think and do that which pleases you; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.
For One Who Fears Losing Hope
Loving God, by your Holy Spirit inspire me, as I fear losing hope. Give me a fresh vision of your love, that I may find again what I fear I have lost. Grant me your powerful deliverance; through the One who makes all things new, Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.
For Those Who Are Developmentally Disabled
Giver of all grace, we pray your peace, which passes all understanding, for us who are developmentally disabled. Grant that we may always be sustained in love, our gifts honored, and our difficulties understood, that none may add to our troubles. We ask this in the name of the one who comforted those who were troubled in mind, Jesus our Savior. Amen.
Thank you, Holy and Mighty One, for the many gifts of your love, even for the painful gift of fear which reminds me that only you are God. Into the mystery of your love I entrust myself. Dress me in the armor of your light and keep me safe; through Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the midst of illness, God, I pause to give you thanks: for the glory of creation, which reveals in many forms your matchless beauty; for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus our Savior; for your gift of my life and the presence of the Holy Spirit; for loved ones who care for me; and for the companionship of the Church. I thank you, blessed Trinity, holy God, for the gifts which sustain me in my time of need. Amen.
Loss of Memory
Holy God, you have known me from my mother’ womb, and have been with me throughout my life. Protect me and keep me safe through all the changes that may come. Since I am sealed as Christ’ own, help me to trust that who I am will never be lost to you. Amen.
My Creator, you rolled out the heavens and spread the sky like a tent: bless to me the small confinement of this room, the long days, disturbances of night, immobility of body, and unease of soul, that this place of exile may become my holy ground, and Jesus my deliverer. Amen.
Merciful Jesus, you are my guide, the joy of my heart, the author of my hope, and the object of my love. I come seeking refreshment and peace. Show me your mercy, relieve my fears and anxieties, and grant me a quiet mind and an expectant heart, that by the assurance of your presence I may learn to abide in you, who is my Lord and my God. Amen.
Jesus, let your mighty calmness lift me above my fears and frustrations. By your deep patience, give me tranquility and stillness of soul in you. Make me in this, and in all, more and more like you. Amen.
A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Caregivers
Merciful God, I thank you that since I have no strength to care for myself, you serve me through the hands and hearts of others. Bless these people that they may continue to serve you and please you all their days. Amen.
A Prayer of Comfort in God
God, you are my help and comfort; you shelter and surround me in love so tender that I may know your presence with me, now and always. Amen.
O God, why have you abandoned me? Though you have hidden your face from me, still from this dread and empty place, I cry to you, who have promised me that underneath are your everlasting arms. Amen.
After the Loss of a Pregnancy
O God, who gathered Rachel’s tears over her lost children, hear now my/our sorrow and distress at the death of my/our expected child; in the darkness of loss, stretch out to me/us the strength of your arm and renewed assurance of your love; through your own suffering and risen Child Jesus. Amen.
or when appropriate
Holy God, I lament I have not had strength to hold, bear, and nurture the new life you have sent. Lift me up from my distress. Fill my grieving heart. Renew my hope. Receive the child I return to you into the arms of your mercy, for which I also yearn. Amen.
For Diagnosis of Terminal Illness
O God, only you number my days. Help me to look bravely at the end of my life in this world, while trusting in my life in the next. Journey with me toward my unexplored horizon where Jesus my Savior has gone before. Amen.
For Difficult Treatment Choices
Jesus, at Gethsemane you toiled with terrifying choices. Be with me now as I struggle with a fearful choice of treatments which promise much discomfort and offer no guarantee of long-term good. Help me know that you will bless my choice to me, and, good Savior, be my companion on the way. Amen.
For Caregivers and Others in Support of the Sick
Lover of souls, we bless your Holy Name for all who are called to mediate your grace to those who are sick or infirm. Sustain them by your Holy Spirit, that they may bring your loving-kindness to those in pain, fear, and confusion; that in bearing one another’ burdens they may follow the example of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Compassionate God, support and strengthen all those who reach out in love, concern, and prayer for the sick and distressed. In their acts of compassion, may they know that they are your instruments. In their concerns and fears may they know your peace. In their prayer may they know your steadfast love. May they not grow weary or faint-hearted, for your mercy’ sake. Amen.
