"Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord." (James 5:14 NIV). What does it mean to "pray over" someone? It is basically praying for someone and with someone at the same time. When we are struggling physically, emotionally, or spiritually we need help praying. We pray for others every day using Intercessory prayer. Praying over someone is intercessory prayer that is up close and personal. It is customary to lay on hands, which is a way of sharing the grace and Spirit of God with others. It is as if we are saying "whatever portion of God's grace and Spirit I have, I share it with you." Being prayed for is an act of great comfort and great power. It is unfortunate that most churches accept this work from pastors only, which biblically speaking, is nonsense. It is the baptized spiritual leaders of the church who are mature in the faith and sharing in the Holy Spirit who are called and commanded to share this gift with those in need. There is nothing magical or special about a pastor. (I should know. I am one.) The blessings aren't better or healing more likely because a pastor prays over us rather than a lay person. Too many churches plateau and their pastors burn out because they are like Moses in the desert trying to judge every dispute among the people of Israel. We run ourselves ragged trying to be all things for all people and to be present to pray over every crisis. We are called as pastors to "equip the saints for every work of righteousness" (Ephesians 4). It is empowering to recognize and accept the gift of prayer from one another within the Church. It is a holy privilege to say "The Spirit in me recognizes the Spirit in you, and I welcome the opportunity to meet God together."
Here's how we pray over each other:
a. Get Personal
Whether you are in a hospital room, living room, or in the back of an ambulance, prayer is personal. Know the name of the person with whom you are praying. If they are able to hold a conversation, spend a little time getting to know this person as more than the illness or crisis but as a whole person.
b. Work Together
Ask the person "What would you like us to pray for today?" or "What would you like to tell God?" or "What should we ask God today?" Allow the person to be as active a part of the process as possible. Also, James says to call the elders (plural). Take someone else with you. Illness and crisis can make us feel very alone and a small group praying with us is a tangible reminder that as members of the Body of Christ, we are not alone. This is also a great way to model prayer ministry for those just learning.
c. Leave it to God
O. Hallesby writes that it is pointless to tell God what we would like God to do. God has infinitely better solutions than we do, so it is best to share our needs with God and leave the solutions to God. Tell God the need. Trust God with the solution.
d. Get "Hands On"
There is something healing and reassuring about a simple touch. Don't be afraid to hold hands while you pray together. Don't be afraid to lay on hands, often on the top of the head, on the arm or shoulder. (Not everyone likes to be touched, so I always ask permission.) Anointing with oil is a powerful sign of blessing and grace. The combination of conversation, prayer, and touch helps make the presence of God very real and tangible.
As a disciple of Jesus, you carry on the work of Jesus. You will find that work all around you every day. By praying with and praying over others who are struggling, you offer the grace and power of God to those who need it most.
If prayer is still a struggle for you personally you may hesitate to pray out loud in front of others. We will address that tomorrow. Also, see my earlier blog post on "The One and Only Rule of Prayer."