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"The Practice of God's Presence"
James 5:13-16

Wednesday AM Bible Study
November 12, 2003

At first glance, the point that James seems to be making in this section of his letter seems strangely unnecessary. Do we really need to be told something so elemental as to pray when we're suffering, or to sing praise songs when we're happy?

And yet, there really isn't a set of pastoral admonitions that are more beneficial to us to carefully observe than what we find in these verses. The significance of this passage is revealed when you were to answer this question: "What would your life look like if you were to continually live every moment of it as though Jesus Christ was always present with you wherever you went, and His divine power was always fully available to help you no matter what you encountered?"

James doesn't say this directly; his point is one that we arrive at more or less 'inductively. But James is here simply calling us to live out practically the implications of our Christian faith - to continually live every moment as though Jesus Christ truly was always present with us wherever we went and whatever we're called upon to do; and as if His divine power truly was always fully available to help us no matter what we encounter. He is holding up to us the best way to put our Christian faith into practice; and he's showing us the quickest route to happiness in life - and that is, by actively depend on the presence and power of God at every turn ...

I. IN TIMES OF SUFFERING (v. 13).
A. The word James uses for "suffering" (kakopathe˘) means "to suffer hardship or affliction." Its not so much a matter of suffering in general; but of enduring hardship that comes from an external and, sometimes, even a malicious source - the circumstance of troubles and trials that are outside the sphere of our control (2 Tim. 2:3, 9; 4:5).

B. The promises in God's own word that motivate us to this (1 Peter 5:6-7; James 1:5; Psalm 50:15. God often allows troubles and trials in our lives for no other reason than that we will learn to call upon Him in faith and be able to give Him praise because He proved Himself faithful!

C. It's as if James is asking believers, "Is anyone among you suffering? Then here is my pastoral advice to him or her: Let them turn to their ever-present, ever-loving, all-powerful Lord and say, 'O dear Lord and Master; how grateful I am that you're here with me in this trial. How grateful I am that you're in control. How grateful I am for Your great love to me, and for Your mighty hand upon me. With You on my side, I have nothing to fear! I cast this burden upon You. Give me strength. Give me wisdom. Give me help. Let me glorify You and please You in this trial.'"

II. IN TIMES OF HAPPINESS (v. 13).

A. Some Christians are more prone to turn to God and appeal to Him during the happy times than during the times of trial; and conversely, some of us are more prone to turn to God and appeal to Him during the times of trial than at the times when things are going well. To truly practice Christ's presence, means turning to God and appealing to Him in both the good times and the bad.

B. The word James uses for "cheerful" simply means "merry" or "of good spirits". We're urged to make the presence and the help of Christ paramount in our thoughts even in happy times. We're to turn those happy times into a sanctuary of praise and worship. James characterizes this by urging them to take action. He urges them to "sing praises" - to give God thanks, and to exalt Him in our times of happiness and joy, with songs of praise. The word James uses for this (psall˘) literally means "to move by a touch or a twitch", and it was usually applied to the action of striking a string on a musical instrument; and so, it became a figure of speech for playing or singing music. In the New Testament, the word refers to singing songs of praise or worship to God - to sing "psalms" ; and because the use of musical instruments is implicit in the word James uses, it has something of the idea in it of some effort and thought expended in the doing of it.

C. Isn't it interesting that James didn't simply say, "If anyone is cheerful, then let him be thankful to God"? Instead, he called upon us to do something that is more formal and action-oriented than that. To sing a song of praise to God requires that we think about what we're doing and saying, and invites others to join in our praise (Col. 3:16-17).

III. IN TIMES OF ILLNESS (vv. 14-16).

A. There are lots of differing opinions about this passage; but we shouldn't miss the main point. James is simply calling on us to practice the presence of God in all the different twists and turns of life; and here, particularly at times when we are under the trial of illness. As a matter of first priority, we're to turn to God and rely on His sovereign help and providence. James says that, when we're ill, we should show our consciousness of the presence of God in that we do three things:
1. Call upon the leaders of the local church - the "elders" - and ask them to intercede for us in prayer. And they are to come and "pray over" the sick person, "anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord."

2. Present ourselves to our spiritual leaders and allow them to assist us in a searching of the heart, confess any known sin, and entrust ourselves to the sovereign hand of God.

3. Take your medicine in the context of God's divine help.

B. Practicing the presence of God at a time of illness would mean having the attitude of turning to God first and your doctor second - and not the other way around.

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