For Companions to Those Who Are Chronically Ill
O God, surround N. with your compassion as she/he/they live with N. in sickness. Help N. to accept the limits of what she/he/they can do, that feelings of helplessness and frustration may be transformed into serene acceptance and joyful hope in you. Let her/him/them remember the grief and love of Jesus over the afflictions of his friends, knowing that God too weeps. Bring her/him/them gladness and strengthened love in her/his/their service; through Christ our companion. Amen.
At the Limits of Our Power to Help
O Lord, we are at the limits of our power to help. For what we have left undone, forgive us. For what you have helped us to do, we thank you. For what must be done by others, lend your strength. Now shelter us in your peace which passes our understanding. Amen.
For Those Who Are Sick and Those Who Minister to Them
Gracious God, source of life and health: Jesus came to our disordered world to make your people whole. Send your Spirit on those who are sick and all who minister to them; that when the sick enter your peace, they may offer thanks to your Great Name; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
For Health Care Providers
Give your blessing, gracious God, to those whom you have called to the study and practice of the arts of healing, and the prevention of disease and pain. Give them the wisdom of your Holy Spirit, that through their work the health of our community may be advanced and your creation glorified; through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.
For Emergency Workers
God our strong deliverer: when those charged with the urgent mediation of your healing power feel overwhelmed by the numbers of the suffering, uphold them in their fatigue and banish their despair. Let them see with your eyes, so they may know all their patients as precious. Give comfort, and renew their energy and compassion, for the sake of Jesus in whom is our life and our hope. Amen.
Divine Physician, hear our prayers for those in emergency medicine. By your healing power, grant them quick minds and skillful hands. Strengthen them in times of trauma. In quiet times, give them rest and assurance of the value of their work. Keep them ever prepared for the work you have called them to do, for your mercy’ sake. Amen.
For Relatives of an Organ Donor
Blessed Jesus, who said “unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it shall not live,” help us to release N. to everlasting life, and N.’s body to give new life to others you also love, as you have given your body that we might have life abundant, for which we give great thanks. Amen.
James 5:13-16 “Is anyone of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is anyone 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. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
These are certainly fascinating words almost at the end of this letter, and perhaps the most notorious teaching of James. My own understanding of them is not going to satisfy everyone, but we must see that more than controversial words they are wonderfully positive about being happy, singing, getting well, being forgiven and the power of prayer. The first thing that is evident from this passage is
1 There is an Appropriate Response to Every Condition of the Christian.
You see how the passage begins: “Is anyone in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? Let him call the elders of the church to pray over him” (v.13) Nobody should be stuck in a rut. There is always a fitting response for every Christian in every circumstance. God never places us somewhere where there is no exit and no proper believing reaction. For example, nobody in a congregation should be complaining that he has nothing to do. There are people to visit. Have you read “Pilgrim’s Progress”? There is the Bible to study – read the entire gospel of Mark at a sitting – you could hardly do a more beneficial and more useful work than that. It is the devil that keeps us from the Scriptures. There are works to do in and on your own home. When did you last pray for all the members of your family and congregation? If you have a spare moment today, thank God. You will not have many as you grow older.
i] Christians in Trouble.
