Series Theme: Looking at Prayer Afresh
Phase Two : Thinking into the Issues
Title: 6. Prayer for Physical Healing
Prayer is a mystery that gets very complicated when you start thinking in depth about it. This is equally so in respect of prayer for physical healing. I emphasise ‘physical' healing here because I also believe in ‘inner healing' which is a completely different matter. Please also understand this paper is not going to be filled with Bible references – you will find those elsewhere in my writings.
Possibly like prayer generally, but with much greater practical significance, the big mystery about this sort of prayer is when people don't get healed and even more, when people die after you have prayed! Over my lifetime there have been some notable deaths where you might have expected prayer to be effective. In 1984 well known evangelist, David Watson from York, died of cancer, age 51, after much prayer. Probably one of the leading exponents of “Power Healing” was John Wimber, yet he died of a brain haemorrhage in 1997, aged only 63. (Wimber plus a team had actually prayed years earlier for David Watson)
In my earlier years as a Christian, I found “Healing” by Francis MacNutt (written before he left the Catholic Church) and “Power Healing” by John Wimber, the two authorities on healing prayer, and both were a means of releasing faith in me. I would love to say that healing prayer is simple and that I have cracked it, but that is not the case. I am going to have to give my own testimony to explain that. This page has, by necessity as you will see, got to have a very personal touch to it!
2. My Own Experience, My Own Testimony
Perhaps I should explain it as ‘prayer by me' and ‘prayer for me' and occasionally even ‘prayer by me for me'! I will state from the outset that I believe in healing and by that I mean I believe in a God who heals.
I have known the experience of:
Praying for my own healing and being granted it
Years ago I used to go through winters having a cold for two weeks, being free of a cold for two weeks, having a cold for two weeks, and so on. I was taking every sort of medication possible to no avail. Eventually I came to a point of desperation and asked the Lord to break in and stop this. I determined to stop taking such mediation. That was many years ago. Since then I have not had a cold since! I do get occasional days when I will sneeze for the whole day and then it's gone the next day, but that seems more of a nasal irritation thing.
I am sure I have prayed for release from headaches or from tiredness and indeed a variety of other mundane ‘illnesses' and have received it. I have had nasty cuts and prayed for them and they have healed up unnaturally quickly.
Praying for the healing of others
I have prayed at various times for other people for headaches, stomach aches, stiff necks and they have indicated immediate healing. These have been relatively few but I have no doubts about them. I have also prayed similarly for people and they indicate within hours there has been clear if not complete improvement.
Praying for myself and not getting answers
Part of my main story involves me praying my heart out and nothing happening – despite the fact that I would say to the very best of my understanding I was praying full of faith and with no doubts. Read on.
Being prayed for and getting answers and NOT getting answers
A number of years ago, in the course of one summer, I injured my knees at different times, my left knee first and then my right knee several months later. I was in a lot pain with both of them.
The pain would come and go over a space of time, especially in my left knee so that often it was very painful to walk. One Sunday morning in our church, one of our ladies came up to me and said, “I would like to pray for your knee.” She did so and I was free from pain for the next two to three years.
The pain eventually started to return, mostly in my left knee and a small amount in my right knee. It got worse and more persistent and although I prayed against it, it continued unabated. Others prayed for me from time to time but with no effect.
Nearly two years ago we went to a Bible week and both my wife and I went along to a two-morning seminar on healing, more I confess to have my faith built to pray for healing for others than for myself. At the end of the first seminar I went out for prayer and received about 80% healing – considerable improvement but still some pain. At the end of the second seminar, I went out and received complete relief from all pain. I jumped and I ran and, in fact, for the remainder of the day my wife had trouble keeping up with me as we walked around the site. No pain! Even my wife, who I think had been a minor sceptic, was utterly convinced.
Now something happened that evening which I think is important to tell, because this story is no where near finished. We had been through the Toronto Blessing as a church about ten or eleven years back and although when I prayed for people some amazing stuff happened, I had had virtually no other ‘manifestations' or experiences throughout the whole of that time. To keep the story short, at the end of the main meeting that night, the leader out front invited church leaders to come out for prayer. Now I am not someone who puts things on but as one of the prayer team put his hands on my back suddenly it was like 50,000 volts shot through me, except it wasn't like electricity, more like vibrations. This carried on, I believe for about ten minutes. Now I don't have a clue what that was about except I had a wonderful sense of God's presence and joy. In an amazingly strange way, I had encountered the Lord and He had blessed me.
