We have this wonderful promise in the New Testament Book of James.
”Are any among you suffering? They should pray … Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick.”
It is a wonderful promise to know that if we are sick, all we have to do is pray to God and the Lord will give us a complete healing.
We have people who are sick with cancer, people who struggle with lung or heart disease, people who have diseases that are rare, and people with illnesses that are common. James says, “The prayer of faith will save the sick.”
When I was a child one of my sisters became very sick. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had an operation. We lived in a small town at the time and everyone knew us. So everyone was praying for us, and no one prayed harder than our oldest sister, Shannon.
And no one had more faith than our sister Shannon. She was convinced that God was going to heal our sister, Missy. She clung to the promises of James, who says very plainly, “The prayer of faith will save the sick.”
In August, 1959, my sister Shannon was married and I remember seeing her and her husband leave for their honeymoon, but before leaving, our younger sister was carried into the room to say goodbye. By this time she was so very, very sick and she could not walk. She had not been able to be at the wedding service. When Missy was carried in room, the whole house grew silent, because the whole town knew this 7 year old child was so sick.
had such deep faith and she firmly believed that the “prayer of faith will save
So Shannon and her new husband kissed Missy goodbye and left for their honeymoon – and while they were gone - Missy died.
“The prayer of faith will save the sick.” It’s right there in black and white – in the Bible.
So what’s the deal? Did my sister Shannon not pray with enough faith? Was there a flaw in her faith?
Forty years later,
Shannon became sick with a rare liver disease. The family gathered in prayer and we were so
glad when she was finally going to have a liver transplant. But the transplant did not work out as we had
died in the recovery room.
“The prayer of faith will save the sick.” It’s right there in black and white – in the Bible.
There was another case that comes to mind. It was quite some time ago. A child was born in a well-known political family. The father, who loved the child deeply, prayed to God for the baby. He fasted and stayed in the house with the child, lying on the floor day and night. The elders came to this man and tried to get him off the floor, but he refused to get up or to eat. He was totally committed to prayer. After all, as James says, “The prayer of faith will save the sick.”
And after seven days – the baby died.
That story is straight from the Bible, and the father was King David.
What is it about this promise of healing?
Why doesn’t it work?
Well, here’s the thing – in the Bible this word for healing is more than a physical healing.
It is sometimes a physical healing, but it is always a spiritual healing as well.
This word that James uses that is translated as healing, appears frequently in the New Testament, often in ways that have nothing to do with physical illness.
Very often the word for “healing” is synonymous with “salvation.”
Paul uses this same word in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 when he says, “Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news] that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved…” “saved” – “healed” – same word.
To be healed in the Bible is to be saved. It is to be made whole.
In fact, in John’s Gospel when Jesus encounters a man who has been sick for decades, the question is asked by Jesus, “Do you want to be made WHOLE.”
is a key verse on healing, but like the verse in James it is often misunderstood and misapplied. Isaiah says this in a prophecy about Christ’s death: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and .”
The word translated “healed” can mean either spiritual or physical healing. However, the context of makes it clear that it is speaking of spiritual healing. The verse is talking about sin and righteousness, not sickness and disease. Therefore, being “healed” in the Scriptures can often be a reference to being forgiven and saved, not physically healed.
Mr. Sanders was an elder in a church I served in
asked me and an elder to come to his home one day to have prayer with him,
which we did. He was going to have to
have surgery on his knee, but Mr. Sanders was so positive. He was looking forward to being healed and he
had great faith that God was going to answer his prayers and help him to walk
with without pain. Brunswick,
When the time came for the surgery, he had to go to a specialist in
and I drove him there – it was about a 4 hour drive and I asked him who was
going to pick him up. Atlanta
He just smiled and said that God was going to fix up his knee so well that after the surgery he would just walk home.
Of course, he didn’t walk from
Atlanta to – someone else gave him a
lift. It was, after all, a four hour
But the surgery did not go well. A few months later he was in the hospital again – one morning I went to see him in the hospital and he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “They are going to have to cut off my leg.”
