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?
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 [our] sins to one another and pray for one another [so] 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