Biblical Wisdom for those in Healing Ministry
Jesus said “go … preach … heal the sick” (Matthew 10:7-8)
For a study of the theological aspects of healing, see Healing
At the outset we acknowledge that God is sovereign and moves in mysterious ways. Kathryn Kuhlman once said:
I’ve never written a book on the how and why of divine healing – simply because I don’t know the how and the why.
But from the Bible we can identify some basic healing guidelines, including what not to do.
1. Who is the Healer?
Let’s be clear on this. We live in a spiritual world and Christians are engaged in a battle against ‘spiritual forces of wickedness’ (Eph 6:12). These forces are very deceptive (2 Cor 11:5-15) and their powers are very real (Exod 7:10-12). When Aaron threw his staff down before Pharaoh and it became a snake, Satan imitated the miracle:
Then Pharaoh called for the wise men and the sorcerers, and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same with their secret arts. (Exod 7:11)
Satan imitates what God does, and that includes healing. So we are told to ‘test the spirits’ (1 John 4:1) and any form of healing that has a spiritual root other than Christ should be avoided. For example, the New Age concept of Reiki healing involves ‘channelling’ or contact with ‘spirit guides’ – something expressly forbidden in scripture (Deut 18:11). Similarly, although often passed off as physically and mentally helpful, Yoga has hidden spiritual roots which can cause real harm. So in order to distinguish God’s healing from other forms of healing (some of which can be very real due to Satanic powers), it is vital to acknowledge that Jesus is the healer at all times (Isa 53:4)(Mat 8:17). Peter said to the paralyzed man:
Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed (Acts 9:34)
True, God-given healing is always through Jesus Christ (Acts 3:6), and His power. Man is simply His instrument through whom healing is sometimes administered. So beware of all forms of ‘divine healing’ that do not honour Jesus as the healer. Jesus is the only true healer. He healed 2000 years ago (Lk 7:20-23) and gave His disciples authority (Mat 10:1)(Mark 3:15) and power (Luke 24:49)(Acts 1:5) to heal in His name (Acts 3:6) as a sign of the Kingdom of God. This same Jesus rose from the dead and lives today to give the same authority and power to modern-day disciples. And He lives to answer our prayers for healing even when we do not have the anointing of the Holy Spirit (as for example in a healing ministry or the gift of healing).
2. Essential Theology on Healing
Before we consider how we might pray for healing, or minister healing, we need to summarise Biblical teaching on healing. The main point is that sin and sickness are inextricably linked and both were dealt with by Christ’s death on the cross:
(The LORD) Who pardons all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases (Ps 103:3)
Our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried … He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities … and by His scourging we are healed (Isa 53:4-5)
He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases (Mat 8:17)
His death freed man from the ‘the curse of the law’ (Gal 3:13). What does this law mean? It was a law which required a completely perfect life to impress God, and also a law which caused all creation to ‘groan’ (Rom 8:18-23). It was a law that resulted in a death penalty for sin, and also a fallen creation – which includes sickness. The victory of Christ’s death over this curse (He took the curse for us) is underscored by two redemptive names of God:
JEHOVAH-TSIDKENU meaning “The Lord our Righteousness”
JEHOVAH-RAPHA meaning “The Lord our Physician”
Our Sin: The ‘curse of the law’ meant that our sin before God had a penalty – death. But by faith we accept the forgiveness of sin that Christ offers as He took that curse. We believe we are ‘saved’ from God’s judgement of our sin and that we are reconciled to God through Christ (Isa 53:5)(John 3:18). So believers should consider themselves ‘dead to sin’ (Rom 6:11) in the sense that they no longer wilfully sin. The fact that they still fall into sin is acknowledged in the Bible, and there is an antidote (1 John 1:9).
Our Health: The ‘curse of the law’ also brought a fallen world (Gen 3:14-19), a world of accidents and disasters, a world of human imperfection, a world of sick people (Rom 8:18-23). But Christ’s death on the cross also took our sickness, disease and pains. Like our sin, they were carried ‘carried away’ (Mat 8:17). But, like on-going sin, we often get sick! The good news is that, just like on-going sin has an antidote, there is an antidote to on-going health problems. This is the subject of our study on healing.
So healing the sick is a sign of the kingdom of God and confirms the truth of the gospel message:
He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God, and to perform healing … heal those who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’ (Luke 9:2, 10:9)
3. But we still get sick, and some are not healed!
3.1 We still get sick
Remember that we live in a fallen world which is under God’s curse (Genesis 3) and the whole creation, including ourselves, is groaning and imperfect (Rom 8:18-23). We are freed from sin – but we still sin, and we are freed from sickness – but we still get sick! Theologically, we say the kingdom of God is both now (in healing power) and not yet (in on-going sickness). The kingdom of God has not yet fully come upon the earth (Luke 21:31).
