Prayer For Healing
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The passage most often quoted as authorizing prayer for the sick is found in the epistle of James and reads as follows: “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” James 5:13-16.


These verses have been subject to much dispute. Some hold that prayer for healing is no longer necessary, since we have well-trained physicians and surgeons as well as good hospitals giving efficient service. Under these conditions, there is no need for appealing to heaven for help that we can supply ourselves. Others take the position that healing is as much a part of the gospel as preaching, and that God intends that the two shall go hand in hand until the end of time.


As believers in the Bible and the divine commission to preach the gospel to every creature, we hold that it is our work to harmonize as nearly as possible with the pattern given us in the example and teaching of Jesus. This teaching includes the instruction given by James, wherein he counsels us that in the case of sickness the elders of the church are to be called to pray for the one who is sick, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith shall save the sick. Let us carefully review the exhortation that James gives.


James Speaks

“Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray.” The afflicted here mentioned may be any person who has one of the many ailments that beset men, which are not ordinarily fatal, but annoying and often painful. For such, James says, “Let him pray.”


God is interested in all that concerns us, and we may come to Him even what may seem trivial matters. That He asks us to come is in itself significant, for we cannot believe that God would invite us if all He had in mind were to ignore our plea. While permission to approach Him might not imply an unconditional promise to heal, it does show God’s interest in our welfare and certainly indicates that He is predisposed in our favor.


That we may come to Him with our minor afflictions also shows us that we are not to wait until some severe sickness or calamity overtakes us. We may appeal to Him at any time and in any matter whatsoever.


“Is any merry? Let him sing psalms.” There are times when all is well and we feel like singing. James advises us to sing, but suggests that we sing psalms. Singing releases pent-up feelings and is an excellent way to express our joy. However, James says we should be careful what we sing and calls our attention to psalms as a safe way to express ourselves and yet retain our hold upon God. How often in an unguarded moment, some little ditty comes to mind, or a snatch of a catchy tune, and before we are aware of what we are doing, we are humming some popular song not becoming to a Christian. Paul’s advice is to sing “with grace in your hearts to the Lord, “ using “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Colossians 3:16. After having received many stripes and being cast into prison, “at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God.” Acts 16:25. Singing praise to God is acceptable under all circumstances where song is called for.


“Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders.” This does not refer to a minor affliction as in verse 13, but to a more serious condition. The sick may already have prayed, but as no relief comes he feels the need of having others join him, and he calls for the elders of the church.


By “elders” are not here meant only the elected elders of the church, but men of experience in whom the sick have confidence and who will gladly respond when called upon. It is not official position that qualifies them, but an unction from on high, faith, consecration, humility, godly life, strict integrity, and a good report from them that are without. If they have official position, so much the better; but this is not necessary.


“Let him call.” This statement indicates that the sick initiates the call. It must be his personal desire, and no other pressure is to be brought on him to have the elders called. It must be of his own free will, and no one else is to take the responsibility to issue the call. However, there be those who are to sick to call, or who do not feel worthy of having the elders come, or who are too reticent to make their wishes known. In such cases, it is proper that others step in. In all these matters let Christian tact and courtesy be exercised.


We have known zealous and well-meaning church members who have asked the elders to come when there was no call from the sick and he was unaware of what was being done. This may cause embarrassment when he is unprepared for a visit. The sick should first be consulted and given time for preparation. The same holds true of the elders. They should be notified in time. Not all may be ready to come on a moment’s notice. At times, there are necessary arrangements and adjustments that must be made, as well as counsel with the other elders.


“Let them pray over him.” This suggests the little group of elders seeking God together and praying for the sick. The wording indicates that more than one should pray. In its strict interpretation, it would seem that all should pray, but this is possible only where the group is small and no one prays at length. Long prayers, or many prayers, are wearisome, do not profit anyone, and might easily have an adverse influence on the sick.


The Primary Question

Let no one think that he will be heard because he prays loud and long, or uses a “holy tone” or whining voice different from his usual manner of speaking. Oratorical expressions, high-sounding exclamations, pious platitudes, affected play on the emotions, and dictating to God has no place in prayer.

Let prayers be offered in simplicity and sincerity, with deep, abiding faith in God and His promises. There are occasions where the Spirit of God takes full control and hearts are melted. At such times let no one interfere with God’s workings. However, professional emotions and easy tears are not to be indulged in. Souls are at stake; a life is hanging in the balance. Let all be done with appropriate solemnity and holy decorum.


We have stated elsewhere that effective prayer must be in accordance with God’s will. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the elders ascertain what is the will of God in any particular case. The paramount question is not that of healing, but the ascertainment of God’s will.


This means that the elders should counsel and pray together before they approach the sick for prayer. Are all agreed that the time has come for prayer?  Are all agreed that it is God’s undoubted will that the sick be healed? Is it His will that he be healed now?  Will it be for God’s glory and for the good of the sick? Has he learned the lessons God has for him in this sickness? Has he abstained from, or does he now promise to abstain from, every evil habit? Does God desire instant healing, or will He use nature’s slower way? Is it possible that God may not think it best to heal at all, but the time has come for the sick to rest from his labors and sleep until the Lord comes? Is the sick willing to leave all in the hands of God? Will he cheerfully accept God’s way and will? Is he ready to say, Thy will be done?


Such preliminary counsel and prayer among the elders are necessary before they pray for the sick. They need to pray for themselves first. They need to come into agreement among themselves in regard to what they are to ask. Jesus said, “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 18:19. This promise is not to be discounted. It will be fulfilled, as are all other promises of God.


However, this promise must not be interpreted independently of and apart from other statements of Holy Writ. Every prayer to be heard must be according to the will of God, or the prayer will be in vain. It is a solemn thing to pray for and anoint the sick. It must not be done lightly and without preparation on the part of those who pray.


They must be in harmony. The counsel and prayer of the elders before they pray for the sick is an important part of God’s plan and must not be omitted.


We cannot emphasize too often that it is imperative for all who pray and expect their prayers to be answered, to pray according to God’s will. We sometimes are so anxious to have our will done that we forget that God is wiser than we, that however much we want a certain thing, it may not be for the best, and that God knows better than we do. We are likely to command God to do what we want done and forget that it might do much harm if our prayers were answered. It should be kept in mind that there are times when God lets us have our way to teach us a lesson, as when Israel “lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their souls.” Psalm 106:14,15. We must be particularly careful in our prayers for the sick lest we pray for what we ought not too.

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