A Neglected Ministry
by Bryan Carver
Sunday we looked at James 5:14-15 and James’ exhortation to the sick or weak Christian to call upon the elders of the churchfor prayer. This means of grace is a wonderful gift of God to His church and yet it is such a neglected ministry today. Perhaps itis neglected because sick or struggling church members are unwilling to approach the leadership—whether out of shame,discouragement from the devil, ignorance of His promises, or unbelief in the power of prayer. Many are missing out on God’sgracious help because they are unwilling to submit themselves to the shepherds God has given them. James commands any sufferingchurch members to take the initiative, by faith, and call for the elders to pray. Perhaps this ministry is neglected today becausemany elders feel helpless and inadequate to minister to people’s needs, as they themselves lack faith in the promises and powerof God. We have certainly seen a rise in pastors outsourcing needs to the “professionals” outside the church, which treatpeople from a materialist perspective rather than as spiritual beings with a sin problem in need of God. While there may be times forspecialists, James commands believers to avail themselves firstly of God’s resources by faith. This lack of faith by congregantsand elders has led many churches to continue in a state of spiritual and physical weakness.
How can we practice this vital ministry more faithfully at Wellspring?
1) First, the suffering Christian should discern whether or not he should seek the elders for prayer. Not every situation should raise tothis level of care. The fact that James says the elders must be summoned to go to the sick person implies things are pretty bad. Whensomething is serious, chronic, and handicapping a believer spiritually, emotionally, or physically, then he should probably call forthe elders in obedience to this text. This is not to say folks should be reluctant to call if they are wondering whether or not it isserious enough. Remember that the elders love the church and feel a divine concern for the flock, desiring to be of help to the saints.So when in doubt, reach out and allow the elders the blessing of ministering to you.
2) The suffering Christian should confess any known sins that might be contributing to their physical, mental, emotional, or spiritualstruggles. This is the implication of James’ words at the end of verse 15, “And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”Sometimes there is a relationship between our suffering and our sin. In 1 Corinthians 11:30, some in the church had become sick and depressed,and some had even died, all because they were mistreating the Lord’s supper. Before calling on the elders, confess any known sin and askGod to search your heart for anything you may be unaware of. When the elders come, they may also ask you about unconfessed sins so that ourprayers are not hindered.
3) The elders will take some time to counsel and encourage the suffering Christian, especially if there is any sin involved. Then each elderwill use a small amount of oil to anoint the hand or forehead of the weak Christian representing the presence of the Holy Spirit and His power.As each elder anoints with oil he will lay hands on the Christian and fervently pray. When we pray, we do so confidently that God is able tosave and deliver and heal and restore, but we are also confident that even if He chooses not to, He does so for good and wise purposes thatwe can and should trust. The goal is that God is glorified and that everyone’s faith is increased, and this is a victory even if ourprayer for healing or delivery isn’t answered until our future glorification.
Our dear brother Don Hambrick has seen the mercy of the Lord and the power of prayer his whole Christian life. At 11 years old, doctors toldDon’s mother that he only had 6 months to live. Don said, “Mom, take me to the elders of the church to pray over me.” Andthe Lord graciously honored his faith and the prayers of the elders and gave Don a long life of service to Jesus Christ.
Do you desire to see the Lord work through the fervent prayers of a righteous person? Then we must trust the Lord and the process He has instituted for our healing and strength.