For our Saturday recaps for the next few weeks, we are going to take a trip back to the Book of James to recap the daily devotions from that book. Due to some delays, we never did get around to finishing that up!
Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
Ups and Downs
During most of James Chapter 5 we have been dealing with some issues involving how we deal with and react in particular situations. We have discussed how we react to being rich and how we react to being poor. We have discussed reaction in terms of patience when confronted with the various trials and tribulations we may face to include interpersonal conflicts.
Even though there is some discussion about illness, faith, anointing and prayer in the section that follows I have, after substantial study and reflection, come to the opinion that this section is probably not about healing per se, but guidance on practical ways to deal with the issues of life. I am not saying healing does not occur, just that I don’t think that is what is being covered here as the main point. Overall, I think this fits with the practical nature of James’ Epistle.
Actually, the word affliction as used here has nothing to do with physical sickness at all, but more along the lines of. “suffering in difficult circumstances, ” or “in trouble.” This ties our verse in quite nicely with the passages before and in my thoughts, ties it in with the ones to follow as well.
This seems to be a clear lesson. God wants to communicate with us; specifically, He wants us to communicate with Him! Life will have its ups and downs; sometimes things will go our way, and sometimes we will be troubled, or afflicted. When we are in trouble God wants us to turn to Him in prayer. When life is great, God wants us to thank Him for it.
Do we do that? Is God our first resort when things head in a direction we don’t like or is He our last resort after we have exhausted all or our human resources? When life is great, who gets the credit? Do we pat ourselves in the back for a job well done or do we thank the true source of our many blessings?
David Jeremiah captures the essence of this well by saying, “We have a God for all seasons “(from What To Do When You Don’t Know What to Do) He then goes on to quote the following from his own readings (from Alec Motyer, The Message of James.)
“Both in periods of suffering and trouble, and in times of joy, prayer and praise alike acknowledge that He is sufficient. To pray to Him is to acknowledge His sovereign power in appointing our circumstances. Whether as the source of supply in need, or the source of gladness or our joy, God is our sufficiency.”
And finally, the chorus from a favorite song of mine really captures the essence very well. From the song, God On the Mountain.
For the God on the mountain, is the God in the valley.
When things go wrong, He’ll make them right.
And the God of the good times
is still God in the bad times.
The God of the day is still God in the night.
Happy? Then Sing Praises!
This is pretty simple. If we are afflicted, under fire, and set upon, we should pray. If we are not suffering any of these things, we should rejoice! We can’t really minimize the importance of these two directives standing side by side. The fact that they are side by side tells us one thing; to sing praises when things are good is just as important as prayer when things are bad.
There are several ideas we could toss around here regarding to these thought being place together. No matter now we might see these statements, the lesson remains the same. Prayer matters and praise matters. Prayer and joyful praise are both vital and important parts of the life of a believer, and the life of the church.
James may be using this as an example to us that our lives will be a mixture of ups and downs, and valleys and mountaintops. Even as likely is the idea, based on the earlier discourse on patience during trials, that there is a completely different idea being taught here. Perhaps James is not illustrating the idea that these are two separate events, the affliction and the merriness. Wait, is it possible the two can coexist together?
Perhaps what is being taught here is that, even through the affliction we may be under, that we are to maintain our joy, even in the face of it. What could we possibly find to praise God for during the tough times?
How about we praise Him for the grace to make it through the trial? How about we praise Him for the comfort He will provide through the trial? How about we praise Him for the fact that He will resolve the issue, in the way that most honors Him and is ultimately best for us?
Don’t Swear, Pray
It seems like there is a pretty clear linkage here between this verse and the section before. James had been talking about patience through trials; then he covered how not to react to these trials. His injunction to us was to not react to our trials and adversities by saying things we do not really mean. As God has a tendency to do, he immediately offers a solution to the problem. Cool huh? What we have here amounts to this basically: “When life gets tough, don’t say things you don’t mean and can’t back up, pray instead!”
It’s time for another language lesson very quickly, especially in light of the fact that shortly we will be talking about physical illnesses. This is important because, in the verse we are talking about, the word afflicted is not a reference to sick; it is not related to the sickness we see described later on in this passage. This is simply another reference to being afflicted with trials, mistreatment, and persecutions. This is the main reason this verse seems so connected to the discussion before. When we face trial, we should pray; when we face persecution, we should pray.
We pray for a solution; we pray for God’s will; sometimes we simply pray for comfort during these times. The answer to what we face is there, we just have to reach for it, and we reach for it by prayer. One writer used this Hymn to illustrate what we give away when we fail to pray, and instead act inappropriately.
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Ev’rything to God in prayer
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy laden?
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.