They will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well. (Mark 16:18)
Years ago when I would pray for someone who was sick I did not expect the Lord to heal him or her outright. I thought such “faith” healings were rare and assumed that if science could not offer a cure, then the Lord’s answer would be to help the person bear their infirmity. As I look back, I realize my prayers for healing were shaped by my lack of faith. I assumed prayer could be effective in managing an illness, but it seemed presumptuous to expect that someone would be cured. After all, how was I to know what God’s will was for that person?
The difference, now, in how I pray for healing is that I believe it is God’s will to heal – anyone – so I pray, no longer tentative or uncertain, but in the power and authority Jesus gives his followers to heal (Luke 9:1-2). I follow Paul’s advice to Timothy: For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:6-7) However, I do not promise people God will heal them, although I fully expect he will. Instead, I tell them what the Bible has to say about God’s desire and power to heal anyone of anything and I share my testimony about how the Lord has healed me and others for whom I’ve had the privilege of praying. Then I offer to pray for the person in need of healing. I don’t worry about results because God is in charge of those, not me. My job is to pray as the Lord directs and serve as a conduit of his healing power.
Like all prayer, healing prayer is about the relationship between us who pray and our Triune God – and not about the relationship between ourselves and the person for whom we are praying. So the most important thing we can do is listen to the Lord. Listening is a form of obedience – and the Lord always blesses obedience. So when we listen for and wait upon the Lord’s direction we are able to receive the knowledge, wisdom and faith to do his work and we don’t end up being misled by our feelings for the person for whom we are praying. Neither are we left to pray in ignorance, blindly tossing petitions heavenward, hoping at least one or two will hit the mark. Instead, we are able to pray with insight, which comes from the Holy Spirit who will communicate with us, often through images or sensations or symbols, which indicate to us what direction we should take in our prayer for healing. The more we practice listening to the Lord, the better we become at discerning and acting upon what the Spirit is saying to us.
So preparation is an important component to healing prayer. It may be helpful, from time to time, to fast for a meal or two before participating in laying on of hands and prayer for healing. Fasting is not an end in itself. Instead, fasting from food and distractions for a period of time can help open up our senses so that we are able to “feast” upon the Lord in prayer. During our preparatory time of prayer we can ask him to clear our mind of anything that will get in the way of the work he is calling us to do. We can also ask him to bring passages of Scripture to mind that we can draw upon during our prayers for healing. Furthermore, we can ask him whether there is something in particular we should pray about or pray for when we meet with the person who is ill. Finally, closing this time of preparation with praise and thanksgiving will put us in mind of God’s power, might and faithfulness to his people.
Once we are with the person for whom we are about to pray, and especially if we do not know him or her well, it is a good idea to begin by talking about what God has to say in Scripture about healing. Have on hand a copy of Bible verses which pertain to healing (I’ll provide a list of these passages in a future post). This copy will be for him to use later, on his own, declaring them aloud at least once a day, claiming God’s healing promises for himself. Then explain how you will go about praying for him, including the laying on of hands and anointing with oil, as James instructs in his letter (5:15) and as the Christian church has done since its inception.
Next, ask the person to describe what it is from which he desires to be healed. Feel free to ask additional questions, so that you have all the information you need. (If you are praying with others, it is helpful if the group can meet briefly, beforehand, to share in confidence whatever information anyone may have or think important for the team to know.) Then formally begin the time of prayer with an extended offering of praise and thanksgiving. You can do this by singing together songs of praise, reading passages of praise from the Bible, and by your own words or musical offerings of praise. Offering praise is a way of invoking the presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It puts us in mind of the throne of heaven before which hosts of angels and archangels sing God’s praise and prepares us to perceive his presence in our midst. Conclude by inviting the Holy Spirit to come and fill the room, for it is in God’s presence that his people are healed.
Next, put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:13) by praying for protection and covering, asking the Lord to bless the room or the house in which you are praying and, taking a cue from Psalm 91, asking for him to provide you refuge under his wings and for his angels to guard you in all your ways. We do this because all illness has a spiritual component to it, not just a physical one. That is why Scripture says Jesus gave his followers power and authority to cure diseases (Luke 9:1). The nature of this power and authority is spiritual, not intellectual or physical, and it is given so that we are able “to overcome all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19) – whom Jesus also refers to as the “thief” who seeks the destruction and demise of God’s good creation (John 10:10). So we don’t enter into this work unprepared or unprotected. Just as an operating room is cleansed before surgery and the surgical team is covered with sterile gowns, so too, those who pray for healing should sanctify their environment and cover all present with prayers for protection.
Next time: part two of how to pray for healing.