Why Pray For The Sick?

In my last blog post, I discussed the issue of “If it be your will” prayers as it relates to healing prayer. That particular topic raises a very important question: Why should we pray for the sick? Is this something Christians should be involved in? Is God still doing this sort of thing today?

There are several reasons given us in Scripture in terms of why we are to pray for the sick. First, we are to pray for healing because of God’s compassion. It is God’s heart to heal. In Genesis 1 and 2, we see creation as God designed, a creation without the pain of sickness and death. That is God’s original plan. That is His heart. He did not design the world to be a place of sickness. That came later, when sin entered the picture. So we know from the beginning that God’s heart is wholeness. In Exodus 15:26, God refers to Himself as “the God who heals”.

But it is in the ministry of Jesus that we see this heart most fully revealed. When Jesus begins His ministry, He walks into a synagogue, opens the scroll of Isaiah, and reads, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me for He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the captives…” Then He said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

From the beginning of His ministry, Jesus lays out His plan to set people free from disease and sickness. In Luke 5:13-14, Jesus touches a leper and heals him. Leprosy was a horrible disease that resulted in a life of being physically and socially ostracized. No one touched someone with leprosy–no one, except Jesus. His heart went out to the man with this disease. Earlier in that same chapter, we read how He healed Peter’s mother in law of a fever. This was not simply about dramatic demonstrations of power. It was a simple act of compassion. Over and over again, we see Jesus responding to sickness with compassion, healing those suffering from physical disease.

A few weeks ago we spent some time in our services praying for those who desired healing. The coolest part of this was the fact that the whole church got involved in praying for each other. It was awesome to see hundreds of people receiving prayer from others gathered around them. One person said to me later, “It felt so wonderful just to have people care enough to lay their hands on my shoulders and pray.” Healing prayer is first and foremost a ministry of love and compassion, reflecting the heart of God.

Sometimes we hesitate to pray for people who are sick because we wonder, what if God doesn’t heal them? What we forget is that the ministry of healing prayer is a wonderful expression of love to someone who is hurting. When done with sensitivity and a heart of compassion, the worst thing that can happen is that the person being prayed for feels love. The best thing that can happen is that they are healed. So in a sense, it is a win/win. Love and/or healing.

A second reason we are to pray for the sick is because it provides opportunity for God to reveal His power and in doing so to authenticate the gospel message. When Jesus sends out the 12 and then the 72 in Luke 9 and 10, He commands the disciples

“Heal the sick and proclaim that the kingdom of God is here.” Power and proclamation. The healing of the sick opened a door for the truth of the gospel. Jesus miracles, while certainly being rooted in compassion, were also vivid illustrations of the power of God breaking in and driving back the works of the enemy.

In our service that weekend, we showed a video story from Agra India where a young boy was pushed off the fourth story of a building and upon impact was killed. A doctor who came on the scene pronounced the boy dead. Someone said, “There is a woman of prayer near here. She prays to her God and sees people healed.” So the dad picked the boy up, took him to the woman and said, “I want my boy back. Will you pray?” Sala had never prayed for anyone to be raised from the dead, but she agreed to pray. As she was praying, a Scripture was brought to mind from Hebrews 11 about how God gives back to dead to him. So she claimed this promise as she prayed, and the boy opened his eyes. He jumped up and was completely healed.  Sala gave testimony of Jesus to the crowd that had gathered and seven hundred people came to know Christ. That’s power and proclamation—the miracle of healing opens a door for people to be confronted with the fact that Jesus is alive.

A third reason we are to pray for the sick is because Scripture teaches it as a normal part of following Jesus. This ministry is not limited to Jesus and the apostles. In Luke 9, Jesus gives His disciples power and authority to heal the sick. Then in Luke 10, He gives that same power to 72 others. These people were not apostles. They were ordinary folks like you and me, entrusted with this ministry. So first one person, then 12, then 72…and then in Acts 2 we see the power of God unleashed and healing becomes part of the ministry of the church. Stephen and Philip both are involved in healing the sick—neither of which was an apostle. In Galatians 3:5, Paul describes how the church in Galatia was seeing miracles happen in their midst. He talks in I Corinthians 12 about how some in the body have the spiritual gift of healing. Then in James, anyone who is sick is urged to call the elders and have them pray for their healing.

Healing is a normal part of following Jesus. We are to pray for the sick whenever possible—as a reflection of His compassion, as an opportunity for God to demonstrate His power to an unbelieving world, and as an extension of the ministry of Jesus to redeem a hurting world.

Should we pray “If it be Your will” prayers?

A few weeks ago in a message I made a comment regarding prayers that end in “If it be your will”. Apparently there has been quite a bit of discussion about that comment so I thought it might be helpful to clarify. There is no question that we are to pray according to God’s will. In I John 5:14 we read “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we have asked of Him.” And what about the Lord’s Prayer, where  Jesus teaches us to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Are we to pray according to God’s will? Absolutely! The difficulty in my mind revolves around the little word “If”. Neither of the passages I just mentioned urges us to pray “If it be your will.” Rather, the assumption is that we know God’s heart and we are praying according to that, boldly asking Him to do just that. To pray “If it be your will” implies that I have no idea what God’s will is, so I’m leaving it up to Him. At one level, that’s certainly true. God is Sovereign and He can do what He wants.

