Praying for Healing
Vincent Yeung—Cambridge, UK
People often use the expression
“We need a miracle.” To them, a miracle is something that has a minimal chance
of occurring. When someone survives a car crash or when there are no fatalities
in a disaster, people would say that it was a miracle.
The word is now devoid of its
religious meaning, having nothing to do with God anymore. To most people, life
is just a random process and miracles part of that description. Even for
Christians, miracles are things of the distant past—plentiful in Jesus’ time
and in the apostolic church but almost non-existent today, especially in the
Miracles are not normally in the
forefront of our minds. They appear only when something is getting out of hand
and we have no choice but to turn to God for help. It’s no wonder that we see
fewer and fewer miracles today. Is God less powerful today then in the past? Is
God more accessible in Africa, where miracles
seem to be commonplace?
Many members who need our
intercession are suffering from cancer or other chronic or fatal illnesses.
When we pray for them, do we do so out of habit? Are we expecting a miracle?
We need to reconnect with God and
rediscover the meaning of miracles and our relationship with and trust in Him.
COMPASSION comes first
When we are in good health, it is
difficult to fathom the suffering of those who are severely hindered by their
illnesses. The unburdened and well off thank God for their many blessings,
taking good health for granted, assuming that those who are suffering from
serious illnesses are also able to have the same healthy, spiritual stamina.
But being struck with an illness
or afflicted with a long-term chronic condition does create a hindrance and may
prevent people from having the right mindset to pray to God. Anger and
frustration with their situation creep in, pain makes it difficult to
concentrate, and fatigue makes long prayers impossible.
It is helpful to shower the sick with
sympathy and physical support, but, more importantly, we need to help bring
them to God.
There are a number of examples in
the Bible where the sick were brought to Jesus, such as the blind man at Bethsaida (Mk 8:22) and the deaf man at the border of the Decapolis (Mk 7:32).
The ultimate example of support
that won the heart of Jesus was the case of a paralytic, recorded in Mark
chapter 2. Not only did people carry him to Jesus, they had to lower the
paralytic, on his bed, from the roof.
This troublesome and arduous
effort would have been too much for unconcerned people to perform. However, the
formidable faith of these men in bringing the paralytic to Jesus did not go
unnoticed (Mk 2:5). Seeing their faith, Jesus was moved to heal the paralytic
(Mk 2:11, 12).
We should not underestimate the
power of intercession, even if we are not the person in suffering or part of
their close circle of family and friends. Our love and empathy towards the sick
and our unmovable trust in Jesus manifested as selfless sacrifices will touch
Compassion and faithful action are
particularly important when the sick are incapable of praying for themselves,
whether they are children, in a coma, depressed, or debilitated by their
illnesses. However, the intercession of others is not enough. The faith of
those who are sick and their family are also important in bringing about a
State of mind
Faith Is Needed for a Miracle to Happen
As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him
drink. We can bring someone to church and pray with and for him, but ultimately
he needs to believe and have trust in Jesus.
When the church intercedes for someone who is sick and he does not
improve, it appears as if Jesus failed to listen to our prayers. In such cases,
we should ask ourselves: Is it God’s will that this person should not recover?
Are we praying hard enough? Have we sinned against God, thereby making our
If these questions are not the problem, we have to consider the faith of
the one we are praying for. Even Jesus could not help when people refused to
believe in Him. When He went back to His hometown, people despised Him because
they knew His family and His upbringing. They had heard of His mighty power and
acknowledged His wisdom, yet they refused to accept and believe (Mk 6:1-6).
The Gospel according to Mark highlights an important fact—because of
their unbelief, Jesus “could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His
hands on a few sick people and healed them” (Mk 6:5).
God’s power is limitless, but His work is constrained and curtailed by
man’s faithlessness. Therefore, Jesus
exhorted, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” (Mk
9:23). It is up to us, not God, to make miracles happen.
Faith and Unbelief Coexist
The disciples were often noted to be of “little faith” (Mt 6:30, 8:26,
14:31, 16:8; Lk 12:28). It is ironic that Jesus’
followers were so close to Him, praying with Him and learning from Him, yet so
far away from Him in faith.
Our faith and trust in Jesus are no different; they peak and ebb with
the events in our life. When we are close to God, such as when we attend
spiritual convocation and theological training, we feel energized and empowered
by God. When we are knocked off our
course by unforeseen events, when we or our loved one are afflicted with
illness, doubt creeps in and our faith falters.
Knowing our limitations as mere mortals, it is not shameful to tell
others that we are weak and need help. A father once asked Jesus for help
because his son had a mute spirit in him (Mk 9:17). Jesus exhorted the father
to believe in God, yet the father cried out, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
The antithesis between belief and unbelief is astounding. The two
co-exist and intertwine within our hearts. The struggle between faith and
reason, trust and distrust, patience and frustration, plays out within our
heart. We constantly wonder, God is able but is He willing?
