“Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.” (James 5:13, AV)
We all go through ups and downs in life. Sometimes we are on the mountaintop and other times we are in the valley. When I was in the Army Ranger School in Dahlonega Georgia learning mountaineering techniques, I remember climbing some steep granite cliffs. It was strenuous work. Yes, technique was important. I watched one of my very strong fellow Ranger candidates try to muscle his way up the cliff. He must have sweated off a gallon in the climb. Yet even for those with better technique it was a challenge. Standing at the bottom of the cliff, there was a bit of fear and trepidation. But the reward at the top was worth it. At the top we could relax with a sense of accomplishment and the view was amazing. Life is like this. We would much rather be at the top of the mountain than in the valley.
In this verse, James tells us something that we need to remember. All of us will experience both mountaintop and valley experiences in life. How do we often handle these? It has been my experience that when are in a valley of life, we naturally begin strategizing and strenuously working to get ourselves out and up on the mountaintop again, kind of like the Ranger Candidate I mentioned earlier. When we arrive at the top of a mountain of life, we begin to think, “Look at what I have accomplished.” What is the problem with this? in both cases, we have lost our focus.
James wanted his readers to focus properly. You see, our God is the Lord of the mountaintops as well as the valleys of life, and the climb from one place to the other. James tells us that when we are in the valley, that is when we are suffering, we should pray. We who believe in Jesus eventually come to this point of prayer. Unfortunately, it is often after we have exhausted all other human possibilities. This is sad but true. James does not tell us to wait until all human effort has failed before we pray. He gives us the foremost action to take and that is to pray.
However, the problem which James addressed is not only one of being in the valley. There is perhaps a larger problem when we are at a mountaintop experience of life. There we will often forget the Lord who took us to that blessed place and instead think, “Look at what I have done,” To combat this prideful response, James tells us to “sing psalms.” The Greek word psallo, translated as “sing psalms” literally refers to plucking the strings of an instrument. In the New Testament it most often refers to singing praises and psalms. It has the idea of making a melodious song of praise to God. When we are on the mountaintop, we might audibly sing a song of praise to God, but this song of praise must be one that generates from a heart of gratitude to God. So, whether we audibly sing or not, we will be singing a beautiful melody in our hearts toward God.
Our God is the Lord of our valleys and our mountaintops and the journey between them. In other words, we should be in constant communication with our God. We should be offering prayers of praise and thanksgiving, and prayers of petition to God throughout our lives.