I grew up watching the great "faith healers", such as Oral Roberts and Kathryn Kuhlman, who "laid their hands" on the "sick" and claimed to "heal" many people on national TV. I saw a lot of emotional energy being used by the "healer". Under the the pressure of the healer expectantly looking towards them I saw many claims of being healed. But I never saw anything that could be proved to be real. For instance, I never saw anyone who was missing an arm or a leg that had it instantly grow back. Over the years I've also been part of countless meetings where they prayed for sick people.
During the last two or three years of my dad's life we learned that he had lymphoma cancer (of the lymph nodes). My mom kept praying in faith for dad's healing. Even up until the end she believed that he would get well. In spite of her much praying in faith for his healing, he died of cancer at the age of 62. The day before he died he went down to the Veterans and filled out (for the second time) the paperwork for Mom to receive a veteran's pension, which supported mom for the rest of her life. Mom lived the remaining 20 years of her life alone, without him. Since Dad had made all the decisions in their marriage, after Dad dies Mom had much growing up to do, which she needed.
A few years before my mom died of brain cancer (before anyone knew she had the brain tumor), she went to countless healing meetings and went up to be healed. I saw what seemed to me like a very limited amount of "healing", but it seems that a placebo pill could have done about as good. Even after all those countless "healings" she was still afflicted by many ailments, and was still in bondage to her many fears.
How many times have I heard Christians quote James 5:13-15
"Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them 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 them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective."
The expectation seems to be the fulfillment of this simple formula: "Call elders" + "anoint with oil" = "sick person healed"
- A person gets sick, the call for the elders (of the church)
- The elders come and:
- lay their hands on the sick
- Anoint the sick person with oil
- The sick person gets well.
Over many years I've seen this formula used over and over and over again with the same results. Sometimes they got better, sometimes the sick people died. What I've seen many times is nothing more than the law of averages. The sick operson would have had the same results whether some prayed for them or not. I've seen nothing to indicate that "God supernaturally healed the sick person" after they had been prayed for. Even though many sick people were prayed for "in faith", many of them died. Why did the sick person die? Were not the elders praying the right way? Where they praying strong enough? Did they not have enough Faith?
I've also heard about and read of scientific studies 1 2 3 that have examined the power of prayer on sick people. There doesn't seem to be much, if any, scientific evidence that prayer actually helps those who are being prayed for.
I've been through some intensely traumatic times in my life where my family was split apart. I "prayed" intensely for my family to be put back together. Instead, things (seemingly) got worse for some years. I later found out that I was the problem. I needed to change. God had broken my family apart to bring healing into my life and into the lives of my loved ones. After my heart was thoroughly broken, God began to heal my heart. He brought my family back together we are now closer than we ever were before.
Through this experience, and others, I learned that God is always working for our good, not matter how we pray or IF we pray (by man's standards). Pray is so much more than the simple my previous understanding of "God, please give me that, and God, please do that over there." As if God didn't know what to do without my telling him.
Perhaps we have a misunderstanding of the James 5:13-15.
I would propose that we step out of our literal think and would think about the verse in a different way. "Is anyone sick4, Let him call the elders5 (since there were few doctors, get older, more knowledgeable persons) and let them pray6 7 8 (to come together and turn their minds towards the sick person. Let them decide how to be help and care for the sick person) over them and anoint them with oil9(In ancient times olive oil was used as a medicine) in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith10 11 will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective."
In ancient times the masses had little options for getting help with being sick, except to call for the elders, who were knowledgeable about how to care for sick people. In the present day, in our country, I would equate an "elder" with a doctor or other trained professional. I would take this verse, at least partly, to mean that when you or someone else is sick, go get some help. Get someone who has been trained and/or who has experience in whatever the problem may be. Sometimes the "elder" might be a doctor, or a counselor or anyone else who is knowledgeable and who can help.
From our limited human awareness, we don't know what to pray12 for. When we pray we often ask him to give us something or we tell God what to do. We look at life's situations from our limited human perspectives. We pray for things that we think are good or desirable. And yet, many times, God uses the extreme trials of life to grow us into his likeness, into being his beloved children.