James selects three scenarios: the first is the Christian in trouble. They were great times for the church of God. Winds from heaven were blowing, but Christians were in trouble. Apostles were preaching, but Christians were in trouble. The kingdom of God was spreading, but Christians were in trouble. Many were being converted, but Christians were in trouble. Paul lists those troubles in Romans 8:35, “hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword. As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’” No Christian is immune from trouble. “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:23): that was their conviction. We share in the common troubles of the world, wars, earthquakes, famines and mortality. We have additional troubles. The world that hated our Master will hate those who are like him. The only way we can avoid that is to be secret disciples. A man had been conscripted to army service and when he returned home his friends in church asked him was it difficult being a Christian in the army. “Not at all,” he said. “It wasn’t?” they responded. “I didn’t tell them I was a Christian,” he said. He was a very secret disciple, wasn’t he? But the problem with that posture is that it cannot last, that the secrecy is going to kill the discipleship or the discipleship is going to kill the secrecy. Christians will find themselves in troubles of many kinds.
What should they do? “Pray” says James. You would think that that is so obvious that it does not need to be said. But there is nothing more common when a Christian in trouble turns to God that the first thoughts to come to his mind are of his own hypocrisy to be praying thus. How irregular are his prayers! How little he thanks God for all the mercies that are his day after day! How much he takes God for granted! How little he spends at the mercy seat! Should he not worship and adore and hallow the name of God before he pours out his troubles to the Lord? And so in that maelstrom of guilt and regret Satan has managed to deflect his course of prayer. He is still in trouble, but now it is compounded by his memory of past failure. “Pray!” says James. If you are in trouble, pray. “In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phils 4:6).
Were there not psalmists, inspired by God, whose first words in their trouble were, “They have greatly oppressed me from my youth” (Ps.129:1) or “Rescue me, O Lord, from evil men; protect me from men of violence” (Ps.140:1) or “O Lord, I call to you; come quickly to me” (Ps.141:1) or “O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple, they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble” (Ps.79:1). Not much of this insistence on beginning with worship and adoration there, but much reality. They believed that God is a prayer-answering Lord, concerned about their troubles. They are doing what James tells us to do, without any conscience about doing it immediately, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray.”
ii] Happy Christians.
The second scenario is the very reverse – the happy Christian. “Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise” (v.13). The believer is a happy man. For every trouble he has ten joys. Lachlan Mackenzie of Lochcarron was a key figure in the spiritual revival which came to the Scottish Highlands in the late 18th century. He made much of the joys of the Christian life. The title of his life and works is “The Happy Man.” Someone said of him, “He was a living testimony that religion can render a man happy.” Mackenzie would say that it is a great part of the Christian’s privilege “to make himself and others happy.” He once described the happy man in these words, “Happy is the life of that man who believes firmly, prays fervently, walks patiently, works abundantly, lives holy, dies daily, watches his heart, guides his senses, redeems his time, loves Christ, and longs for glory” (“The Happy Man. The Abiding Witness of Lachlan Mackenzie,” Banner of Truth, 1979, p.5).
What should a happy Christian do? “Sing songs of praise” says James. He is not speaking here primarily of congregational singing. You know how few are the references to that in the New Testament. There are two: the disciples with the Lord once sang a psalm together (Mk.14:26) and in the book of Acts the one reference to singing is Paul and Silas singing at midnight in the Philippian dungeon. They knew that Philippi was responding to the gospel, that the gentile world, Greece, and then Europe would fall before Christ, and they were so happy in that stinking jail, with the memory of the injustice fresh, and the pain of their bleeding backs throbbing away, yet they sang songs of praise. That is exactly what James is exhorting here. He is talking of the song only those delivered from the pit of sin can sing: “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (Ps. 40:3). When the Ethiopian had been converted and baptized “he went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39).
How important it is to store our memories with great hymns. I was raised in an atmosphere in which my mother accompanied all her household duties singing hymns to herself. I thought all mothers did that until a teenage Christian friend commented on it to me with appreciation. Some friends at seminary were able to send their children to a Christian school for the first time, and they noticed the difference in one small son playing with his Lego and singing under his breath,
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty;
Early in the morning my song shall rise to Thee:
Holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty,
God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity!