I tell that story because of what followed. Next afternoon I was walking down to the car park on the site and twisted in a pot-hole and one knee buckled under me so I twisted onto my other leg and that knee also buckled under me. Both knees ended up worse than they had been before we came to the camp – and remained bad afterwards. Now please take my word (and I have checked it more than a few times) I do not believe that I had or have some deadly hidden unconfessed sin that opened me up to the enemy!
I cannot explain it. I met the Lord and was healed, I met the Lord and had a power encounter and I was full of thankfulness. But now I was back at square one – but not quite, because I came back from that camp, despite the pain, feeling that if I had the opportunity I would pray for anyone and everyone – especially for healing. Really odd!
After six months of hobbling (and praying and being prayed for to no avail) I had an appointment to see a specialist who said I needed a new knee. I was convinced the Lord could heal me. I prayed faithfully and fully until twenty weeks later I had the operation – the first time I have been in hospital for an operation since, as a child, I had my tonsils out! The operation was amazing and sixteen hours later I was walking with a Zimmer frame and four hours later on crutches and then twenty fours hours later released home. Amazing.
Now I would have expected that to be my last brush with the hospital but two months later my doctor sent me to the eye clinic with a torn retina and within a few hours I was on my back having a repair operation. Recovery takes about six weeks and then I was told the operation causes a cataract to form and I would need it replacing with a lens. Eight weeks later saw me on an operating theatre table for the third time in five months. After this last operation I spend much of my time without glasses, the first time since I was eleven! I only appear to need them for close up reading. I was told they would like to remover the cataract growing in the other eye and two weeks after the checkup, received a call for a fourth operation!!!! I now see really well without glasses but will no doubt need reading glasses. Throughout I have prayed (and I know others have prayed) for God to heal me and do away with the need of going into the hospital.
3. And so….?
If I was convinced that God heals, I am more so now! Does He always heal when we ask him (full of faith)? Clearly not! Am I harbouring some major sin or hindrance to God moving in me? Not to my knowledge. In fact, over these past two years, when I reflect back on it, I am happier now and more content in God than ever before, with a real sense of the wonder of His word, a fresh appreciation of worship, and of His goodness to me generally. He has led me into a new sphere of activity and has blessed me in it again and again. On numerous occasions when I have asked Him for encouragement, as I have walked new paths, He has clearly, tangibly and amazingly brought it within twenty four hours – every time! It's been a good two years!
Did he heal me when ‘we' prayed? Initially yes, subsequently no – but I am physically in a better place today that I was two years ago! And, I believe, a spiritually better place as well! Even more I have come to observe the following changes in me:
I appreciate the wonder of His world and the technology that the Lord has allowed us to live with, and the people who use it for our benefit today more than ever before. (I believe we Christians can look down on things and people in “the world” forgetting it and they are God's gift to us.)
I have come to appreciate people with infirmities or with partial sight and understand their difficulties far more than I ever did before.
I am also convinced that although sometimes there may be a direct link between sin and sickness, that isn't always so; it's just that we live in a fallen world where things go wrong – so I'm not looking to blame people with infirmities, sicknesses or illnesses, and I think I understand their struggles of faith a little more.
I am also coming to see that this period of enforced inactivity has been a 'listening' time in my life like no other and I believe I am 'hearing' things from the Lord more than ever before.
What is funny is that I did a verse by verse meditation-study on Job four years ago and thought I had cracked it!
4. What did I believe before?
Rather than put this in essay style may I, to make for easier reading, put it in simple question and answer style. The only time I have written on healing previously is in the context of Gifts of the Spirit and therefore you will find Biblical support for what I say on the page for the Gifts of Healing.
Q1. Do I believe that the Bible teaches that God heals?
A. Yes, the Bible is full of Him doing it. It becomes even more obvious in Jesus' ministry and then in the life of the apostles in Acts.
Q2. Do I believe every Christian can pray for healing?
A. Yes, as God leads and inspires; it is a gift of the Spirit. However, I suspect that it is as I have observed in the case of prophecy: whenever I have conducted teaching seminars on releasing the gift of prophecy, if there are say ten people, at the seminar they will ALL receive a word for someone else in the group that is verifiable as a word from God, BUT six months later normally only three of them will be moving regularly in the gift, five of them will occasionally and two of them will never again. It has something to do with differing faith levels.
Q3. Do you have to be special to pray for healing?
