God’s Prescription for the Sick and Afflicted

October 1, 2014

God’s Prescription for the Sick and Afflicted

From the fall of man until now, people have looked for ways to be healthier and live longer. In grade school, I remember studying the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon, who wanted to find the mythical Fountain of Youth. He was not successful. In fact, he died eight years later—at the age of forty-seven!

Even those who serve God are not immune to sickness. Salvation and sanctification do not restore us in every way to the condition Adam and Eve enjoyed when God created us. Before the fall of man, Adam and Eve did not get sick; they were healthy. Before the fall, they would not have died. The decision of our fore parents to rebel against their Creator brought terrible consequences for everyone: disease, pain, and death entered the world.

Salvation and sanctification address our moral condition, not our physical condition. Restoration and reconciliation with God does help our physical condition because we leave behind habits and practices that tend to increase health problems. However, saved and sanctified individuals still get sick and ultimately pass away. The Bible says that it is appointed unto man once to die. Even those who were healed by Jesus eventually became sick and died.

While we all experience physical afflictions at times, God has provided instruction for addressing them. In James 5:13-15, we learn how to deal with health concerns. “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”

Divine healing is a clear teaching of the Bible. However, over the years I have heard some perspectives regarding this subject that are not Biblical.

First, while divine healing is a Bible doctrine, refusing medical care is not. There is no need to discredit doctors in order to teach divine healing. Divine healing stands on its own Scriptural basis.The acceptance or refusal of medical care is a personal choice, not a Bible doctrine.

Second, choosing professional medical care does not equate to abandoning God. I have visited many saints in hospital beds whose trust was steadfastly in God. They had faith! By the same token, refusing professional medical care does not equate to trusting God. I grew up in a non-Christian home where we seldom went to the doctor. It was not a matter of faith but of economics—our family of nine could not afford to do so.

Third, a lack of healing does not equate to a lack of faith. If anything, the prayers of the ill reach out more continuously than those of the healthy. Do not disparage the faith of one who has not yet experienced healing.

Finally, the ministry cannot diagnose a condition or give advice on how to treat it. If you need to know what is wrong with you, turn to someone who has experience in that field. However, if you need prayer, follow the instructions provided in the Book of James!

In James 5:13-15, we have a “recipe” for healing. When Debbie and I were married thirty-eight years ago, the first dinner she fixed for me featured pan-fried chicken. She followed a recipe. Over the years, she has made that recipe time and time again, and it always comes out the same. If she were to ask me, “Shall we try a different way to fix chicken?” my reply would be, “Don’t change the recipe, because the outcome would be unpredictable.” Here, James provided a recipe, and if we follow it, we will be predictably blessed.

James begins by asking, “Is any among you afflicted?” Affliction can come in different forms. It may be poor health, bereavement, unemployment, or a situation where we feel tormented by the enemy of our souls—any trial that is overwhelming. Whatever the cause, the instruction is, “Let him pray.” We can pray; we do pray! Affliction inspires us to pray even more than when conditions are perfect. God’s Word tells us, “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers” (1 Peter 3:12). God is never so far away that He cannot be touched by our prayers. He hears us, and if we believe that He hears us, we can believe we have the petitions we desire of Him.

Then James asks a contrasting question: “Is any merry?” Being merry is the opposite of being afflicted. Being merry is to feel trouble-free. When in those circumstances, we are told, “Let him sing psalms.” It is good to be grateful when things are going well!

The Apostle continues, “Is any sick among you?” Sickness can be a form of affliction. If you are unsure whether your affliction constitutes sickness or not, simply follow the recipe for what to do when sick.

From personal experience, I know that sometimes we fail to do so immediately. When I start feeling a bit unwell, my first thought is, I’ll be better in a day or two. However, on the second day and third day my condition is worse, and I begin wondering, Why didn’t I follow the recipe on day one? So if the question arises, “How soon do I call for the elders of the church?” the answer is another question: Just how sick do you want to get?

The “elders” James referred to are the ministry, or experienced Gospel veterans who have long-standing faith in God. Notice that the sick are instructed to take the initiative and “call,” rather than expecting the ministers to come and pray without being asked. The ministers may be unaware of your situation. James puts the burden on the sick to request prayer.

The instructions continue: “Let them [the ministers or elders] pray over him, anointing him with oil, in the name of the Lord.” In Bible times, pure olive oil was used for different ceremonial practices. In our church, the ministers pray over pure olive oil, thereby consecrating it to God. Then that oil is used only in praying for the sick.

Brother Reuel Green was a minister who suffered a debilitating stroke in the mid-1970s, and lived in that condition for twenty-five years before he passed away. Before his stroke, he frequently preached on trials and suffering, and how to have victory in those circumstances. He became a living example of one who looked to Jesus. After his stroke, he could only say a few words, and could hardly walk. However, he would come to the altar and pray by a seeker saying, “Amen! Amen! Amen!” More than one person prayed through being encouraged by hearing Brother Reuel saying that word beside them! He is an example of a man of great faith who did not experience complete healing from his affliction, but was an inspiration to many during it.