Each of us as individual Christians has something glorious to sing about. That is what James is talking about here, not, “Is anyone happy? Then sing!” That is the world’s attitude: “Roll out the barrel,” it bawls. Happiness is just another occasion for drunken singing. But James says “Let him sing songs of praise.” It is a great test of any philosophy or religion – does it constrain a man to sing a song of praise? Think of the ecumenical prayer being pushed through every door in the United Kingdom to be read at midnight December 31 to mark the new millenium: “Let there be respect for the Earth, peace for its people, love in our lives, delight in the good, forgiveness for past wrongs, and from now on a new start.” Nothing much to sing about there. No mention of God; no mention of Christ. The professing churches are spending 6 million pounds sending a copy of this string of slogans, together with a free candle, to 18 million homes in Britain. There could hardly be a greater waste of money. There are enough preachers in Britain whose sermons are full of cliches without spending 6 million on dumbing down prayer still further. No doxology there. It is a political statement, designed to persuade people of differing views that they are in agreement, when they are not. William Rees-Mogg comments on the prayer, “I do not know whether it is more offensive for its stylistic clumsiness, for the meretricious use of fragments of real prayers, or for the mind-numbing combination of vacuity of meaning with intellectual dishonesty” (The Times, March 1st 1999). The Christian has something to sing about, and someone whose praises he can sing.
2. There is a Proper Response for Certain Sick Christians.
The third scenario is that of the ill Christian: “Is any one of you sick? He should call for 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. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (vv.14-16).
It is a fascinating statement. Notice that this is not a situation of the Christian in trouble. That is the first case James deals with. This is somehow different from that. Here we have a certain kind of illness which calls for the elders to be sent for, anointing with oil and the exhortation to confess our sins to one another that we may be healed. What bizarre practices have claimed the sanction of this verse, whether Roman Catholic extreme unction (which oil actually prepares people for death, not recovery), or the bottle of oil kept on a shelf under the pulpit in a small local church and the invitation made for the sick to come to the front and be anointed. What are we to make of these verses? Is there something here we are missing out on? Are we too cerebral and rational in our worship? Should we simply put into practise what is commended here, just as we heed what James says when we are in trouble or when we are happy?
Where does one start? I’m sure that the first exhortation to call for the elders is useful, for the sick Christian to be aware of the added danger of a time of loneliness and isolation compounding any illness. Send a message from the sick bed and let the elders know of your condition so that they come and pray with you. Don’t have a one man pity- party, wringing your hands feeling ignored waiting for the minister to call. He may not know that there is anything wrong with you. He will be glad to be wanted. Call for him, that your belonging to a body may be demonstrated by the arrival of other members.
Pray for the sick – for patience, and for wisdom to be the doctors’ and also theirs, for contentment during this testing time, for strength for the family, for a sense of the Lord’s love, for God’s blessing upon this whole trial, and for their recovery. One of the earliest Puritan pastors, John Mayer, recounts his constant experience in visiting the sick, and praying with them, and in its effectiveness in the relief of the afflicted (Praxis Theologica, R.Bostocke, London 1629, pp. 142-144).
But then what? What of the meat of this passage, this prayer of faith, and the anointing with oil, and the forgiveness of sins? There is the well-known translation of part of this verse in the King James Version, that “the prayer of faith shall save the sick.” Are we missing out on healing by not doing what these words tell us?
It is desolating to imagine that there is the secret of divine healing somewhere of which we are ignorant. That for our little church it’s a Bible mystery, but … there’s another group, or a convention, or a denomination that knows about it, and if only we could get there, and meet the leader, or learn the secret we could actually heal and be healed. There are many people who quote the words, “the prayer of faith will save the sick” and as they repeat it they imagine it to mean that no matter the length and seriousness of the illness if they could ‘really pray in faith’ then God would be bound to give them what they ask. So they say that they are ‘claiming’ these words, and they go to the Lord in the light of this kind of teaching and they demand healing for themselves or someone else, and they tell the Lord that they are “really believing him for this”. There is this promise, and they are ‘claiming’ it.
