Chances are, if you work in ministry, someone in your congregation has been sick with the coronavirus recently. But illnesses are nothing new. In the life of any church, large or small, people get sick from time to time. The Bible tells us plainly to pray for the sick.
Jesus’ half-brother James wrote, “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). Yet even with this clear command, many Christians are uncomfortable praying for their brothers and sisters when they come down with an illness.
For some, it’s because they aren’t sure God will answer their prayer. For others, it’s a question of whether God still heals in this way today. For still others, it’s that they don’t have a lot of experience praying for the sick and aren’t quite sure what words they ought to pray.
Even with all the questions we may have surrounding Christians praying for healing, there’s one important question we can answer right now: What is God’s heart toward the sick?
Should Christians pray for the sick?
We all know of someone who was sick and wasn’t healed. Maybe you’re thinking of someone well-known who was lifted up in prayer by tens of thousands of people during a time of serious illness, and yet the Lord saw fit to take them home. Or perhaps you’re remembering someone beloved in your church who lost their battle with cancer, despite all the faith-filled prayers spoken on their behalf.
These episodes can make us wonder if perhaps God isn’t in the healing business anymore. But to understand God’s heart toward the sick, we are better served looking to Scripture, rather than our own limited experience.
When Jesus walked the earth, He healed every person who came to Him with an injury, disability, or disease. There are no exceptions. He healed everyone who asked.
We’re also told by Jesus Himself, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). So, by healing people, Jesus revealed God’s heart toward the sick: He wants people to be whole and well.
But there’s another reason to believe that God’s will is to see people healed. The entire arch of redemptive history is pointed in that direction. Ever since Adam and Eve fell in the garden, God has been working in this world to bring about a new age, a new creation in which there is no more death.
Revelation 21, found in the New Testament books, offers us a preview: “‘There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (v. 4; see also Isaiah 25:8). This is where we’re headed—a world without sickness or disease, a world just like the garden of Eden.
God tells us to pray for healing, because that’s what He wants for broken people.
Praying with confidence
You may be thinking, That’s all well and good, but then why doesn’t God always heal His people when they become sick?
This may come as something of a shock, but I actually think He does.
Let me explain. God isn’t bound by time, and the life of a believer is unending. As the old hymn “Amazing Grace” says, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years / Bright shining as the sun / We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise / Than when we’ve first begun.” Sometimes God chooses to heal in this life, and sometimes He chooses to heal in the life to come.
Have you lost a brother or sister in Christ after a long battle with illness? Rest assured, that person is in better health today in the presence of the Lord than you are, no matter how much you exercise and watch what you eat.
When we pray for the sick, we are praying for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). We may not understand why God sometimes chooses to heal a person in this life and other times decides to heal a person in glory, but we can be confident that everyone who trusts in the name of Jesus will be made well.
We don’t always get to know the reasons why, but we do “know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)—in life and death, in sickness and in health.
This means that when we pray for the sick, we can pray with boldness, asking God to work in the life of our sick brother or sister for their good and His glory. And we can pray as a testimony to others of our complete trust in God’s goodness and power.
An invitation to pray for healing
Praying for the sick, besides being “powerful and effective” (James 5:16), is also a great comfort to those who are suffering. I can think of no greater gift to give another human being than to appear before the throne of the Lord on their behalf to ask for a blessing.
Even so, it’s important to remember that God doesn’t need us. He is able and free to heal according to His own plans without any help from you or me. Instead, He invites us to pray—to be the vehicle through which His healing takes place.
The privilege of praying for the sick, then, is as much a gift given to us as it is to those for whom we pray. It’s an opportunity to flex our faith and join in the work God is doing in this world.
If you’re not quite sure how to pray, here are a few suggestions:
- Let your prayers be centered on God’s goodness and provision.
- Pray not only for the specific illness, but for a renewal of shalom—wholeness, peace, and true prosperity.
- Pray in person, whenever possible, laying on hands as appropriate (and safe).
- Your prayers don’t need to be lengthy or filled with big, theological words. Keep it simple and heartfelt.
- Thank the Lord for His salvation and His promise of ultimate healing for all who believe.
And remember, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got your act together or you’re still stumbling day to day as you walk with your Savior. God can still use you.
In fact, He has a track record of choosing imperfect people to do His will. He chose an idolator to be the father of many nations, a murderer to be the deliverer of His people, and an adulterer to begin a royal line that would become Jesus’ family tree.
It is God who heals, not because we are perfect, but because He is.
What’s holding you back from praying for the sick? Spend some time with the Lord today and give Him every anxiety and uncertainty you have. Then, think about how you might encourage others to join you in this vital ministry.