How many times must I pray for someone to be healed? I have friends who want me to pray again and again for their healing. The call goes out from the church to pray for somebody who is sick and we are encouraged to pray again and again while nothing happens. Frankly, I get rather tired of it sometimes. Is there a limit to how many times we should pray for someone’s healing?
Sincerely, Many Questioners Throughout The Years
Dear Many Questioners Throughout The Years,
I have heard thousands of prayers in 40 years of ministry for God’s supernatural healing hand to touch people with complete healing. I have been privileged to witness some great healings. However, some of the people I pray for never were healed. Some of the Christians I know who experienced physical and mental infirmities received no healing from God. Many received medical attention that alleviated their problems. Others died from their sicknesses.
Jesus gave us an invitation in Matthew 7:7-11. The verbs are continuous action in the Greek. “Keep on asking and it will be given you, keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds’ and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” The premise for Jesus’ promise is the Father’s infinite love for His children recorded in the following verse. “which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?”
James 5:14-15 commands us to call the elders of the church to pray when we are sick. James gives us insight in his letter about conditions for unanswered prayer-unbelief, unconfessed sin, etc. But the question remains, is there a time when God says “I have something else in mind”?
I’ve thought a lot about Paul’s healing prayers as recorded in the Bible. There are none—except three times for himself. I am certain that he prayed for people to be healed physically; but, those prayers were not recorded because they were never the focus of his prayers. Instead, Paul’s prayers reveal his deep concern for the maturing of the internal-eternal-human spirit. He never prayed for anyone else’s body to get well—he never stopped praying for the development of the inner person. Here are two examples:
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe (Ephesians 1:15-19).
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19).
When Timothy was sick with various stomach ailments Paul did not pray for his healing or send him to the local faith healer. He advised him that a little wine would be good for his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23).
I think we might do well to follow Paul’s example in praying for Jesus to heal his own physical malady:
To keep me from becoming conceited, because of these surpassing great revelations, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But, He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
“Thorn” is the Greek word describing a “tent stake” that is driven into the ground. The Babylonians used the word to describe the sharpened trees used for impaling people. “Torment” is a Greek boxing term meaning, “to beat, to strike with the fist.” Paul had a stake impaled in his body tormenting him to keep him humble.
There are four Main Guesses as to the nature of Paul’s thorn. First, he was ugly—probably a result of his five beatings with rods, three whippings, and one stoning (2 Corinthians 10:10). Second, he was often incapacitated with malaria contracted in the marshy areas of the southern coast line of Turkey. Third, he struggled with epilepsy which was considered in the ancient world to be caused by demons (Galatians 4:3-14). Finally, and most probable of all, he had some sort of debilitating eye trouble. Think about the blind scales falling off of his eyes at his bright-light conversion in the desert (Galatians 4:15; 6:11; and Acts 23).
I think we should follow Paul’s example in praying for healing. Three times may enough. If we are not healed after three prayers we can assume that God has other things in mind. At that point we start praying for wisdom to understand the reasons behind the sickness and get with His plan to use grace to strength to us and glory to His name.
God often allows or creates circumstances so that we may know Him better. He wants to sensitize our inner-God consciousness. Satan wants to focus our minds on our bodies or adverse circumstances in order to sensitize our mental and bodily consciousness. Too often we are obsessed with removing pain and problems. God, on the other hand, is obsessed with sensitizing our inner spirits. God will sacrifice the body every time if that is what it takes to mature the eternal!
We can pray seven times to be healed of cancer; nevertheless, we will eventually succumb to death. Life is a terminal disease. Praying for healing is not eternally effective. There are no Biblical verses which describe angels rejoicing when bodies are healed! On the other hand, the angels rejoice when a lost sheep enters into eternal life.
Too many Christians beg for God to change their situations and heal their bodies while not having the slightest idea of God’s eternal intentions. Praying from the inside out allows us to see things from God’s perspective and interpret the circumstances surrounding our souls and bodies in the light of how our requests affect their inner spirits.
To one degree or other, we are all like Paul in our weaknesses. Pray for healing. However, look for a reason Jesus, might be saying, “No.” If no healing occurs, consider that God wants us to live with it and find grace and strength accordingly.
I was invited to a healing service for an American missionary serving in a Middle Eastern country. People had prayed for his healing for over ten years. He was at his wits end. As we prayed it became increasingly obvious to me that he was struggling with brain chemistry-neurotransmitter imbalances.
When the prayer time ended I gently told him that it was time to stop praying for healing: “If God hasn’t healed you after ten years of praying then another year will probably not do it either. God’s answer is, ‘No. Stop asking Me. My grace is sufficient for you’.”
There comes a time when it is time to stop praying and figure out how to live for God’s glory while the “stake” twists in your body. Consider that up to this point his prayer was for the Holy Sprit’s healing oil to bring supernatural healing as mentioned in James five. God has His healing oil. However, oil was also used as medicine in the Biblical world. It was time to turn to a good physician for help.
After the meeting we discussed the genetic implications of his disorder. We shook his family tree and all sorts of ancestors with the same malady fell out. “There is medical treatment which can give you great relief. Explore your medical options as well.” The next morning the missionary said, “Thanks, I needed those insights about Paul and his thorn. I’d forgotten that His grace is sufficient.”
Well, Questioners Throughout The Years, I wish God had shared this thought with me earlier. Nevertheless, I hope it gives you some insight into how and when and how much to pray for some one’s healing.