In Touch With a World of Hurt

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Editor’s Note —The James Code is dedicated to “those special and sacrificial pastors, their wives, and in most cases, their widows in Mission:Dignity who have given their lives to serving others so often in “out of the way places,” and who are now in their declining years. While in ministry they lived in church-owned homes and received smaller salaries, and now, in their retirement years, are in financial need. We are on a mission to bring them dignity, and it is an honor being Christ’s hand extended to them. All royalties from The James Code, The Jesus Code, and The Joshua Code go to support these sweet servants through Mission:Dignity.” (Learn more about Mission:Dignity at www.guidestone.org/missiondignity.)

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Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? 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 will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. — James 5:13-18

Written twenty centuries ago, James’s letter is as relevant to us in the twenty-first century as it was to those who were scattered around the Mediterranean world in the first century. We, like they, live in a world of hurt. Hearts are hurting. Homes are hurting. Many individuals and families need healing. Those of us who are custodians of the gospel today should be at the forefront in recognizing and relieving those who are hurting. And James identified three primary groups of people who need hope and healing: people with pressure, people with pleasure, and people with pain.

“Is any among you suffering?” James inquired. And the response was no doubt thunderous. There is a multitude of people dealing with pressure all around us. Physical, emotional, or spiritual problems can rob us of joy in life. Having made his inquiry, James then offered some wise counsel. His advice was that when we are suffering, we should pray. But all too often, prayer is our last resort, not our first. Many of us attempt to do everything to relieve pressure in our lives, and when all else has failed, we sigh and say, “Well, there’s nothing left to do but pray.”

When trouble comes knocking, our first impulse ought to be — pray.

I have seen my share of people suffering, living with intense pressure as life falls in on them. Some blame their hard times on others. Some blame God. I have seen some people go to pieces emotionally and others fall apart physically. But I have also seen believers take their burdens and lay them down at the foot of the cross. In so doing, they found peace that truly is beyond comprehension… His peace, the peace of Christ (Philippians 4:6-7).

God invites us to Himself, saying,

Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me. — Psalm 50:15

In the New Testament, Peter reminded us that

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers. — 1 Peter 3:12

What, then, should people dealing with pressure do? Pray!

Next, James turned our attention from people with pressure to people with pleasure. “Is anyone cheerful?” he asked. Then “let him sing psalms” of praise. A quick clarification. Praise and thanksgiving are different.

We thank God for what He does, and we praise Him for who He is, regardless of our circumstances.

If one thing should characterize our lives as Christians, it is joy. And one expression of that joy should be praise. We believers don’t find our joy in what goes on outside us, but from what goes on inside us. Paul reminded us that the kingdom of God is not about any of those outside things but about “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

Prayer and praise always walk hand in hand in the Bible. The early church we read about in the book of Acts was a praying and a praising church. These believers prayed to God and praised Him when they were hurting and when they were happy. They prayed and praised Him when they lived under pressure and when they lived with pleasure. Even though they were experiencing tremendous pressure and persecution, they were a joyful people — and they are a splendid example for us.

James had yet another word of encouragement. It is offered to people with pain. “Is anyone among you sick?” James issued this clear directive: “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 will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” These are the only instructions in Scripture concerning how we should pray for the sick, for those in pain. And perhaps few verses in all Scripture are as misunderstood, misapplied, and misinterpreted as these.

In verses 14–15, James described ministry at a person’s bedside. After all, who is more in need of healing? Is it the person who can get up, get dressed, drive to the city auditorium for a healing service, park, get out, go in, find a seat, and then stand in a line for an extended time in order to be prayed for? Or is it the person confined by pain to a hospital or hospice bed?

In these verses, James was not speaking about some esoteric combination of psychotherapy and an Eastern mind-over-matter technique. James was talking about believers being in touch with and involved in a hurting world. There has been a tendency in the church to gravitate toward one of two extremes when it comes to a healing ministry. Some say God’s plan is that everyone be healed, that healing is but a prayer away, and that, if healing does not come, it is most likely due to sin in the sufferer’s life or her lack of faith. The other extreme tends to entirely debunk any hint of the supernatural — everything these people do in the Christian religion can be explained in empirical human terminology. But God has not abdicated His throne. He is still in charge, and He can still do anything. He is very aware of and very present with people who are under pressure, in pleasure, or living with pain. And as Jesus promised on the eve of His own crucifixion,

I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. — John 14:18

Just Do It!

Pray and praise — that is good advice no matter what is happening in life. After all, God is “enthroned in the praises” of His people (Psalm 22:3). We honor Him, glorify Him, and exalt Him — our King of kings — when we praise Him. And as a dad, I learned one more thing that I’m sure God appreciates.

When our two girls were little, I would occasionally hear them say something nice about me to their friends. But what really pleased me was when they climbed up in my lap, looked in my face, and said, “Daddy, I love you.”

Our heavenly Father is no different. He is pleased when we talk about Him to each other in the faith as well as when we talk about Him to those who are outside the family of faith. But what must really please Him is when you and I get alone with Him and simply praise Him for who He is and tell Him we love Him. “Is anyone among you suffering, cheerful, or sick?” Pray — and praise!

Excerpted with permission from The James Code by O.S. Hawkins, copyright O.S. Hawkins.

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Your Turn

Are you in need of hope and healing? Are you one of the many people with pressure, people with pleasure, and people with pain? Today, you can reach out to those around you for prayer — whether you are sitting in your home, or office, at a restaurant, or in a hospital. And, you can praise God in the middle of your suffering. He wants to hear you say “I love You, Lord… even through this trial.” Come share your thoughts with us on our blog! We’d love to hear from you about loving God even when you’re in a world of hurt. ~ Devotionals Daily

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The Jesus Code

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Dr. O.S. Hawkins

For more than 20 years, O. S. Hawkins served pastorates at the First Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and in Dallas, Texas. He is president of GuideStone Financial Resources, which serves 200,000 pastors, church staff, missionaries, doctors, and other workers of various Christian organizations with their retirement needs. He is the author of more than 25 books and preaches regularly at Bible conferences, evangelism conferences, and churches across the nation.

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