Now I think that if we kept this statement of James in the strict light of the rest of the New Testament we would avoid that troubled attitude. It can be so desolating to try to live one’s Christian life according to that philosophy, because so many have done this, and there has been no healing of the sickness, and they have been thrown into perplexity. They begin to doubt whether they are God’s children at all. They question their own faith, and in many cases whether there be a God in heaven. And yet the Lord has made it very plain to us in the rest of Scripture that these words cannot possibly mean that there’s a formula for which God will always grant recovery and healing to every sick Christian.
In the thirty years of the recorded history of the early church found in the book relating the acts of the apostles and those with them only ten miracles are accredited to them. Healings are not scattered vagrantly and without design across the pages of the Word of God. The Bible is not bursting with miracles. They are grouped around Moses, around Elijah and Elisha; there are a couple that occurred in Babylon at the time of Daniel, and then around our Lord and his apostles. Godly Old Testament leaders such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Ruth, Gideon, David, Isaiah, Ezra, Nehemiah and others performed no miracles.
The apostle Paul did not heal Timothy. He urged him to take a normal medicinal remedy for a chronic stomach condition: “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (I Tim. 5:23). When he left Trophimus sick in Miletus (2 Tim 4:20), it was not because the apostle did not have enough faith to pray for Trophimus to get better. Sickness is part of man’s mortality; it is appointed unto men once to die. We have to go to God and plead for strength to go on doing his will every day of our lives. Occasionally there are extraordinary answers. We have to value our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, and take care of them as such. We have to appropriate the wisdom and resources that God has placed in this world, and ask God to bless every visit to the doctor and every tablet we take. There is no man or woman in the world for whom we can send who can guarantee that they will perform miracles when they come to town. Be at peace about that, and lay that tantalisation to rest. We no more need a faith healer than we need a priest! Go to God! So the Lord nowhere promises that he will heal all who ask him in faith.
Again, when James says that the prayer of faith will save the sick we are not to find the meaning in putting stress upon the word ‘faith’ and claiming that answered prayer comes out of special kind of faith which only a few super-Christians occasionally experience.
i] For example, some connect this faith with the faith mentioned as a gift of the Holy Spirit in I Corinthians 12:9: “to another faith by the same Spirit”, whose meaning we may only speculate. Professors of New Testament have a stab at an explanation: Simon Kistemaker thinks that the gift of faith Paul here refers to is “complete and unshakeable trust that God will perform miracles,” while Gordon Fee believes it is “the special gift of supernatural faith that can move mountains … a supernatural conviction that God will reveal his power or mercy in a special way in a specific instance.” Certainly all these gifts of the Holy Spirit are sovereignly bestowed from heaven (like the gift of preaching which one has and another does not have). That such faith was occasionally evident in the Bible we do not question, but is it this faith that is being mentioned here by James? There is this reference to the sick man’s sin and his need of forgiveness. There is a link between his illness and his sin. James goes on to exhort us all to confess our sins to each other and to pray for each other so that we too may be healed, not now by a gift of ‘the faith of miracles’ but by regularly facing up to our sin and acknowledging it. There is virtually an ecclesiastical routine being spelled out, and a situation in which a sickness is connected with sin, whereas that faith that God will perform a miracle is sovereignly bestowed by God, and there is no connection with deliverance from sin. There are too many loose ends for that interpretation to fit easily over this verse.
ii] Can James be referring to mighty faith? Surely he is not saying that if we fully believe, that is, if men would only pray with 100% faith, then they would receive what they asked for. Does healing depend upon hyper-faith? This is the turning of the knife in every faith-healer’s weaponry. The sick person has not recovered after the laying on of hands and all the jiggery-pokery has been done, so the faith-healer tells the sufferer, or the wee babe’s parents, that if only there was more faith there would be health. On top of their grief for the sickness this blanket of despair for their unbelief is laid – by the faith-healer. Of course, let every Christian trust God with all his heart, and not lean upon his own understanding. It would be a happy thing for the church, and for individual believers, if they had more trust in God’s faithfulness. Our heavenly Father would no doubt often honour such zeal and confidence, for his own glory and in love to his children. As Joseph Anstice wrote
Could we but kneel and cast our load
Even when we pray upon our God;
Then rise with lightened cheer,
Sure that the Father, who is nigh
To still the famished raven’s cry,
Will hear in that we fear.
