Praying for Healing

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(James 5:13-16)

INTRODUCTION: We are continuing in our message series about praying for things. Last week we looked at praying for forgiveness, and today we are looking at praying for healing. This is a very sensitive topic because different Christians have different views on praying for healing, but also because illness creates such a serious burden in our lives. Whether it is you or a loved one who is fighting an illness, sickness brings so much pain and sorrow into our lives. (Read James 5:13-16 and pray.)

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So, we are talking about praying for healing this morning. When Jesus was on earth, he healed people out of compassion for them and as a sign that the kingdom of heaven had drawn near. Jesus also gave the apostles special powers to heal as they proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was near. God calls us to love and pray for each other, and so we should also pray for healing for others and for ourselves.

Remember, the Bible says you do not have because you do not ask. God wants you to pray. And as we’ve already learned, when you pray in Jesus’ name, when you pray for God’s glory and according to God’s will, when you pray in faith believing and persevering in prayer, you will see many wonderful answers to prayer.

Now, as we already mentioned, different Christians have different views on praying for healing, so I want to start with three facts on which everyone agrees.

Fact number one: Do Christians ever get sick? Yes. That’s a fact. Christians get sick in the world just like everyone else.

Fact number two: Does God sometimes heal? Yes. Absolutely yes. We know from examples in the Bible and from personal experience that when we get sick, God does in fact sometimes heal.

Fact number three: Does God always heal? No. Now this is the part where Christians sometimes disagree, but the one thing we do all agree on is that the answer is no, God does not always heal.

We don’t always agree on the reason why God doesn’t heal, but we all know that God does not always heal, because there are sick Christians in the world and there are sick Christians who even die from their illness. Now there is also the sense that when we die, we go to heaven where we will never experience sickness again, so in that sense, yes, God always heals. But does God always heal in this life? For whatever reason, the answer is no.

So those are our three facts we are dealing with this morning: 1) Do Christians ever get sick? Yes. 2) Does God sometimes heal? Yes. 3) Does God always heal in this life? No. So what do we do with these facts, and how does it affect how we pray for healing?

I. The relationship between sickness and sin

First, we need to see what the Bible says about the relationship between sickness and sin. There are a lot of misunderstandings in this area and so we have to be careful how we approach this matter.

   A. Sickness is a consequence of sin (general and specific)
      – Romans 8:22-23; 1 Corinthians 11:30

The first thing we can say about the relationship between sickness and sin is that sickness is a consequence of sin. If there were no sin, there would be no sickness.

The apostle Paul says in Romans 8: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22-23) Paul says that sin affects the whole creation, our bodies included, and believers are not exempt. Sickness is a consequence of sin in the world, in fact, it is one of the many consequences of sin.

Now once again, we need to be careful here. All sickness is a result of sin, but not every specific sickness is the result of a specific sin. All sickness is a result of sin in a general sense in that we live in a fallen world. Therefore, we should not think that every time a person gets sick, it’s because they committed a specific sin.

However, sometimes sickness is a direct result of specific sin. Sometimes sickness is part of God’s discipline for sin. For example, when the Corinthians were failing to honor the body of Christ during communion, Paul tells them in 1 Corinthians 11:30: “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 11:30) So, sometimes sickness is part of God’s discipline for sin.

But there are other ways that sickness can be a direct result of specific sin as well. Sometimes we get sick because we don’t take good care of our bodies. We make poor food choices. We don’t exercise. We smoke or do other things that we know are harmful to our bodies. Many times, sickness is simply the accumulated result of unhealthy choices where we have not taken care of our bodies as we should.

So that’s the first thing we should understand about the relationship between sickness and sin. Sickness is a general consequence of sin in the world. Not every specific sickness is a result of specific sin, although there are times when sickness can be a result of specific sin.

   B. Jesus died specifically for sin, not for sickness
      – Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24

The next thing we need to understand about the relationship between sickness and sin is that Jesus died specifically for sin, not for sickness. Now there is a sense in which Jesus died for sickness too and we’ll get to that in a moment, but the Bible is clear that Jesus died specifically for sin, not for sickness.

For example, we read in Isaiah 53:5: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) 1 Peter 2:24 says: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)

Now both of these verses also say something about healing, and we’ll get to that in a moment, but notice first what they say about sin. The Bible says Jesus was wounded for our “transgressions.” He was crushed for our “iniquities.” He bore our “sins” in his body on the cross. The primary emphasis in each of these verses is on Jesus dying for sin, not for sickness.

Think about the Old Testament sacrifices for a moment. All of the sacrifices in the Old Testament that pointed forward to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross were sacrifices for sin, not for illness or disease.

Sickness and sin are related, but they are not the same. It is not a sin to be sick. You don’t need to be forgiven for your illnesses. You need forgiveness for your sin. Jesus died on the cross specifically for sin, not for sickness.

   C. Jesus died to remove the consequences of sin
   (sickness, death, wars, natural disasters, etc.)
      – Revelation 21:4

So then, why do these verses also mention healing – “by his wounds you have been healed?” Because Jesus not only died for sin. Jesus also died to remove the consequences of sin. And as we’ve already seen, sickness is a consequence of sin. Jesus died to remove all the consequences of sin, which include sickness, as well as death, wars, natural disasters and other consequences.

Now once again, we live in a fallen world which means even as Christians we also experience these consequences of sin. As Christians we are not exempt from sickness, death, wars or natural disasters. But we are under God’s special protection and care, and God as our heavenly Father often intervenes in these areas on our behalf and in answer to prayer.

One day God will remove all these consequences forever. We read in Revelation 21:4: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) When Christ returns, the old order of things will pass away and God’s new order will be established. We will no longer live in a fallen world. We will live in a perfect world. And we will never have to deal with illness ever again.

II. The difference between healing and forgiveness

So that’s what the Bible tells us about the relationship between sickness and sin. Next, we need to see what the Bible says about healing and forgiveness.

   A. Healing and forgiveness are often mentioned together
      – Psalm 41:4, 103:2-3; Jeremiah 17:14

Healing and forgiveness are often mentioned together in the Bible. For example, we read in Psalm 103: “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” (Psalm 103:2-3) Forgiveness and healing are mentioned side by side in this psalm along with other benefits for those who belong to God.

We find forgiveness and healing mentioned together in various prayers for healing in the Bible. For example in Psalm 41:4: “O Lord, have mercy on me; heal me, for I have sinned against you.” (Psalm 41:4) Or again in Jeremiah 17:14: “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.” (Jeremiah 17:14) By the way, both of those are excellent examples of praying for healing that you can use when you pray for healing for yourself or for others.

Healing and forgiveness are often mentioned together in the Bible because, remember, sickness is one of the main consequences of sin in the Bible. We saw last week that as Christians we should pray for forgiveness. Well, as Christians we should also pray for healing, because Jesus not only died for sin, he died to remove the consequences of sin.

   B. Four major differences between forgiveness and healing

However, there are also some very important differences between praying for forgiveness and healing.

      1) instantaneous vs. sometimes delayed

First of all, when you pray for forgiveness it is always instantaneous. The moment you pray for forgiveness, you are immediately forgiven. There is no time delay between asking for forgiveness and receiving forgiveness. However, when you pray for healing, it is not always instantaneous. Sometimes it is, it can be, but healing is also often delayed.

      2) complete vs. sometimes partial

Secondly, when you pray for forgiveness, you are always completely forgiven. God doesn’t just forgive you part way. There is no such thing as partial forgiveness in Christ. However, when you pray for healing, the healing is sometimes partial. Sometimes the answer is an improvement in your condition, but unlike forgiveness, we are not always completely healed.

      3) permanent vs. sometimes temporary

Thirdly, when you pray for forgiveness, your sins are forgiven permanently. There is never a time when you will not be forgiven in the future. However, when you pray for healing, the healing is sometimes temporary. When God heals you, it doesn’t mean you will never get sick again. Even Lazarus died a second time after Jesus raised him from the dead.

      4) guaranteed vs. sometimes not granted

Finally, when you pray for forgiveness, it is guaranteed. Jesus has never said “No” to anyone coming to him for forgiveness. When you pray for forgiveness, it is guaranteed. But when you pray for healing, there are no guarantees. Sometimes the healing is not granted. We don’t always know why. Sometimes it may be a lack of faith. But we should never accuse someone of lack of faith just because they have not received healing. Sometimes God has purposes he wants to accomplish through your illness. Sometimes the answer is delayed. Sometimes it’s just time to go home to be with the Lord. If God always healed, no Christians would ever die.

Once again, this is all part of living in a fallen world. Does God want you to be sick? Of course not. Does God want you to suffer from war or natural disasters? Of course not. Does God want you to suffer at all? Of course not. In a perfect world, God wouldn’t let his children go through any of these things.

But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a fallen world where we all experience the consequences of sin. And as Christians, we are not exempt from the consequences of sin just because we are saved. One day we will live in a perfect world, and then we will be free from all the consequences of sin, including sickness and death.

III. Instructions on praying for healing

So then, with all that background, how do we pray for healing? Let me give you some instructions on praying for healing from God’s word.

   A. Praying for different types of healing

First of all, there are several ways God heals in this world, and when we pray for healing, we should pray for all of them. I like to break it down this way. There is natural healing, medical healing and miraculous healing. Some people like to call this third category “divine healing” in that it comes from God, but I like the word “miraculous” because, when you think about it, all three types of healing ultimately come from God.

      1) natural healing (Proverbs 17:22)

So, what is natural healing? Natural healing refers to the natural healing processes that God has already built into our bodies. Headaches go away. Broken bones mend. Wounds and cuts scab over and heal. Our bodies are amazing creations of God, and God has built amazing powers of healing right into our bodies.