A. No, I've already mentioned faith above, but ultimately it is about availability to God. Jenny Rees-Larcombe's story, about how she was amazingly healed from viral encephalitis after eight years is worth reading (“Unexpected Healing”). She was helpless in a wheel chair but the Lord did say He would send someone to pray for her and one day, (she had carried on doing public speaking) she was in a local church and a young women felt prompted to pray for her and she was healed. The young woman had never done anything like it before and, I believe, it was only with her vicar's encouragement did she go up to Jenny – and then Jenny was healed completely.
Q4. But is there a specific way you should pray?
A. No, there isn't. Ask God to guide you and do what you think He tells you. Jesus did it in a variety of ways – words of command, prayers, even putting mud in a man's eyes, praying twice. I confess I am more full of faith for a good outcome when I sense the Lord, out of the blue so to speak, prompting me to pray for someone, or when I feel Him filling me with compassion for someone. Beware any ‘programme' that teaches one specific way because the tendency then is towards it being mechanical and that soon excludes God (i.e. it is godless!), whereas He wants us to develop our reliance upon Him and our relationship with Him. We love “this is how you do it” type of approaches because it puts us in charge. As I started by saying, learn to listen to the Lord and catch a sense of what the Spirit is praying.
Q5. But what is required for Healing to Take Place ?
A. Wimber maintained that in every case of healing recorded in the Gospels, somebody had faith – whether that was Jesus, the person being prayed for, or even friends of the person being prayed for. This would be logical because “faith comes by hearing” and this would indicate the Father (by the Spirit) expressed His will to somebody there and their ‘faith' was simply them responding to His prompting. From a practical point of view, look and listen in any such situation, to see who has faith for it. If there is genuine faith there – i.e. someone has heard from God that this is His desire – then we may step out more confidently.
Q6. Is healing conditional on the ‘spirituality' of the person being prayed for?
A. Experience shows sometimes there are things in the person's life that hinder healing or, that the sickness or infirmity was caused by something in the past in that person's life. Now I believe there are times when Jesus wants to use this time to set them free from their past or to deal with the unresolved issue, but there are also times when it seems that Jesus wants to heal first and then later deal with the issues. In the latter case it is as if he knows that the person needs the healing to act as a sign of love and acceptance before they can feel secure enough to come into the open about the past or about the unresolved issue. This is why it is so important that we listen to the Lord to see how he wants to deal with the present case.
Q7. But didn't Jesus just heal people without dealing with their issues?
A. Yes and no. Healings recorded in the Gospels are of two kinds: general (e.g. “and he healed all who came to him”) and specific, dealing with a particular person. The general ones are literally summary descriptions and don't try to describe what took place. When we look at specific instances of healing, Luke might be a good place to start. Being a doctor we might expect Luke to be very interested in this yet although there are a number of healings in Luke only three of them are unique to Luke, suggesting that the others, common to Matthew and Mark, would have come from the sayings of the early church or from another single source they each used, and we would expect them mostly to be more general in description because the early church would not focus on morality or psychology as we do. Of those three that are unique to Luke, two of them are more to do with healing on the Sabbath than about the people being healed - Lk 13:10 the crippled woman, and Lk 14:1 the man healed of dropsy. The only other one unique to Luke is Lk 17:11 where ten lepers were healed – and certainly there was no interrogation.
The one time where there appears some sort of link to a person's past was the man brought on a stretcher by the four friends and the best we can say here is that Jesus simply forgave him before he healed him.
The opposite to that is Jesus healing the blind man where the disciples seek to link sin and sickness (Jn 9:1-5) where Jesus refuses to get drawn into that and just wants to heal.
Generally there is no linkage but that is probably more to do with the style of writing than actually what happened.
One additional thing to be born in mind is that sometimes Jesus showed consideration for the person in question and took them away from the crowd to be dealt with in private. We are never to make a person a spectacle and should always respect them and show similar care and concern for them.
The case for or against ‘dealing with issues' is neither clear for nor against in the Gospel accounts.
Q8. Were there specific times when Jesus seemed to heal or not heal?
A. Well one of the verses unique to Luke is Lk 5:17 “And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick.” This would almost seem to suppose that that was not always so. Sometimes it would seem that Jesus was more concerned to bring teaching (although this was also often accompanied by healing). Jesus declared that he only did what he saw his Father doing (Jn 5:19). The crucial issue thus becomes what does the Father want now?
Of course there was also the classic instance where Jesus was unable to do anything in his own home town because of their lack of faith (Mt 13:58) i.e. they were not open to hear God, and so it may be dependant on the faith level of the congregation!
Q9. So how will we know if Jesus wants us to be involved in bringing healing to someone?
