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. (James 5:14 ESV)
Asking for prayer, at first, doesn’t feel natural because it requires us to be vulnerable and share our burdens with other people. There is an underlying fear of being judged because our problems make us feel like we are the only one experiencing them. But once we let our guard down and reveal whatever is weighing on our hearts, we discover that someone else has gone through the exact same thing and might offer additional wisdom on how to cope or maneuver through our situation. As soon as we get comfortable in small group fellowship, prayer requests start to feel like a regular practice.
However, James adds another layer to this practice by telling us to ask our church elders (also known as leaders) to also pray for us. In this passage, he’s referring to praying for the sick. This suggests that there may be a spiritual element causing illness, which is technically true because we live in a broken world rooted in sin that causes our bodies to break down and become immunocompromised. We know that the wages of sin is death and illness is one of the pathways to this consequence.
Engaging church leadership in prayer is important because it is their duty to lead and care for the congregation. They need to know the state of its members if they are to properly care for the church. It’s not that God gives them listening priority whenever they pray, and certainly their prayers are no more special than anyone else’s. But they are trained and equipped to handle specific situations and know how to guide their members through life events. In some instances, they may offer us perspective and perhaps reveal a truth that we need to hear for the purposes of correction, comfort, and reassurance.
When we ask for prayer, we are inviting people to participate in kingdom work that builds up the church and glorifies God. Inviting others into your life can be a bit uncomfortable, but it’s the one of the tangible ways Jesus wants us to experience grace. When you are in a godly circle there are no judgments, just care and encouragement. And when prayers are answered, we joyfully sing praises and thanksgiving to the Lord. So take a step of faith and ask for prayer because “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).