“If you are sick (in trouble), pray. If you are good (happy), sing songs of praise.”
Sickness here is from the Greek, Astheneo, which means to be feeble, sick or week. We see this exact word used other places in the New Testament, which helps us see what the result of this kind of prayer.
Sometimes, an answer to prayer for this kind of sickness is healing:
And wherever Jesus entered into villages, cities, or a country, they laid the sick in the streets, and asked if they might touch the border of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole. Mark 6:56
Sometimes, an answer to prayer for this kind of sickness is comfort:
“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” Matthew 25:36
Same word in all three passages. Same faith. Same God. Different requirements and results. Perhaps these options seem like an easy way to cover all the bases, but I'm not so sure. Notice what mindset we have to bring to the situation:
- Humility – I can’t fix myself.
- Faith – I believe only God can heal me.
- Motivation – I want to feel better. There’s no money, or fame, or power, or personal gain.
- Sovereignty – Is it God’s will that I be healed or comforted? I hope both. I accept either.
So, we pray an unwavering prayer of faith, believing that God will respond, trusting and even rejoicing in His sovereign decision as to how He chooses to meet us at the point of our sickness.
Verse 15 speaks of a different kind of sickness.
“If you are sick, don’t wait for the elders to find out and show up: call them to pray over you and anoint you with oil in the name of the Lord. A prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If their sins brought about this illness, or if their illness caused them to reflect on their lives and repent of sins, God’s forgiveness will also heal them spiritually. That’s why it’s important to confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed not just physically, but relationally and spiritually.” - James 5
Once again, we know more about this kind of sickness through other references in Scripture. Paul writes in Hebrews 12:3, “Think about the one who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you may not become tired and give up.” "Sick" here is kamno, faint or wearied; ready to collapse; losing inner strength. In this case, it's not that you have a medical ailment: this kind of sickness means that your heart, soul, mind, and strength are done.
Here, James makes a connection with sin. Something in your life is destroying you spiritually, and it’s eating you up inside. A spiritual sickness is manifesting as a physical sickness. The kind of prayer you need here is not for physical health, because that’s not the problem. You need spiritual resurrection. Your body and your soul are connected, and your soul needs fixing.