Praying for the Sick

As a matter of fact, I believe we need to pray for one another’s physical needs in a much more effective way than we have in the past. Our prayers sometimes sound like this: “Lord, bless brother so-and-so in his illness. Give direction to his physicians. And if it is Your will, please bring him back to complete health. Amen.” Though I don’t fault the heart behind that prayer, I want to suggest some ways in which we might sharpen our prayers for those who are ill.

I want to begin by addressing, or maybe more correctly, not addressing the theological questions that often arise as soon as we begin to speak of divine healing. Today, I’ll leave the deep questions of why people are healed or not healed to others. My belief is simple: More people get healed when we pray than when we don’t. I don’t know why my father died of cancer when so many people prayed for so many years for him. And I certainly don’t know why a heart abnormality found by a test several years ago completely disappeared after many people prayed for me. God’s ways are a mystery to us. But because His Word gives both example and command regarding praying for the sick, I am compelled by obedience to pray for those who are ill.

Who can pray for the sick?

All Christians are given that privilege, though there may be those who are more gifted in this area than others. Certainly elders are to be involved in praying for the sick. James writes, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15).

When and where do we pray for the sick?

  • We should pray in our families for the sick.
  • We should pray in the routine of everyday life.
  • We should pray in small groups, Sunday School classes, Bible Studies, etc.
  • We should pray as a corporate body in the church.  This could mean a special healing service, an individual coming forward during a worship service to be prayed for by a prayer team or elders, meeting with others in the prayer room after a service, etc.

How do we pray for the sick?

There is no divine methodology. The most fascinating aspect to the healing ministry of Jesus is His astonishing variety of methods employed to bring about healing. Anything from a touch to a mud-pack was used by Jesus to demonstrate His Father’s desire to heal. Jesus shows us that methodology is not doctrine. He gives us the freedom to pray in various ways that all touch the heart of the Father.

A number of years ago, I had the privilege of being in a seminar on healing prayer taught using John Wimber’s methods. I believe that Wimber’s five basic steps are a good, well-balanced approach to praying for healing. The five steps with my commentary are as follows:

1. The Interview – the interview is an attempt to find out two things: Where does it hurt? and Why does it hurt? This is of course, the ultimate question and not always easy to answer. The “why” doesn’t have to be a physical reason. Some illnesses are caused by problem relationships, sin, emotional problems, stress, or even by the demonic. The Interview operates in two planes:

The natural plane where we attempt to find out a bit of what the person is like.
The spiritual plane in which we are asking in prayer for the Holy Spirit to let us know what is wrong in this situation.

2. The Diagnostic Decision – we ask ourselves what might be the ultimate cause of this illness. Not knowing the cause does not mean we do not pray. It just helps us to target our prayers more effectively. It is crucial to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit during this time.

3. Prayer Selection – knowing or not knowing the ultimate cause of an illness can help us to know what kind of prayer to pray:

  • Petition – asking for discernment and wisdom
  • Intercession – coming to God on behalf of the sick person
  • Rebuke – doing spiritual battle with the evil one
  • Command – speaking out a word of healing to the person

4. The Actual Prayer Time

  • It is important to remember that this is a time of ministry to someone else. Therefore, it is often important to keep your eyes open so you can see what might be happening physically or emotionally to the one you are praying for.
  • It is okay to ask questions as you go. For example: “How are you feeling?”
  • When you don’t know what is wrong, ask the Spirit to come and minister to the person. The Holy Spirit knows what is wrong, even when we don’t.

5. Post-Prayer Suggestions – it is often important for you to give the person some directions after the prayer time. Depending on the circumstances, some examples might be:

  • Stop living an ungodly lifestyle*
  • Restore a damaged or broken relationship*
  • Praise God when symptoms leave!

*Note: If the person prayed for continues to live a sinful life, or does nothing to heal a broken relationship, God is under no obligation to heal him or her. It is important to share this information with anyone you are praying for.

John Wimber gave five additional guidelines that I believe are important for anyone who wants to get serious about praying for the sick:

  1. Do not use formulas or techniques for healing. I realize that some more liturgical groups have written out healing liturgies and healing prayers, and they can be very effective. But let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that what makes the healing take place is saying the right words, creating the right emotional environment, naming and claiming it correctly, using the right oil or holding our hands in the right way when we pray. All of the above might be helpful at times, but none produces healing. Even the name of Jesus itself is not an effective formula per se, as the seven sons of Sceva quickly found out in Acts 19:13-16.
  2. Always seek God’s will for the healing. John says that God will hear our prayers “if we ask anything according to His will” (I John 5:14).
  3. Follow Jesus’ example in being an open channel for the Father to do what He wants to do through you.
  4. Do not attribute the results of prayer for the sick, whether positive or negative, to the faith level or attitude of the sick person.

My own addition to these guidelines is to add the “so that” clause to our prayers for healing. Again and again in Scripture we see the people of God included in their prayers the phrase, “so that” (See John 9:3, 11:4, 14:13). Perhaps we need to pray for the sick, adding, “so that You, Father, may be glorified.” Or, we may pray for healing, “so that the family and friends might see Your power, and come to know You as Savior and Lord.”

Let’s take these acts of compassion and love for others and turn them into opportunities for God to receive honor and glory as He responds to our prayers for healing.

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