Praying for the Sick



John Hoole - June 5, 2010




Most of you have heard me relate the last trip Jesus made to Jerusalem prior to His crucifixion.  It begins at the most northerly place mentioned in the ministry of Jesus -Caesarea Philippi.  You can follow the walk south, beginning in Matthew 16, where Jesus says, for the first time, that he must go to Jerusalem to be killed.  By the time we reach Matthew 20, He and the disciples are in Jericho.  Heading uphill, they stop short of Jerusalem, in the village of Bethany.  Bethany is about two miles away from Jerusalem.  In Matthew 21, we read about what we now call the "Triumphal Entry."


Now, like most Christians, I love the mental picture of Jesus portrayed in the Bible.  There is the picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd putting a lamb on his shoulders, carrying it to safety.  I love the image of the Baby in the manger.  I love the story about Christ feeding the hungry multitudes with bread and fish. When I think about Jesus dying on the cross to pay for my sin, I am moved deeply.  And I marvel at the thought of Jesus bursting from the grave.


But there is one picture that doesn't fit with those just mentioned.  It is an event mentioned in Matthew, Mark and Luke.  It happened on the day of His "Triumphal Entry" into Jerusalem.


Jesus and the disciples, plus those who were following along, walk around the Mount of Olives, and it is at this point Jesus weeps over Jerusalem.  In all three of the synoptic gospels - Matthew, Mark and Luke - we read what he does next.  He immediately goes into the Temple.  Let's read it from the gospel of Mark.


Mark 11:15-18 NKJV


15     So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.

16     And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple.

17     Then He taught, saying to them, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it a 'den of thieves.'"

18     And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching.


Were the disciples just as stunned as the crowd?  Nothing is said about them helping their Master clean house.  Jesus pitches over the tables.  He is telling the merchants of oxen and sheep, saying, "this is not the place for this."


What made God's Son so agitated?  His house was being prostituted for purposes other than what was intended.  Jesus seems to be saying, "The atmosphere of my Father's house is to be prayer."  The aroma around my Father must be that of people opening their hearts in worship.  This is a house for calling on the Lord.


Now, I don't mean to imply that the temple in Jerusalem, built by Herod the Great, is the direct counterpart of our church buildings today.  God no longer centers his presence in one particular building.  In fact, the New Testament teaches that WE are now his dwelling place.  He lives in his people. How much more important is Jesus' message about the primacy of prayer.


Have you noticed that Jesus launched the Christian church, not while someone was preaching, but while people were praying?  For about 10 days, the disciples and other followers were doing nothing but waiting on God.  It was as they were sitting there, worshiping God, that the Church was born.  What does it saying about churches today, where prayer meetings are almost extinct.


A fascinating turn of events appears in Acts 9.  Saul of Tarsus, the violent persecutor of the church, met the Lord and was converted.  God needed a believer to minister to him.  Naturally, no Christian wanted to get within five blocks of the man.  Yet God coaxed Ananias along by saying, "Go...ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying" [vs 11].  This seems to be the proof that everything had changed.  "It's okay Ananias...calm down... you don't have to be afraid now, it's safe - He's praying."  Ananias obeys the Lord and finds Saul and prays for him to restore his sight.


I hope you are beginning to understand the importance God places on prayer.  Prayer is not of secondary importance - it is very important.


The writer of the book of Romans outlines a chain of events that describes New Testament salvation.


Romans 10:13-15 NKJV


13     For "whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

14     How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?

15     And how shall they preach unless they are sent?


A sequence of events are listed here as being important to bringing people to salvation in Christ.  And it is shown in the reverse order of the way it is listed in these verses.


Sending leads to preaching.


         Preaching leads to hearing.


                   Hearing leads to believing.


                            Believing leads to calling on the name of the Lord.


Notice that believing is not the climax.  Even the great Protestant Reformers who taught us the principle of "sola fide" - "by faith alone" also preached that intellectual assent or acknowledgement alone does not bring salvation. There is one more step for demonstrating a real and living faith, and that is calling out to God with all of one's heart and soul.


One of the clearest instruction about the church come in Paul's pastoral letters, where the apostle tells young pastor Timothy how to proceed.


In 1 Timothy 2:1 (NKJV), we read:


1        Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men,


The apostle couldn't be more direct.  "First of all, I urge that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone." Later in the same chapter (verse 8), Paul says, "I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing." That is the sign of a Christian church.


In the book of Revelation, we are told that when the 24 elders fall at the feet of Jesus, each one of them will have a golden bowl.  Do you know what is in the bowls?  "The prayers of the saints" [Revelation 5:8].


