The day was beautiful, with clear skies over the shadow-filled canyon; the perfect day for an excursion into nature. I was staying at a friend’s house in the hills of northeast Georgia, and Taluah Falls Gorge had been calling my name all week. Apparently, flatlanders like me get a little winded after hiking for five hours, and by the time I got to the end of the trail, I realized two things. First, that I was enormously proud of myself for completing the journey. Second, that I was enormously silly to have attempted it on the second day of a three-day fast.
I stumbled, loose-legged to the gravel parking lot and at last plopped down in the stuffy heat of my sun-baked little car. As I sat there trying to catch my breath, I took a moment to check my pulse by placing my hand over my heart.
I felt nothing.
Now, obviously I had a pulse. However, it was difficult to feel it with my hand on my chest because there was too much in the way. If you want to feel a pulse, you check where the blood is flowing. If you want to know what the heartbeat is like, you check arteries and veins, the places where the heart is sending its life.
Likewise, it’s difficult to know the heart of God just by asking and waiting for something to happen. Of course prayer is the starting point, but all too often we find ourselves with too much in the way to hear Him clearly.
Our schedules are too busy.
Our minds are too cluttered.
Our surroundings are too distracting.
Here’s the thing. As we continue to work on the quality of our “quiet times” with God, and while we remember that the Scriptures are the best way to know God and His ways, there’s another way we can know His heart in the hear and now. Look to where His life is flowing.
Look at the people who are filled with joy and are sharing God’s love out of the overflow. Look at the groups who are spreading the Gospel in effective ways. Look at the churches that are getting involved in their community and see the results they are producing.
As a pastor, I often get questions of a more theological nature. Thursdays are the day I like to post some on the blog. Enjoy! —Pastor Phillip
The other day I got a text message from a friend:
"I'm reading James 5:16, which says, 'Confess your sins to each other so that
you may be healed.' Why wasn't it good enough to confess to my Lord, and
(before we got married) to my husband? I used to boast to a Catholic friend in
college that I could pray directly to God and didn't need to go through a
priest because when the curtain was torn at Jesus' death, we were given access
to the Holy of Holies ourselves."
What a great question! Let’s look at the passage in context.
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. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 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.” -James 5:14-16
When it comes to studying the Bible, it’s often said, “if you see a ‘therefore’, find out what it’s there for!” So, as we look at the “therefore” in this passage we see that when James writes about sins and healing, he’s not talking about the spiritual “salvation” type of healing, but physical healing specifically.
When we pray to God for the forgiveness of sins in the context of salvation, then it is indeed just about us and God. The Bible is clear that only Jesus saves, and that by His death and resurrection the barrier that separated humanity from the “Holy of Holies” of God’s presence has now been removed. We DO have complete access to the Father, in the power of the Spirit, by the blood of the Son, so the condemnation of our sins has been taken care of once and for all in Christ. Hallelujah!
So then, what is James talking about when he says we should confess our sins to one another that we may be healed of sickness?
We know that not ALL sickness is caused by sin, because Jesus himself says this in John 9:2-3. “[Jesus’] disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.'” However, very often we may experience sickness in our bodies because though the condemnation of sin has been removed, there are still consequences we deal with because of our choices.
This is, of course, exactly what satan our enemy wants. If he can’t keep God’s children from being healed in spirit, then he will try to keep us from being healed in body. He cannot affect our destiny, but he can impact our daily life if we let him. We must realize that much of our physical experience is directly related to the spiritual war of which we all are a part.
Now, look at what the Apostle Peter reminds us of in 1 Peter 5:8-9, “Be sober- minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”
Satan doesn’t want to just distract or discourage, he wants to devour God’s children (for a chilling description of this, check out Revelation 12:4 and following.) However, God has given us something powerful and effective to resist the attack: prayer, faith, and the support of “your brotherhood throughout the world.”
This is key!
God has given us to each other as the Church so that we may “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) in real and continuing ways. We do this by standing together in prayer and support and encouragement, through accountability and even loving correction when needed. That means that one of the most effective tools we have to drive back the effects of sin in our lives is the way in which our Church family can rally around us and help us fight.
But only if we let them.
Here is the heart of the matter. No one can be helped if they don’t admit their need. Nobody is healed without acknowledging their disease. God has given us great power and authority in the Kingdom, but the way we access it is by doing it together. That’s why we confess sins to one another! It’s not that we need extra help to be forgiven in God’s eyes, but that we need to stand together in the fight against our enemy.
One final thing.
The first mention of the word “sin” in the Bible is in Genesis 4:7, where God tells the murderer Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
In the second half of James 5:15, the passage directly before the one we’re exploring here, we see this phrase. “If he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” The word used for “forgiven” here is the Greek word “aphiemi” which has the literal meaning, “to send away, [to make] leave alone.”
For you and me, sin is not just an intellectual issue. It’s not just about weakness or struggle on our part. Sin is a very real enemy that satan the accuser sends like an assassin against our souls. Jesus has secured our life and salvation, ensuring that spiritual death will have no hold on the children of God. However, that assassin can still do great harm to us if we are not vigilant and willing to fight with the weapons our Father has given us.
When we confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, the assassin is driven away.
The air was chilly and dry, with a bright winter sun overhead as the swooshing of the rake filled the silence of the morning.
Little piles of crunchy, paper-thin tree droppings started to stack up all around me, and I smiled as it struck me: I really, really enjoyed raking the leaves.
Now, for many people raking is a drudgery. If you have to do it every day, it’s an unwelcome chore, but for me it was a fresh, new novelty, and that made all the difference.
Amazing how perspective changes things, isn’t it?
Don’t discount the power of a fresh view of things. Looking at something from a different perspective can take the driest circumstance and freshen it up like you wouldn’t believe. A dull duty can turn into a delight with just a change in your frame of mind.
Not only that, but often times things that to you are a burden, may to someone else be a brand new adventure if they come at it from a different point of view than you. If you can have a positive attitude as you share a task with them, you may find that things run more smoothly for everyone.
As you encounter difficulties and distractions this week, may you look to Jesus for a different perspective, and may His Spirit remind you that even when joy seems impossible to find, with God, all things are possible.
“I will give to the Lord the thanks due to His righteousness.” -Psalm 7:17
Do you only thank God for what He’s DONE, or for who He IS?
It is natural and right to thank God for the good He has done for us. His actions on behalf of His people are worthy of our gratefulness.
Here, though, the Psalmist is not giving thanks to God for His action, but for His character. David praises God not because of the righteous things God has done, but because He is, in Himself, inherently righteous.
Why is this such a source of thanksgiving for David?
We can rejoice over God’s actions for us in the past and feel fine for a moment, but when we thank God for the character of His righteousness, that’s where we find confidence that His goodness in the past wasn’t a fluke or a temporary thing.
It’s who He is.
May you get a fresh vision of God’s character today, and may that reminder of who He is bring you even greater assurance of His love for you.