by Joseph Franks
Everything seems to make a comeback. Skinny jeans and skinny ties are back in vogue. Nike and Adidas are making a fortune pulling out old-style shoes from the seventies. Guys are wearing short shorts; girls are wearing long waisted jeans and skirts. Teenagers are found singing rock ballads from the eighties. Even Cher is back touring and promoting songs from her twenty-sixth album. It is only a matter of time until men start reading The Preppy Handbook and women start wearing shoulder pads and having big hair again. All that was formerly cool, or not so cool, is making its way back into popular culture.
Well, perhaps it is time for the church to reclaim a practice from the seventies and eighties. I am speaking of the good, old-fashioned prayer meeting. Why should we do so when our schedules are already so overcrowded and unmanagemable? Let’s read James 5:13-18 together:
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. 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. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
James is pretty clear. Whether your days be merry and bright, or filled with despair and plight, pray. When you are walking on sunshine, spend time singing to God. When you feel like you are being walked all over, go to God in prayer. What do you do when your prayer is not answered? Gather with your brothers, sisters and church elders, and pray some more. What do you do when your prayer is still not answered? Have the elders pull out the oil and keep praying.** Similarly, when someone is struggling with sin, pray with them. God loves to answer the prayers of his saints who are happy, sad, sick and sinful. James even gives a great illustration of the power of prayer. The posture of a nation was changed due to the fervent and effectual prayers of one righteous man. James was encouraging his parishioners and readers to confidently and boldly approach the throne of God through prayer.
Our fathers used to do this regularly. Wednesday night was reserved as the time when God’s people would gather for a special emphasis on talking with God. Christian schools used to forgo games, sports practices and homework on this night of the week. Christian churches used to offer dinners, children’s ministries and other aids to encourage families to attend. Prayer was vital; it was important; it was wanted; so it was planned.
So perhaps we ought to be “Hipster Christians” and pull this vintage meeting back out of the closet. I am not sure whether or not Wednesday night is the best time, but surely there must be some time when God’s people regularly gather together to adore, confess, thank, supplicate, anoint, and see the power of God working on behalf of his glory and his people.
** Roman Catholic View — The anointing of a person right before he dies so that his sins might be forgiven. (Extreme Unction)
** Medicinal View — Olive oil was a well-known remedy for aches and pains.
** Symbolic View — The oil represented the work of the Holy Spirit. It is an outward sign of an inward prayer. (My Interpretation)
** Sacramental View — The oil has mysterious power attached to its usage.
** Apostolic View — The usage of oil is something that ought not be continued since the Apostolic Age has passed.