James 5:13 KJV
13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
James present two different pictures in one verse, one of affliction and one of being merry. In both cases, he also tells us how to respond to the condition we are in. To me, both of the reactions he mentions would be natural reactions. I am an inquisitive kind of guy after all! So let’s break it down and try to figure out why James finds it necessary to bring out these two points in the midst of so many seemingly more important subjects. I know – it look like simple truths, but I think there is more here than meets the eye.
First is any afflicted. This is an intriguing word that from the Greek means experiencing painful hardship, or a malicious disposition or suffering evil. This is very different from just being sick, a subject that will be dealt with in the coming verses. James is talking about someone who is being influenced in a negative way by forces out of his control. I am not talking about demonic influences necessarily, although this type of affliction would be included in James’ point here. He is talking about hardships that come on us and seem to contradict our faith and make us doubt God can bring us out.
I believe James is discussing things like depression, severe anxiety, an overwhelming sadness, or even extreme bitterness (which we just discussed). These are afflictions of the mind and spirit, not sicknesses that affect the body, although letting these things linger will affect our body eventually. It is imperative as Christians that we learn how to overcome these types of affliction before they get the best of us. James gives us a key to that escape – pray!
I realize that people in these situations typically find it very hard to pray. They feel like their prayers are ineffective and that God is not listening to them. They feel distant in their spirit and have lost hope that God want to help them. Often they give up on God for a while and try to figure things out on their own. Often, we will pray for them, thinking we can help them with our prayers, and we can. But the remedy that James gives is that the afflicted person pray. Why?
I believe the afflicted must pray for two reasons. The first is that they must pray for themselves. God respects our cry for help when we are in distress. Just look at the Psalms! They are full of cries for help in the midst of affliction and distress. The psalmist was continually under siege by their enemy, and this is the same word for affliction that James uses here. As you read through these episodes in the psalms, you will notice that the writer always reverts back to praise, knowing that God will not only hear but answer his prayers. The afflicted can always depend on that truth and as they pray God will make it clear to them that He will answer.
The second reason is to pray for others. Intercessory prayer is our highest calling as Christians. Bringing the needs of others before the throne of God lets God know that we have compassion and mercy in our hearts. This is pleasing to God. But the real reason is that intercessory prayer takes our focus off from ourselves and put our own troubles at a distance. It helps us rise above those problems and lifts us to a different level If we continue in these prayers, our affliction can lift completely.
I am not trying to imply this is easy. James makes a simple statement that is very difficult to comply with, but it is very possible as well. When we can learn to turn our hearts to prayer in the midst of any affliction, we will be able to overcome the affliction sooner. It helps us to understand these things and put them into practice if we ever find ourselves in these circumstances.
Now to the singing! Are we prone to praise? Do we lift up our voices and worship when things are going right? This word merry means to be of good cheer. It is basically the opposite of being afflicted. It denotes a time of rejoicing in our spirit. Something has gone right for us and we are feeling good about life. We should be singing psalms.
Do you take time to praise the Lord when things go right? Do you acknowledge that He is behind the good things that take place in your life (James 1:17), no matter how small or trivial they may seem? Does He receive the praise that is due Him? I am amazed at the number of Christians who believe in coincidence, or that God did not play a part in some blessing they received. I am amazed at how many forget to give God thanks when the are spared trouble.
Did that car skid through the intersection just after you got through it? Did that branch fall from the tree just a couple feet away? Did you get a check in the mail just in time to make that payment? Did a bunch of co-workers get sick and you did not? Have there been some homes broken into and yours was spared? These are not coincidences, and you were not lucky. Luck has no place in God’s kingdom. These are the blessings of God, and we should be merry and sing psalms!
The truth is that God has His hand in everything that happens in our lives. My favorite author, Fenelon for short, says “See only God”. What he means by that is that we should see God in everything, involved in everything. wanting our best in everything. The biblical basis for this is Proverbs 6-a where it says “In all thy ways acknowledge Him”. All means all! God is always there. And we should always acknowledge His interaction in our lives by singing praise when we are merry, when things go right! So let your praise ring out!