“Is anyone among you suffering?”
Can any one of us answer this question with anything other than an absolutely overwhelming, “YES!?” We all personally know many, many people who are suffering every single day. In chapter 5, James tells us that their comfort is found in prayer. He gives only one instruction for those suffering: pray.
“Is anyone cheerful?”
What do we do when we experience joy? James tells us to sing praise to God. I recently had a miraculous experience wherein joy was poured out upon me. When we are happy, it is hard to contain. Should we? James says no.
“Is anyone sick?”
There is a prescription for sickness, too. Those who battle illness are instructed to call for the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.
Do we, the church, go directly to these commands when suffering, or cheerful, or sick? Do we do these things? Are these our first lines of defense and reaction? Do we believe this? Do we do them?
Because our churches are chock full of sufferers and sickness. And last time I felt extraordinarily cheerful, I actually felt out of place and insensitive for just being so – even without saying so – among all the downcast hearts.
Why are these things rarely happening on any given Sunday in the church today? We know we have suffering, cheer, and sickness. There can be no doubt about that. But where is prayer? Where is non-rehearsed, naturally overflowing, honest praise? Where is leader-led laying on of hands and anointing with oil prayer?
James goes on. He gives us the means to this end. Maybe the means are what is truly missing.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
Aha. Confession. Confession – specifically in community – is the means to these ends. Confession in community is the remedy for suffering. Confessing that one is suffering is the first line of defense against that suffering. When we hide our suffering from one another – whether it is not our fault, sin-related, or otherwise – we fail to ask for and receive prayer. We often fail to pray because of doubt and discouragement. We miss healing and wholeness because of the fear of man and pride. Those who suffer are commanded to confess those things and to pray and be prayed for. The same instructions pertain to those who are sick.
The cheerful have other confessions to make. The cheerful are commanded to sing praise. When God blesses us with good times, we are called to give him glory. We are instructed to sing praise. Our good is not just for our benefit. Our good is meant to give to those around us. We give him glory by confessing his goodness in community.
So why does the church struggle so with transparent community if that is exactly what we are commanded to do? Community that laughs together, cries together, confesses together, and learns together? To know and be known? To share and to care? To give and to receive?
I am sure there a too many reasons to count, but I have considered a few.
1. Misplaced Fear
Many in the church fear men over God. We often fear what someone may think or say of us when and if we are honest about our sin, our doubts, our joy, or our disbelief. There is a severe lack of willingness to be known within the church for this reason. Still, failure to confess does not only make us superficial and fake, it proves us painfully dishonest.
Confessing our struggles, our sins, our sickness, and even our joy can become a matter of personal pride and preference. There is an attitude going on in our world and our church today that says, “I am above others and I will never let them see my imperfections. I will listen to theirs and judge them but I will never reveal mine. I cannot look less than because I value my reputation more than God’s Word. I want respected.” This kind of prideful pretending is a lie straight from the pit of hell. God is probably up there saying, “Please, get over yourself and listen to me.”
There are those who see everyone’s sin except their own. They are completely ignorant of their own offenses and even when enlightened by well-meaning brothers and sisters, they refuse to acknowledge the truth that would set them free. These are the religious – perhaps the most difficult group to preach the gospel to.
4. Love of sin
No one likes to suffer or remain sick but many love the sin that holds them in those bondages. Everyone wants help as long as they do not have to change. The church must not enable this kind of attitude by failing to call people to repentance and confession. We cannot pretend there is no problem when it is clear that rebuke is in order.
These are just a few examples that I believe shed light upon why our churches are full of people who are suffering, sick, and fail to honestly confess to and pray with one another. Brian T. Anderson puts it this way in his book, Six Habits of Highly Effective Christians:
Many of the healing miracles Jesus performed involved physical healings. But Jesus also healed broken hearts, broken relationships, broken dreams, and broken identities. These are just some types of healing we can experience when we confess our sins to each others and pray for each other.
Community is one place where is is fully safe for us to take off our masks and know the healing power of being known and loved. Before Adam and Eve sinned, they were naked and not ashamed. The idea behind this is there were no secrets. They were fully known and loved. Everything about them was revealed.
What happens in many churches is that people attend every week, but no one knows them, and they are dying inside. Nobody knows their fears, their dreams, or their problems. That’s not Jesus’ plan for his community. The only way to receive healing is to make the choice to begin living in community with other people.”
Amen. Amen, amen, amen, amen. It does not get any truer than that. If we want to be healed and set free, we must be honest. We must confess to one another. We must work to know Him and one another and be known by Him and by one another.
Satan loves pretense. He loves to masquerade. Stop acting like him, church. You belong to Christ.