Posted on July 29, 2015
James 5:13-20—Rescue for the Weary
How would you define the difference between being tired and being weary? Think about it for a moment. Have you ever been bone-dead-weary, worn out from a lengthy struggle of some kind?
Listen to a good description of weariness in these lyrics from the song Worn, by Tenth Avenue North:
I’m tired, I’m worn; my heart is heavy
from the work it takes to keep on breathing.
I’ve made mistakes, I’ve let my hope fail.
My soul feels crushed by the weight of this world.
I know I need to lift my eyes up,
but I’m too weak; life just won’t let up.
And I know that You can give me rest,
So I cry out with all that I have left,
Let me see redemption win,
let me know the struggle ends—
that You can mend a heart that’s frail and torn.
I wanna know a song can rise
from the ashes of a broken life
and all that’s dead inside can be reborn
’cause I’m worn.*
Today’s study in James was written with the weary in mind. Open your Bible and read James 5. Then back up and reread 5:13-20, making note of James’ prompts to pray. How can prayer help the weary?
Prayer for the Suffering
Most Bible translations have clouded the broad meaning of these verses by a wrong emphasis on physical illness—translating as “sick,” words that really mean “weak” or “weary” or “afflicted.” It’s easy to rightly translate this passage with no reference at all to physiological health.
Check out this translation of verses 13-16a:
Is anyone among you suffering hardship? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you weak? Then he must summon the elders of the church and let them pray over him, having anointed him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save/deliver/heal/restore the one who is weary, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess to one another your sins and pray on behalf of one another so that you may be made whole. (My translation.)
Remember that James is writing to people who were displaced from their homes and scattered abroad. They endured a long, long time of persecution and suffering. Some doubted the goodness of the Lord. Some struggled to keep their faith alive. Some may have stalled in their faith-walk; others may have slipped into sin. These verses were meant to teach them how to lift each other up in troubles that went way beyond bodily illness, encompassing a broad range of spiritual despair and weariness.
The anointing James refers to in verse 14 has been badly misused, and has left many “anointed” Christians wondering why the magic ceremony didn’t produce the promised healing. Properly understood, this passage urges elders to get personally involved in encouraging the weary, gathering to pray for them, helping them get on their feet. The word used for “anointing” was for practical grooming and soothing—not a sacred ceremonial anointing (as was done for Old Testament kings), which used an entirely different Greek term. So the elders should provide extra spiritual support for the troubled individual and their family for a time, and help them in needed practical ways as well. This was just one way elders were to “shepherd” their flock of church members.
The church members were also to pray for each other, and to be available to lend a listening ear (and a closed mouth! Gossip was never to be a motive for listening to another’s heartaches.). They were to love each other, shoulder each others’ burdens, forgive each other, and pray for each other.
Prayer for the Straying
A person whose spirit is weary becomes especially vulnerable. She may take her eyes off what is true and drift away from what she’s known to be right. She hasn’t rebelliously turned her back on God, she’s just lost heart—and lost her spiritual bearings.
James urges a compassionate, tender response to weakness. Prayer and encouragement (and practical help whenever possible) may give a floundering sister the boost she needs to get back on track. She doesn’t need chided, she needs a champion—someone to say, “You’ll get through this, and I’ll be right beside you until you do.”
I can tell you firsthand: Nothing speaks peace to the weary like friends who help bear their burden and assure them they’re not alone. Long after their circumstances improve they’ll be gratefully remembering love that would not let them go.
On the afternoon of Thursday, August 5, 2010, the world was alerted to the collapse of a mine in Copiapo, Chile. Thirty-three miners were trapped more than three miles underground. A rescue effort began immediately, but it would be a record 69 days before those miners would be successfully rescued from their deep, dark prison. People of all nations celebrated as news broadcasts showed each miner brought to the surface, one by one, in a narrow capsule. More than two months of intense work, ingenuity, sleeplessness, stress and untold expense resulted in the saving of all thirty-three men.
I wonder…. Do we come anywhere near that effort to rescue a weary fellow Christian? How do we, the church, typically respond? We may make a weak attempt or two, send a card, make a call, say a prayer, add their name to the prayer list—but if the struggle outlasts our short collective attention span we fade away. We may criticize their lack of effort, saying they ought to know better.
Friends, the stakes are too high for us to give up so easily! James “puts the responsibility for the wandering brother or sister on the shoulders of the church body.”** We need the same zealous determination as those Chilean heroes. We need rescuers who refuse to abandon a weary friend in distress.
- Add two final verses to your list of memorized treasures from James, by learning James 5:16 and James 5:20. With these verses, you’ll will have committed to memory almost one-fifth of the book of James!
- Think of one or two people/families you know who are weary from a prolonged period of trouble. Then take action. Commit to pray for them daily for at least 60 days. (If 60 days passes without a resolution, keep praying. Stick it out!) Look for other practical ways you can bring help—either acting alone or recruiting a few friends or your small group. (Be sure your conversation about the circumstance and your motives for helping stay pure!) Can you help rescue the weary? You may be the answer to a worn-out friend’s prayer!
- Read through the book of James one more time, in preparation for next week’s wrap-up. As time allows, read back through this series of posts to review what we’ve learned. I’ll meet you here next Wednesday!
© Diane McLoud 2015
* Worn, recorded by Tenth Avenue North. Lyrics by Mike Donehey, Jeff Owens, Jason Ingram. (Sony/ATV Timber Publishing)
** Dr. David Jeremiah, Turning Toward Integrity (Chariot Victor Publishing: Colorado Springs, CO, 1993), p. 192.