Related Links to this Post So Far -- Here, Here, Here, Here,and Here.
For what I believe about prayer, Jesus' model prayer in Matthew 6 and Luke 11 holds a tremendous amount of weight for me. When we go to examples in the New Testament, we shouldn't expect a contradiction. These point-blank tell us what Jesus wanted us to pray. We have a strong position to harmonize examples elsewhere with what we read there. The absence of praying for healing and praying for the lost there in Jesus' model prayer should be tell-tale to us. I say that in part because I'm quite confident that if you examined the prayer lists of churches across the country, they are filled with a long list of names of selective sick or dying to be healed and then as long a list of unsaved people to be prayed by name to be saved. Neither of those two, however, are in the model prayer.
I remember myself laying the prayer list before me, many years, and praying for name after name after name for hours and days and weeks without thinking whether that was a biblical prayer or not. I assumed it was because I thought I saw others doing it and heard others encourage it. Since I have been a pastor, I have been invited many times to pray for a very sick or dying person. There is no more difficult prayer, because I have zero model in the Bible as a basis for praying it. It is like wandering through a jungle in pitch darkness. I have no scriptural guidance for that prayer. I have compared it to a full court heave. I have seen people leave the hospital and I have seen them die. Both.
As a person analyzes the above prayer, they would pray the prayer, because they would say it is God's will to heal. Then when the person dies, they would say that God didn't heal because it wasn't in His will to heal. So which is it? Is it His will or is it not His will? One might say that thankfully at that time, few to none ask that question later, give it too much analysis, perhaps taking as God's will the verse, "it is appointed unto men once to die." They are not thinking about God's will. They just want someone healed.
Prayer in these situations is a "try." It is worth a "try." People praying are "trying to see if God will heal someone." Now if He doesn't, they say it was a "no answer." Should the people whose relative died perhaps breathe a sigh of relief over getting an answer from God, the "no answer"? That's actually how they found out God's will, was in the death. But aren't we supposed to know before the death, when people are still praying? Or do we always find out God's will afterwards? Scripture says "pray according to God's will," but you can't know it, so you just pray the prayer anyways, and then find out later if it was God's will. He lived, "God's will"; he died, "not God's will." This is not how the passages read, which is why I don't believe we see this prayer in the model prayer or in any prayer that the Apostle Paul prayed in the New Testament. Neither did Paul say to pray for people to be healed in all of his teaching.
I mentioned that faith is based on knowledge, so faith is certainty or assurance. I talked about notitia. Again, I'm preaching through John right now, and word after word, line after line, paragraph after paragraph, page after page, is providing evidence to believe. As I write this, tomorrow I start to preach three short vignettes in the second half of John 2 that point to the power and omniscience of Jesus in actual, concrete examples to evince His deity. The religious leaders reject the evidence and require more from him, something astronomical, even as they are evil and adulterous. Someone reported in a comment that notitia is all about saving faith. Other faith does not require that knowledge. Someone else said it was just faith in what God could do. You don't know that He will, just that He could. The knowledge for faith comes from scripture and we base what we pray for on scripture.
This brings me back to the model prayer. The model prayer, again, is about what God wills. It centers on God. It aligns us with God. How do we know what He will do? Notitia. We have knowledge of that. Prayer has become for awhile more about our feelings than about God's will.
I want to start with the prayer for healing, move to the prayer for an unsaved person to be saved, from there go to faith and the will of God and prayer, again, and last explore a little history.
The Prayer for Healing
The prayer for healing centers on five arguments that I can see. If you google prayer for healing, you will hardly stop getting Charismatic sites telling you all about it. The five arguments I saw from those who would profess not to be Charismatic are (1) the command to pray in everything, (2) Old Testament prayers, (3) Zacharias, (4) Paul's thorn in the flesh, and (5) James 5.
(1) We should pray "in" everything. When someone is "in" sickness, he should pray. When "in" the midst of others who are sick, we should pray for those people. That doesn't require praying for someone to be healed. This is very weak.