Just imagine - you and I kneel or stand or sit down to pray - that is, really open our hearts to God.  And what we say is so precious to him that he keeps it like a treasure.  I must ask of myself:  John Hoole, did you just dazzle people with your cleverness, or did you make them hungry to seek Him.  The words of the old hymn ring so true.

Oh what peace we often forfeit,

Oh, what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer.


I am sure that most, if not all, of you would answer in the affirmative to the question: Is prayer that important to the Christian?  Now, I ask the same question with regard to healing.  How important is it for us to pray for those who are sick and afflicted?


This question was brought home to me by a statement of an author whose books I enjoy reading.  In a book he published in 2006, he has written that he believes it is a mistake to encourage Christians to pray for physical healing.  The respected author to whom I refer is Philip Yancey. His book is titled: Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? (Zondervan 2006)


Yancey devotes one chapter to prayer for physical healing, and in it he discourages praying for bodily illness because he has seen so many sick patients devastated by Christians who tried to heal them through prayer.  Their last state was worse than the first!  As proof, Yancey points to piles of letters on his desk, all complaining the same problem.  They were misled, he says, by a false hope that they could be healed by a prayer of faith.


While I still respect Philip Yancey, on this issue I take a strong stance opposite his.  I do not doubt that he has mounds of evidence of many Christians who had high expectations, but in the end were severely disappointed.  As a consequence, I believe the tendency is to play the blame game.  We tend to blame God, or the church, or equally wrong, blame themselves, for lack of faith.


Have you ever asked yourself, after praying for someone's healing, and not seeing the healing, "What good are my prayers?"  I admit that I have asked that of myself.  Over a period of time, after praying for people to be healed, I see their conditions worsen.  And I begin to question my prayers, even to shying away from praying for people.  I have wondered if I should really expect healing in all cases when I pray.


The best way I know to answer this issue is to move it a notch higher.  Before we address the questions about disease, let's simply ask it with reference to people being save, that is, born again.  I don't know of anyone who knows Jesus Christ who wouldn't be willing to pray for salvation for anyone.  In other words, there is an absolute absence of any hesitation in regards to believers being very bold to pray for people's souls.  The Bible says, in 2 Peter 3:9, that "the Lord is....not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."


We know the Cross of Jesus Christ is sufficient in its provision to provide salvation for every human being who will receive it.  So we pray for anyone and everyone to be saved.  Yet, in doing so, who of us believes that everyone is going to be saved?  Not one of us!  And yet, that doesn't discourage us from praying for people to be saved, or for evangelism to go forth with power.  We pray boldly for people to be saved, and then if they are not, at least we know we have exercised our privilege and responsibility of prayer for their salvation.


Now, I believe exactly the same principle applies to the realm of prayer for physical healing.  The Bible nowhere indicates that God wants people to be sick.  It does indicate that, just the same as sin, sickness is a trait of the human race.  It is a part of the sad heritage of mankind, by reason of the fall.  Only now we are dealing with the physical aspect of man rather than the spiritual.  We are in another arena now.  And it is in this arena that people want to know God's heart or His attitude toward healing human bodies.


To begin, I believe there is no place in the Bible where we are discouraged from praying for physical healing.  To the contrary, everything we see in the promises of the Scriptures, or in the life of Jesus, or in the actions of the New Testament Church, all encourage us to pray for people to be healed.


But somehow, the fact that all people prayed for are not always healed causes some people to take either of two positions.  The first suggest, "since we don't know who may be healed, or even if God wills their healing, we should simply say, 'Thy will be done,' and if anyone is healed, fine."


The second group holds the same prayer, but believes that God's will is to heal, just as it is to save.  These would hold that the words, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done..." is not a passive prayer, but a Christ ordained form of intercession.  These believe we have been given a specific directive to express on earth in prayer what we know to be His will in heaven.

Then someone justly asks: "since it appears to be the will of God to heal people, why isn't everyone healed?"  And my answer at this point in my journey is that I don't know why everyone prayed for isn't healed any more than I know why everyone prayed for isn't saved.  I will say more about this dilemma in a future lesson.  But of this I am now convinced - we are to pray for healing, whether we fully understand it or not.


Churches that do not pray for the sick are ignoring a clear biblical command.  James says it very straight.


James 5:13-16 NKJV


13     Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

14     Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

15     And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

16     Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.


Our responsibility is to pray.  God's responsibility is to heal, not mine.  If he chooses to do differently than what we want, then He is responsible for that.  I am to trust God even when I don't understand.  That is no blind trust.  He has already proven Himself to me so many times - I will trust his judgment.


