How To Pray For Healing

Pastor Shelton Markham   -  

At no point in my training as a pastor has anyone ever taught me how to pray for someone’s healing; and yet, it is a regular part of my role as a pastor and elder.  I remember sitting in an emergency room as a new Youth Pastor at twenty years old with a student who had just been in a horrific car accident.  His aunt calmly asked, “Pastor, will you pray that he will be healed from this injury?”  I remember holding hands with everyone in the room and fumbling through some heartfelt plea to God to spare this high school kid and bring him back to health.  It felt awkward and I was worried that somehow I was saying or doing the wrong thing.  But God showed up, and Duke recovered.   It felt awesome to see someone go from hospital bed to playing sports over the next several months.  So you can imagine my shock when the same aunt called me the next year to tell me the same young man had been diagnosed with cancer.  I soon found myself at a new hospital, holding the same hands, asking the same God to heal the same young man, but this time from cancer.  He went through treatments, lost his hair, and praise be to God, survived and graduated high school.  I lost track of Duke in the years afterwards, but know he went on to be married and become a dad.  

Sometime later I found myself in another hospital room (the same children’s hospital where I had prayed for Duke) but now it was with the family of a two-year-old with ovarian cancer.  By then I had served in ministry for nearly six years.  Over that time I had prayed for countless people for countless issues.  But truthfully, it still felt awkward to pray for healing.  I could never really put my finger on why.  I worried that I just did not have enough faith and the reason it felt awkward was because deep down, I must not be strong enough in my belief in God.  So, I held hands with the family members and prayed for the little girl as the surgeons wheeled her back.  It was another prayer in a long chain of prayers that we had offered to God for her.  Our whole church had been praying.  People around the country were praying.  I’ll never forget the feeling when the doctor came back into the room to inform us that she had passed during surgery.  The Grandma’s voice still echoes in my mind, “WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW?”  I had no answer for her.  I sat and cried with them, then went and cried in my truck in the parking lot.  I let God know that I did not understand this and definitely did not like it. 

In the coming months, God began to shape in me a deeper understanding of how to approach praying for physical healing.  As the church and I wrestled with trying to minister to this young, grieving mom, it was she that led me back into a trusting posture with God.  Did she hurt?  Definitely.  Did she have questions?  Absolutely.  But did she trust in God’s goodness to get her through?  Undeniably.  I began to experience in her a power that was not her own. Her belief in the gospel and in the resurrection and hope of Jesus were unwavering.  I couldn’t believe what I saw in her.  Her trust ministered to my young pastoral heart with a deeper Gospel message than anything I had ever preached.  She was the epitome of Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Her trust in the Lord was not based on whether He healed her daughter from cancer but that He had raised His son from the grave.  There is a major difference in those two things.  It is because He raised His son that she could trust Him with her daughter.  

I have now been in ministry for over twenty years.  I’ve lost count on the number of prayers I have prayed for healing.  Over that time, God has helped me better understand how we should approach such an awesome task. I have come to embrace what I call a “5 P Paradigm for healing.”  And I want to offer it to you as well.  Whenever I encounter someone who is ill and asking for healing, this is the paradigm I filter my thoughts through.


First, I absolutely will pray for healing.  I believe God can do anything He pleases to do.  Nothing can hold Him back.  And if I or any of my family members are injured or ill, you can bet I’ll be asking you to pray for them as well.  James puts it simply: “You have not because you ask not.” (James 4:2)  So ask.  Pray.  Give it to God with open hands.  


But, just because I ask, doesn’t mean He will heal.  It’s His prerogative.  It’s His choice.  I’m reminded of Jesus praying in the garden before enduring the cross.  He asked God, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt. 26:39)  Do you hear what Jesus is doing?  He is asking.  But He is also yielding.  Jesus is teaching us that faith finds rest in the bed of trust.  But notice what He is trusting in, not in His own prerogative but in the Father’s.  No matter how much we believe in God’s ability to heal, there is no rest for the soul if there is no yielding to God’s ultimate will. This is at the heart of how Jesus teaches us to pray.  9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Yielding to God’s prerogative, to His will, is an act of worship.  It is putting into practice what we profess.  


I’ve heard people say there is power in prayer.  But you will not find that phrase in scripture.  Prayer possesses no power of its own.  Prayer is not some incantation that if I get the wording just right it will unlock the healing powers of the cosmos.  Prayer on its own is powerless.  But my God, on the other hand, is powerful beyond measure.  He can do all things at all times in all the ways He wants.  But let us understand how He desires to use that power in our lives.  In Acts, Peter and John pray for a paralyzed man to walk in the name of Jesus and the Lord answered that prayer with power. The people around Peter were amazed at them, but he quickly corrected them: When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?“ (Acts 3:12)  God had chosen to move with power to heal in order to extend His witness throughout the world.  It is not uncommon to hear powerful testimonies of healing.  When that happens, we need to understand that it was not because the person praying possessed some unique power; healing comes because God in His power chose to move in such a way.


Which leads us to the 4th P.   Why does God choose to heal if and when He does?  If God chooses to move through the power of healing, then there is purpose in it.  Jesus promised his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Jesus promises the power of His presence in the Holy Spirit in order to enable his disciples to be His witnesses. He doesn’t promise power in order to make our lives easier or more comfortable.  That will come when He exerts resurrection power to make us anew when we die.  The purpose of His power now is to enable us to be witnesses.  But this power is not always healing power.  Sometimes it is the power to endure.  In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul tells his readers that he had been pleading with the Lord to remove some ailment that he had, a thorn in his flesh.  But God did not do it.  Instead the Lord told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)  In other words, God chose to enable Paul’s witness not through the power of healing, but through the power of His grace to help Paul endure each day.  So Paul goes on to say, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10) Though God chose not to heal Paul, it doesn’t mean He had removed power from Paul.  It means that He wanted to express His power through enduring grace in Paul’s life.  Rather through healing or through the strength to go on, God’s purpose for His power in our lives is to enable us to bring Him glory.


But ultimately, we need to approach any health issue with the right perspective.  God never promised to heal our mortal bodies indefinitely.  In fact, He promised just the opposite.  These bodies will fade, they will hurt, they will die.  Even Jesus experienced the limitations of mortality.  But, Jesus defeated death and was resurrected into immortality.  He stands as a promise of what is to come for all of those who have been baptized into Him through faith.  We cannot misunderstand and misapply the gospel to meaning eternal health in this life.  In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tried to help the church understand what the real hope of the Gospel truly is: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 15:19-20)  Jesus is the firstfruit, the first to be resurrected, and a promise of what is to come.  Resurrection life is the true hope.  Immortality in the resurrection is the true promise of the Gospel. When we lose this perspective and begin to focus on this life only, we will begin to lose hope as God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want.  

The more I have learned to focus on the resurrection and trust in the Sovereignty of God, the more I have become comfortable in praying for healing.  All I can do is ask and trust God and thank Him for the true hope of the Gospel.  I have seen God bring Himself glory through healing, through successful medical procedures, and through miracles that doctors could not explain.  But I have also seen Him bring Himself glory through blessing people with a supernatural peace in the midst of incredible hardships.  No matter what we face as believers, we face it with incredible hope in an incredible God who encourages us, “take heart, for I have overcome the world!”