In one sermon by Brother Reuel, he told of a missionary who developed a fever. The missionary did not know about divine healing, but he did not lack faith or willingness to obey God. When he came across these verses in James 5, he called for his traveling companion and told him, “You are the nearest thing to an elder available. I want you to anoint me with oil and pray for me.” The only oil available was stove oil, so the sick man said, “Use that.” His companion anointed him and prayed, and the missionary was healed! It wasn’t the oil or the one praying that brought the results, it was obedience to God’s Word.

We pray “in the name of the Lord”—that is, on the authority of Jesus Christ and the teachings of God’s Word. We acknowledge that it is Jesus who heals.

When we pray over the sick here in the Apostolic Faith, we take a bit of consecrated oil on our finger and put it across the forehead of the afflicted person. Typically two ministers pray together. The Bible says in Mark 16:18, “They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover” so each of us places one hand on the sick individual’s head, putting our other hand at our side or back. We do not shake the sick person or shout in hir or her ears. We offer a simple prayer asking God to undertake and heal. We pray “in the name of the Lord”—that is, on the authority of Jesus Christ and the teachings of God’s Word. We acknowledge that it is Jesus who heals. Our prayer is not based on confidence in ourselves but in the One to whom we are praying.

Our prayer is one of expectation. Verse 15 describes the outcome we anticipate: “The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up.” When we pray, we believe God will undertake. However, implied within our prayer is “Thy will be done.”

The Apostle Paul prayed three times to be delivered from a thorn in the flesh, and three times God chose not to deliver. The third time, He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” Rather than imparting healing, God chose to impart grace for Paul to endure, and at times, that may be the answer we receive from God as well. However, failure to receive divine healing does not diminish our faith in that Bible doctrine. When praying, until we hear a “No,” we should expect a “Yes.” Our responsibility is to follow the practice that Scripture establishes and pray in confidence. The outcome is God’s responsibility; we want His will to be done.

Further on in James 5, we read about Elijah, a man “subject to like passions as we are.” He prayed three times that it would not rain, and it did not rain. Then he prayed again that it would rain, and God sent the rain. Elijah was a common man who achieved uncommon results. So while “Thy will be done” is implied as we pray over the sick, it is also implied that common people experience miracles! We know that from personal experience: we often hear testimonies in our services of those who have been healed.

Both physical and spiritual healing are included in this passage. James 5:15 goes on to say, “. . . and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” We pray over sinners. A sick person who has not lived right is not turned away. Jesus did not turn them away in Bible times; He healed all who came to Him.

We read in Matthew 8:16-17 that they brought unto Jesus “many that were possessed with devils; and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.”

The Prophet Isaiah described the sufferings of Christ in great detail, saying, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). The Greek word translated griefs is often translated “sicknesses” or “diseases” in other Bible verses. Sorrows is translated elsewhere as “affliction” or “pain.” Thus, Isaiah 53:4 could read, “Surely he hath borne our illnesses and carried our pain.” 

Isaiah goes on to allude to our spiritual condition, saying, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him . . .” Then he continues by once more referring to our physical bodies, “. . . and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Healed means “cured” or “made whole.” So, when Jesus wore that crown of thorns and was beaten with stripes, the blood He shed atoned not only for our spiritual healing but for our physical healing as well. The Apostle Peter confirmed this when he said of Jesus, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

Healing continued after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Peter and John told the lame man at the Beautiful Gate, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” and the man was instantly healed. The instantaneous recovery of one who had been crippled for nearly forty years should have set all Jerusalem rejoicing. Instead it sent the religious leaders into a frenzy of persecution of the Christians. The followers of Christ prayed, “Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word. By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30). Jesus answered that prayer. In the next chapter we read that many signs and wonders were done among the people—so many that the people “brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them. There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one” (Acts 5:15-16).

Further on in Acts, we read that God did miracles by the hand of Paul, and “that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them” (Acts 19:11-12). Based on that Scripture, we follow the same practice. When the sick cannot come to the elders of the church, we anoint handkerchiefs with oil, place the handkerchiefs on an open Bible, lay hands on them, and pray over them just as we would for a sick person. We send that anointed material to the sick, and healings result! We follow a similiar process with our printed Gospel literature.

Satan will try to overthrow our faith in divine healing. However, Revelation 12:11 tells us that the saints “overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.” The Blood avails when we face physical affliction, an emotional malady, or a spiritual attack by the enemy himself. There is power in the Blood of Jesus!

Divine healing is still available today. We read in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” Take advantage of the remedy He provides! If we look God’s way, following His recipe and applying what God has ordained, He will give victory!

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