Not to pray just because our prayers might not be answered presents some huge problems.  Are we going to be consistent and not pray for anyone in any kind of trouble in case nothing happens?  Should we never ask anything of God for anything so nobody's hopes will be dashed?  After all, if we believe in nothing, then we will not be disappointed - right?


The passage we read a moment ago in James tells us that sickness is a proper subject of prayer.  First, "is anyone among you afflicted? let him pray."  This indicates that people can pray for themselves when they suffer.  Then, in verse 14, those that are sick are instructed to "call for the elders of the church."  The elders are told to pray over the sick.  Clearly, sickness should be an occasion for prayer.  We are commanded to pray when we suffer ourselves.  It is proper also for the elders of the church to pray when we suffer.  Then, in verse 16, we are told, "Confess your faults one to another, and prayer one for another that ye may be healed."


Though the sick may pray for themselves, it is proper to call the elders to pray.  Also, this verse says individual believer are to pray one for another for healing.  Not every sinner we pray for is saved, not every sick person we pray for gets well, but nevertheless, prayer gets many lost sinners saved, and no doubt many a sick person is healed in answer to prayer.  So the first duty about sickness is to pray about it.




I am going to bring this lesson to a close by giving you fifteen biblical reason why we should pray for the sick to get well.


1.  Sickness causes sorrow, whereas God wants to give us joy.


John 15:11 NKJV


11     These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.


2.  Sickness stops people from having abundant life, whereas God wants us to have abundant life.


John 10:10 NKJV


10     The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.


3.   Sickness takes away our peace, whereas God wants to give us peace.


John 14:27 NKJV


27     Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.


4.   Sickness wastes away our resources, (i.e. time, money, energy) whereas God want to give us even more resources.


Jude 2 NKJV


2       Mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.


5.   Sickness does not benefit people, whereas God wants to benefit His people.


Psalms 103:2 NKJV


2       Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits:


6.   Sickness causes death, whereas God wants to give us life.


Luke 8:40-55 NKJV


40     So it was, when Jesus returned, that the multitude welcomed Him, for they were all waiting for Him.

41     And behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue. And he fell down at Jesus' feet and begged Him to come to his house,

42     for he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying.


49     While He was still speaking, someone came from the ruler of the synagogue's house, saying to him, "Your daughter is dead. Do not trouble the Teacher."

50     But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, "Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well."

51     When He came into the house,


54     But He put them all outside, took her by the hand and called, saying, "Little girl, arise."

55     Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately. And He commanded that she be given something to eat.


7.      Sickness saps our strength and hinders our effectiveness, whereas God wants to renew our strength and increase our effectiveness.


Isaiah 40:31 NKJV


31     But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.


8.      Sickness is degenerative and destructive, whereas God wants to regenerate, restore and re-create goodness in our lives.


Joel 2:25 NKJV


25     So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, The crawling locust, The consuming locust, And the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you.


9.      Sickness is lumped together with sins, transgressions, iniquities, griefs and sorrows.  Jesus suffered and died so that we might be from them all.


Isaiah 53:4-5 NKJV


4       Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.

5       But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.


10.    Heaven will be free from sin and sickness.  Jesus came to give us a taste of God's Kingdom on earth.


Revelation 21:4 NKJV


4       And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."


11.    Following many of the healings of Jesus, people glorified God.  Sickness does not glorify God.  People do not go around testifying how good God is by giving them sickness.


Luke 13:13 NKJV


13     And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.


12.    In Exodus 15:26, God says my name is Yahweh Rapha.


I am the Lord who heals you.


And Hebrews 13:8 says he "is the same, yesterday, today and forever."


13.    Jesus gives every believer the authority to lay hands on the sick and see them recover.


         This means you and I have been commissioned by Jesus to pray for the sick.


Mark 16:17, 18 NKJV


17     And these signs will follow those who believe:...

         18     ......they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."


14.    In Luke 13:16 we see that sickness is a bondage.  Jesus came to loose the captives and set them free from their bondage.


Luke 13:16 NKJV


16     So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound — think of it — for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?"


15.    In Acts 10:38, we see that sickness is an oppression.  Jesus was anointed to heal the oppressed.


Acts 10:38 NKJV


38     God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.


Again, I find no place in the Bible where we are discouraged from praying for physical healing.  To the contrary, everything we see in the promises of the Scripture, or in the life of Jesus, or in the action of the New Testament church, all encourages us to pray for people to be healed.