Sarah was desperate. Her two-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with a rare heart disease. As she sat there alone in Megan’s hospital room, listening to the monitor beep with the rhythm of her daughter’s struggling heart, all Sarah could do was pray. Then, amidst her praying, the Spirit brought a verse to this mother’s mind. She remembered James 5:13-14:
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 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.
Tearfully, Sarah picked up the phone and called the elders of her church. By evening three of her pastors were there. They pleaded with God for Megan’s heart surgery. They asked the Holy Spirit to give the doctors wisdom. And they prayed with fervor for Jesus to be magnified through this trial and suffering.
Brothers and sisters, when you or those you love are sick, do you call on the elders to pray? Maybe in the past you’ve been in Sarah’s spot, feeling lonely and desperate. Instead of picking up the phone to call your pastors, maybe you assumed they would come. Every passing minute, you became more frustrated that your church leaders weren’t there by your side.
While it is true that the elders should be sensitive to the needs of the flock, and while it is also true that pastors will often come to your side without receiving a call, email, or text, the instruction James gives to the church is to take initiative and “call for the elders to pray.” Maybe you’re bitter with a pastor in your church because he wasn’t there when you needed him. Maybe you felt the level of care he provided didn’t match the scriptural priority that shepherds be men of prayer. Let me ask you: Did you follow the directive of scripture? Did you call upon your pastor(s) to pray?
Remember, God is the only one who is omniscient. He is the only one who perfectly knows your circumstances and the seriousness of your situation. When times are tough and you are desperate, your pastors need to be informed. And while it is true that pastors are sinners who can be prone to laziness, I’ve never met a biblically qualified shepherd in God’s church who denied a church member when a request was made for prayer. Instead of being bitter at your pastors for not being attentive to your needs, pick up the phone and call upon them to pray.
Maybe you resist calling upon your pastors because you feel they are too busy. Maybe you feel you are doing them a favor by not being an extra burden. Church, this is faulty thinking. Visiting the sick and praying for healing are essential responsibilities of the shepherding task. By calling on the elders to pray, you are helping them to do their job. If you (or someone you love) are seriously sick, and your pastors fail to support you in prayer when asked, they are in need of brotherly rebuke. For example, Ezekiel denounced Israel’s shepherd’s because they callously refused to care for the sick (Ezek 34:4). If the church’s job description assigned to your pastors is biblical, it will include praying at the top of the list. Weren’t helpers appointed for this very purpose? So pastors could devote themselves “to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4)?
Friends, next time you are in Sarah’s spot—when you or someone you love lies sick upon the bed, when God seems far and healing seems hopeless—call upon your elders to pray. If they are righteous men, then their prayer will have “great power as it is working” (James 5:16b). Call upon your elders to pray.