A. Well it may come as a specific prompting of the Spirit, either as a word to you for a specific person, or a sense in you that at this particular time it is a time ripe for healing for whoever, because faith is obviously at a high level. At other times it is clear that Jesus was moved into action by compassion and similarly we may find the Spirit stirring compassion in us for someone indicating His desire to move through healing.
Q.10 Should we expect healing the first time we pray always?
A. There was just one instance when Jesus prayed twice for a blind man (Mk 8:22-25) – but that was Jesus, the Son of God, ministering. I suspect that sometimes we need to pray again (and again) because we are imperfect agents, and indeed, the person in question may need encouragement along the way to believe, before healing can be released. (Yes, it can be complicated!) Francis MacNutt advocated praying for some people again and again over a period of time, seeing gradual healing take place. I have no problem with that; in fact it may sometimes be necessary to bring a person to a place where they see they are loved and become more open to receive. Perhaps sometimes with major healings, it may be that the Lord knows the shock of instant healing would be too great for the person. (Understand that for someone who has lived with their disability for many years, it may mean a complete upheaval for them when they are healed!)
Having said all this, I believe our first approach should be, if we feel ‘led' to pray, that it will be a one-off ‘here and now' prayer followed by immediate healing.
Q.11 If I have been prayed for, for healing, should I just believe it has happened?
A. There has been a whole school of thinking about ‘believing before seeing' but my own personal belief is that this takes us into an area of mysticism that is alien to Scripture. If God has healed, you are healed and your body will show it. There are too many terrible anecdotes of apparently ‘faith-filled' people coming off medication etc. before it is obvious they were healed, and subsequently ending up almost on their death bed. I like the healing ministry I heard about, that required you to check with a doctor before AND after you have been prayed for, to confirm the reality of what has happened. God does not play games with us. He may heal us completely, or partially, or over a period of time – or not. He is God and He knows what is best for us, so let's not play mind games with one another. When you see a healing, you'll know it.
Q.12 Why is there so much sickness, infirmity etc. in the Church?
A. A big question with no clear answer, and we may have to wait until we get to heaven for a definitive answer. Here are suggestions and that is all they are:
We live in a Fallen World and so things go wrong and accidents occur, genes get mutated etc.
We may unwittingly be living unhealthy lives – we eat too much, we drink too much, we smoke, we don't take exercise, or we do too much exercise, or do dangerous (harmful) things in life, all of which may contribute to a breakdown in health, which frequently does not become clear until later in life.
We may find that we have been living through a generally spiritually apathetic time of spiritual life (see the fourth part on Revival) where we are vulnerable to the same things the rest of the world suffers from, and we just haven't realised it!
It may be that the Lord allows these things because He is waiting for a time when He can come by His Spirit to hearts that are open and prepared to receive the revelation, so that we may become a people who will see and understand these things, and in whom He can release His Spirit in a new wave of healing.
5. How has my own experience tempered any of this?
I would first say that I still believe all that I have written above. Although there are those who deny this, I do find myself feeling that sometimes God holds back healing for a greater purpose, maybe for the reasons I've just given above. The apostle Paul was an instance of this (2 Cor 12:7-9) but I would suggest that this should be seen as the exception rather than the rule.
Having been challenged greatly over the past few year by all these issues, I now wonder sometimes why people want to get into healing? If we are called by the Lord either to receive it as a gift or manifestation (1 Cor 12:7-9) or as a ministry (1 Cor 12:28), then excellent, but do we sometimes find people who want to build their self-esteem by these means? It is a challenge!
I am sure, having been through what I have been through this past two years, I am more compassionate and understanding than I was beforehand. That may be one reason that I long to see healing come to the church, so that Jesus can bring the release that so many yearn for. As I said earlier, I am left wanting to take any and every opportunity to pray for people who are suffering ill-health or infirmity and am more convinced than ever that God loves all of us and wants to come in ways we haven't experienced previously, to express that love through the healing up of our lives.
But a word of warning! I hear apparently ‘spiritual' people speaking in public about these things, lacking any sensitivity for those in the congregation who are suffering ill-health or disability. When people appear to speak out of faith and a sense of victory, it is so easy to demean those in the congregation who are not there yet. It is a difficult tight-rope to walk, speaking out faith while caring for the feelings and needs of others who are vulnerable. ‘Speaking faith' can almost appear brash or harsh. May it not be so!
I also long for the Lord to be seen and honoured in this country, and as that happened as Jesus healed people, so I yearn for that to happen today.
I have already stretched your grace with the length of this paper so I will conclude with a summary list that I have taken from my previous notes on the Gifts of Healing:
6. Suggested Guidance for Prayer for Healing