There must be a reason for the sickness or disease. It may be our own fault e.g. lung cancer through smoking, or environmental and beyond our control (industrial pollution or nuclear accident), or physical disablement from a car crash, or a birth defect, or spiritual attack. Whatever the cause, the good news is that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13) and so we can come to Him for healing. Apart from Paul’s case, there is no record of Jesus saying “sorry, you must suffer a little longer with this illness”. And given the diagnosis of a potential illness, we can claim Isa 53:4-5 and believe in faith that it has already been dealt with by Christ’s sacrifice, just like our past and future sin. Unless God tells us otherwise (see Section 5.3), we can simply claim ‘Christ has borne away this disease’ and we could recite the following statement of faith:
3.2 Some are not healed
Despite the prayer of faith, the fact remains that some are not healed. Paul had to leave his friend Trophimus in Miletus because he was sick (2 Tim 4:20). Maybe Paul had prayed but clearly Trophimus hadn’t been healed at that time. And Paul encouraged his young Pastor friend Timothy at Ephesus to ‘use a little wine for his frequent ailments’ (1 Tim 5:23).
We all know people, Christians included, who have not been healed despite obedience, repentance, authority, power, faith, prayer, and compassion. Does this negate the promises of Isa 53:4-5? No! Paul had a physical problem – possibly an eye problem (Gal 4:13-15) – and he was not healed despite his petitioning the Lord three times (2 Cor 12:8). We are given several reasons why Paul wasn’t healed. His physical problem enabled him to evangelise the Galatians (Gal 4:13). But Paul highlights another reason. Jesus gave him a powerful healing ministry, and to keep him from boasting he was given a form of weakness (2 Cor 12:7). It was to keep him humble and to remember his human weakness. Jesus told him:
My strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9)
C.S. Lewis recognised this too. He argued that there must be some reason for on-going physical ‘tortures’:
The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary.
As in Paul’s case, Lewis argues there must be a reason for an on-going ‘torture’ or sickness. Put another way, since it is normally God’s will for us to be healed, there must be a reason why healing does not take place. Events in the Christian life don’t follow laws of randomness and chance (Rom 8:28). Healing may not always happen because of God’s sovereign wisdom and understanding of the situation (human lives are complex). In Paul’s case God revealed it, but often we never know why.
4. What about Faith?
Let’s first consider the sick person. From the biblical records it seems people usually had to ask for healing – they had to exercise faith in Jesus (Mark 1:40-42, 5:25-34)(Mat 9:21,27-28). Jesus was sometimes amazed when people expressed strong faith in Him (Luke 7:9). From the gospels it seems that a person’s faith in Christ was enough to release the healing power in Christ; in such cases Jesus said:
your faith has made you well (Mat 9:22,29)(Luke 17:19, 18:42)
But what if the sick person does not have strong faith? Jesus didn’t heal many in Nazareth because of their unbelief (Mat 13:58), and so this may be one reason why someone is not healed. Having said that, there are no hard and fast rules. Kathryn Kuhlman sites cases when God has healed people who have had no faith whatsoever! Apparently a sick person does not necessarily need faith to receive healing. We cannot insist that healing has not occurred because of their lack of faith! God even heals when a person is not primarily looking for healing (Acts 3:1-10).
On the other hand we are told that it is impossible to please God without faith (Heb 11:6). So it seems that at least those praying for, or ministering healing, should have faith (although, as in Nazareth, a recipient’s lack of faith may still prevent healing). In this case it seems it is the faith of the believer that releases the power of God given to them by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). They need:
- Faith in the written word as absolute truth
- Faith in God alone and not in our own determination and will
- Faith in God’s faithfulness and not in our faith
- Faith in God’s wisdom and understanding of the situation
- Faith in God’s power to heal any sickness (Lk 7.20-23)
- Faith in God’s goodness, love and compassion (John 16.27)
- Faith in God’s desire to heal in His way and His time
So when we pray for healing in Jesus’ name we have faith in the power and wisdom and compassion and faithfulness and love of God, coupled with the knowledge that we are human and often lack wisdom and knowledge about the situation. We show faith by simply praying for healing. And when we minister healing to someone, we are moving out in faith together with spiritual gifts – we may be ‘endued with power’ at that time, such as a ‘word of knowledge’ or ‘discernment’ about the situation. In such cases we may be able to say with absolute confidence, like Peter (Acts 3:6), that God has healed, or will heal at a particular time or place (see Section 5.3).
