In James chapter five, we are given some instructions regarding prayer (Jas. 5:13-18). These verses seem pretty simple, but James, inspired by the Holy Spirit, throws a little twist on us. He begins by talking about people who are suffering in verse 13 and then the sick at the beginning of verse 14. It seems clear from the context that he is talking about the physically sick, but at the end of verse 15 he changes gears to say that the person’s sins will be forgiven. Was he talking about the spiritually sick the whole time, or is it simply a reminder that we should also be concerned with our sins?
Paul does something similar to this in his discourse on the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. The method in which they had been partaking had been distorted. Paul said that it was for this reason many of them were weak and sick (1 Cor. 11:30). In this case it seems like he would be talking about spiritually sick, but the addition of being weak makes it seem that they were literally physically sick.
Jesus uses this type of comparison as well. In Matthew 9, when the Pharisees questioned his eating with tax collectors and sinners Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick (Matt. 9:12).” Interestingly in this same chapter Jesus forgave a lame man his sins before telling him to arise and walk (Matt. 9:2-6). Apparently a great effort had been made to have this man healed, but Jesus needed to do some teaching. These people needed to recognize that Jesus was working these miracles to prove who he was. Also, Jesus was no doubt concerned that people were coming from all over to be healed, but no one was asking for their sins to be forgiven.
Sometimes I find myself with a similar concern when it comes to our prayer list. Do not get me wrong, I am more than glad to pray for those who are sick, hurting, or bereaved. However, I would also love to see us praying for those who are spiritually sick, but for some reason we do not give the same concern to that sickness. If our family members are near death we are desperate for prayers, but we overlook the fact that many of us have good friends and family members who have no sign of Christ in their lives. Should we not be praying more earnestly for those who reject God, and are in danger of being found on the wrong side of eternal judgment?
The people in Jesus’ day were concerned with finding an earthly leader and an earthly cure. When reading our Bibles we can clearly see that this was a mistake. However, I am afraid that things have not changed very much. I am not sure what the cause is, but we continue to do the same. Perhaps it is related to the fact that Satan has convinced countless people, beginning in the garden, that God is too good to punish anyone. Satan tells us that the multitude is getting into heaven, while Jesus says that it is the few (Matt. 7:14).
Friends, our eternal souls are serious business. Surely we all have close friends and family that are sick and in need of our prayers. Let’s change our focus this year from the earthly to the spiritual.