Note: This is my second attempt at this letter. For the first time in a long time, I lost about an hour’s work when my home computer crashed. Perhaps the content of this second letter will benefit from this, but I’m sure it will be a little shorter.
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
James ends his letter with a word on prayer and living in community.
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
Prayer is a reply to God’s love and God’s word, but it is also an opportunity to ponder and share the needs of others in a way that can bring healing. Prayer is a conversation with our heavenly Father that is somewhat like the conversation around a dinner table, but James is emphasizing the power of asking God to help solve real problems. God is never our servant, but he can be like an obliging father who responds to requests for help.
James instructs us to pray for each other. He instructs leaders of congregations (elders) to spend time in prayers for healing and forgiveness.
Once again, James concentrates on how we respond to faith. Faith is this seed that God plants on us, but we must let it grow into actions and behaviors. As we see in a mother’s love for a very small child, the love motivates feeding, the changing of diapers, embracing, interaction and providing blankets, toys, a crib, and all sorts of other behaviors. Faith leads to salvation, but it also leads to our response to salvation: Good Works don’t make faith or merely prove faith. Faith active in love leads to some kind of good behavior. The opposite of this love is not hatred; it is apathy.
What James wants us to avoid is love that stays on the sidelines. It is easy to want to do something good, but then it also easy to be stopped by not knowing which action to take. Experience tells us that some people need a little nudge now and then, and others need substantial help to face their problems. But we also know others who simply wait for us to solve their problems. There are some people who need financial assistance while there are others who need motivation and tools to help themselves. Imagine you have an old friend who has become addicted to pain killers. They ask you for a loan of money. You can’t be sure if the money will help or hurt them.
James says loves does something; faith needs to be active in works. So we do something, but we have to be creative. Instead of giving a drug addict money we give them food or find them a rehab program. We have no guarantee of success, but we need to do something. We pray for people, and we do other things to bring them healing. Once we feed the hungry and begin to tend to the sickness of addiction, we also do what we can to share the truth of God’s love in Jesus Christ. But still, we need to be creative, because most people don’t respond well to hitting them over the head with words of love while our actions speak of frustration and exasperation. At worst, we can come across as both meddling and judgmental.
Most of us are very cautious about really intervening in a person’s sin and pain. We often keep our distance from people who are troubled in mind or spirit, because we are afraid of doing more harm than good. Many of us don’t speak openly about our faith, because we have seen people react negatively to what they see as criticism of who they are or how they behave. Our fears and trepidations can lead us to a place of immobility. We want to express God’s love, but we are held back by many worries and fears. This is the spirit of inaction that James is preaching against.
I have long been fond of quoting a line by the singer and activist, Harry Chapin, who once said, “When in doubt, do something.” That’s where James is leading us. Let the faith God planted in you take root and grow. So, I guess I’m saying, “When in faith, do something.”
Think about that dinner conversation with your heavenly Father. You want to be able to answer when he asks, “What did you do today?”
A question to ponder: What good things can you still do when people refuse an offer of help?