“Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well.”
We feel that healing prayer deserves special attention even though it’s essentially a prayer of supplication. Not surprisingly, there’s a great deal of interest in healing. That interest began early in the history of mankind and only intensified with Jesus. Since then, it hasn’t let up for more than 2000 years.
Healing prayer can be effective for physical issues, mental/emotional issues, and spiritual issues. Too often, people are looking for only the instantaneous and complete healings that Jesus performed. To be sure, those kinds of healings still occur today. But they seem to be just as rare now as then. It’s more common to see gradual healing, often in conjunction with traditional healing methods like medicine, surgery, and counseling. Just keep in mind that healing is the work of God, done by His will. No one can control it. We can only position ourselves—or others—to receive it, and then ask. And we should not be surprised if we ask for one type of healing, such as physical, and receive another, such as spiritual.
Just to be clear, right now we’re talking about healing prayer that individuals or groups of people can do. There is a more formal approach to healing prayer, sometimes called formative prayer, which we’ll discuss later in this section. It involves trained facilitators who frequently work in conjunction with traditional counselors, doctors, etc.
It shouldn’t be a surprise for a simple reason. Western medicine in particular has been relatively single-minded in its approach to healing, focusing primarily on the body—and even just parts of the body—for physical healing. But as it advances, a more holistic approach to healing is emerging. The relationship among body, mind, and spirit is becoming more and more clear. Which is something the ancients recognized even in their “primitive” cultures.
There is a certain amount of skepticism about healing prayer, even among Christians. Some of that skepticism can be attributed to the charlatans, past and present, who make a mockery of true healing in order to make money. God will deal with them in His own way in His own time. But just because there are people who fake healings doesn’t mean healings don’t occur.
In addition to anecdotal evidence, more and more scientific studies are showing the effectiveness of healing prayer. Even strangers praying for someone produce “beneficial therapeutic effects.” (See our Resource section for more information.) The strongest evidence, of course, is personal experience, whether you participate as the recipient of healing prayer or as an “observer” praying for someone.
More and more churches are conducting healing services, either as part of their regular worship or as special services devoted only to healing. Prayer chains spring into action when needed.
Healing prayer ministries are being formed and expanded. This more formal approach to healing prayer usually involves trained facilitators and teams of intercessors to support them. The person being healed meets regularly, usually with the facilitator and an assistant, similar to regular counseling sessions or appointments with doctors. The facilitator does just what the title suggests: facilitates an encounter with Jesus. Any healing that takes place is, of course, done by Jesus. The facilitator and assistant are just observers, blessed by God to be a part of the process. (For more information, check our Resources section.)
Yet…not everyone is healed.
The issue is far more complex than a splinter in the finger which either is or is not embedded in the flesh. The interaction of spirit, soul (mind and emotions), and body is complex and not fully understood. The role of spiritual warfare must be considered. And finally, there is the will of God, often an unfathomable mystery to us.
However, that doesn’t mean we are to sit there wringing our hands, moaning that there’s nothing we can do. Nor does it mean we are to passively watch, chalking it up to God’s will.
God’s will is for us to be whole. That’s the very meaning of the word ‘salvation.’ Jesus came to help restore us to that wholeness. He set an unmistakable example by healing. And he calls upon us to pray and ask for his help for ourselves and others.
Because not everyone is healed and because we don’t really know why, there’s a temptation to come up with explanations anyway. Some favorite scapegoats are lack of faith and sin. Either on the part of the person not healed or on the part of the person or people praying for that healing.
We suppose a lack of faith could be an impediment. We just haven’t seen it work that way. The threshold of “enough” faith remains elusive at best. We’ve read about atheists being healed. Even Jesus, “amazed” at the lack of faith of the people of Nazareth, his home town, still managed to heal “a few sick people.” (Mark 6:5)
Sin could also be an impediment in the same way it gets in the way of our relationship with God. Again, though, if sin completely prevented healing, then no one would be healed since we all sin to one degree or another. Where is the threshold?
Nor do we subscribe to the theory that sin always causes affliction. At least not directly. Sin can contribute, however. Being separated from God through sin can certainly prevent His healing from reaching us. And sin can give entry to evil spirits. There’s plenty of evidence that evil spirits can directly cause affliction. How do we know? The casting out of evil spirits often results in immediate, complete healing. We don’t believe that’s a coincidence. And even where evil spirits don’t cause the affliction, they are particularly good at making bad things worse.
In any case, we’re reminded of what Jesus told his disciples in John 9:2-3. The blind man’s affliction was caused by neither his own sin nor the sin of his parents. It was there “so the power of God could be seen in him.” That doesn’t mean God caused the affliction, only that God will use the affliction to show His power and His love, for His glory.
Which brings us to another reason healing can be impeded: pride. That pride has two extremes. On the one hand, it can be the determination to use only drugs, surgery, or counseling to heal, ignoring God altogether. At the other end of the spectrum, pride can be the exclusive use of prayer, turning aside all other medical technologies available for healing. God has provided all these tools for our use. It’s foolish not to use all the gifts God makes available to us.
So what about the effectiveness of healing prayer? For the medicines we take, the surgeries we undergo, the counseling sessions we participate in, the success rate is never 100%. And with medicines, for example, we may not even know why they work. We only know that they seem to be effective in a large percentage of people and they seem to produce few if any side effects in most people. So we try them. Healing prayer should be the same. Whether it’s the laying on of hands (Mark 6:5) or anointing with oil (James 5:14), our advice is simple: just do it. We even pray for the selection of a doctor and for God's guidance of that doctor.
Just keep in mind the admonition we made in the section about prayers of supplication. We don't know how big the prayer bowl for a particular healing is, so we don't know how many prayers it will take to fill the bowl and release God's healing power. We must simply pray and continue to pray. There are just too many cases of people being healed after days, weeks, months, and even years of prayer. To stop praying because we're not satisfied or don't see the results we're hoping for shortchanges God and all He may be doing behind the scenes, out of the range of our discernment. Faith and obedience require us to continue to pray, doing our best to align ourselves with God's will at all times.
There are five steps we recommend:
Listen to the person who wants to be healed and listen to the Holy Spirit. Any disparity between the two needs to be discussed and prayed over. There needs to be clear understanding of what you are praying to heal. For example, a person complaining about recurring migraine headaches may actually be suffering from a spiritual issue that’s causing emotional turmoil which prompts the migraines. Pray for discernment of and the healing of the spiritual issue.
2. Invite Jesus and ask for his healing.
He won’t push his way in. In his encounters in the Bible, he asked for confirmation first—what is it you want, do you want to be healed, etc. So invite him in, then ask for the desired healing. It helps if you can picture the end result desired as already having happened.
3. Trust God.
This is where our faith is important, to trust that God will do what is best for everyone according to his will. That may not be the same as our preference. We need to be willing to accept that.
4. Seal the healing.
Most healing is gradual and progressive; some can be instant and complete. Regardless of what you see and sense, pray that whatever healing has taken place is sealed by God, so no backsliding occurs.
5. Give thanks.
Of course. That’s another constant that Jesus taught by word and example. Returning to the picture in your mind of the healing asked for will make it even easier to give thanks, even if that goal hasn’t yet been reached.
Healing prayer should be a vibrant part of every Christian’s life. As with intercession, not all of us may be gifted with the special ability to facilitate the healing that Jesus does. But gifted or not, each and every one of us can pray for healing. God expects it and He’s made it clear He wants to help. (Isaiah 41: 13) All we need to do is ask in prayer.