4.1 The Effect of a lack of Faith and Prayer
Given His power, Jesus expected His disciples to ‘heal the sick’ as instructed (Mat 10:1-8), and He got frustrated when their faith fell short (Mat 17:14-21)(Mark 9:14-29). Apparently they lacked faith in certain situations and because of this no healing took place. Like the disciples we often lack confidence in praying for the sick and that cannot please Jesus.
Also, it is not helpful to have unbelief around us even when we have the confidence to pray for healing. As mentioned, even Jesus himself could not heal much when people around Him disbelieved (Mat 13:58)(Mark 6:1-6).
5. Healing Guidelines: Possible Scenarios
In scripture we can identify several scenarios in which healing is sought. Clearly, the sick person can pray to God themselves, or others can intercede in prayer for them, or they can receive prayer ministry:
5.1 Healing through individual prayer
If we are obviously sick in some way, we have several choices in prayer. We can simply ask God to take the problem away, expecting Him to do so (Mark 11:24), and thanking Him in anticipation (Phil 4:6). We might feel able to say the statement of faith in Section 3 and stand on the fact that Jesus has already ‘taken away’ our sickness. Such a stand is also appropriate if we feel the sickness is from spiritual attack. If we perceive such attack, we can command all such attacks to go in the name of Jesus.
If we do not receive healing, even after some time, we can plead, beg and implore Him like Paul did with his apparent physical problem. But then there were reasons why Paul was not healed and this might be our problem too. Are we right with God or with others? Is there is a problem that needs dealing with first?
Of course we can ask others to pray for us, although our problem might be deep rooted and we need prayer ministry. It may need the spiritual insight and wisdom of others with a healing ministry, and the healing process may take some time. If we sense this, we should seek ministry.
5.2 Healing through Petition (Intercessory) Prayer
What about praying for the sick? Some claim that we should not pray for the sick, rather, we should heal the sick. They argue from Christ’s work on the cross and His authority and power He has given His church (Section 2). In fact, both are true since prayer and healing the sick are linked.
For instance, Jesus said that sometimes prayer is essential in order to deliver (heal) people from demonic spirits (Mark 9:29), Peter prayed before turning to the dead body of Dorcas and commanding her to ‘arise’ (Acts 9:40), Paul prayed for the father of Publius before laying his hands on him and healing him (Acts 28:8), the disciple John prayed that his friend Gaius would be in ‘good health’ (3 John 2), and James, a leader in the Jerusalem church, instructed the church elders to pray for the sick. But it helps if the sick person first asks for prayer (Jesus usually healed only when He was asked to heal). Likewise, a church should respond when asked:
Is anyone among you sick? 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 offered in faith will restore the one who is sick (James 5:14-15)
These examples highlight two levels of healing prayer, one deeper than the other. Perhaps the most common approach in Christian fellowships is what we might be call ‘petition prayer’. Often when we are called to pray like this we have no real understanding of the medical situation and we are not moving in ‘Spirit-led’ ministry with Spiritual insight and gifts (Section 5.3). Some would claim we are not moving in the fullness that Jesus wants for His church. Nevertheless, we are faithful and fervent in prayer and ask God ‘in the name of Jesus’. In such cases we are really petitioning God (pleading with Him) to heal the person, whatever that problem might be. Lacking spiritual insight, we cannot be sure how, when or where God will heal, or even if He will heal, but we do pray having confidence in the power, wisdom, compassion, faithfulness and love of God. So it is very reasonable to pray like this because we know that it is normally God’s will to heal.
Other important points in petition prayer: firstly, the prayer is offered in faith by the elders (as discussed, the sick person does not need faith). It seems God often waits for such prayers of faith before healing takes place. Secondly, these prayers may be accompanied with the anointing of oil, depending upon how the Spirit leads (see also Mark 6:13). In Jesus’ time oil was a rudimentary medicine (Lk 10.34), but many believe that oil that has been blessed also brings a spiritual dimension – bringing the presence of God closer to the sick person. The blessing of any medicines being taken by the person can also mitigate side effects of medicine. Lastly, sometimes there is an obstacle to healing which needs dealing with first; there may be another problem we have not seen. We may even be praying against God’s will. Perhaps we need to be praying on a different level?
The above examples indeed highlight a deeper level of healing prayer. Such prayer was followed by direct action as the people concerned moved in authority and power over the sickness. This leads us to healing through what might be called ‘ministry and command’.
