Attend any prayer meeting and notice when prayer requests are asked the first and the largest number of requests will be related to physical illnesses. Listen carefully to the prayers offered for the sick and dying, and observe whether those praying seem to have a conviction their prayers for healing will be answered. I would not be so callus nor foolish to believe I can discern the intent of one’s heart, but I sense we have become routine in our intercessions, and have lost some vitality and fervor in our prayers for healing. When we pray for healing are we convinced God hears our prayers and answers them according to our needs? Is God concerned about our sicknesses, and if so why do my prayers seem so ineffectual? When medical science has failed and we have been told to expect the worst can we confidently come to Christ in prayer and expect Him to perform a miracle? Should I pray for healing even before I seek medical treatment? There are so many questions, so many opinions, so much confusion, and so much heart-ache related to this subject. I’m certain, however our heavenly Father does not want us to be anxious, and He has provided direction for us in His Word.
A scriptural truth we can claim is this: when healing is truly a need for us God will meet the need every time (Phil. 4:19). Our struggle is to understand just what is a legitimate need and what is an imagined need? I can already hear the next question: “When I am sick, how can it only be an imagined need for me to be made well?” God has shown us some sicknesses are for chastisement (I Cor. 11:28-30), some are for the glory of God (John 9: 1-3), while other sicknesses are unto death (Eccl. 3:1-2). Our desires must be what God desires, and when it is His desire to heal us it will happen.
Have I ever stopped to consider this present malady may be God’s means not only to get my attention but to teach me an eternal truth which can only be learned while I am sick? If it is God’s will to heal everyone, then why did the Apostle Paul remain sick despite praying three times to have the thorn in the flesh removed (II Cor. 12:7-9)? Why did Trophimus remain sick in Miletus, when he might have come to Rome to speak in Paul’s defense (II Tim. 4:20)? Did they not have enough faith to be healed? It is simply not God’s will to heal every believer of every illness every time. God is definitely concerned about our health, but His primary concern is our holiness, and holiness is strengthened in the crucible of pain and suffering. (Jas. 1:2-4).
It is within God’s will, however when one is sick to call for the elders to pray for healing (James 5:13-16). The mental picture most of us have concerning this passage is a church service in which sick people come to an altar for anointing with oil and receive prayer for healing. There have been some who needed healing who came to such services and were healed, but I believe far more have come and left sick, disappointed and dejected. The command of these verses in James’ epistle is the one who is sick should call for the elders to come to him, and not that he go to a mass meeting for healing. What we are observing in such healing services today in no way resembles what the Lord commanded in these passages.
The prayer of faith mentioned in James 5:15 is not the prayer of a believer, although it is prayed by a believer. It is a special God-initiated and God-directed prayer into the life of the sick one. The definite article “the” indicates this prayer is different from believing faith. I may believe God will heal everyone, but in reality not everyone is healed. The prayer of faith however, is born from above and accomplishes its’ purpose to save the sick. In verse 16 the ones present are commanded to confess their sins to the Lord, and healing which results from those confessions are spiritual in nature and not necessarily physical.
When is it appropriate to pray for healing? The Bible urges us to pray without ceasing (I Thess. 5:17); and this is how often to pray. There are times when God elects to heal in a supernatural fashion, but more often our experience is either a natural healing, an assisted-healing using some form of treatment or non-healing. It is never wrong to call for the elders for confession, prayer and healing particularly when one remains sick despite standard treatment. I do not believe it is God’s will however, to withhold standard medical care while waiting on a supernatural healing through prayer. I am even more adamant about this when one is deciding on the plan of care for a child or a dependent person. God is able to heal in an instant but much more often, God uses people trained in the healing arts to assist in that process.
The final area I want to cover in this series concerns failures of healing. What should be the response of a Christian who has done all he knows to do and still remains sick? What is God trying to teach about His love and concern for us regarding our illnesses? How can we know what He wants us to do, and how He wants us to act? The Bible must be our guide for faith and practice, and the Lord will direct our path according to His Word when we diligently seek Him. (Prov. 3: 5,6)