We should not fall into the trap of thinking that a good Christian is a
perfect Christian. There is no doubt that “whatever is not from faith is sin”
(Rom 14:23). However, we are deluding ourselves if we say that we have absolute
faith and have no sin (1 Jn 1:8).
Weaknesses and sin are a part of life. While we are on earth, we will
still be prone to falling short of God’s glory. But that does not mean we
cannot come before God to ask for forgiveness and help.
Jesus did not reject the father or rebuke him because of his unbelief.
Instead, He showed mercy by casting out the spirit from the boy.
Jesus can feel and understand our infirmities and hopelessness, and we
are able to obtain mercy and find grace in our time of need (Heb 4:15, 16). All
we need to do is to pick up whatever little and feeble faith we have and plead
to Him for help: “Lord, help my unbelief!”
Trust in God During
We often ask ourselves whether we should we take medicine or go to the
doctor when we are not well. Often, the prevailing mentality is, “Surely the
faithful seek God’s help rather than solve their problem using their own
The tension between seeking God’s healing alone
and using medicine to relieve suffering was already being voiced 180 years
before Jesus’ time: Ben Sirach, a Jewish scholar and
scribe, suggested that doctors’ skills and remedies came from God.
It is true that God has granted humans wisdom, which has resulted in
innovation and advancement. Seeking medical help is not a sign of
faithlessness, but we should be aware of its limitations. Medicine and doctors
can do a lot of good, but the power of healing ultimately lies with God. In
fact, praying for God’s help and receiving medical treatment go hand in hand.
Many miracles in the Bible happened instantaneously. Jesus uttered a
word and immediately the paralytic arose (Mk 2:12), the leprosy left the leper
(Mk 1:42), and the deaf-mute’s ears opened and his tongue loosed (Mk 7:35).
However, sometimes healing was a process rather than an event.
There was an exceptional example in Mark where healing took place
gradually. Jesus spat on a blind man’s eyes and put His hands on him. The blind
man could see again but not clearly. Jesus put His hands on his eyes again and
made him look up, and his sight was restored (Mk 8:23-25).
We may wonder at the purpose of this gradual healing, as Jesus could
have healed the man instantly without touching him. The process of gradual
improvement to complete recovery can be a tumultuous path for the sick; any
setback in their treatment is a blow to their morale and chips away their trust
Yet, God wants us to have total trust in Him. The suffering we
experience serves as a reminder of our frailty and dependence on God. Job
described his suffering as a refinement process—his faith would be like pure
gold after the dross and impurities have been removed by the fire of
We should not underestimate God’s power in our healing, even if we are
receiving medical treatment and praying for God’s healing simultaneously. We
should not neglect God’s guiding hand and how He navigates our path to
recovery. Though this path may be long and filled with small victories instead
of instant health, we cannot waver in our faith and trust in His power.
It is ultimately God who decides whether or not we will respond to
treatment. We should be thankful for His providential care, understanding that
God’s healing is not necessarily always a dramatic event. Every little grace
and care along our path to recovery should be seen as God’s healing hand.
From a secular perspective, a
miracle is an event that does not follow the laws of nature. From a biblical
perspective, a miracle (σημειον), which is also translated as “sign,” is
associated with healing (Act 4:22), wonders, and power (2 Cor
In Jesus’ ministry, preaching the
kingdom of God and healing all kinds of sickness are indissolubly linked (Mt
4:23, 9:35). Sin and death reigned in the world because of Adam (Rom 5:12; cf.
Gen 3:22), but through faith many were delivered spiritually and physically (Mk
2:5; Mt 9:22). Through the power of Jesus’ name, many were healed (Acts 4:10),
demonstrating God working among His chosen people (Acts 15:12).
Miracles still happen in our church today: a sister in Africa was
pronounced dead but was brought back to life by prayer; a demon-possessed woman
was restored after intercession and denouncing idol worship; a brother who was
afflicted with a terminal brain tumor returned home to die after baptism, but
God empowered him to live and bear witness to his family and local villagers.
This brother’s unmovable faith and inner peace enabled him to bring many to
There are clouds of witnesses to God’s guiding hand during illnesses and
rehabilitations, which are too numerous to recount here.
God works in mysterious ways in our life, so we do not know the timing
of His healing or the path that it will take. Yet, we should bear in mind that
God can only work in us and in those we pray for according to the depth and
breath of our trust in Him.
Death and illness are inevitable
(Heb 9:27), but, as long as Jesus reigns in our heart, we are empowered to
overcome the anxiety and sorrow death causes in us. On one level, miracles
restore health, but, on a higher level, they denote the comfort, peace, and
tranquility that belief and trust in God bring.
Miracles come only with an unmovable trust in God, support from friends
and family, and two well-worn knees.