James addresses very specific needs in this passage: personal suffering, physical illness, and the need for forgiveness. Indeed, James' closing words simply reiterate the reality of trials in the believers' life, the same reality of which he spoke in the beginning of his letter.
Observe how James directs the brethren's thoughts to two vital needs in the life of a believer: to praise the Lord and to pray.
With respect to prayer, two ways are encouraged: personal and intercessory. First, pray directly unto God if you are suffering. Holocaust survivor, Corrie Ten Boom, gives insight as to the importance of personal prayer. As a Dutch believer who suffered severely in a Nazi concentration camp as a result of hiding Jews during WW2, she could personally testify as to the wonderful privilege of prayer, as it allows the believer to "leave a world of not being able to do something, and enter God's realm where everything is possible....Nothing is too great for His almighty power. Nothing is too small for His love." When we fail to enter that realm, we needlessly worry, which Corrie describes as being like a rocking chair that "keeps you moving but doesn't get you anywhere."
As we enter personally into God's throne room, we not only pray for ourselves but also for others. "Call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over [the sick]... and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." Note that when we pray, we should trust in how the Lord answers. When the answer is yes, we praise Him. When the answer is no, we praise Him. The reason we are able to do so is because of a vital truth that has been clearly revealed to us—God is trustworthy. He declares without reservation that He is molding us to be like His Son, working all things—whether they mean moments of rejoicing or tragedies marked with weeping—so that we, as a body of believers, may be presented as the bride of Christ, blameless and spotless!
In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, we are given the experience of the apostle Paul whose pleading for the Lord to take away his thorn in the flesh was met with a clear, "No." This "thorn," in fact, was given so as to "keep [him] from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations" granted to him. He is told by God himself, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." In response, the apostle Paul concluded, "Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
In the experiences of Job, we are also taught that illness is not necessarily the result of personal sin. Job was "a blameless and upright man." However, illness came upon Job for the purpose of testing. Job's illness and tragic losses displayed for generations to come that Job's trust in the Lord was genuine; and, his example of perseverance continues to give courage to fellow believers all over the world and for every generation that has come after him. Job did not follow the ways of God just to be blessed materially, as Satan had accused. He did not revere God just to be given good health. Job's trust in the Lord was not dependent on what the Lord would give or not give. Indeed, when his own wife told him to "[c]urse God and die," Job responded, "You speak as a foolish woman speaks. Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?" (Job 2:10 HCSB). At the end, when Job began to complain and defend his own righteousness under pains of prolonged suffering and the comfortless words of his friends, the LORD said to Job, "Dress for action...I will question you.... Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? To this Job replied, "I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.... therefore I retract and I repent, sitting on dust and ashes" (Job 42:1-6). (Indeed, even if God where to answer our every "Why," our finite mind cannot comprehend His infinite mind!)
In light of the life of Paul and of Job, we can see from James' exhortation that when praying, we can always rest in the fact of God's goodness and sovereignty. He will never do wrong. In what He permits or prohibits, every act of His will is perfect; and, none can thwart it. For this reason, we can obey what He commands, for He is trustworthy. James, therefore, calls us to enter God's throne room not only for ourselves but also for others. He also calls us to confess our sins one to another, a task which requires humility. Let blaming be set aside. Rather, extend the grace and mercy we ourselves receive daily.
More quotes from Corrie Ten Boom:
- The devil...laughs when we get too busy. But he trembles when we pray—especially when we pray together.
- Discernment is God's call to intercession, never to faultfinding.
- Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.
- If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God you’ll be at rest.
- Don’t pray when you feel like it. Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it. A man is powerful on his knees.
- When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.
- There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.
- In order to realize the worth of the anchor we need to feel the stress of the storm.
- Jesus did not promise to change the circumstances around us. He promised great peace and pure joy to those who would learn to believe that God actually controls all things.
For Further Reading: The Hiding Place