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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.

  1. Am I expecting a miracle as an entitlement?
  2. 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.
  3. Do I wrongly blame God for causing the suffering?
  4. Am I prepared for the possibility that physical healing will not take place?

In addition, we might ask:

  1. “Am I using the other means available to me for healing?”
  2. “Do I just need physical healing, or emotional healing as well?”
  3. “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.


Ordo Salutis: Glorification

While I’ve chosen to skip over a post on growing in grace as a part of holiness, remember that we’ve said that holiness is not a static place one arrives at, only to then live in that state until death. Not even close. God will continue to purify and cleanse a person’s heart and mind, making him or her aware of areas of sin. I like to think of choosing to cooperate with this further growth as just one way that a person wisely avoids getting set in his or her ways as they age. There is no place for a snarky, belligerent, crotchety person in the kingdom of God.

And then there’s death. I probably should have written more about this. Suffice it to say two things:

1. Death has always been, theologically speaking, the Christian’s enemy. Christ conquered death on the cross and in His resurrection because it was an enemy that needed conquering.

2. Death is not simply a transition from this life to the next. We do not say, “O happy dagger!” as in Romeo and Juliet. We always grieve, even if it is in hope.

Glorification is what happens to us at death. While this can be a tricky subject since none of us has ever died and come back to tell of it, Jesus has died and has been resurrected.

Steve Harper writes, “The issue of our ultimate glorification is based on the responses we make to the presence of the kingdom. It is the activity of the kingdom that makes a real connection between time and eternity” (The Way to Heaven, p. 97). When Jesus came and inaugurated the kingdom–God’s real rule and reign here and now–He forced you and me to reckon with it, to either accept and enter the kingdom or to reject and oppose the kingdom. Our entrance now means that heaven one day is our great reward.

We get a glimpse of what our future life will be like from Him, as well as other descriptions in the Bible. And while we won’t spend a ton of time examining what happens after we die, here are a few things we can know for certain will happen at death:

  1. We will await the general resurrection in the presence of Christ.
  2. We will, along with every human being, undergo judgment and the resurrection of the righteous or the wicked. We will be given incorruptible bodies capable of living in the news heavens and new earth. Incorruptible means we will no longer be subject to the enemies of sin, death and the devil.
  3. We will be like God. This is the Eastern Orthodox Church’s doctrine of deification. 2 Peter 1:3-4 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” Peter’s words here speak of life in the present as an anticipation of the future–notice the language of promises, which implies future fulfillment.
  4. We will be fully restored in all aspects of God’s image: the natural, political and moral.
  5. We will live and reign for eternity with Christ on the new earth, which has been united with the new heavens.

Remember that this is all part of God’s plan for us and that our current spiritual formation is leading us to this point.

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