Are there certain ways in which Christians ought to pray for the sick? What can we learn from the Bible on how to pray for the sick to be healed?
Table of contents
Prayer is Commanded
Matthew 7:7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
Jesus doesn’t suggest that we should pray but tells us to ask, seek, and knock. Imagine a child looking for his or her mother in the house. First the child asks his mother for something but doesn’t know where she is. The child then asks but also must seek out where she is. Then the child seeks and finds out that his or her mother is in her bedroom. Then the child must knock on the door and only when the child has asked his or her mother, then seeks to find where she is but it is only when the child knocks that the door will “be opened to” them. We must ask God for our needs but then we must seek God and seek Him first, seeking His perfectly good will. Next, knock on heaven’s door through the Intercessor, Jesus Christ. Only by asking, then seeking and next, knocking can God open the door to you and your requests. We are commanded to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17) and to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil 4:6). Jesus asks “will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily” (Luke 18:7-8) and so we “ought always to pray and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1). When we say that we’ll pray for someone and don’t, this is sin. Samuel said “far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way” (1 Sam 12:23).
Pray for the Sick Commanded
James 5:13a “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.”
James asks if anyone among us is suffering, and this is always highly likely in the church, they are told to pray. James also seems to tie in confession of sin to being healed as a condition. He writes that we are to “confess sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed” (5:15-16). If we have unconfessed sin, our fellowship with God is negatively affected even though our relationship remains. Imagine that you are a parent and your child has just disobeyed you and they have not made it right with you; that is they have not confessed their disobedience and then they come up to you and ask you for something like some money or to go and buy some ice cream for them. Would you be eager to do this or would you hesitate to do any special favors for the child? Now, if that same child came up to you and apologized and asked for forgiveness, wouldn’t you be more willing to do something special for them? I would think you would. The fellowship was someone cut off with the child but never was their relationship. They would still be and always will be that mother’s child but the mother would be hesitant do anything favorable for the child if they are living in disobedience so God may not answer our prayer for healing if we are not living in obedience and we have unconfessed sin. If we ask for forgiveness, God promises to cleanse us and forgive us (1 John 1:9) so first confess all known sin and then pray to God for healing. Why are our prayers more effective after confession? Because we are cleansed and James says that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power.” We can unleash God’s power for our or someone else’s healing but only if we are “righteous” or in a right relationship with God because Jesus said “whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matt 21:22) but our prayer requests must always be in alignment with God’s will, not ours (Matt 6:10).
Pray for Healing
James 5:14-18 “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. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”
James asks the church and he asks us today, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over” them. Why does James request the elders to pray for the sick? Perhaps because the elder, meaning the older, more experience Christian has a stronger faith. They are commanded to seek the prayer of the elders in the church but not to the exclusion of other church members. The “elder” is not specifically a church elder but may be a church leader which could be a pastor, deacon or an actual elder but this also might mean someone who knows how to pray and they should be praying for God’s will because God’s will is not that everyone will be healed. Paul prayed three times to be healed and God said that “My grace is sufficient for you” and this is because God’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). When we are weak, we are really strong because we are made to be dependent upon God and that is what He wants. Jesus prayed three times to “have this cup pass from Me” yet God the Father’s answer was no because Jesus prayed, “Not my will but Yours be done” (Matt 26:36-39). It’s important to understand that sometimes God says no just as He did to Paul and to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
James also ties in the fact that if a person “has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore pray for one another, that you may be healed.” James compares the power of prayer to that of Elijah’s prayer. Elijah prayed the prayer of faith and a prayer that was fervent, meaning it was passionate and full of meaning. At his request, God stopped the heavens rains for three and a half years and then he only had to pray again “and heaven gave rain.” Believing in God is to believe that He answers prayer. To believe in Him means that we also trust in Him and this trust in His answer is always better than what we think or might expect and in His timing is frequently different from ours. Never take the silence of God as God ignoring you. Often God waits to answer our prayers for His perfect timing and in many ways His answers are better than what we had originally asked for.
If you are asking, seeking, and knocking, God will answer your prayer but it might not be in the way in which you expect; it will be better. If you have unconfessed sins or we have something against someone that we haven’t forgiven like a friend or a spouse, first go to your brother, sister or even a spouse and make things right so that “your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Pet 3:7c). Pray with faith, knowing it is God’s good pleasure to give to His own children the desires of their heart but only when we delight ourselves in Him (Psalm 37). God has never promised to heal everyone in this life nor has He promised to answer every prayer to what we ask for. God’s will is supremely higher than what we know because God’s will is always better for us than the will we have for our own lives. Trust God, believe in Him, wait patiently on Him and He will answer your prayers.
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon
A friend of mine recently asked me to pray for her nephew, who is presently fighting a recurrence of a malignant brain cancer known as medulloblastoma.
His name is Gabe — if you’d like to send up a prayer for him, too, I know they’d be grateful — and he graduated from high school the day before this latest tumor was discovered.
I’ve been thinking about Gabe a lot lately. It makes my mother-heart hurt to even imagine what their family is going through.
Sometimes, when problems loom large, it’s hard to know where to even begin in your prayers, but in this instance, God brought the following Scriptures to mind almost immediately. These are the verses I’ve been praying over Gabe:
P is for Peace
Pray that God would calm their heart, quiet their fears, and grant them a peace that passes understanding. Ask Him to carry them through this trial and comfort them with His presence. Pray that they’d find complete rest in Him, casting their burdens at the foot of the cross and leaving them there. (Psalm 56:3, Philippians 4:7, Matthew 11:28, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Exodus 33:14, Psalm 68:19-20)
R is for Relationships
Pray that God would use this illness first and foremost to draw others unto Himself. Pray that relationships to family and friends would also be strengthened, that any past offenses would be freely forgiven, and that sincere words of love and affirmation would be spoken. (John 6:44, Exodus 20:12, 1 John 4:20, Proverbs 17:17, John 15:12, Ephesians 4:15)
A is for Assurance
Ask God to assure them of His great love and faithfulness. Pray that He would remind them that He has a purpose and a plan, that He is in control, that He can work all things together for their good and His glory, and that He is committed to continuing His work in their hearts until it is completed. (Psalm 117:2, Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 103:19, Romans 8:28, Philippians 1:6)
Y is for Yielding
Pray that the afflicted would yield themselves completely to God and place their full trust in His son, Jesus Christ. Pray that the would boldly approach the throne of grace to make their requests known unto God, yet would still be able to say with all sincerity, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” (Joshua 24:23, Proverbs 3:5-6, Romans 10:9, Hebrews 4:16, Philippians 4:6, Luke 22:42)
E is for Endurance
Ask God to strengthen and uphold them in the days ahead. Pray for their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual fortitude. Pray that God would give them grace as they walk through this trial and protect them against weariness and despair. Ask Him to bear their burdens and put a song of deep and abiding joy in their heart. (Isaiah 41:10, James 1:2-3, James 4:6, Isaiah 40:31, 2 Corinthians 4:8, Psalm 55:22, Isaiah 49:13)
R is for Restored Health
Pray that the Lord would mercifully and miraculously restore the one who is sick to health. Pray that He would heal them, body and soul, and would receive all the glory for having done so. Ask Him to prolong their life, and pray that they’d live out the remainder of their days in grateful service to Him. ( James 5:15-16, Matthew 8:17, Luke 4:40, 1 Timothy 1:7, Psalm 91:15-16, 1 Samuel 12:24)
Do you have friends or family members who are struggling with poor health? Pray for them! Scripture tells us:
“…the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” – James 5:15-16
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My congregation and I have been going through a verse by verse study of the book of Mark. As we have found out, you cannot do a serious study of this book without looking at the issue of divine healing.
In almost every chapter of the book you see Jesus praying for the sick and the sick being healed. So I shared with them how to pray for the sick and see them recover.
Over the course of my 37 years as a believer in Jesus, I have prayed a simple prayer for healing for hundreds if not thousands of people and seen them receive divine healing.
So I used this passage to talk about how to pray for healing for someone else, since it is such an unusual prayer for healing the sick.
Jesus Heals a Deaf Man
31 Jesus left Tyre and went up to Sidon before going back to the Sea of Galilee and the region of the Ten Towns. 32 A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to him, and the people begged Jesus to lay his hands on the man to heal him.
33 Jesus led him away from the crowd so they could be alone. He put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then, spitting on his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue. 34 Looking up to heaven, he sighed and said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened!” 35 Instantly the man could hear perfectly, and his tongue was freed so he could speak plainly!
36 Jesus told the crowd not to tell anyone, but the more he told them not to, the more they spread the news. 37 They were completely amazed and said again and again, “Everything he does is wonderful. He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who cannot speak.”
Understanding How To Pray For The Sick And See Them Recover
In this passage we see Jesus leaving the place where He went to get some rest. As He was leaving they brought to him a deaf and mute person.
We will see from this passage that there is no “Formula” for effective prayer for the sick. There are only ingredients.
The difference is like this. With a formula you say and do the same things regardless of circumstances or the person you are praying for.
With ingredients, it is like you are baking a cake. Most cakes have certain ingredients in them that are common to all, but not all cakes have the exact same ingredients.
The same is true if you want to learn how to pray for the healing of others. You will find some common ingredients but each time you pray for someone it will be different and there will be new ingredients that are thrown into the healing mix.
I am going to try to show you just a few of the ingredients and give you some principles so when you come across a sick person, you can follow the Lord and pray for people just as He did.
What To Look For In Miracle Healing PrayerLook for expectation
The first ingredient that we see in this passage is that somebody had expectation.
They brought this man to Jesus. It does not say who “they” were so it could have been the disciples, or it could have been someone in the crowd, but they expected that Jesus could do something.
When learning how to pray healing prayer for the sick you need to look for expectation.
Does the sick person or persons associated with them expect God to actually do something?
You see expectation is a normal part of a relationship. When you go to your mechanic you expect him to be able to fix your car.
When you go to your grocer, you expect him to have the food you need to feed your family.
Expecting God to do something is just the same way. Ephesians 3:20 says that God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.
Try to remember this when you are praying for the sick. He is more than able.
Understand each healing is personal and different
The second ingredient we see is that every healing is personal.
Notice that Jesus took the man aside and away from the crowd. He ministered to him personally.
This is why a formula doesn’t work. Formula’s do not take into consideration the needs of the individual.
So when you are learning how to pray for the sick, make sure you center in on individual needs. It is not about a show or receiving some type of recognition yourself, it is about bringing that individual in contact with the one who has the supply they desperately need.
Remember that when you are praying for the individual to look to see what God is already doing. Jesus said that he only did what He saw the Father doing. John 5:19
Many times you will notice them crying or being moved in an emotional way, or other times you will see the effects of the Spirit of God on their physical body. They will be trembling or swaying and having a hard time standing.
Whatever it is, and it varies as much as any relationship does, pay attention to what the Father is doing through the Holy Spirit first.
Jesus took the man aside so he could concentrate on what the Father was doing.
Expect to be taken out of your comfort zone
Do not be surprised if you are asked to do something that stretches you spiritually.
Notice here that Jesus actually ends up doing something kind of strange. He sticks His fingers in the man’s ears and then spits and puts his fingers in the man’s mouth.
Now I have not seen to many faith preachers and healing evangelists taking on this formula for healing have you?
Sometimes you will be asked to do something that stretches your obedience level. When we are obedient to the voice of our Heavenly Father, power is released.
Jesus obviously was obedient to what God was telling him to do.
Now having said that, I am not advocating that everyone go around trying to find some way to be weird for the Lord. I am just saying do not be surprised if you are taken out of your comfort zone.
Different Methods of Healing in the Bible
There are many different methods that the Bible talks about when it comes to divine healing. I believe that this is because there is no special formula or method but many methods with many ingredients.
Here is a list of just a few of those methods for you to look at so you can see it is not nearly about what method is used but instead about how powerful of a God we serve.
- Laying on of hands. Mark 16:18 (part of the great commission)
- Anointing with oil. James 5:14
- Spitting Mark 8:23 (and the passage we just read)
- Handkerchiefs and aprons. Acts 19:12 (not to be confused by little squares of cloth bought in China by snake oil salesmen)
- Speaking a word. Matthew 8:8
Those are just a few ways that people were healed by God’s divine power. There are many more I could list.
So you see there is no “right” way but people who looked to God to be healed. So when you are learning how to pray for sick people, remember, if you feel led to anoint someone with oil, don’t worry that you don’t have Jewish olive oil straight from the Holy Land.
It is OK to use kitchen oil, or canola oil, or as I did on more than 1 occasion, motor oil. It is not the oil, it is the power of God that heals.
Finally remember the role of humility in praying for people.
Notice that Jesus did not make this some type of show about Him. In fact He wanted people to keep quiet about the whole thing.
It was never the intent of Jesus to bring glory to himself.
So when you step out and start praying for the sick and see somebody recover, remember it is not time for you to put on a white tux and a bad toupee’ and start going out with a healing ministry.
It will take you some time to learn how to pray for healing of others. John Wimber, who was known for a great healing ministry said many times that when they first started praying for the sick it took a year before they saw their first person recover.
Do not get discouraged. Keep seeking the Lord and He will show you how to pray for the sick and see them recover. When you do, give all the glory to God and make sure that He is the one that is given the credit.
It is not about us, it is all about Him.
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Sickness and disease: is it simply a fact of life on this miserable, sin-filled, messed-up planet? Is it our own fault? Can we expect healing as a result of faith in Jesus? Even those who haven’t previously sought God’s intervention often seek out prayer for healing when they or a loved one becomes ill.
And yet there’s a lot of frustration among believers about this topic. Some seek someone to pray for them every time they face a physical symptom. Prayer can never be wrong; surely it’s always right to seek prayer.
And yet there are many strong believers in Jesus who are still sick. Are they doing something wrong? Are they praying wrong? Are they seeking prayer from the wrong people? Do they have a lack of faith? If they could just get up enough faith, would they be healed?
Probably because I’m a medical doctor, people who aren’t even my patients often talk to me about their medical problems. Right now:
- A friend’s daughter is facing surgery for uterine cancer
- A shirt-tail relative is recovering from major emergency abdominal surgery
- A business connection and his wife are struggling to find effective infertility treatment
- An internet friend is wrestling with fear over her respiratory illness
I hear the questions, the heartache, the challenges to faith and hope. They perhaps aren’t spoken out loud, but they’re screaming inside:
- “I caused this problem. How could God do anything for me now?”
- “I’ve prayed and prayed. Why isn’t God healing me?”
- “It’s pretty much useless to pray. This is something I’ve just got to deal with myself.”
- “I’m just going to keep on praying. Surely God will fix things for me if I just hold on long enough.”
In contemplating what the Bible says regarding how Jesus responded to sick people when He was here on Earth, I love what one of my professors said about Jesus:
“Jesus only had one attitude toward sickness and disease: He’s against it!” Tweet that.
Sickness and disease is an imposter. An enemy. The Bible is clear about that. Sure, God can and often does use our weakness, our sickness, to teach us things. He can take what was meant to harm us and turn it into something useful. But sickness is still an enemy.
And when it comes to fighting an enemy, God has a lot to say.
“Quit Praying! Get Up and Do Something!”
God didn’t often ask His people to quit praying. But there’s one dramatic time He did so. Joshua was bemoaning the fact that Israel had been defeated, and God said, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?” (Joshua 7:10) There was business to be taken care of. There was work to do.
Sometimes God says the same thing to us. Sometimes our sickness may be the result of our own behavior, and we need to make some significant changes in our lifestyle. Sometimes we need to actively “fight”, mentally and spiritually, the sickness we are faced with. Sometimes we need to make use of the help God has allowed to be available to us. We may have business to take care of in answering our own prayer.
Here’s what that might look like for you and me today:
- Survey your lifestyle. Are there things you know you’re doing or not doing that are or have contributed to your illness? You’re responsible for “taking care of business” to the degree it’s within your power to do so. That doesn’t mean you’re left alone in doing so: God wants you to seek Him for wisdom and strength to do what’s necessary. But He won’t do it for you.
- Get professional help. Seeking medical care is not expressing a lack of faith. See your doctor, your nutritionist, your therapist, or any other professional as a tool to help you move closer to the wellbeing God wants you to have. Professionals can help you with knowledge, treatments, and plans that YOU can then take and use in your journey to healing.
- Check your thinking. How you think affects your physical and emotional health in many ways. You can choose what you think about. Filling your soul with positive input, especially faith-filled input, will increase your physical and mental strength, and help you see opportunities to cooperate with God.
- Clear your heart. Bitterness, lack of forgiveness, holding on to some sinful behavior, refusing to take some action you know God has asked you to do – these are some of the things that can prevent you from experiencing God’s best, including physical or emotional healing. It’s not that you can magically get rid of these blockages yourself, but you can decide to allow God to have His way in your heart.
You cannot make yourself healed. If you are not healed it doesn’t mean you’ve necessarily done or are doing anything wrong. The point is to responsibly do what God has put within your power to do.
“God, Heal Me Please!”
And what about prayer for healing? God’s word says too much about healing to not believe. God is a Healer. THE Healer. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. It’s His nature, and He doesn’t change.
I’ve also seen too many people, including myself, experience God’s healing to not believe personally. Sometimes when you’re sick you need to hold on to someone else’s faith for a time. And that’s OK.
In praying for God’s healing, here are some specific things to do:
- Seek both His hands and His face. Don’t only look for the goodies; look for HIM. Search out places and times to be in His presence. You get close enough to Jesus and healing just happens. (Psalm 27:8)
- ASK! Specifically ask God for what you need and want. Don’t you love to give your child the birthday present they really want? Make your request clearly and boldly. (Matthew 7:11)
- Be willing to experience healing in the order God sees best. Our whole being needs healing – relationships, bodies, memories, thinking, character, soul. Give God permission to deal with ALL of you. (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
- Trust Him. Like a child with a parent, demanding doesn’t get you anywhere. Trust does. Relationship does. Trust Him for more than your healing; trust Him with your whole life. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
May I pray for you right now?
“Dear Lord, I pray for your healing power to touch the person reading this just now. I ask that You infuse their body with Your healing power, their mind with Your clarifying light, and their soul with Your transforming grace. May they know the fullness of joy that comes in Your presence. Amen.”
Have you asked God for healing? What was that experience like? Leave a comment below.
Tweetables: why not let your friends know about this?
- Prayer for healing involves more than prayer. Here are keys to effective prayer for healing. Tweet that.
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