One Sunday afternoon my wife was in bed with a high fever, groaning and unable to sleep. I was lying next to her praying. I actually wasn’t mainly praying for her. I was in a season of significant spiritual wrestling, which was absorbing most of my prayers. But I remember being filled with hope over some precious promises of God and expressing thanks to him. Suddenly, my joy in God grew unusually intense. It was both inexpressible and irrepressible. God seemed almost tangibly near. I was almost overcome and I couldn’t help overflowing in awe-filled worship. Almost immediately I knew, without doubt, that if I prayed for Pam, she would be healed. I laid my hand on her back, prayed very simply in Jesus’s name and immediately my hand sensed her body temperature drop and she was instantly asleep. She got up later completely healed.
One weekday a group of us at church had gathered to pray for a brother who had suffered for months from a pinched-nerve in his lower back, causing debilitating pain in his leg. No medical treatments had helped and the pain had recently forced him to step down from his job. So we prayed for him in Jesus’s name. Afterwards he thanked us but didn’t mention any change. A week later he reported that when I had prayed for him the pain disappeared. But he had chosen not to say anything lest it turn out to be psychosomatic. However, after a full week with no pain he was able to return to work. A couple years later his back was still well.
When visiting a friend a number of years ago, I found him in a neck brace. He told me he had recently damaged some neck vertebrae and his doctor warned him to be very careful because wrong movements could damage his spinal cord. This posed a hardship: My friend was a personal care attendant for a paraplegic man who was an unbeliever. The injury made it impossible for my friend to perform necessary duties for his employer. I prayed for him and specifically asked the Lord to heal him later that day (I don’t know why I prayed that way). But later that day, while resting on his bed, my friend suddenly felt his neck being “adjusted,” sort of like a chiropractor does. He sat up and realized he was completely healed. He resumed his full duties and was able to share this story with his unbelieving employer.
Healing for Today
I believe the church should pray for healing today. I don’t believe this because of my modest experiences. I believe it because the New Testament teaches that the Spirit gives this gift (and others) to the church (1 Corinthians 12:8–11) and instructs me to desire to exercise it (1 Corinthians 14:1). I believe that God occasionally answers prayers for healing, such as mine, when it accords with his sovereign will (Hebrews 2:4).
When God gives a gift of healing, it is always intended to glorify Jesus Christ and point us to believe in his gospel. None of us has authority to heal a body, only the Creator does (Acts 3:12–13). That’s why we always pray in Jesus’s name. And when God heals someone, he does it for the common good of the church and as a witness to the world.
“When God gives a gift of healing, it is always intended to glorify Jesus Christ and point us to believe in his gospel.”
Paul tells us that healing, like all the spiritual gifts, is given for the “common good” of the church (1 Corinthians 12:7). Christians are not to expect every illness or injury they experience to be healed. In this age the gift of healing is exceptional, not normative. And the “common good” it achieves is multifaceted. In just my low-key examples, healing was a quiet mercy for my wife, a faith encouragement for me, provisions for my friends, unique opportunities to share the gospel, and no doubt there were other numerous purposes. Healings are never merely individual blessings. They are given for the “common good” of the church and its mission.
A Witness to the World
The New Testament also makes it clear that healing is a sign to the world that the kingdom of God is invading the domain of darkness under Satan’s rule. It is a witness that the reign of death and this age of futility is coming to a final redemptive end (Romans 5:17; 8:20).
That’s why Jesus went about “teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (Matthew 4:23). It’s why when Jesus sent out the twelve and later the seventy-two, he “gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:1–2, 10:9). And it’s why, when faced with the threat of persecution, the believers in Acts prayed, “grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29–30).
Healing is meant to bear witness to the proclaimed gospel (Acts 14:3). It is a visible manifestation that the kingdom of God is taking ground from the kingdom of Satan. And it is a herald of God’s coming final triumph. When we pray for healing, it is one way we pray, “Your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10).
When God Doesn’t Heal
God obviously doesn’t answer every prayer for healing. The ultimate reason is that he is God and knows best. He distributes this gift according to his will (Hebrews 2:4). So if it is not his will, we can trust that healing will not achieve the best “common good” or the best declaration of his kingdom and therefore it is not best for us to receive. God uses illnesses and afflictions in amazing, beautiful, and sanctifying ways to build our faith, cultivate our humility, experience his strong, sufficient grace, and heighten our joy (2 Corinthians 9:7–10).
If we find our faith is small, the best thing to do is begin to ask. We can ask for more faith and begin to pray for healings.
But the Bible also teaches us that healing, like other spiritual gifts and fruitful labors, can be inhibited by our lack of faith (Mark 6:5–6; Matthew 9:22, 9:29; Luke 17:19). “Lack of faith” is not a club with which we beat afflicted people with shame. It is primarily a diagnostic question to ask ourselves. Do we believe God loves to give good gifts, including healing, to his children? Do we have the boldness to ask him in faith? Do we avoid seeking this gift because we don’t believe God will answer and we don’t want to look powerless, be disappointed, or make God look bad? If we find our faith is small, the best thing to do is begin to ask. We can ask for more faith and begin to pray for healings.
The gift of healing can also simply fall into neglect. I feel convicted about this. I used to pray more for healings, and I used to see more. In recent years I haven’t asked as much and therefore I haven’t seen much. “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Join me in resolving to not let this be our experience any longer.
Pray for Healings
Should we pray for healing? Yes! The New Testament instructs us to ask God to distribute this gift for the glory of Jesus. Pray for the sick. God will only answer these prayers with good! Don’t settle for little faith and low expectations. Stir up faith! Earnestly desire this gift. With Paul, earnestly desire healing for the common good of your church. With the saints of Acts, ask for this gift as witness to the world of the gospel of the kingdom.
A word of warning: Since healing is a harbinger of Satan’s demise, he will oppose and thwart it wherever he can. Similar to sharing the gospel, expect to be assaulted with self-doubts, accusations, fears, and various discouragements when you plan to step out in faith. Often we need to press through a season of adversity before we see a breakthrough.
How should we pray for healing? The Bible provides a few models but no formulas. Basically, ask God. It’s the prayer of faith that heals the sick (James 5:15). One of the clearest biblical instructions is to have elders pray for the sick (James 5:14). Praying for healing is not the sole province of elders (1 Corinthians 12:8–9), but if you’re an elder, praying for healing is definitely part of your ministry calling.
“In healing, God is after the common good of the saints and the declaration to the world of his already-not-yet kingdom.”
The act of praying for healing should not be dramatic. Jesus often tried to keep the healing drama to a minimum. He did not want people to miss the forest of the gospel for the trees of miracles. Satan is the glitzy showman. Wherever healing is being hyped for publicity, beware of counterfeit.
When God does answer prayers for healing, joyfully share the stories with the saints and with unbelievers as God gives you opportunities. Because in healing, God is after the common good of the saints and the declaration to the world of his already-not-yet kingdom.