All these lessons from James in the past weeks about how to live—even how to think—come together in a special way at the end of his letter. It is easy to stereotype a giver of solemn advice like James as dour, but we see here he is a man full of hope, one who trusts fully in the healing power of a committed relationship with God.
Are any among you suffering? Well of course some of you are. In any group, there are always some who suffer, for so many different reasons.
James begins with simple advice: Pray. Keep doing what you have been doing as a follower of Christ. Stay immersed in the connection you already have.
There is a flip side to suffering, though, and James never wants us to forget this. There are good times, too, those times when all is well, when joy prevails, when all seems right with the world. We find such times in moments involving babies and brides and other big, happy events; we find them in the simplest of moments, too, for example, sipping a cup of coffee in the quiet of the early morning on a back porch.
And in the cheerful times, his advice is pretty much the same: Pray. He specifically says “sing songs of praise,” but such a sound is nothing but a prayer from the joyful, lifted up in the manner easiest for cheery souls.
With this encouragement to constant prayer in mind, James asks, “Are any among you sick?” Suffering and sickness go hand in hand, don’t they? And he’s not specific about what he means by “sick.” In modern times, we know we can suffer from all sorts of sickness.
There is physical illness, of course. We can be mentally or emotionally ill, too; as spiritual people, we also know we can be spiritually ill. Our relationships can be quite sick, too. And of course, these can all overlap or intertwine—for example, mental or spiritual problems can lead to physical problems or relational problems.
I don’t know if James had all of these illnesses exactly in mind, but I know Christian communities have seen healing in all of these areas, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t pursue such healing, too.
Our starting point is always spiritual healing. It is always available, always guaranteed as we open ourselves to God through faith in Christ’s work. When we seek miracles—direct intervention by God in situations that seem otherwise hopeless—we have to first let God heal our relationships with him through our belief in Christ’s work on the cross.
Spiritual healing also is the greatest healing. It is permanent. It grants us eternity. All other forms of healing simply are signs that God is breaking into this sinful world and making his presence known.
Those other forms of healing are wonderful to receive, however. And as a church, we do see such healing occur. Bodies are restored, minds find peace and calm, and emotions become manageable. Even relationships are healed when people at odds for one reason or another mutually submit to God’s presence.
It is hard to capture in words what happened during our service of healing Sunday. Oddly enough, the crowd was smaller than average, but we spent an unusual amount of time at the prayer rail, asking for God’s intervention in all the kinds of brokenness mentioned above. May God continue to work in all of these situations daily, and may we all have the strength to tell others of the healing we see.