In James chapter 5:13-16, we have a bundle of everyday issues that every Christian has to deal with. Sin, sickness and suffering among them. The wisdom here is practical and godly, giving the believer who taps into it a reason to sing.
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. (James 5:13-16)
We know from the teaching of scripture that sin and suffering are not automatically connected. James mentions Job as a patient and happy man (James 5:11), and not the sinner that his three counsellors thought he was.
And of course, Jesus countered His disciples who thought a man was born blind because of his or his parents’ sin (John 9:3).
But the fact that there is not an automatic connection does not mean there is no connection.
When the elders pray, James says healing and forgiveness are closely connected. This is why we should be honest with each other (James 5:16).
Being honest means that we will not treat the whole thing as a cosmic karma machine (your sin must have made you stick), but neither will we shuffle off all responsibility as though there could not be a connection. Sometimes our sin makes us very sick.
Moving on, many of the Psalms are like the blues and one of the striking things about the blues is that singing them can make you feel better.
The same thing is true of the Psalms. Notice that James says that if someone is merry, he should “sing praise.” The root word behind “praise” in this sentence is akin to the word ‘Psalm’.
If things are sweet in your part of the vineyard, sing about it and give praise to God.
But James doesn’t say that the merry should only sing Psalms 148, 149, and 150.
The book of Psalms is full of affliction, and yet God tells us that it provides us with our vocabulary of joy and godly gladness, even in the midst of suffering.
But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress (Psalm 59:16).
Finally, though the world often runs on envy and accusation, it’s also under those conditions that God gives more grace.
What sense does it make, you might ask, to confess my faults to others when anything I say can and might be used against me?
We are not to confess anything in an attempt to manipulate God or one another. Nor do we do it to be justified. We do it to be healed. We do it to be set free and to live under the law of liberty. We confess because God desires to magnify His grace and His strength to save, in and through us.
We confess so that we can sing, even when it means singing the blues.