James’ first exhortation for prayer is directed toward the individual, as seen in verse 13: Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Here James contrasts two spectrums in a believer’s life. The first is trouble or suffering, something that both his original hearers as well as believers throughout all ages, know all too well. Every one of us experience trouble and suffering in our lives to some degree. James says is anyone suffering “He should pray.” While trials and adversity present a Christian with the conditions wherein he is most likely to pray fervently, James continues to contrast this, saying that we should also rejoice, singing songs of praise when we are happy. In other words, it’s not only in suffering, but in joy, that believers are presented with an appropriate occasion to turn to God.
In verses 14 and 15 James moves to a second group, the church elders, again calling for prayer. 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. This is one of the most controversial texts in James’ epistle, often used by the “faith-healers” to support their teachings and aberrant practices. The word sick in the original can have various meanings. One way it is used (18 times in the New Testament) is to refer to physical illness; but it also is translated as weak (14 times) and can refer to spiritual weakness. However we understand the meaning of the word sick, James says we are to call the elder