Prayer for healing needs to be understood in the context of God our Father. Consider that the Lord invented the father/child relationship and He tells us that we have that relationship to Him. But, if God is our loving Father, there’s nothing to work up—we don’t need to continue to say that God is going to heal us because otherwise He might not heal us. And there’s no combination of right words to get Him to do as we wish. We just need to humbly ask for what we want from him. Jesus taught us to pray to “our Father.” He loves us. Thus we can just ask our Father who loves us for healing and…
He will give us what we ask for,
He won’t give us what we ask for.
That’s how a loving earthly father works right? Sometimes a loving earthly father grants our request, sometimes he doesn’t. Whether a loving earthly father grants our request is dependent on whether he thinks our request is good for us. But, you say, the Scripture says that if you ask believing that you will have what you ask for, then you will receive it (Matthew 21:22).
But, when it comes to prayer for anything, for us to believe that our Father is going to give us what we ask for requires that we believe that it is His will to give us what we ask for.
That happens in one of two ways.
One way to know the Father wants to give us what we ask for is because Scripture reveals that He wants to give us certain things. There are many things in this category. So if we pray for love, joy, peace, patience, and so on—well, guess what!? We already know that our Father wants to give us these things so we can pray in faith, knowing that God wants us to have them!
But, contrary to the teachings of some Christians, if we take all the Scriptures together, we’d find that our Father doesn’t promise that we’ll always be healed. Now I know that some will argue that our Father always wants us to be healed, but the Scripture simply doesn’t teach that. After all, even the apostles didn’t heal everyone. For example, Paul wrote, “I left Trophimus sick in Miletus” (2 Tim. 4:20). Paul told Timothy to “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Tim. 5:23).
Paul told the Philippians that he sent “Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (Phil. 2:25-27). Obviously Epaphroditus was extremely sick for some time and notice that Paul expresses no sense of, “I prayed for him and God healed him.” Also, Paul writes that God “had mercy” on him to keep him from being too sad. Paul didn’t automatically expect him to be well again. And it sounds like he got well on his own; there’s no mention of healing in the text. Now I know that those who hold to believing that God always wants to heal will have an answer for each of these–I did! But if you listen closely to their answers they will seem more like contortion than exposition. I could go on, but then this would be a book rather than a blog.
By the way, those who think God does want to heal all Christians all the time have to explain why the overwhelming majority of all the Christians who have ever lived have died because of disease. If God always wants to heal, then the reason that these millions of Christians weren’t healed would have to be because of one of two things. One reason that the God-always-wants-to-heal advocates give is that the overwhelming majority of Christians died of disease throughout the ages because they didn’t have enough faith. They would have lived if they had not wavered in “I know you’ll heal me, God, if I just never confess other than ‘I know you’ll heal me, God.” But is that the way a loving earthy father works? Of course not! If a loving earthly father considers a child’s request to be in their best interest, the loving earthly father grants the request. But if a loving earthly father doesn’t think the child’s request is in that child’s best interest, then the loving earthly father will say No even if his son or daughter keeps chanting, “I believe you’re going to give it to me!” You’d think, “Wow, I raised a weird kid.”
The other reason they give is that millions upon millions of sincere Christians who weren’t healed didn’t approach God in precisely the right way—this is the “open sesame,” combination-lock God. One online article said you could “release God’s healing power…. Through speaking the Word to your sickness. Note carefully in the following verse [he refers to the verse about casting a mountain into the sea] that the believer must say clearly his need. This word must be spoken confidently. Here is a tool for you to keep using until the sickness leaves!”1 Again, is this the way a loving Father works?
Now, as I mentioned before, I still believe that sometimes our Father does choose to miraculously heal today, but He can’t be coerced. He doesn’t require you to ask in just precisely the right way—He’s our Father. If you lovingly ask Him, then He will give you what you ask… or not. Remember that even Jesus didn’t get one of His prayers granted by the Father. When on the verge of His crucifixion, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). But Jesus did have to drink from that cup—it was His Father’s will.
Now sometimes our Father might communicate to someone that they will be healed, and, if our Father does that, then they can ask with confidence and they will be healed!
In 1980, I was walking to class with a fellow seminarian who told me out of the blue, “I think you’ve backslidden.” I was shocked! What?! I immediately asked, “Why would you say that?” He replied, “Because if you got sick you no longer believe that God will heal you.” But I proclaimed, “I’ll believe in God even if He doesn’t heal me!” And frankly, that felt right. It still does. Even back then I thought, I can believe that God can heal me, but I’ll also believe that if He doesn’t heal me, then He knows best. I’ll believe in God even if I get a terminal disease and He doesn’t heal me. My faith isn’t dependent on my health or lack of it.
We can learn from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. In Daniel 3 we read that Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw them into a fiery furnace unless they worshipped him. They answered, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Now that’s faith! God is able to deliver us, O king, but even if God doesn’t deliver us, we will not worship your image.
In 2004, when I found out I had bone cancer, I asked our loving Father to heal me, but at the same time, I knew that our loving Father might not heal me. But, no matter what, I let the Father know, and I let everyone else know that, no matter what happened, I was going to honor God. Well, after a six and one half hour surgery, where I lost part of my spine to cancer—I’m well. That was January 2004 and I’ve been in great health ever since.
So please, if you know someone who is ill, especially someone who is terminally ill, don’t tell them that you know that God wants to heal them because, frankly, you don’t know that! And if you are very ill, it’s good to ask people to pray for you, and it’s good to ask God to heal you. I would! I have! But it’s not a lack of faith if you say, “I don’t know whether our Father will heal me or not, but I want everyone to know that I’m going to honor the Lord no matter what!” In fact, that’s faith!!
When you do that, you justify the judgment of Satan, his angels, and all of those who refuse to believe! I talk about this at length in my book in the last chapter, “How Does Suffering Relate to Our Eternal Occupation?.” I give the link to my book below.
- I’m not giving the reference because I’m not trying to single anyone out. [↩]