Prayer and Physical Healing
Philip Yancey brings an interesting perspective to the issue of prayer and healing. He says that he has learned that when we pray for miracles, we need to learn to expect that “God is not a magician who rearranges life to fit our whims.” For example, our prayers will not reverse the aging process, conquer death completely, or eliminate our need for food. God has set in motion certain rules and natural laws, within which there is room for physical healing. This means that God uses the way He has already created our bodies and our knowledge of them to heal us much more often than supernatural healing.
Christian doctors today can testify to the results of prayer: quicker recovery times, complete disappearance of signs of cancer in patients, full recoveries from paralyzation, etc. And yet they also stress that these cases represent perhaps 2 or 3 people out of every thousand.
Richard Foster writes,
“There may be times when God asks us to rely upon prayer alone for healing, but this is the exception, not the rule. The refusal to use medical means to promote healing may be a gesture of faith—more often it is a gesture of spiritual pride…. Many trust in medical means exclusively and turn to prayer only when all available medical technology has failed. This only betrays the materialistic base of so much of our thinking.”
Instead of relying solely on one or the other, we should couple the two together.
Our bodies are not disconnected from our souls. While we read in John 9:1-2 that Jesus says a man born blind was not born this way because of his parents’ sin or his sin, but so that God’s glory might be shown, our infirmities can be connected with the hurts and pains of the past. We don’t get sick as a punishment for our sin, but because our emotions and painful experiences affect our bodies in negative ways.
Foster tells the story of a man who had been depressed and angry for 28 years. He had been in WWII, leading 33 men who were trapped by enemy gunfire. He had watched as two by two, they went out and were killed. He escaped with only 5 other men and that day had become an atheist. Foster told him, “Don’t you know that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who lives in the eternal now, can enter that old painful memory and heal it so that it will no longer control you?” Foster prayed for him and asked that as evidence, God would grant him a full night’s sleep. God immediately healed the man and he testified to waking with a hymn on his lips each morning. The healing ministry of Jesus is for the whole person, not just our bodies.
When we read the gospels, we read several accounts of Jesus healing people. But never is he systematic about his healings. He approached one man at the pool of Bethesda and asked, “Do you want to get well?” He did not heal everyone. He did not annihilate leprosy so that no one could have it ever again. While Jesus said it is the sick who need a doctor, he was not every man’s doctor. He did not come to reverse the laws of nature; he didn’t even turn a rock into bread. While the gospels record that he also healed everyone who was brought to him (Matthew 12:15), there are other stories where he did not.
Why is not everyone healed? The simplest answer is, “We don’t know.”
- Maybe we neglect natural means such as diet, exercise and sleep.
- Maybe we think what is needed is physical healing when it is actually emotional healing.
- Maybe we have not found the right doctor.
- Maybe we do not pray specifically enough.
- Maybe we have sin in our lives that hinders our prayers.
So what do we do? We wait, we ask, we believe, and we give thanks. And slowly we watch our skepticism over whether God heals turn into faith. God wants us to believe healing is possible.
Philip Yancey presents us with a checklist for when we desire a miracle of physical healing, which I think is a very practical tool to guide our prayers also.
- Am I expecting a miracle as an entitlement?
- Am I using the benefits of God’s ‘common grace’—the healing built into our bodies and the medical knowledge we have gained? Like the Good Samaritan whose love extended to taking care of the injured man’s wounds, we partner with God by using what we know to heal ourselves.
- Do I wrongly blame God for causing the suffering?
- Am I prepared for the possibility that physical healing will not take place?
In addition, we might ask:
- “Am I using the other means available to me for healing?”
- “Do I just need physical healing, or emotional healing as well?”
- “Do I realize that my healing is God’s will? It is what he wants, and yet it may not come to pass?”
And at the end of it all, we can pray in faith believing that God is at work healing us, mind, body, heart and soul.