We do not trust Him as we should;
So chafes weak nature’s restless mood
To cast its peace away;
But birds and flowers around us preach
And all the present evil teach
Sufficient for the day.
Let us trust God completely today. Let our faith be absolutely perfect faith. Yet, still, we know that around every prayer – asked by even the godliest men on earth – God has set one limitation, and this is stated with perfect accuracy in I John 5:14: “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” And if we raise the question how do men know whether things are in accordance with God’s will the answer is from the Scriptures alone. There is not a class of answers that we know by another authority, from our feelings, or through group intuition, or by the pronouncements of favoured men. God tells me to come to him with my needs. That is his will and he hears me when I pray.
The Bible sets before us two great classes of objects for which we are to pray. There are, firstly, those good things that are attached to our redemption, our growth in grace, our increase in understanding, holy living, submission to God’s will, strength for all our duties and such like. The Scripture expressly tells us that it is always God’s will to respond positively to such praying, and that we may expect those petitions to be unfailingly and invariably answered. Sometimes the answer may be by inward trials and outward attacks so intense that we may cry out tremblingly to God as John Newton did, “Lord, why is this? Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?” But answer to such prayers for Christlikeness must irresistibly come.
But there is another class of objects for which we may pray, of temporal good things, ordinarily desirable, but not for our ultimate good, things like our health, companionship, success and wealth. God gives no guarantee in his word that we shall receive what we ask when we beseech him for these things. There is no way of our knowing before we ask, or while we ask for such matters, that God is going to bestow these things upon us. Success in examinations, entry to a certain university, marriage, children, recovery from illness are all the themes of true prayer but nobody knows what is the best answer or whether the answer we want may not bring evil into our lives, but the God who is from eternity to eternity knows. So we pray for these matters in uncertainty, that is, unsure that God is going to give us what we ask for. Christians must all pray conditionally for such things. It is an error not to pray conditionally, just as it is to imagine that because we have felt great when we prayed, and that everybody in the meeting agreed with the petition, that God is thereby bound to give us what we have asked for. Scripture is full of submissive prayers. The words “Nevertheless not my will but thine be done” are built into every prayer of the Bible. The one certainty the Christian has is that all shall “work together for his good” and that is enough for submissive faith.
iii] Again this prayer of faith that saves the sick cannot possibly be a special kind of faith to the effect that we possess an overwhelming confidence that God is going to answer this prayer and there is going to be recovery. The major problem with that interpretation is James is writing here about a prayer of faith, that is, trust in God, not a prayer of assurance. There certainly is a phenomenon that sometimes there may come to the Christian while he is praying earnestly, a conviction that God is going to grant him what he asks, and he blesses God for such hopes soon to be realised. To his joy in the months ahead his prayers are answered to his total convenience. But our warrant that God is going to hear and answer our prayers is not those certainties that this will be the case, but our trusting in the sovereign will of God. This prayer of faith that saves cannot be special persuasions and high feelings or anything at all in us which in and of themselves guarantees we will obtain what we ask for. There are three examples from the Bible that indicate this irrefutably.
A] You remember the Jesus Christ in the agony of Gethsemane, and he prays that the cup will pass from him. There was no deficiency in his faith. He totally trusted his Father, and loved him with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. He ‘prayed through’ into the closest fellowship with God which any human being has ever known. There was no lack of earnestness or fervour in his prayers. It was a prayer of agonising and strong crying. He was one hundred percent sure that he would get the very best from God. Yet that prayer of Jesus at such a crisis in his life was not answered. Surely it is enough for the servant to be as his Lord. So it cannot be that God’s answer to our prayers is conditional upon a given faith that is certain that what we ask we are going to get, or upon total faith. James is not saying to us that if we only had more faith then we would recover from every single disease.