But my sense from the New Testament is that when we pray, we actually are entering into a partnership with God—and that our prayers, in some mysterious way, help cause God’s will to be done.  In light of this, we are to pray with boldness and confidence that we are partnering with God in seeing His kingdom come.

(Side note: When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane “If you are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not my will but yours be done”, He was not interceding for someone else or for God’s kingdom to come. Rather, He was wrestling with what He knew in His heart was God’s will but also knowing that obeying that will would result in tremendous personal pain. This passage is not a providing an example for us in terms of intercessory prayer)

For instance, if I am praying for a marriage relationship to be healed, should I pray—“God heal this marriage, if it be your will”?. Certainly not, because I know it is His will. It is His heart that this marriage be restored. So I can pray boldly in alignment with His heart, without any need to add “If it be your will.”

So why is it with prayers for physical healing, we feel a need to add an  “If it be your will” at the end of the prayer? I realize that we don’t know for sure if God will heal this person, but can we not say that healing is ultimately His will? Even if it doesn’t happen in this life, we know that we will not have diseases in heaven.  God at times allows sickness for His purposes but I don’t think we should say that somehow sickness  is His “will.” Sickness and death occurred as a result of the fall in Genesis 3. In God’s initial creation, these things were not present.

My point in the message two weeks ago was that, if I am sick and earnestly desiring healing, I want to be prayed for by people who are going to pray boldly for God to heal me. People who believe that God’s ultimate heart is to heal. That doesn’t mean He will heal me. This is where we face the mystery of healing and prayer. But regardless of what God chooses to do in that moment, I want people around me praying boldly for my healing—people who aren’t wondering whether or not it is God’s will to do so.

Thus Jesus repeated command to us: Ask, Seek, Knock. Pray prayers that are aligned with God’s will, and then leave the results in God’s hands.

Please comment on this if you have questions or want to push back. I would love the dialog.

Amazing Trip to Thailand

I’m sitting in the airport in Seoul Korea, on my way home from a wonderful week in Chiang Mai Thailand. My son, Joel, was able to join me for the trip which made it extra special.

We were ministering at a conference with Reach Global, the missions arm of our denomination. There were about 80 missionaries there from the Asia region. We met lots of wonderful people, including a woman who had actually babysat me when I was 3 years old in Ardmore Oklahoma! We hadn’t seen each other in 47 years….and there we were in Chiang Mai at the same conference.

I had the opportunity to speak a couple of times to the group, sharing from Philippians 3 the joy of living the gospel. Very fun. Joel helped with the tech side of things during the worship gatherings.

Then Joel and I both had the privilege of being on listening prayer teams. These teams of 5 people prayed for individual missionaries who had signed up for a 20 minute session of listening prayer. What’s fascinating about these prayer times is that the listening prayer team usually has no knowledge of the people receiving prayer. When they come in for their session, we simply quiet our hearts and ask the Holy Spirit to speak. Often the Spirit gives pictures or Scriptures for the person. It’s amazing to see how God speaks. Our team prayed for a gentleman we didn’t know anything about. One team member saw in her mind a picture of a sailboat and began to describe what she believed the meaning of this was. At the end of the prayer time, we asked him if any of the stuff we prayed was resonating. He about jumped out of his chair and said, “I own a sailboat and often go out sailing.” It was a cool reminder to him that the God of the universe knows him so personally.

In addition to the times of ministry, we were able to enjoy some of the adventures offered in Chiang Mai. One of the coolest things to do in Thailand is the Flight of the Gibbon, which is an absolutely amazing zip line experience in the jungle.  This place was one of the spots visited on the show Amazing Race. Here’s our team suited up for the adventure:IMG_0243

Here’s a video of me doing one of the zip lines, which was 800 meters long. Quite the rush.

If you’ve ever been to Thailand, you know that one of the main vehicles of transportation are the scooters/motor bikes. One day, our team rented scooters. Love my Batman scooter?Batman scooter

That day we did a 3 hour trek up and around a mountain just outside of town.  We came back into Chiang Mai at rush hour and had to weave in and out of heavy traffic. At one point I looked down and discovered I was going 80 km/hr. Having never done a motorcycle or scooter before, it was quite the experience.

Here’s Joel and I sitting next to a very real and very large tiger. Tiger shot

After we did this activity, we found out from my missionary friend that a friend of theirs had been injured by a tiger in that same place. (I naturally asked, So why did you not tell us this ahead of time?)

The only downer on the trip was Joel and then me getting a stomach virus. Mine hit really hard hours ago as I was in the Chiang Mai airport. My last memory of Thailand is me in a bathroom stall, trying unsuccessfully to throw up.  We are both not too excited about our next flight, which is 11 hours…but we are excited to be heading home.