Principles of Prayer
by Francis Foulkes ©


10. Prayer for healing

"O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me".

The Bible gives frequent expression of people's plea for God's healing, and today as ever, this is one of the most practical and yet one of the most perplexing aspects of prayer. The Bible has many statements of God's healing work, and often the story is told of healing given specifically in answer to prayer. Old Testament examples are the healing of Naaman's leprosy and of Hezekiah's boil (2 Kgs.5:1-19 and 20:1-11).

The ministry of Jesus is full of the records of healing and requests for healing. Often Jesus healed people apart from any actual request, but frequently people came with the plea for healing. There were different attitudes on the part of those who came. We can compare the "if you can --", with the "if you are willing, you can --." (Mk.9:22 and Lk.5:12). In some cases in the Gospels Jesus clearly sought to do more than offer physical healing. To the paralysed man brought to Jesus by his friends Jesus offered to meet a need deeper that his need of physical healing, as he said to him, "Son, your sins are forgiven" (Mk.2:1-12).

In the story of the life of the early Church we read of healing miracles (Acts 4:30, 5:12-16, 9:32-35, 14:8-10 and 28:8) but they do not have the place that they had in the Gospels. As we read the New Testament, however, and especially the Gospels, we are compelled to ask, Can we as freely and as expectantly come to the Lord for healing as people did in those days, and particularly as they did in Jesus' earthly ministry? The Lord's power to heal is unchanged, but had healing a different place in his purposes then from what is the case in the ongoing life of the Church today? The Gospels themselves indicate that there were special reasons for miracles of healing in the time of the Lord's ministry, which may not be just the same today. Jesus is spoken of as acting in compassion when he healed the sick, but his miracles are also spoken of as signs of the unique breaking into human life of the kingdom of God. Those days may be paralleled in part by situations in the life of the Church down to the present day where the gospel of Christ is being proclaimed for the first time, where equally healing miracles are signs of the truth and love and power of Christ. But in the ongoing life of the Church we may not expect the situation of Jesus' earthly ministry to be repeated precisely today.

1 Corinthians 12:9 and 28 speak of healing as one of the gifts of the Spirit. James 5:13-16 speaks of prayer for the sick in the general context of the Christian life: "Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church, and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective."

It is clear that there are still gifts of healing in the church today. It is clear that sometimes today - perhaps especially in places where the gospel has not been preached before, or where the power of the Lord is not known or recognised - there is healing as a sign to people of the grace and power of Christ. There are times when suffering has been brought on by a person's own wrongdoing, and forgiveness is accompanied by healing or release from physical or psychological infirmity. Otherwise when we pray for people's physical infirmities and illnesses, we find in experience different consequences. Sometimes there is dramatic healing. At other times God uses the skill given to men and women and the attention of those caring for the sick to bring healing. Many times, however, physical illnesses are not cured in answer to prayer. Christians cannot always expect physical cures of all their ills. We must be prepared to face the ageing process, and what is involved for us all in living in a world that in many ways has been invaded by the powers of evil. We are all exposed to infections of various kinds, as long as this world order continues. Our greatest prayer when faced with illness should be for the will of the Lord to be done, and the Lord to be glorified, on the basis of our knowledge of his power and love and wisdom and trusting that reality. Although much is said about healing in the Bible, much is said also about our human mortality. The redemptive work of God in Christ does not mean that all the power of disease is stayed in the lives of those who trust God, nor that the ageing processes are somehow arrested or delayed. Because of our mortality and our being subject as humans to disease and decay, we have no right always to expect physical healing and cure in answer to prayer. Our general situation, along with the whole of creation, is expressed by Paul in Romans 8:19-25, and often we must see in life the parallel to what the apostle Paul experienced as he asked for the removal of his "thorn in the flesh", not its removal but the promise, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor.12:8-10). We can truly say that God always hears the prayer for healing. Physical healing is often given through the natural processes, including the wonderful recuperative processes of our bodies, and through what God has given through medical science. Sometimes it is indeed given in ways that find no natural explanation. Often, however, the healing is given without physical cure but in terms of spiritual blessing such as the apostle proved in fulfilment of the Lord's promise.

We may link also with the prayer for healing other prayers for physical well-being and in particular the request for the gift of children (as in Gen.24:60, 25:21, 30:6, 17, 22, 24, 1 Sam.1:11 and 18). Here also is a mystery of prayer, as sometimes that prayer is answered, even dramatically, while others still are not given children though prayer is made long and often. The overriding "your will be done" must be accepted, and sometimes it can be seen that a negative answer furthers the purposes of God in ways not realised at the time, but, at least in some cases, understood later.