The Christian life is a unique life. Following Jesus changes everything for us – at least it should change everything. This doesn’t mean we leave our jobs and families and live in communes in the forest. It means that the lives we lead are forever and irrevocably changed. As James closes his epistle, he wants to make sure his readers are left with a set of important thoughts ringing in their ears. The life he described up to this point transforms the way we view pain and suffering, the way we value and treat others, and the way we use our tongues, to mention just a few things. Now it is time for the final set of exclamation points on the descriptions of this uniquely Christian life.
Is anyone among you suffering? We know James’ readers are suffering; we know our neighbors are; we know the reality of suffering in our own lives. The question is not hypothetical, and James’ answer should unsettle us a bit. It is exactly when things go out of our control that our natural impulse is to DO something and not just sit around and take it. We want to take events and people into our own hands and rework the situation so we and our loved ones can avoid the pain we are in. James, however, says the most important thing we can do in the most complicated and confusing seasons of life is pray. Prayer is not the Christian’s back-up plan; it is our constant source of strength.
We pray to the Creator of the Universe – to the one who spun the universe into existence and holds the expanse of time and space in the palm of his hand. I pray to the Only Wise God. We pray to the God who walked among us in human flesh. He was born, lived and died truly human, and he rose again conquering death and sin. I pray to the Incarnate God. And I pray by the prompting and power of the very Spirit of God within me. I pray by God’s Empowering Presence. This is the uniquely Christian prayer.
Is anyone among you cheerful? We sometimes find ourselves in this season of life – we are blessed, we are happy, we are at peace in our hearts and minds. James tells us the right reaction is to sing songs of praise. Praise is an open door to the presence of God. When God’s people assembled at the Temple in the Old Testament, they we lead in praise and worship to the God who lead them out of Egypt and gave them a homeland. And when the presence of the Lord fell, they praised some more. At the end of all things when we catch a glimpse of the throne room of God, we encounter angelic beings and the redeemed singing songs of praise to God for his majesty, power, justice, forgiveness and mercy. We will, for all of eternity, be caught up in a chorus of praise to our God.
But we can add to James the words of Paul. Right now we may not feel the power, steadfast love and grace of God. We may be walking a different path. To us, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:3, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.” Praise be to God for the comfort and compassion he gives in the midst of my suffering and pain. Praise be to this God in all seasons of life. Praise is not a seasonal activity; it is my constant response to this God who redeemed me.
If praise is not a part of my life, I don’t know who my God is.
Prayer and praise are consistent and universal activities in the Christian life. They are our constant companions in this uniquely Christian life.