Prayer: The Horizontal Component
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.Haven’t you ever heard someone say that he or she could feel the support of prayer? I think that is an action of God at work in our lives. How could anyone feel the support of prayer - or even know about it - except that the Holy Spirit intervenes? We pray because when someone is suffering, we can love them through prayer.
The passage tells us to pray over the sick and anoint them. Olive oil was commonly used for medicinal purposes at the time – think of the story of the good Samaritan who “bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil” (Luke 10:34). The act of anointing with oil as a religious rite is only mentioned twice in the NT – Mark 6:13 and here in this passage of James.
If we look at this passage carefully, we can see that this is different from the traditional use of oil as a healing medicine – the healing in this passage comes from God, not the oil. I hope you have had the opportunity to participate in a service of anointing. It can be an undeniable example of the power of prayer - and the power of God to act through prayer. A couple of years ago at Annual Conference, I was invited to assist with anointing at a service of healing. There wasn't much instruction concerning what to do, and I needed instruction! I had no idea how to anoint someone. I was given the oil, and a few words to say, and sent to my station. I was very nervous. As the service progressed, I knew I was on holy ground, praying and anointing people as they approached where I stood. This was made abundantly clear to me as three women came forward. Two were supporting the third, who was obviously ill. She was weak, leaning on her friends. Her head was covered in a scarf, and her hair was gone. All three were crying. As they came close, I felt inadequate. How could I help this woman? But I am one to follow instructions, so as they came close, I asked her name, and prayed. In that moment, I realized the power of prayer. It wasn't up to me to heal this woman - God acted through my actions. It was God's power that was present with all four of us. I don't know - and will never know - if the woman was physically healed, but I know all four of us, all four of us who were by this time crying in the presence of God - were healed. We pray together, as community, because the power of God can work through us to heal each other.