Saving face v Vulnerable faith
A vulnerable heart: The importance of praying generously for others and being vulnerable in confessing our sins.
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
I wear black on a Thursday. It’s part of a global movement highlighting gender-based violence. Every Thursday, people around the world wear black as a symbol of strength and courage, representing our solidarity with victims and survivors of gender violence, and calling for a world without rape, genital mutilation, sexual harassment and trafficking. It’s a prayerful act on my part. James tells us that “the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven”.
Will my wearing black make a difference? Well, I simply don’t know, but my faith tells me that that prayer changes things and so I believe it will. It certainly changes me. It reminds me of my privilege, which changes my attitude to those who I find difficult. It reminds me of God’s love for the vulnerable and bias to the poor, which changes how I act when I am shopping or on the internet. And it challenges my self-concern and my ego (I really like colour, and black does nothing for my complexion).
Prayer will do that, real prayer makes us vulnerable because it exposes us to the immense love of God before which we quake, and yet it does so in the context of a relationship so kind, in the form of Jesus.
This passage teaches us that God has given us responsibility for one another in the body of Christ. We will someday be held responsible for failing to love someone enough, to pray for them or to even speak out when they need help. James is not saying that the elders have special powers of healing. He is giving us essentially practical advice. James instructs the sick person to “call the elders of the church….” I think it’s significant that James doesn’t put the burden of prayer on the sick person; his responsibility is to call for others to pray, not just to pray alone. There are times when we can’t pray for ourselves, or we are too close to a situation to pray.
Those caught in a circle of gender-based violence can’t pray themselves out of it. I’ve just returned from South Africa, where gender-based violence is endemic. What might it mean for the women and girls of South Africa to be “raised up” by the Lord?
I remember praying for an end to apartheid. I remember boycotting products from South Africa. I also remember not really believing that my small acts would change anything. But together we prayed, and my little faith was joined with that of millions, and God raised up a rainbow nation from the ashes.
I will keep wearing black on a Thursday as a radical prayer act and trust that it will change me and the world.]
Questions for reflection:
1. What other kind of healing do you think James means in 5:16?
2. Do you pray more for physical healing or spiritual healing? Why?
3. Prayer is more than words? What acts might you commit to in order to bring healing?
4. How do you think righteousness and prayer are linked?
Hidden and mysterious God, we seek you in darkness and unknowing, and you come to us with tender love. We ask that you will reveal the persistent wrong in our lives. The reality we choose to ignore. The abuse we tolerate of other people.
Change our heart and our lives, we pray, that your image may grow in us and in those we love. Amen
Written by Jude Levermore Twitter: @judelevermore
Jude has more than 20 years of experience in faith-based and charity leadership. Whilst currently leading a national team with the Methodist Church of Great Britain, Jude has previously chaired the board at Greenbelt Festivals and worked with, and developed her team, transforming this annual event into a sustainable, successful festival of faith, arts and justice. She spent four years as head of a small NGO working with excluded young people as well as being involved with Comic Relief and Christian Aid in an evaluation and monitoring role. Jude is also a regular speaker at conferences across the UK, on a wide variety of topics that include various aspects of leadership and leadership development. She is a member of the HOPE leadership team.
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