While the work of neurologists, physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, and counselors is often important in healing and restoration, effective healing prayer is often absent from the recovery process. This prayer, which acts on its own or as a powerful catalyst to other approaches, invites the supernatural intervention of God into an individual’s life and circumstances through the Holy Spirit. In the same way, doctors, psychologists, therapists, and other professionals can join those actively involved in the ministry of healing prayer to promote healing. All of these can be the means of God’s grace, often powerfully so when all work together as a team.
Although religion and medicine have divided over the last several centuries, both have something of value to offer those needing healing, and they even seem to be beginning to draw together again. Studies of the relation between the two have been underway since as early as 1902, and as of the year 2000, they numbered some 1500 with the vast majority having been completed within the previous two decades.
Training is as important for those who pray for healing as it is for professionals who heal. Prayer can have little or no effect if those who pray lack understanding and training. Such an assertion is often met with a skeptical response like, “You mean that God will ignore us if we do not get the prayer just right?” The answer to that question is that God listens to all prayers. But He also desires to work with and through His people in healing, and they can pray and behave in ways that render the prayer ineffective and thus block healing. The understanding and training are, in large measure, to help those who pray learn how to get out of the way and allow God to work without restriction. This is quite different than the directive petitions, the perfunctory prayers, or the well-crafted but powerless words that so often characterize the prayers of the church.
Healing prayer is particularly suited for the sinned against. Whatever the cause, and whether they are in deep pain or simply uncomfortable, their wounding is real and must be treated as such. Regardless of for whom healing prayer is offered, the basics of healing prayer are the same: praise, petition, invitation, listening and prophecy.
Praise is a spoken or heartfelt acknowledgment of the character and power of God, and it is how believers come into God’s presence. Psalm 22:3 teaches that God dwells in the praises of His people, and Romans 5:6 translates as ungodly a word that means a refusal to worship or praise. Praise is not the appeasement of an angry or insecure and needy God. It is the recognition of His greatness, beauty, and love. In the process of praise, those who pray begin to see and understand who God is, and this helps them pray in His will. Praise invites His presence and illuminates all prayer.
Petition is sharing one’s heart and needs with God. Often, this is the only thing people pray. In healing prayer, sometimes the real needs of those being prayed for are disguised or even unknown to them. It is not uncommon to hear a request for prayer for stress, for example, when the real need is for forgiveness, or release from addiction, or healing from abuse. So while the petitioners do pray for the need that has been expressed, they also invite in the Holy Spirit.
Invitation is asking the Holy Spirit to visit right now and do whatever needs to be done. He can reveal what needs to be known, bring forth confession where it is needed, and heal what is truly wounded. The invitation to Him is without restriction: He is invited to go wherever He needs to and to uncover whatever needs to be brought to the light and healed or excised. Listening for God’s leading during the prayer will often reveal things not mentioned in the petition.
Listening is paying attention to what God says to us, what He shows us, or where He leads us in further petition for the person being prayed for. In 1 Samuel 3:10, Samuel says to God, “Speak, for Your servant is listening” (NASB). This is the opposite of most prayers, which are more like, “Listen, Lord, for Your servant is speaking.” When those who pray invite God to lead them, to speak to them, or reveal truth to them, He will do His part and honor their request. The part of the petitioners is to listen for God’s instruction.
Prophecy is receiving God’s leading and acting upon it. Sometimes this is in the form of a “word of knowledge” or a “word of wisdom.” Other times it is simply a deeper and more profound love for the person being prayed for. Prophecy in this context can be either a revelation of the person’s life, healing, and needs, or a forth-telling—speaking Scripture or God’s love into a person’s circumstances. This is sharply distinguished from letting fly “Scripture arrows,” or simply quoting Scripture based on one’s own motivation, agenda, or theological training, or offering counseling disguised as prayer. True leading is not from the knowledge and skill of the person praying (no matter how well-intended), but from God’s Spirit-revealed will.
These five elements of prayer are descriptive, not prescriptive. They are not requirements that God lays down, in the absence of which prayer will not be heard. They describe prayer that is humble in its access, desirous of God’s leading, and focused on invitation and willingness to receive Him. In a moment of crisis, the single word “Jesus!” can fulfill every need in prayer. Thus, the purpose of these guidelines is not to create a prayer legalism, but rather to help those who pray attune themselves to the work and ways of the One who heals.
The Holy Spirit and the Church
Why is the Holy Spirit invited in healing prayer? Why not the Father or the Son? In fact, in Matthew 6:9 did not Jesus teach us to pray, “Our Father.… ”? Evidence of the confusion surrounding this issue can be found by listening to people pray. Their petitions often sound something like this: “Lord, we pray for healing, Father, for our friend Martha. Lord, you know how she needs You. Lord Jesus, we ask for Your touch, Father, that she might find wholeness, yes Lord Jesus, and restoration.” The purpose here is not to impugn the motives of those who pray in this random way, but to point out that their prayers seem to indicate a lack of understanding of to Whom it is we pray and Who acts in response.