After the loss of his leg and confined to a wheel chair, Mr. Sanders kept up his positive attitude. He had been the volunteer gardener at the church and he couldn’t wait to get back to his roses. I have a photograph of him, tending those flowers while sitting in his wheel chair. Big smile on his face.
That is what wholeness is. A simple healing would have given him his leg back, but wholeness meant he had his life back.
John Thompson was another elder in a church I served years ago. When I went to see him in the hospital he told me about the serious surgery he was about to have. He said, “The doctors tell me that after tomorrow there is a good chance that there won’t be a John Thompson anymore.”
Then he smiled at me and said, “I told the doctors that I knew where I would be if I died in the surgery.”
That assurance of salvation is wholeness, which is deeper than any physical healing.
As it happened, John Thompson did die in surgery that day, but his faith was deep and as James teaches, “The prayer of faith will save the sick.” Save – not as in physical cure, but as in making one whole.
My Uncle Walter was a man of great faith, and he prayed for a healing. This was a man who had been in the Air Force. He was involved in the D-Day invasion. He was at the
of the Bulge. He was a combat veteran of World War II, the
Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He had
faced death many times with great courage. Battle
And then at the age of 83 he was diagnosed with cancer.
And worse – he was overcome with fear.
He prayed desperately. He latched onto this text from James and often reminded God that the Bible promised that the prayer of faith would heal. Uncle Walter was like a man in a court of law reminding God of his contractual obligations to heal him.
He ended up in a research program and was taking a pill every day that made him quite sick to his stomach, but it was extending his life. Each single pill cost $10,000, and I told him I was not sure I could swallow a pill that cost more than my used car. Walter told me that the medical research program was paying for those pills, but I still think it would have been hard for me to take a $10,000 pill every day.
I began to worry more deeply about Walter. Those pills were making him extremely sick and he had given up any quality of life. Those pills added a mere 5 weeks to his life.
Walter died with no physical cure. And worse, he died without wholeness.
Had he been open to being made whole, rather than so narrowly focused on being cured, Uncle Walter would have found it possible to live his last days without fear, and to die with the same courage he had on the battlefields.
Wholeness would have given him a sense of gratitude for all the years of joyful living, rather than a bitterness about his long life coming to an end.
Wholeness would have given him a gentle acceptance that he was about to experience the promises of eternal life.
Paul said in the New Testament letter to the Thessalonians, “give thanks in all circumstances…”
He said this having lived a hard life. He’d been in prison. People had tried to kill him. He had lived in poverty. He had a physical ailment that he called a pain in his side. He wrote in Corinthians about how he repeatedly prayed that God would remove that pain. But according to Paul, God’s message to him was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
Paul was not physically healed, but he was spiritually healed and had a sense of wholeness. Even in his pain, Paul wrote, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
No one wants to live in pain. No one wants to lose the ability to walk or to see or to hear. No one wants to endure the hardship of lungs that strain for every breath, or to suffer with a heart that beats with pain.
But wholeness helps us to move beyond the need for physical healing and to see beyond this present pain. Wholeness gives us a spiritual health in which we can give thanks in all circumstances.
Getting back to my sister, Missy. I remember many years later being with my father and some others in our extended family.
The conversation turned to my sister’s death. Someone in the small group asked my father if he had ever been angry at God for not healing this little girl of the brain tumor that took her life.
My Dad said that just the opposite was true.
He felt very grateful and very thankful.
-Missy had been adopted into our family and she could have gone to any number of families, but God chose us to be her family. Dad did not focus on her death, but on her life. In the short time she had on this earth, God had chosen us with a wonderful opportunity to be the family that gave Missy the joy and love to make her life meaningful.
Of course, we all wanted Missy to be healed physically, but for all of us in the family to be healed with a spiritual wholeness was far more important.
Wholeness is more than healing.
In this world we may not be removed from suffering or pain, but wholeness gives us the ability to see beyond what we endure to see the blessing of God’s presence in our lives.
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
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