(2) People have given examples of Hezekiah and Hannah. Hezekiah could be a whole paper. He was dying "young," and he got a longer life, i.e., he was healed. I see this OT example as related to quite a few Old Testament promises that make it a unique situation that doesn't apply to us. It is unique in the Old Testament, and as a king in his position, he based that prayer, I believe on passages like Deuteronomy 4:39-40 and Psalms 26 and 34. At that moment, Hezekiah had no one to set on the throne of David. There was something unique to the era, the nation, and the king. I don't believe it is normative. We can't use the same reasoning for a prayer to add 15 years to our own life.
For Hannah, the list is longer: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Manoah’s wife, and Hannah. I would add a ditto to some of what I said about Hezekiah, and in addition, Numbers 5:28, Deuteronomy 7:14-15, Psalm 113:9, etc., with the nature of barrenness in the nation Israel. The repeated fulfillment of these prayers for and from barren women point to the ultimate restoration and bounty of the nation and land of Israel (cf. Isaiah 49:21; 54:1). Again, I don't see the prayer for a child to be normative for the age in which we live.
God made promises to the nation Israel. He would bless them, make them a great nation. Bearing children was related to the covenant. They weren't becoming a great nation without multiplication. We see this with Eve when she said that she got a man from the Lord. A corollary to the Abrahamic covenant is the Mosaic covenant, which promised physical blessing to obedience. Women bearing miracle children becomes a part of the Old Testament story.
This long list of barren women having children stems out of the very first, Sarah. Her child birth was an obvious fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. This was not normative. These were all special situations with children that play a unique place in the nation Israel. You can add John the Baptist. These were part of the story of God's sovereign and providential hand with His nation, His people, fulfilling His covenant. These are unique situations. These are not some kind of guarantee or promise to someone in the era in which we live that we have a similar interest or promise. We are not building up the nation Israel to make it like the sands of the seashore.
Does God promise these child births to the church? No. Does He promise these child births to America? No. Could an infertile woman or couple have a child? I'm sure God could, has the power, to do that. He did it in scripture again and again. The question here is if we should pray that prayer without the same promises that God gave Israel? I don't see that taught in the New Testament. That doesn't mean that God doesn't care for today's woman, who wants to have a child. The couple should do everything they can do and leave it in the hands of the Lord. God does care for them, but there is no biblical basis to expect a child will be born. Some might think that sounds cold. God is a good God and His providential hand can and will move for child birth and sometimes against it. We are content with what He does.
(3) I would argue Zacharias very much like (2) above and the barrenness of Old Testament women related to the nation Israel. I'm not saying they didn't pray, but the Old Testament promises differed. For (2) and (3), I could still preach on scriptural prayer, but that the same prayer is no longer scriptural for us. Daniel would not defile himself with the king's meat (Daniel 1). The same meat would not necessarily defile us today. However, the application stands.
The temple is a house of prayer. I consider 2 Chronicles 6:14ff and Solomon's prayer in the temple for God to hear the people of Israel there in prayer during times of physical need. Solomon's prayer was for prayers to be heard in these physical situations that do relate to the nation Israel. The language of "thy prayer is heard" (Luke 1:13) hearkens to Solomon's prayer. As a true believer and repentant, God heard the prayer of Zacharias at the temple. Obviously this was also a fulfillment of prophecy with John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, as well, entering an era of miracles from the birth of John to Jesus through the Apostles.
(4) I believe Paul's "thorn" (in 2 Corinthians 12) was a stake in his unredeemed fallenness ("the flesh") to keep him humble from the pride over trips to heaven and such. This tool of humility, as is often the case, was a messenger from Satan, a false teacher that was allowed in the church of Corinth. One can creep in unawares (Jude 1:4). Rather than God just removing this person, God gave Paul the grace to do that himself. He outlines how he will do that later: call on the person to repent and if not visit and then practice church discipline. We aren't taught to pray for healing in 2 Corinthians 12. Even if the "thorn in the flesh" was sickness, God said that His grace was sufficient.