The first issue here is the Hearer of our prayer. When Christians pray, they pray to God. They do not have to decide which god is appropriate for their needs, because while they believe there are three Persons in the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—there is only one God. Each of these Persons is unique, and they are in eternal, self-giving, mutually glorifying relationship to one another: Three in One. The church asserts this in the Athanasian Creed:
We worship one God in trinity, and trinity in unity; Neither confounding the persons; nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one: the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, the Holy Spirit is uncreated. The Father is immeasurable, the Son is immeasurable, the Holy Spirit is immeasurable. The Father is eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet there are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated, nor three immeasurable, but one uncreated, and one immeasurable. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty. And yet there are not three almighties, but one almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet there are not three Gods, but one God. So the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.
Thus, Christian prayer cannot be wrongly directed to one Person or another of the Trinity because they are one almighty Lord and God. The awkward prayer above is not lost for its awkwardness, nor more effective because it manages to include two-thirds of the Trinity. Any Person of the Trinity is almighty Lord and God.
Why then does healing prayer focus on the Holy Spirit? Simply because Scripture teaches that He is the one given to believers for their sanctification, intercession, and filling and because He is the one who probes the deep things of God for them:
As it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2:9–13)
The work of the Holy Spirit is confirmed:
- In the words of Peter in 1 Peter 1:1–2: “To the pilgrims…elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.…”
- In the words of Jesus in John 14:26: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name...will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”
- In the words of Paul in Romans 8:26–27: “The Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”
There are times when the Holy Spirit comes in power and great healing occurs very quickly. Yet there are other times when nothing seems to happen at all. At such times the Lord’s presence must be sought fervently, and there must be a willingness to persist in prayer over extended periods. Those who pray must simply persist in loving those for whom they pray, knowing that the Lord determines what is required, and when, and that it may remain a mystery to us.
Those who pray must also be profoundly aware of God’s love of justice. They must be humble in their requests. And they must be aware of the nagging and persistent presence of the enemy, who has held the Han captive for so long and desires to keep them bound. Satan can accomplish this by encouraging the church to be self-righteous and cold to those who are wounded, as well as by redefining refuge as freedom. The church must avoid both.
In healing prayer, experience and solid training are essential. Surely God can do anything He pleases in His healing will, but it is also incumbent upon the church to be as well equipped as possible to minister through healing prayer, especially in regard to understanding the dynamics and needs of the deeply sinned against. The church must not lump all healing into an appeal for confession, nor pressure the Han to forgive their perpetrators too quickly, though we do well to help them understand the nature of bondage that is present in unforgivingness. Charles Finney put it this way:
By natural resentment I mean, that, from the laws of our being, we must resent or feel opposed to injustice or ill treatment. Not that a disposition to retaliate or revenge ourselves is consistent with the law of God. But perfect obedience to the law of God does not imply that we should have no sense of injury and injustice, when we are abused. God has this, and ought to have it, and so has every moral being. To love your neighbor as yourself, does not imply, that if he injure you, you should feel no sense of the injury or injustice, but that you should love him and do him good, nevertheless his injurious treatment.
That is—just as the training teaches—resentment for injury or injustice is natural when we are abused. It is moral. God feels it as well, and it should not be brushed aside as somehow “un-Christian.” But healing will at some point include forgiveness and the desire to love and do good to the perpetrator.
God comforts those who have been cast down (2 Corinthians 7:6), and He does this through those who love Him as they learn to love the downcast as they love themselves. As the body of Christ, the church must learn to love the victims of abuse and oppression (Luke 10:37). After all, in the truest sense, Jesus is the ultimate Han: Utterly innocent of any wrongdoing, He was the victim of the sin of the whole world. He fully understands all who are Han. And since we are His body in the world, we are called to love them with His love.
Loving them means offering them refuge, protecting them from further harm, standing with them against injustice, and respecting them as people made by God for love and relationship, however incompletely they now fulfill God’s intentions for them. The church’s refuge, however, must not be one with a hidden stinger, a trap of further sin (or lack of complete healing) disguised as “do this because you are really one of us.” Refuge in the church must be a way station for healing and restoration, a first stop along the way toward Christlikeness, not just a comforting environment that is a new deception or a trap of stagnation.
To accomplish this, the church needs to widen its vision of the gospel. It is not just forgiveness for sinners—which all people need. It is also healing for the sinned against, the Han, and the church should be as vocal and fervent in sharing this part of the Good News. It is only with both of these that the gospel is complete.
Larry Dossey, Prayer Is Good Medicine (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 49.
Harold G. Koenig et al., Handbook of Religion and Health (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2001), 591.
This is not intended to discount human experience and insight, which can clearly be gifts from God and aid in the healing process. Yet the training is such that these personal insights and experiences are explicitly surrendered and consecrated so that, if used, they might be Spirit led. It might also be noted that there may be things that God knows but, for His own purposes, chooses not to reveal, and also things that He reveals for the understanding of the one praying that are not intended to be shared. He also may reveal, by His choice, aspects of His foreknowledge to those who pray. For a good introduction to this, see Augustine, City of God (Garden City, N.J.: Image Books, 1958), 110–11. Calvin and Scotus based much of their thinking about predestination on Augustine, but they also went beyond what Augustine discussed.
Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1910, reprinted 1995), 3:689–93.
Charles G. Finney, Lectures on Systematic Theology, 1851, ed. J. H. Fairchild [http://truthinheart.com/EarlyOberlinCD/CD/Finney/Theology/stcon.htm].