Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
How much time do you and your family spend in prayer?
How often do you sing praises to God?
It’s probably true that the church of the past spent more time in those activities than we do today. Today we tend to be too preoccupied with all the forms of entertainment that have come into our homes—radio, television, DVD’s, and computer and video games.
The word of God that James brings to the church calls us both to pray and to sing psalms.
James speaks of those who are afflicted and those who are merry. That describes every one of us. We find ourselves either in affliction that brings sorrow, or in prosperity so that we are merry. Sometimes there is a combination of both in our lives.
We are instructed how to respond.
Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray.
Is any merry? Let him sing psalms.
It is important that we heed this instruction. This is God’s wisdom to bring us safely to our eternal home, both in affliction and in prosperity.
Is any among you afflicted? Is any merry?
To be afflicted means to suffer evils or hardship of any kind.
At the beginning of this chapter we learn that members of the church to which James wrote this epistle were being defrauded by the rich, so that they found themselves in desperate straits. James also mentions in this chapter the affliction that the prophets suffered in the form of persecution.
Affliction also comes to our lives. It comes in the form of sickness, bereavement, poverty, broken relationships, and disappointment….
From the parallel phrase in this passage that speaks of being merry, we must also emphasize that affliction brings sadness, fear, worry, and certainly tears.
There is much of this affliction in life. In fact, sometimes affliction can be a long-term, ongoing reality in our lives.
But James also speaks of being merry.
To be merry means to be full of joy, to be of good cheer. There are many things that bring such joy to our lives. These include good health, material prosperity, marriage, children, peace in the family, peace in the church, and peace in the nation. We may summarize all these good things by the term prosperity.
There are also these kinds of things in our lives. Sometimes we enjoy prosperity for long stretches of time.
What we must understand is that both affliction and prosperity are sent to us by the hand of God.
The secular world, under the influence of the error of evolution, maintains that all things happen by chance—both good and evil.
Many in the church world believe that the good things in life certainly come from the hand of God but that affliction and tears come not from God but from the devil.
The Bible is clear that nothing happens by chance but that all things come only by the hand of God.
Proverbs 22:2 teaches, “The rich and poor meet together: the LORD is the maker of them all.” Are you rich so that your life is full of joy? The Lord made you rich. Are you poor so that your life is one of struggle and disappointment? The Lord made you poor.
Then we have the example of Job’s affliction, cited by James in verse 12 of this chapter. Even though the devil had his hand in Job’s great suffering, it is ultimately God who afflicted Job. It was only with God’s permission and in God’s power that the devil brought suffering to Job. This was also Job’s understanding. We read in Job 2:10 that Job responded to his complaining wife, “What shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”
This is all in keeping withEphesians 1:11, which emphasizes that God “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.”
We must also emphasize that whatever God sends is for our profit. We are assured of this inRomans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
All that God sends us in life is sent in love and is designed in His perfect wisdom to serve to bring us in the best possible way to glory. This is easy to see when the hand of God sends prosperity, so that we are merry. It is not so easy to see when the hand of God sends affliction, so that we are filled with sorrow.
Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms.
Prayer is the privilege God has given to us in Jesus Christ to communicate with Him heart to heart. In prayer we are able to pour out our heart to God. The word used here for prayer is a general word for prayer. It includes prayers of thanksgiving and also prayers of supplication.
James also speaks of singing psalms.
We must not think here of a distinction between psalms and hymns. The phrase “sing psalms” is only one word in the original and means to sing praises to God. This certainly includes the Old Testament Psalms. The Psalms without exception praise God for His goodness, greatness, power, wisdom, and the works of salvation He accomplishes for His people. But there are many other spiritual songs that also praise God, many of them based directly on Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures.
Sad to say, there are many songs in the church that do not praise God. Many express a distorted theology that detracts from God. Many also are man-centered. These are not the kind of songs that James has in mind.
Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray.
We are called repeatedly in Scripture to pray. We are to pray without ceasing (I Thess. 5:18). We are to continue instant (steadfast) in prayer (Rom. 12:12). We are to continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving (Col. 4:2).
Especially in the face of affliction we must pray. Affliction brings with it many worries, anxieties, heartbreaks, and needs. These we must bring to God in prayer.
But we must also be thankful in these prayers. No matter how heavy the hand of God comes to rest on us, we always have things for which to be thankful. And we must express this in prayer. This certainly is suggested in Philippians 4:6: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”
It is also good and necessary to sing praises to God in affliction. The heavy heart of the afflicted is lifted by the songs of praise that reflect on God’s salvation for His people.
But in the face of affliction it is above all necessary to pray.
Is any merry? Let him sing psalms.
We are called repeatedly in Scripture to sing praises to God. “Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises” (Ps. 47:6). “Sing unto God, sing praises to his name” (Ps. 68:4). “Praise ye the LORD: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely” (Ps. 147:1).
This is appropriate especially when we prosper by the hand of God, so that we are filled with joy and merriment. How obviously God has blessed us when we prosper. We should praise and honor Him with songs of praise. These songs naturally flow from a merry heart.
It is also appropriate to pray. We should thank and praise God in prayer. And we should in prayer ask God to enable us to use His bounty aright.
But first of all it is appropriate to praise God in song.
These prayers and songs are necessary in order for God’s purpose in sending both affliction and prosperity to be accomplished.
The purpose of God in both affliction and prosperity is our eternal good. Through prosperity God gives us the resources necessary to maintain our covenant homes, churches, and Christian schools, to promote the gospel, and to assist the poor, all of which are necessary for our spiritual health and well-being.
By affliction God purifies us as gold is purified by fire, to make us fit for greater service and ultimately for our place of glory in heaven.
However, for this purpose of God to be accomplished, we must receive both prosperity and adversity in faith. Only by faith will we use the prosperity we receive by His hand in a way that will contribute to our spiritual well-being. Without faith we will squander God’s good gifts to our hurt. Only by faith will we have the patience to profit from affliction. It requires patience to profit from affliction instead of turning away from God in resentment and rebellion. This patience requires faith.
And therein is the importance of prayer and singing God’s praises. These are both acts of faith. They also increase our faith, so that we may profit from both affliction and prosperity. Those who neither pray nor sing praises to God will lose ground in their spiritual life, both in the face of adversity and in the face of prosperity.
And so we come back to the question with which we started. How much time do you spend in prayer and in singing psalms in your family and personal lives?
Songs and prayers have equipped the suffering ones with patience to endure and to profit from affliction. They have empowered God’s people to use His good gifts to profit their spiritual lives and the lives of others around them.
Let us be a people who both pray and sing praises to God.