I sat by the bedside of a dear friend of mine last night. Barely 24 hours removed from a multiple-bypass open heart surgery, he was in excruciating pain. We had spent about an hour together at that point, and during our time I would watch his agony rise in swells. It was written all over his face as we talked. Each breath a chore that put pressure on bones and muscles struggling to knit themselves back together after the trauma of surgery.
I had a little vial of anointing oil in my pocket, so towards the end of our time together I asked him if I could pray over him. “Yes, please,” he said. So I did. I took out the oil, rubbed it into my fingers, anointed his head with it, and began to pray healing into his body…
The time together in prayer was so precious and sweet. Nothing high-pressure about it. Just being together under the ministering presence of the Lord Jesus, who was and is with us by and in his Holy Spirit. “Spirit of God,” I said, “come and do your work here, right now; minister life into this body…”
And so I prayed, and we waited, letting the Holy Spirit do his mysterious, wonderful, life-giving work. I laid my hands on his head and on his hands and as I did, I imagined the Lord Jesus likewise laying his hands on him, living Life coursing from the hands of the Risen One into my friend’s body. I spoke Psalm 23 over him, and he joined his words to mine in affirmation that God was watching over him, present to him in even in the valley of the shadow of death. This prayer was healing prayer. I closed our time together, we affirmed our love for each other, and I departed. It was so beautiful.
As I walked back to my car, I reflected a bit on how my prayers for healing have changed over the years. Praying for healing used to be pretty stressful. Caught in a more or less “transactional” way of praying, I would experience the moment as charged with a certain anxiety. Is this going to “work”? Will I be “successful”? AM I DOING THIS RIGHT??? The image that lay just beneath the surface for me was one of a deity far up in the clouds who held a basket of healing virtue which he would dispense if I did it just right, or if we had enough faith, or some mixture of both, which had more to do with us, frankly, than it did with God.
Somewhere along the line that changed for me. I’m not sure when or how, but it did. I don’t pray like that anymore. Instead, when I “pray for healing”, I see myself participating with the active work of the Holy Spirit NOW in ministering life to a person’s body, mind, and soul. Even more, since Paul is so bold to call the church the “body” of Christ, insisting that we are each in different ways an extension of Christ’s incarnate presence on the earth, I see myself sacramentally “presenting” the power of the Risen One to people. When I lay my hands on people, theologically, JESUS is laying his hands on those people. And He who dwells with his Father in the joy and power of the Holy Spirit is in charge of the results. Not me.
It is interesting to me that when Jesus commissions his disciples into their apostolic ministry in the Gospels, he does not charge them to go out and “pray for healing” (“healing” doesn’t really need prayer, you know… haha). Instead, he charges them to “pray for the sick.” Or, even more bluntly, “Heal the sick.” The notion of “praying for healing”, if you ask me, presumes a transactional structure that is foreign to the mind of Jesus. Jesus does not want us to see his Father as a heavenly claims department for healing. He wants, instead, us to see his Father as present and active and inviting us to be ministers of his healing life. His own ministry was marked by this: “My Father is always at his work to this very day” he said on one occasion, “and I too am working” (John 5). That mind of Christ, which did nothing of himself but only what he saw the Father doing, needs also to be our mind.
When we embrace this, it takes all the stress away from our prayers for the sick and suffering. I literally NEVER, at this point, worry about whether or not the person I prayed for “got their healing.” I know that as an ambassador of Jesus Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, I ministered life to them. I stood with and for them as the very presence of Jesus. And God is in charge of what the tangible, evidential impact of that ministry of life looks like. Sometimes that impact is immediate and obvious, sometimes not. But in every case it’s his work not mine. That makes entering into it joyful and life-giving and pressure free.
So… that’s how I “pray for healing.” Hope it helps you.
Now go. Pray for somebody.