5.3 Healing through Ministry and Command – Spiritual Gifts
Apart from the raising of Lazarus from the dead, there is no instance in the gospels where Jesus prays directly for the healing of the sick. Rather, He acted firmly with authority and power towards sickness. He commanded, and healing happened, totally and quickly. Does this apply today? Consider the following scenario:
Many would engage in petition or intercessory prayer. In many churches it’s seen as the most common and ‘safest’ response. After all, to act firmly as Jesus did might not work and the problem might not go away! Nevertheless, as discussed, petition prayer is scriptural, if not ideal.
But some might step out in faith and attempt to deal with the situation firmly, as Jesus did. They observe the command to ‘heal the sick’ (Luke 9:2) and base their actions on biblical theology and a knowledge of the authority and power Jesus gave His church. They stand upon the fact that His death on the cross ‘carried away our diseases’ (Section 2). This may or may not be the right approach and great damage can result if such action is not appropriate at this time.
There is a danger in appropriating the healing work Christ did on the cross (Section 2) and on this basis alone claiming healing for the person. It is wrong to minister healing by simply attributing power to the words we confess and to our faith. Such an approach could be seen as a ‘healing method’ or ‘mantra’, even heresy. This is done for example in the Word of Faith Movement (see opposite). Rather, shouldn’t we first ask ‘what is the mind of the Spirit – what is God thinking about the situation?’ Shouldn’t we acknowledge that people are only healed through the move of the Holy Spirit and by the power of Christ (Luke 24:49)(Acts 1:5,8)? The woman with an issue of blood was healed by her faith releasing power from Christ, and Christ alone (Mark 5:28-34).
Lastly, we could cite the case of Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ (2 Cor 12:7-8). He lived after Christ’s resurrection and so Isaiah 53 verses 4-5 applied! Why didn’t Paul claim his healing through Christ’s healing work on the cross? He had great faith, so why didn’t he simply confess his healing through Christ’s sacrifice? Perhaps because he recognised that his healing was actually subject to the will of Christ, and was not determined through his strong faith and the power of his words!
This is where we must recognise the importance of spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:4-11). They are essential when ‘ministering’ over sickness in a firm way like Jesus did. Such ministry may involve the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, discernment, faith and healing. The gifts may be ‘transient’ – for the immediate situation (1 Cor 12:11) – or someone may be present with a healing ministry. The gifts may give a special revelation from God about the situation and reveal hidden problems that need dealing with before healing can take place. They may give instruction as to how to pray and what to pray for. They may, through a word of knowledge, encourage someone to ask for healing. This type of healing ministry will certainly involve people who are ‘filled with the Spirit’ (Eph 5:18, Acts 6:3, 7:55, 11:24, 13:52) – prayerful people who are listening to the Spirit, whilst having the compassion and love of Christ for the sick.
So before embarking upon this assertive type of healing ministry we must ask ourselves:
- Are we looking to Christ and His presence? Are we waiting for Him and listening to Him? Are we expecting His Spirit to move in power? Are we being moved by His Spirit to pray in an assertive way?
- Or are we simply looking to theology and attributing healing power to the words we confess and the faith we have?
If the latter, then perhaps we should refrain from declaring healing in case we harm the sick (impose guilt upon them) and harm the faith of those praying. But if we discern that spiritual gifts are present and that the Spirit is moving, then we can humbly embark upon such ministry. It will be as though we have the mind of Christ and know His will at that time. We will move against the sickness ‘in His name’ – meaning we come in His stead, just as though Jesus Himself is there to heal. We may be assured by the Spirit that Jesus is going to heal there and then and can pray with confidence “Be healed in Jesus name”. Like Peter we can command in Jesus’ name “rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6). We can confidently stand on the authority and power Jesus gave his disciples, and heal the sick (Mat 10:1, Mark 3:15, Luke 9:1, 10:19).
But even if those praying are not operating in this way, we are sometimes moved by the Spirit in anger against the sickness (as an enemy) and we are led to rebuke the sickness in Jesus’ name (Luke 4:39). Again, these are times when we stand upon the authority Christ gave His church over sickness.
Healing Guidelines: Examples
The writer of this article has found that the Lord sometimes works in ways we least expect.
- A Christian lady had lost all feeling in her feet and legs (apart from tingling). The problem persisted for months without a medical solution. She was then prayed for (specific prayer was made) and, suddenly, after two weeks, the normal feeling in her legs was restored.
- A Christian man with a knee injury from many years back suddenly had extreme pain in the knee. He was prayed for (again, specific prayer) and later that day his knee suddenly ‘cracked’ as he was standing, and the pain went.
