‘Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16, 17).’
When we worship and pray together, often our supplications are for healing – mostly for the healing of our bodies, parts of which are not functioning properly on account of disease, injury or infirmity. We also pray for the healing of people we know who may have mental health issues, such as severe anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.
On searching the Scriptures for examples of prayers for healing, I have discovered there are only a few of them.
Old Testament Examples
In the Old Testament we read, ‘So Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his female servants. Then they bore children; for the LORD had closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife (Genesis 20:17).’
Elsewhere we find that Moses prayed for his sister Miriam, after God struck her with leprosy on account of her opposition to him. He pleaded, ‘“Please do not let her be as one dead, whose flesh is half consumed when he comes out of his mother’s womb!”
‘So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “Please heal her, O God, I pray (Numbers 12:12, 13)!”’
She was shut out of the camp for seven days, then allowed back in (vv. 15, 16), which would seem to indicate that she had been healed.
King David in Psalm 41:4, wrote: ‘I said, “LORD, be merciful to me; heal my soul, for I have sinned against You.” He asked the LORD to heal his soul, i.e., his body, at a time of severe illness (v 3, 8) which was life-threatening (vv. 2, 5). He prayed with faith and with confidence that he would be healed (vv. 10-12).
New Testament Examples
In the New Testament we find three examples of people praying face to face with Jesus for healing. There’s the case of a Canaanite women whose daughter was demon-possessed. She said to Him, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed (Matthew 15:22).” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour (v. 28).’
Then there there is the case of the ruler of the synagogue whose daughter was dying. Mark describes what happened, ‘And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at his feet and begged Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.” So Jesus went with him, and a great multitude followed Him and thronged Him (Mark 5:22-24), and, ‘While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further (v. 35)?” ‘Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement (vv. 41, 42).’
Finally, there’s the case described in Luke 9:38-42, when a man sought healing for his only son who was demon possessed: ‘Suddenly a man from the multitudes cried out, saying, “Teacher, I implore You, look on my son, for he is my only child. And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out; it convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and it departs from him with great difficulty, bruising him. So I implored Your disciples to cast it out, but they could not (vv. 38-40).” Then Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the child, and gave him back to his father (v. 42b).’
The only example I can find of prayer in the New Testament for healing that was not said in the presence of Jesus, is that of Paul the Apostle, when he prayed for the healing of the father of Publius, who was one of the leading citizens on the island of Malta. At that time, Paul and those with him were survivors from shipwreck (Acts 27:39-28:1).
Here’s the account: ‘And it happened that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and dysentery. Paul went in to him and prayed, and he laid hands on him and healed him (Acts 28:8).’
The Principle and Practice of Praying for Healing
James gets to the point, and writes: ‘Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven (James 5:13-15).’
The principle and practice of praying to God for healing is established without a shadow of doubt by James.
When we engage in prayer for healing, as with all prayer, it must be done in the belief that God will answer our prayers positively. The efficacy of our prayer does not depend on the strength of our faith; it depends on God, who heals according to His will.
All healing is of Him, but He gives us this great privilege of praying for the sick and the dying.
The anointing of oil mentioned in the James passage is not a directive, that if followed, will bring success. It is a symbol of God’s healing power. Similarly the laying on of hands spoken of when Paul prayed for Publius (Acts 8:28), is symbolic of God’s power to heal.
I appreciate your note at the end about anointing oil NOT being a directive for successful healing and that healing is always according to the Lord’s will, not necessarily our faith. There’s actually a market for ‘holy oil’ now a days and I have often heard people point out one’s lack of faith as the reason healing isn’t achieved after prayer.
Having once been caught up in these ‘healing’ ministries I was recently convicted about this passage in James (and the many others often used out of context) but now believe the oil in this particular passage may have also played a practical role. As James was speaking primarily to those who had been scattered by persecution and were themselves being persecuted, I think of the natural healing effects of oil on wounds and how it could have been used as a salve in circumstances where Christians were being chained and beaten.
Thank you for putting these examples of biblical prayer for healing together! I was blessed by them and send blessings from Connecticut.
Thank you very much. I think you make a very good point about the healing effects of oil. It would have been a practical thing to do. May God bless you and your brothers and sisters in Christ.