B] Think again of David (2 Samuel 12:16-19) the author of the 23rd psalm, praying for the life of his own infant, with all his heart and might, and yet that baby died.
C] Or think of the experience of the apostle Paul praying for the removal of his thorn in the flesh. There was some painful and humiliating irritant which weakened and hindered the apostle, and which, in itself, was an evil, a messenger of Satan. From a practical point of view, Paul himself makes the best identification of occasions when thorns are in our flesh – “in weaknesses, in infirmities, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties” (verse 10). It was difficult for even an apostle to accept this humiliation and pain. So he set aside three sessions in which he prayed for its removal. But in spite of the earnestness of the prayers, and in spite of the compassion of the incarnate glorified Lord to whom they were addressed, Paul’s request was not granted. He was simply told, “My grace is sufficient for you.” It was not Paul’s failure to pray properly that brought that response.
So, far from entertaining any hope of deliverance, any hope of healing for a certain condition, we are to accept certain thorns as something to which we must adjust ourselves for the rest of our lives, as a permanent factor of our existence, and glory in them as a gift from God for our good. We pray in faith and then we live by faith in a loving Almighty God. The prayer of faith is glad and wholehearted submission to the will of God, who will do only what is best and in keeping with his perfect and good will, who either will give us power to recover or grace to endure – “thy will be done” is a prayer of faith.
The key to the understanding of these words is not to be found in giving a special significance to the word ‘faith.’ The word is found in these verses just once and not in any grammatical way given special significance in this sentence. There is no warrant for the NIV to give their heading to this section “The Prayer of Faith.” It is not the charismata of faith that a miracle is going to be done. It is not hyper-faith which if only we had we would never be sick again. It is not the strong sense of assurance that we are going to get what we pray for.
Where then do we find the right understanding of this verse? It is in this connection between such particular sicknesses and sinfulness. Sometimes there is another kind of link. AIDS is linked with sexual sin. Cirrhosis of the liver is linked with drunkenness. But these natural consequences of excess are not the kind of link here. Rather consider Israel in the Old Testament and how unfaithful and defiant they were, and God warned them, sending prophets to them to call them back to the Word, and finally, in the light of ultimate recalcitrance, punished them, on some occasions with tumours, or plagues. “He sent leanness,” said the psalmist: ” He gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease upon them” (Ps.106:15). “They provoked the Lord to anger by their wicked deeds, and a plague broke out among them” (Ps.106:29). You think of how this is found in the New Testament in the great church in Corinth. It tolerated much that could not be tolerated by God. There was sub-Christian living and disobedience to the Word of God. Some of them were coming to the Lord’s table without recognizing the body of the Lord and so were eating and drinking judgment to themselves. Paul tells them, “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep” (I Cor. 11:30). Paul asks them to judge themselves, that is, to evaluate and face up to these illnesses as being due to defiant sin. They are “being judged by the Lord.” He says, ” we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.”
