“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” (James 5:13-16).

The key to interpreting these verses in James is to determine if the words sick and healed are of a physical nature or a spiritual nature. The Greek words could be used either way to describe a physical sickness or a weakness of spirit. An important fact that tips the scale in favor of a primarily spiritual condition is the promise, “the Lord will raise him up.” Practical experience has shown us through the centuries that as hundreds of thousands of believers in Jesus have called for the elders of their churches to come and pray for their physical diseases that sometimes the person gets better and sometimes they do not. However, in all cases where a believer is spiritually weak or in sin, if he humbles himself and confesses those sins God will “raise him up” and cleanse him (see James 4:7-10 and I John 1:9).

Important observations:

  • the spiritual weakness could be a result of going through hardship or because of sins committed – in either case the individual has a responsibility to ask for prayer from the leaders of his/her local church.
  • it takes humility to admit weakness and ask for prayer – but it is THE path to strength
  • accountability is crucial to our spiritual growth – without confessing our sins to God AND one another our spiritual health gets hammered
  • anointing with oil was a common cultural practice in the writers day to give refreshment. While anointing with oil is surely an acceptable practice today, we could also substitute it with many things…washing the persons face with a warm washcloth or giving the person a cup of hot tea are two examples.
  • the prayers of a righteous person accomplish much – here is a great truth and a call for the leaders of local churches to make sure they are in close communion with God.


In our church we have a groups of guys and a group of ladies who meet at 5:30 AM one morning a week to pray together. Part of the prayer time is confessional. It is a humbling thing to know that the person you are praying with could write down a detailed list of your sins from the previous week; however, it provides a needed accountability, helps keep short accounts with God and our church community, and develops a needed trust.
We have also seen God use this time in powerful ways to “accomplish much” in and through our lives. How will a church change after a few months of this? As the Scripture tells us, “much more than we could think or ask.”