This past Sunday I preached at church on the topic of praying for healing, from James 5:13-18. Afterwards, someone texted a question which I’d like to answer here.
This is the question:
“What are some of the things you would say about people who are afraid of praying for healing because they are afraid that if the prayer failed, it will bring doubt to their own, the patient, and witness’ faith? I’ve seen people turning away from God because of this.”
There are two ways I want to answer this question: the first is what I’d say about such people, and the second is what I’d say to them.
Before I get to that, though, I’d like to say I understand the fear here, and I’m sorry that the asker has seen people turn away from God over this. I don’t know if this is the case here, but I think a lot of damage has been done by televised “faith-healers” and those well-meaning charismatic Christians who proclaim that if we have enough faith God will heal (as if He’s obligated to, or He’s like a vending machine: deposit prayer and faith and out comes healing). When God doesn’t, then the blame rests squarely on the sick person (and often the one who prays too) for their not having enough faith.
What I would say about someone afraid to pray for healing because it will bring doubt to them and others if God doesn’t answer the way they expect, is that it seems they actually already doubt that God will/can heal, or expect that He won’t, and they’re afraid that it will confirm that doubt. So the issue is likely one of unbelief, which leads to disobedience.
It also sounds like their focus is on theirs or others’ faith, and not on Jesus Himself, which is the wrong focus and will actually kill their faith. Finally, it sounds like they have a consumeristic view of God (that is, what God can do for me as opposed to Him being my King and master), while someone who is surrendered completely to God will accept both the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ from Him. My guess is that this last reason is why people walked away from God when He didn’t answer the prayer with healing.
What I would say to someone afraid to pray for healing is that supernatural healing is not a science, and while healing is promised by God (James 5:15), He will always answer in accordance with His will which we don’t always know (see James 4:13-16). Also, I would encourage them to reframe the idea that the prayer for healing “fails” or “succeeds.” It could be that God has answered, just not in the way we expected Him to, like He did to Paul (2 Cor. 12:5-10), or it could be that we haven’t persisted in prayer enough about the matter (see 1 Kings 18:42-44 and Luke 18:1-8).
While it’s easier to just not pray for healing than it is to face disappointment with not receiving the expected answer, I would encourage them to keep praying, but with an attitude that is both expectant that God will answer by healing, and yet ultimately surrendered to His will. We won’t see God move in miraculous ways unless we pray, so we shouldn’t not pray, or be afraid to, until we see God move.
There are a lot of aspects of this topic that I didn’t cover, either here or in my sermon, but what do you think? What would you tell someone in this situation, or what would you say differently than me?