So what would you do when you knew you had been behaving for long in a defiant way, and that this sickness that had come upon you was because of your sinfulness? It was God’s rod; God’s judgment and discipline, and you much regretted how you had been living, and that from now on you were going to serve the Lord and the church in newness of life. What should you do? James says, “He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:14). Why the elders? To tell the church leaders, who must answer for the congregation to God, that their disorderly living, the cause of such pain, was coming to an end. Why the oil? I don’t take it as medicinal. Anointing with oil is an extraordinary sign of an extraordinary cure. It was a sign of God coming upon this man and healing the whole person. The grieved Holy Spirit had returned to the penitent. Men could not do this healing. Medicine alone could not do it. But God could do it through the leaders of the Lord’s church calling on the name of the Lord in faith for a repentant believer. That prayer was the articulation of those elders’ faith in that Lord as they gathered around that repentant believer that God would save him. The NIV translates the word ‘will make him well,’ but generally in the New Testament this word ‘save’ means deliverance from spiritual death. If he had continued in his defiance of God he would have perished, but the discipline of the Lord has restored him. He has accepted the Lord’s warning and repented, sent for the elders to confess this to them and they have prayed for him and he is saved. He again has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Also, James tells us, “the Lord will raise him up” (v.15). Who is healing the man? The elders? The great faith? No, it is the Lord. Physically he is also restored, and, James says, “If he has sinned he will be forgiven.” ‘If’ he says; in other words there was no infallible knowledge. The sick man thought of all his past sins and wondered whether this sickness was the Lord disciplining him and so he sent for the elders. They talked with him and they might not know, but they prayed and anointed with oil, and then he had the assurance that the sin in his life was forgiven sin. So this passage is not dealing with the common troubles in life in which times we are to pray, but for a situation of a Christian’s constant defiant sin
3. Confession is the Proper Response to Sinning Against Another.
So James then applies all this to his readers, and he urges them to keep short accounts with God. If they are sinning, don’t go on sinning. Much of this sinning that has brought God’s judgment of sickness upon some has been sinning against other people – the weak, their own families, the leadership of the church. If they have so sinned then this must also be dealt with by speaking to those offended people: “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (v.16). Remember in the Corinthian church how the rich were abusing the love feasts, coming to church with their overflowing hampers and fine cuisine and getting drunk (I Cor.11:21), while other Christians looked hungrily on. Confess such sins to one another and pray for one another – Heinrich Bullinger, the great sixteenth century Swiss reformer and preacher was surely right in interpreting this verse in that way.You acknowledge to one you have sinned against your sadness and shame. But to confess to someone that you have had jealous thoughts about them does not help; it only embarrasses. If the sin remains secret in the mind and does not erupt into words or deeds, it must be confessed to God alone. If there is a religious awakening going on it still must be confessed to God alone, and church leaders must see to it that this is done. Only if the sin is against the whole church should the whole church hear the words of repentance.
James is exhorting us to confess our sin to our neighbour if we have sinned against him, and thus we ask for his forgiveness. There are some moving examples of this in the life of D.L.Moody. When his sons were boys and they were living in Northfield, Massachusetts, Moody was anxious to have a lawn like those he had admired in England. One day Paul and Will let the horses loose from the barn and they trampled all over the grass and ruined the cherished lawn. Moody their father was very annoyed and lost his temper with them, but that night as they lay in bed they heard his footsteps on the stairs and he knelt alongside them and he put one hand on each head and said, “I want you to forgive me; that wasn’t the way Christ taught.”
On an occasion he was giving an address to students and someone interrupted him and Moody was irritated and snapped at the young man. J.C.Pollock, his biographer, says, “Moody reached his close. He paused. Then he said: ‘Friends, I want to confess before you all that I made a great mistake at the beginning of this meeting. I answered my young brother down there foolishly. I ask God to forgive me. I ask him to forgive me.’ Then he got off the platform and went to the young man and took him by the hand” (“Moody without Sankey,” London, 1963, p.234). That is what James is exhorting us to do, amongst the most difficult things in the world for even the holiest men and women to do, to say that we are sorry and have wronged another.
We are not to stop with words to him: we are to take our folly to the throne of grace and pray for the one we have hurt: “pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Healing comes in repentance for defiant sin. Healing comes in acknowledgement of a rebellious heart to the elders. Healing comes in asking them to pray for you and anoint you with oil. Healing comes in confessing to those you have hurt how you have done wrong. Healing comes in your praying for them faithfully and lovingly. A prayerful church is a healthy church.
So this section is all about prayer. It begins with prayer – “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray.” When the elders come it is “to pray over him.” Believing prayer, James says, saves the sick. “Pray for each other” he says. Finally he ends, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” We cannot cease quoting the beloved translation of the King James Version: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”
7th March 1999 Geoffrey Thomas