Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. – Vs 13
This sounds so practical. So logical. I mean, who wouldn’t pray if he was suffering? Who wouldn’t sing praises if he was cheerful? Oh, let me think. How about ME? Yes, I confess. When I find myself going through difficult circumstances, my prayer life doesn’t necessarily see a marked improvement. On the other hand, when all is right in my world and I’m a happy camper, it doesn’t always turn me into a praise song-singing saint. But why? Why don’t I pray more in the tough times and sing more in the good times? I think it may have something to do with my perspective. James seems to be saying that the thing common to both responses is their focus. Both prayer and praise should be God-centered.
Here’s the deal. When I find myself suffering, I usually end up complaining or whining about my lot in life. Instead of talking to God about it, I’ll talk to everybody and their dog. In doing so, I’m either trying to elicit sympathy or find a potential savior. I want someone to help me solve my problem. And if they can’t do that, I at least want them to feel sorry for me. In either case, I’m expecting them to do for me what only God can do.
James says that if anyone is suffering, they must pray. Not should pray, but must. It’s an imperative, a command. It’s a non-negotiable. If you’re suffering, talk to God. Seek Him in the midst of it. But don’t just seek God to beg Him to get you out of the circumstances you find yourself in. Don’t just pray in order to get God to solve your problem and get your life back to “normal.” When we do that, we’re just using God like some kind of glorified Genie in a lamp. We have a problem and, in our simplistic minds, the solution is to have removed, or at least changed. So we go to God and give Him our “wish.” When He doesn’t deliver, we go elsewhere. We’re looking for shelter from the real world. As Christians, we somehow expect that we don’t have to suffer through what the rest of the world experiences as a part of life: Financial difficulties, health problems, relationship issues, job loss, heartaches, rebellious kids, broken pipes, wrecked cars, or dashed dreams. We somehow think that our faith should inoculate us from trouble. But the Christian life isn’t about finding shelter from the real world as much as it is about God meeting us in the midst of it. Which is why James says we should pray. Pray to meet God, to hear from God, to share with God what you are going through. Yes, even though He already knows. He wants to hear it from you. James uses the Old Testament saint, Job, as an example of those who endure. But Job was also someone who talked with God. That is what the book that bears his name is all about – his conversations with God. He wasn’t afraid to tell God what he was thinking, and God responded. Job didn’t always get what he wanted, but he did get to know God better. In fact, the last words of Job recorded in the book are in the form of a prayer, “I have heard of You by hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You” (Job 42:4). His knowledge of God had gone from cerebral to experiential. He had come to know God through his trials and as a result of his conversations or prayers with God. His God was a good god who could be trusted to do the right thing even when everything seemed to be going wrong.
Good times. Great God.
But what about those times when things are going well? What should we do then? James says we should sing praises. But not just some generic, run-of-the-mill praises. Our praises should be directed toward God. We should acknowledge that our good circumstances are a result of His goodness and grace. We should praise Him for those moments in our life when we find ourselves happy and content. But instead, we tend to take credit for it ourselves. Our hard work produced it. Our intelligence made it possible. We are only getting what we deserve. When things are going well in my life, I tend to forget about God. When I have plenty of money in the bank, no problems in my life, and no worries to deal with, I am a cheerful guy. But I don’t stop in the middle of it all and praise God for His goodness. I don’t thank Him for His blessings. I don’t remind myself that none of it is deserved. It is all a result of His incredible grace. The pleasure of a good meal. The companionship of a good friend. The love of a good wife. The beauty of a glorious sunset. The laughter of my children. The joys of life. They are all a gift from God. So I should praise Him. Praise is another form of prayer. It is acknowledging God for who He is and what He has done. We can sing our praises or simply say them. Thanking God is a form of praise. A simple prayer of thanks at mealtime is a form of praise.
A God for all times.
Prayer and praise. Those are our two responses. The circumstances are not the key – God is. Circumstances change. God doesn’t. If we pray to Him in the bad times and praise Him in the good times, we will be reminding ourselves that He is the God for all times. Job had that perspective. Even in after having lost everything, he was able to say, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Job had the right perspective. He was focused on God, not his circumstances. Later on, after being “encouraged” by his own wife to curse God and die, he would say, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10). Job knew his God and he trusted Him. So in the midst of his trials, he prayed to Him. In times of joy, Job would praise Him.
I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. – Job 42:2
Father, You are a good god and a great god. Yet I do not pray to You in the bad times or praise You in the good times as often as I should. I have the wrong perspective. I somehow think You exist for ME. I am the center of the world. It is all about me and my pleasure. But it is all about YOU. Help me regain my perspective by allowing the struggles of life to remind me of my weakness and Your strength and the joys of life to remind me of Your grace. Amen