This is where a positive attitude can play a part as well, because God has designed our bodies to respond to our minds. That’s why we find a verse like Proverbs 17:22 in the Bible: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)

Natural healing refers to the natural healing processes that God has already built into our bodies. It’s natural, but it still comes from God.

      2) medical healing (1 Timothy 5:23)

Next there is medical healing. Natural healing comes from your own body. Medical healing refers to assisted healing from other people. Physicians and medical scientists study the body in order to develop medicines and procedures to help with healing.

There are various examples of medical healing in the Bible. For example, we read Paul’s instructions to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:23: “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:23)

Medical healing is an important part of praying for healing. It’s medical, but it still comes from God who provides the doctors and the scientists with the knowledge and materials they need to help provide the healing. Praise God we live in a time of medical knowledge and expertise like no other in the history of the world.

      3) miraculous healing (Matthew 9:35)

So, there is natural healing, there is medical healing, and then there is miraculous healing. Miraculous healing is when God provides the healing directly, apart from doctors and medicine and beyond what we would expect from the body’s natural capacity to heal. This miraculous healing can also be a matter of God speeding up the time and processes that would normally be required for healing.

Once again, there are many examples of miraculous healing in the Bible. For example, we read in Matthew 9:35: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” (Matthew 9:35) These were not natural or medical healings. Jesus healed people miraculously by the direct power of God.

So, we have three different types of healing, and yet they all come from the one God who is the giver of every good and perfect gift in life. So, when you pray for healing, you do not need to pray for one type of healing over the other. When you pray for healing, you can pray for all three, because God is ultimately behind all the healing that we experience.

Here is an example of how I pray for healing for people. It may not be the best way to pray for healing, and it’s certainly not the only way to pray for healing, but this is what I have arrived at over the years. Let’s say I am in the hospital with someone named David who has a bad infection. I would normally pray something like this:

“Dear Lord, I thank you for David. I thank you for David’s life and your great love for him. And I pray for his healing Lord. I pray that you would work in his body to bring the healing that he needs today. I pray for the doctors and nurses who are tending to him that you would give them great wisdom in all their decisions and procedures today. Holy Spirit I pray that you would touch David’s body even now with your power to heal. Thank you, God, for hearing our prayers. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

So, when we pray for healing, we don’t have to choose to pray for one type of healing over another. All healing comes from God, so we simply ask God to heal as he chooses.

   B. Specific instructions for the church (James 5:14-16)

Finally, we need to look at God’s specific instructions for the church when it comes to praying for healing. We find the following instructions in James 5 where James writes: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:14-16)

We find four specific instructions here, so let’s look at each one in turn.

      1) call the elders of the church

First of all, the sick person should call the elders of the church. In our church the elders are the pastors. If you are ever sick and in need of prayer, please call the church and the pastors here will come and pray for you. That’s part of what we do.

      2) elders pray anointing with oil

Secondly, the elders pray over the person anointing them with oil. You might wonder, “Why use oil”? Some people see the oil as symbolic of the Holy Spirit while others see it as something that assists us in our faith. But either way there is nothing magical about the oil, just as there is nothing magical about the water used in baptism. It is just something God tells us to do.

      3) prayer of faith will make the person well

Thirdly, James says the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well. Once again, it’s not the oil that brings the healing here but the prayer of faith. Whose faith? The elders!! We cannot blame a lack of healing on a lack of faith on the sick person’s part. They already demonstrated faith in calling the elders. Now it’s the elders’ job to pray in faith.

In response to the prayer of faith, James says the Lord will raise the person up. This is resurrection language, but probably refers to the person getting out of their sick bed. Notice it is the Lord who raises the person up. Once again, it is not the elders, not the oil, not even the prayer of faith that is ultimately responsible for healing, but the Lord. Only God can heal.

      4) any sin must be confessed

And then finally, if there is any sin connected to the illness, that sin must be confessed. Once again, we see the connection between sickness and sin.

So, the question is, even when we follow all these instructions, why doesn’t God always heal?
I think there could be a variety of reasons. Sometimes we don’t exercise enough faith. Sometimes we need to wait for God’s timing. Sometimes we need to trust God’s greater will. Sometimes we need to confess sin.

However, though it all we can trust God’s promise be with us during times of trial and to work all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) God is sovereign. Our job is simply to obey him in faith and then trust him with the results.

CONCLUSION: Jesus died for sin and to remove the consequences of sin. Sickness is one of those consequences of sin that he died to remove. God is also your heavenly Father who loves you as his child. And so, as Christians we can pray in confidence for healing.

Sometimes God will heal miraculously and immediately. Sometimes God will use doctors and medicine to heal. Sometimes God will speed up the natural processes of healing he has already built into your body. And sometimes we just need to trust God while we wait for his answer.

One day Christ will return, and these weak bodies of ours that are so prone to sickness and injury and pain in this life will be transformed into our new resurrection bodies that will never get sick again.

And then we will be able to pray Psalm 103 in all its glorious fullness: “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion. Praise the Lord, O my soul!” (Psalm 103:2-4)

© Ray Fowler

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