So if you have the faith that the Lord still heals people as he did two thousand years ago, launch out and learn to pray for the sick. For although physical healing may stretch your faith (have you ever prayed for a blind person?), it is also the simplest kind of prayer. It is much simpler and shorter, say, than praying for inner healing.
Courage Is Key. To pray for the first time requires courage. I used to feel very foolish. I felt as if I were pretending to be someone special when I knew I was just an ordinary person. Who was I to think I was a great healer? All this was false humility since, as we know, Jesus himself taught his followers to pray for the sick. So it seems that healing often requires more courage than faith.
What a joy when we find that God really answers our prayers! Praise for God spontaneously rises from our hearts. If you have confidence that Jesus might use your prayers to heal someone, then there are just a few simple steps to learn. They are easy enough to remember.
I have missionary friends who are teaching the poor people of the barrios of Latin America to pray for the sick, and they report that about 80 percent of these unlettered people are healed or notably improved. There is no one method or technique that always produces results; God wants us to depend on him—not on a technique. But there are some simple steps that flow out of the very nature of prayer for healing, and this is what I want to share with you.
A Discerning Heart. The first step is always to listen in order to find out what to pray for. Just as the first step for a doctor when he meets a patient is to find out what to treat, so we need to find out what we should pray for. A doctor is looking for a right diagnosis. In healing prayer, we are looking for the right discernment.
We are really listening to two things: to the person who asks for prayer and to God, who from time to time shares with us the true diagnosis whenever the person isn’t sure what is wrong. When we listen in this way, the Spirit comes to enlighten us about what to pray for. To some people, this special knowledge seems to come in a very special way in the form of definite mental images or verbal impressions. To many of us, however, the knowledge of what to pray for comes in a very natural way, more like a simple intuition.
We may not be sure whether we are inspired by God or not; we learn by experience to sift out our intuitions and to find what works in practice. Often, after I have followed what seemed to me a simple intuition about what to pray for, the person I was praying for has told me that I touched on those very things he had not directly mentioned but had secretly hoped that I would pray for. When these intuitions work out time after time, you learn to trust that God is working through them.
In addition to listening to the person, we should also be alert to the promptings of the Spirit who may enlighten us, especially when we don’t know what to pray for. It is not healthy for us to be unduly focused on symptoms and problems. In the abundance of Jesus’ health and life, sickness will be overcome; in the brilliance of his light, darkness and ignorance will be dispersed.
A Healing Flow. In act of praying for the sick, it is traditional to lay your hands on the person for whom you are praying: “They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:18). Certainly it is not essential; if you feel that the person you are praying for would be embarrassed or would feel more comfortable if you stay at a distance, then by all means be sensitive. But if it does seem right, there are several advantages to this New Testament practice.
In the first place, there does seem to be a warm current of healing power that often flows to the sick person. We are not sure exactly what happens when we feel this current, but it seems like a transfer of life- giving power. Jesus himself experienced this flow of power in such a way that he could sense it:
A woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years, who had spent her whole livelihood on doctors and was unable to be cured by anyone, came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. Immediately her bleeding stopped. Jesus then asked, “Who touched me?” While all were denying it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds are pushing and pressing in upon you.” But Jesus said, “Someone has touched me; for I know that power has gone out from me.” (Luke 8:43-46)
Often we experience this same transfer of power, occasionally like a gentle electric current, but more often like a flow of warmth. Whatever it is, it is often connected with healing. It almost seems like a transfer of life.
Some with the gift of healing talk about a kind of “soaking prayer” in which you just soak the person in a prayer of God’s love. In thirty years of praying for the sick, we have discovered that spending time praying with a person and helping them become immersed in God’s presence helps immeasurably. It’s like a divine radiation treatment: The longer the sickness is held in the force field of God’s love, the more it shrinks, until it finally disappears.
How to Pray. In praying for the sick person, we can be spontaneous and improvise prayer for healing. We can assume any posture that is most comfortable for us—sitting, kneeling, or standing—where we can best forget about ourselves, relax, and concentrate on the presence of God. We turn our hearts and minds to the Father or to Jesus; we know that it is only through their love that anything will happen. After welcoming their presence and praising God, we then turn to the petition itself.
Most ministers of healing suggest that we be specific in our prayer, that we visualize as clearly as possible what we are asking God to heal. For instance, if we are praying for the healing of a broken bone, we can ask the Lord to take away every infection, to stimulate the growth of the cells needed to restore the bone, and to fill in any breaks. Such a specific request seems to enliven our own faith as we picture in our imagination what we are praying for. It also stimulates the faith of the sick person as he listens and pictures in his own mind what we are asking God to accomplish in reality. This helps him become more actively involved in the prayer, even if he says nothing.
On the other hand, some of us—that includes me—are by temperament not very good at imagining things. It is much easier to leave the imagination out and just ask God, but in a very specific way, to heal the person.
Confidence and Thanksgiving. For a long time, there has been a kind of tradition which led most of us to end all our prayers with the phrase, “If it be your will.” The idea behind it, of course, is that we don’t know God’s will, so we don’t have the confidence that everything we ask for will be given to us. This is true. Yet, this addition—“If it be your will”—can weaken our prayer if it really means, “I don’t believe anything is going to happen.” This is a far cry from the words of Jesus: “all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours” (Mark 11:24).
If we believe that God answers our prayers always (not always as we think he will, but nevertheless always), we will naturally have a heartfelt desire to thank him. We can thank him even during the prayer: “I thank you, Lord, that even now you are sending your healing love and power and answering our prayer.” Our attitude should be that of St. Paul: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Philippians 4:6).