God is doing a work in each of our lives. Often times God works through extreme trials that we don't desire (i.e. loss of a love one, loss of part of our body, being separated from loved ones for a time). He is working for our good. We can't pray our way out of it. We often pray from our fear and doubt, trying to escape the hand of God. We want to escape the cleansing hands of God. We pray,"Lord, take this trial from me." God replies, I am sending this cleansing hand upon you, to make you into my child of my likeness, who had my character. God will have his way with us not matter what we pray or what we do. God is the victor, and it is all for our good13.
We are often so concerned with the healing of our bodies. God wants to heal and complete our innermost being. Sometimes that means the loss of part of our body, or the loss of those who we love. But, when our eyes are finally opened, we can say in full faith and assurance, "Lord, have your way with me. Do with me as you see fit. You are my beloved Daddy. You always do what is best for me!
- 1. , “Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer ”, 2006. [Online]. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html?pagewanted=all.
- 2. , “Prayer's Power to Heal Strangers Is Examined”, 2005. [Online]. Available: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/14/AR2005071401695.html.
- 3. , “25 Intriguing Scientific Studies About Faith, Prayer and Healing”, 2010. [Online]. Available: http://onlinesurgicaltechniciancourses.com/2010/25-intriguing-scientific-studies-about-faith-prayer-and-healing/.
- 4. G770 (Mickelson's Enhanced Strong's Greek and Hebrew Dictionaries) G770 ἀσθενέω astheneo (as-then-eh'-o) v. 1. to be feeble (in any sense) [from G772] KJV: be diseased, impotent folk (man), (be) sick, (be, be made) weak Root(s): G772 [?]
- 5. G4245 (Mickelson's Enhanced Strong's Greek and Hebrew Dictionaries) G4245 πρεσβύτερος presbuteros (pres-boo'-ter-os) adj. 1. older 2. (as noun) a senior 3. (specially) an Israelite Sanhedrist 4. (figuratively) member of the celestial council 5. (Christian) "presbyter" [comparative of presbus "elderly"] KJV: elder(-est), old [?]
- 6. G4336 προσεύχομαι proseuchomai (pros-yoo'-khom-ai) v. 1. to pray to God, i.e. supplicate, worship [from G4314 and G2172] KJV: pray (X earnestly, for), make prayer Root(s): G4314, G2172
- 7. G4314 πρός pros (pros') prep. 1. forward to, i.e. toward 2. (genitive case) the side of, i.e. pertaining to 3. (dative case) by the side of, i.e. near to 4. (accusative case, usually) the place, time, occasion, or respect (which is the destination of the relation, i.e. whither or for which it is predicated) [a strengthened form of G4253, a preposition of direction] KJV: about, according to , against, among, at, because of, before, between, (where-)by, for, X at thy house, in, for intent, nigh unto, of, which pertain to, that, to (the end that), X together, to (you) -ward, unto, with(-in). In the comparative case, it denotes essentially the same applications, namely, motion towards, accession to, or nearness at Root(s): G4253
- 8. G2172 εὔχομαι euchomai (yoo'-khom-ai) v. 1. to wish 2. (by implication) to pray to God [middle voice of a primary verb] KJV: pray, will, wish Compare: G4336, G4727 See also: G685
- 9. G1637 (Mickelson's Enhanced Strong's Greek and Hebrew Dictionaries) G1637 ἔλαιον elaion (el'-ai-on) n. 1. olive oil [neuter of the same as G1636] KJV: oil Root(s): G1636
- 10. G4102 (Mickelson's Enhanced Strong's Greek and Hebrew Dictionaries) G4102 πίστις pistis (pis'-tis) n. 1. persuasion, i.e. credence 2. (morally) conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher) 3. (especially) reliance upon Christ for salvation 4. (abstractly) constancy in such profession 5. (by extension) the system of religious (Gospel) truth itself [from G3982] KJV: assurance, belief, believe, faith, fidelity Root(s): G3982
- 11. G3982 πείθω peitho (pei'-tho) v. 1. to convince (by argument, true or false) 2. (by analogy) to pacify or conciliate (by other fair means) 3. (reflexively or passively) to assent (to evidence or authority), to rely (by inward certainty) [a primary verb] KJV: agree, assure, believe, have confidence, be (wax) conflent, make friend, obey, persuade, trust, yield
- 12. "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God." Romans 8:26-27
- 13. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified" Romans 8:28-30