- Another Christian man had severe swelling in the lower leg near his ankle, making it very painful to walk. After specific prayer, he felt ‘heat’ and the swelling went down within minutes.
- An old Christian lady had been suffering severe back pain for a week. But she and her husband had great faith and so the three of us prayed for complete deliverance from the pain. Within minutes she stood up and announced (with some surprise) that the pain had gone! She then sat down to test her back, and again, no pain! In the following days she seemed to have more energy than her husband.
In all four cases there was strong faith in Christ’s authority and power over pain. The writer also felt ‘pushed’ by the Holy Spirit to go and pray for these situations.
But, in contrast, Jesus sometimes heals even when faith is fragile and knowledge of Him is minimal. This was the case for an old woman who had severe pain at the back of her head. This persisted for months and to relieve the pain the doctors had given her an electrically heated loop to place around her kneck. She was repeatedly prayed for over a period of weeks, and the pain gradually faded. After several months she was pain-free! We told her to give God the glory and gave her a booklet on essential Bible topics.
Healing Guidelines – Summary
Healing of the sick rests upon the work Christ did on the cross, the clear promises of Scripture, and upon the faith and authority (in Christ) of those praying or ministering. But we must acknowledge where we are in praying for, or ministering to, the sick. If we are not operating in the spiritual gifts Christ gives His church, if we are not moved by the Spirit or receive a special revelation from God about the situation, if we do not feel ‘anointed with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49), then our prayers are more like petition prayers – which can be equally effective. Great damage can be done by pretending otherwise e.g. by claiming healing. We should be humbly aware of our limitations at any point in time!
- Remember that healing glorifies God, and God alone (John 9.3). In fact, God wants the glory when healing takes place (Lk 17:18) – so give it to Him! It is easier to glorify God in a public healing scenario than in private (Lk 7:11-17)
- Remember that healing is often used as verification of the truth of the gospel. The good news of salvation in Christ is preached, the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and the sick are healed (Mat 10:7-8)(Luke 7:22). In fact, wherever a believer goes, they take the kingdom of God with them (Luke 17:21)
- Remember that healing is by the power of the Holy Spirit and not simply by our words and our faith (avoid animism)
- Remember that healing is normally God’s will, even in old age (Exod 23:25-26)(Ps 103:5)(Job 5:26)
- Remember that, even though a situation looks impossible from a human point of view, it is possible with God (Luke 18:27)
- Remember that praying ‘in the name of Jesus’ means to pray in the person of Jesus. In other words, we are speaking the mind of Jesus, just as though He was there. Avoid using the phrase like a mantra!
- Have faith in God alone, and not in ‘methods’ of healing. Turn our minds to the Father, or to Jesus
- Be encouraged – your prayers can be very effective (James 5:16)
- It helps to be ‘specific’ in prayer. Don’t just pray for a release of the pain. If we know there is a whiplash injury from a car accident, then pray for healing of the neck! But be aware that God may heal a completely different complaint
- When Jesus healed the sick He also had compassion for them (Mat 9:35-36)(Mat 14:14)(Mark 1:41). He was concerned and cared for them. Likewise, our prayer must be ‘heartfelt’ – full of the compassion and the love of Jesus for that person
- Always be ‘positive’ in prayer, not emphasising the sickness, but see the person as whole and well, as God normally wants them to be
- The time factor: ask God for healing but do not try to tell Him how or when to heal. Remember there is sometimes a time interval over which healing occurs (‘process healing’). Sometimes the sick person needs time to work back to the source of the problem. Suffering can persist until, at some point, God is there to heal (deliberate delay – John 11:6) (many years – John 9:1-3) (12 years – Mat 9:20-22) (18 years – Luke 13:11). In the Bible, when the time was right, God healed instantaneously and was glorified. If the person feels partial healing, let them know that God sometimes heals over a period of time
- Unless the Spirit speaks very clearly to us, never promise a person that God is going to heal them, or tell someone they are healed after prayer or ministry. Wait until they confirm it themselves. If the person feels that they have been healed, ask them to test their healing e.g. walk without the support
- Although we may be praying a petition prayer (we lack spiritual insight), we can still pray in confidence. We can be confident in the faithfulness of God. We can still have faith that God in some way will hear and answer our prayer. To end a petition prayer in ‘if it be Your will’ acknowledges that we may well not know what God’s will is in the situation, but it weakens our confidence in prayer. Underneath we start to believe that nothing really is going to happen! In contrast, Jesus said:
Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them (Mark 11:24)