(5) I've already dealt with James 5 in a separate post. For most, this is actually their proof text for praying for healing. Even if it did teach that, which I'm going to help us understand that it doesn't, this is very, very much not an emphasis in the New Testament. Paul didn't pray for Timothy to be healed when he was sick. He didn't pray for Trophimus or Epaphroditus, but left them sick. He didn't ask people to pray for them to be healed, when they were sick. Curious if this is what we're taught to do in the Bible. I'm going to try to add a little to the James 5 post I've already linked to, without overlapping too much. At the outset, however, again, if James 5 is talking about praying for healing, it talks about prayer for healing in a different way than it is even practiced in most churches. Even in churches where prayers for healing were practiced, what I read in James 5 wasn't, if that is what is happening. It likely is in some places, but I never saw it once.
At the beginning of James 4, we are not to look at prayer as a way of getting things, fulfilling our own desires. This also fits with the model prayer. As the chapter and the next (James 5) move along, we submit to the Lord and wait on God for the results, not presumptuous, saying, if the Lord will, I will live or die -- in essence recover or not recover. The world lives for now and we live for eternity, waiting our way through this life's difficulties. The world kills the just, accepting it's reward in this age, but the believer, like a farmer, waits for the next, like the prophets, suffering through affliction. When this affliction comes, like Paul talked about in 2 Corinthians 12, we don't pray for it to disappear, because we know better. His grace is sufficient. When it doesn't come, we sing.
You can read the linked article above. The word "sick" in "the prayer of faith shall save the sick" is kamno, a word used two other times, translated "wearied" in Hebrews 12:3 and "fainted" in Revelation 2:3, both contexts of going through hard times and difficulties for doing work for the Lord, which also fits the context of James 5.
In v. 15, the person is raised up spiritually, delivered to a place where he is whole spiritually, whatever sins were there are now confessed and repented of and forgiven. The effects of his affliction are over. He has been saved from that. This man was encouraged and delivered from a bad spiritual condition in part through a means of prayer. Prayer availed here in this case. Someone spiritually parched received spiritual sustenance by means of prayer, like the rain came from the means of Elijah's prayer.
I've read over 15 different total interpretations of James 5, like I've read even more of Paul's "thorn in the flesh." We should not be conforming the rest of the New Testament to these passages, but fitting them into the rest of the New Testament. We shouldn't be finding something new and unique from them that isn't a regular teaching of the rest of the New Testament. I'm not saying they can't be understood. I am saying that we should look at the less easier understood in light of the more easier understood.
We pray for the sick. But what would that prayer look like?
We ask that your mercy would be exalted. You are a merciful, good, and loving God. We don't deserve another breath. If we received what we deserved, we would be in hell right now. Every breath we draw is because of your mercy. Our brother or our sister is in pain. He or she is suffering. You are an omniscient God. You know all, the very secrets of our heart, the very hairs of our head. You know this sickness. We depend on you. We ask that you will be glorified and exalted through his or her life in this time of sickness. If this is the time of his or her departure, you have been good. We pray that you will be exalted for your love and goodness and graciousness. We resign ourselves to your will. We pray for your will to be done. We trust you -- your wisdom, your love, your strength.
Help our brother. Help our sister. Strengthen his or her faith. Help him or her in this time to testify to your mercy, to be filled with your will, not his or her own. I pray that his or her love for you would grow through this testing. We trust your purposes. You know best.
We pray that the love of our church will grow in its concern for our brother or sister in this time of sickness and suffering. We ask that you would work on behalf of our brother or sister in the lives of the other church members. We pray for his or her family, that.....
I'm not saying that's all there is to it, but it is an example of praying for the sick without praying for physical healing. I believe God will answer the above prayer. I believe that when I pray it, I will receive that for which I have been praying. The prayer centers on God and it is according to His will.