Lynda Martinez was in her 50’s when she contracted Ovarian cancer. She was referred to specialists for immediate treatment and told she should consider making arrangements with a hospice center. As the first operation approached, Lynda’s sister called to offer a suggestion.
“Remember when we were growing up and our pastors at church would pray for people and place oil on their heads? What if we tried that?”
Lynda was open to the idea and a pastor was called in to pray. It was a comforting moment that relieved some anxiety, but nothing more. The pastor came back a couple of times to visit Lynda and pray. On the third visit, while he was praying, she felt a sudden and intense heat fill her body. It felt like something was happening inside of her. Shortly after that a scan was taken which came back with the incredible report of zero evidence of disease.
In the Old Testament God reveals himself to His people with a variety of names which help us understand who He is. One of those names is YHWH Rapha – the Lord your healer. (Exodus 15:26) It’s a wonderful name, isn’t it?
The Scriptures tell us that the original human experience was one of wholeness. God created a world that was good. Humanity was formed in an environment of perfect health and harmony.
All of that changed when sin entered the world and brought with it a curse. Alienation and illnesses of all sorts – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
YHWH Rapha had a plan for that. Despite the human rebellion against His reign, the Great Physician entered into our world of suffering to bring healing and salvation through His own suffering.
Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness and then died an agonizing death to satisfy justice and break the power of the curse. Jesus now reigns as King of Kings and his kingdom has begun on earth.
We now live in the in-between time. The kingdom is now, but it is also not yet. (Hebrews 2:8-9) In this in-between times the people of the kingdom have been set free from the curse. In His name we have authority over the fallen world.
One of the ways we exercise that authority is in prayer. In James 5, we are told how to engage in the kind of prayer which has the power to bring illness to the feet of Jesus and find healing.
Let’s read James 5:14-18.
1. Pray always.
The prayer of faith that has power in times of healing is the overflow of a life of continuous prayer.
Every season is a good season to pray. Are you suffering? Pray. God is close to the brokenhearted. God wants to connect with you in your suffering. Are you happy? Sing praise to God who has blessed you. Every season is a good season to pray.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
2. Pray together.
Is anyone sick? Let them call the elders. Let them bring others in to share the burden with them. No suffers alone in the family of God.
We are quick to seek the help of medical professionals in times of illness. And that’s right. James reminds us to also seek God with the help of our church family.
The first step is to call the elders, who will come with oil to anoint the sick in prayer. Why do you think that is?
Some point to the ancient understanding of oil as a powerful medicinal aid. They see in the use of oil a call to bring together the best physical treatment available with the best spiritual treatment.
It’s more likely that oil is to be used as an act of consecration. In the Old Testament oil was used to set apart priests and objects used in services of worship and sacrifice. When pastors anoint a sick person with oil they are setting them apart for the special attention and work of God.
In verse 16, James expands the community of prayer. “Pray for one another.” Sometimes we need the faith, gifts and prayers of others. We don’t have everything we need in ourselves. We need the community of faith to come together.
3. Pray in the name of the Lord.
When the pastors anoint and pray over the sick, they are to do it in the name of the Lord. What does that mean?
Many of us learn to add “in Jesus’ name” to the end of our prayers, but we never really think about what that means. It’s just something we do to make our prayer official.
Jesus told us to pray in his name (John 14) in order to receive what we ask for. That may mean more than adding the words to the end of our prayers.
There might be an answer in the gospels when Jesus sent out his disciples. He gave them instructions to proclaim that the kingdom of God had arrived and gave them authority to heal the sick and cast out evil spirits. He sent them out in the authority of his name. The disciples came back rejoicing that even evil spirits obeyed them in the name of Jesus. (Luke 10:17)
To pray in the name of the Lord is to exercise the authority Jesus has given us to accomplish His will on earth. When a pastor prays for a sick person in the name of the Lord he is praying with the authority of the king, as a representative of the king.
4. Pray with confession.
Do you think it’s interesting that James brings sin into the equation? “If he has committed sins he will be forgiven.” “Confess your sins to one another.”
What is the connection between sickness and sin? If I am sick does that mean I have sinned?
Sometimes it is.
“Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.'”
“That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”
1 Corinthians 11:30
“Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
But not always.
“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’3 ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.'”
To automatically assume that sin is the cause of suffering in a person’s life can be very hurtful. It can add to the suffering of someone who has already had enough. (Job)
But, to assume that suffering has nothing to with sin in a person’s life can also be very hurtful.
Hebrews 12:4-11 tells us that God is a good father who disciplines his children for their benefit.
Suffering and illness can provide an opportunity for us to look into our hearts and deal with any sin in our lives.
“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Well meaning Christians who tell suffering friends that sin has nothing to do with their suffering may prevent their friends from experiencing the life giving spiritual healing that comes from self-examination, confession and repentance.
If momentary physical suffering can prevent a life time of emotional and spiritual suffering, is it not a gift?
We need to make a clear distinction.
Suffering and illness in the life of a believer is not a punishment from God.
The NT teaches that God may at times use illness to discipline his children. The purpose of discipline is to restore to train and correct.
The purpose of punishment is to inflict a penalty or sanction on (someone) as retribution for an offense, especially a transgression of a legal or moral code. (Oxford dictionary)
For the believer, the cross was the final and ultimate act of punishment for sin. For those under grace, there is no condemnation for sin. (Romans 8:1)
Grace allows me to confess my sins without fear of judgment or condemnation. A community of brothers and sisters to whom I can confess my sins without fear is a great gift from God.
5. Pray in faith.
The final qualification for prayer that heals is faith.
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;”
“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
Faith pleases God. Sometimes that faith comes from the sick person. Sometimes it comes from the pastors. Sometimes it comes from one another.
We don’t all have the same amount of faith. (Romans 12:3) When we pray together we leverage the faith of the community and lift one another up into greater trust and confidence.
What do we do when that faith is lacking?
The prayer of the father in Mark 9:24 is a great encouragement for times like that: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
When we pray together in the name of Jesus, we position ourselves to encounter the power of YHWH Rapha.
While we live in this in-between time we will experience the tension of the now and the not yet.
God may heal one person while another continues in illness or even death. Even Paul the apostle, whose robes were known to heal the sick, experienced troubles God would not remove.
God told Paul why his troubles must remain. But God doesn’t always do that for us.
What He does do is show us the depth of His love and compassion through the sacrifice of His Son.
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown