Prayer for the Sick
Sickness was often considered to be on account of divine judgment. There were many causes, of course, the greatest being the sin of Adam, compounded in subsequent generations. Most disease and weakness today has its roots in the past, whether in the physical or the spiritual realm.
Exodus 15:26 says,
26 And He said, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the Lord, am your healer.”
On the contrary, if we violate His law and refuse to take heed to His voice, Deut. 28:60 says,
60 And He will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. 61 Also every sickness and every plague which, not written in the book of this law, the Lord will bring on you until you are destroyed.
America is the most medicated nation in history—and one of the unhealthiest. Disease is treated and managed but not cured, giving us longer life but a poor quality of life. We seem to have many marvelous devices to ensure that the sick remain alive to suffer as long as possible. There is little doubt that we are suffering from the curse of the law, as God revealed in Deut. 28.
There is a collective judgment on the nation as well as individual judgment. It is not my purpose here to give a dissertation on the topic of divine healing, for there are many who are more qualified to write on this topic than I. The fact that Jesus took our diseases upon Himself at the cross is quite well known (Matt. 8:17). The appropriation of His provision for healing is something that many still wrestle with.
Why does God heal some instantly, and others over a longer period of time—or not at all? I do not have the answer to this, but I suspect it has to do with a collective judgment of God for national rejection of the law of God. We are not mere individuals in our relationship with God. We are also part of a national body of people, and as such, we are often affected by what others do.
James' solution is, “Let him pray.” We must believe that there is a solution to every problem, and as James wrote in 1:5, “if any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God.” Jesus healed everyone who came to Him for healing, because He was not lacking in wisdom in dealing with every problem. I do not think that our problem is a lack of spiritual power or authority, for Jesus gave us the authority to do as He did (Matt. 10:8). We lack wisdom to implement that authority.
Personal Limitation and Testimony
James 5:13-16 says,
13 . . . Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.
Writing a verse-by-verse commentary has one serious disadvantage. It is inevitable that at some point a commentator would come upon a passage that he cannot teach from experience. I always try to teach what I have learned by experience, and not merely by Bible study and revelation. If I have “walked it out,” then I can teach with confidence, because I then believe that my view has been confirmed by the double witness and proved by experience.
In commenting on James' teaching on prayer for the sick, I can say that I have some experience in this matter, but not enough to truly speak authoritatively. It is something that I am still learning, and I am waiting on the Lord to see more divine healing in my ministry.
I understand that certain people have special spiritual gifts in this area (1 Cor. 12:9), but I read in James 5 that the elders of the Church are also called to pray for the sick. It is hard for me to believe that to be an elder one must be endowed with the special gift of healing. It seems to me that their authority over sickness is more general and yet obviously includes the call to pray for the sick and expect to see people healed.
In June of 2004 a woman came to my office who was oppressed by evil spirits. These had caused many physical and psychological problems, dating to her early life when her parents had dedicated her to Satan as part of a high-level Masonic ritual. When I took authority over that evil spirit and cast it out, a great weight lifted from her shoulders. Then I prayed for her healing as well. Her deaf ear “popped,” and her ear was healed.
Next, she asked me if I had turned up the lights. No, I replied. I had not moved from my office chair. She then informed me that she had been color blind for 27 years—so color blind, in fact, that she saw everything in black and white. But now she was admiring the various colors of my books on the shelf.
Later that day, after she had eaten supper, I learned that for the first time in 27 years she was able to eat normally without spilling food everywhere. She showed me her heavily-stained placemat with the round clean spot in the middle where her plate would sit. No longer would anyone have to sweep the floor after each meal, for now she could put the food in her mouth without spilling.
When people have sickness that is caused by spiritual forces, it is quite easy to heal. All one has to do is to cast out those evil spirits, and the diseases easily leave with them. I have seen this other times in the past. But to pray for healing from a disease not caused by an evil spirit is something that is largely beyond my experience.
I recall once being engaged in spiritual warfare for nearly a full week. This did not involve demonic possession as such. I was out of town during that time, and did not realize that my wife back home had become very sick as soon as the warfare began. When the warfare was complete, and the battle was won, my wife was suddenly healed completely. She had borne the main burden of the battle without my knowledge, and this ended the moment the battle was won. This could be seen as an example of healing that I have seen personally, but it, too, was through extraordinary circumstances.
I have yet to see a personal example of clear and dramatic healing apart from group prayer. Though I expect this to change at some point soon, I would appreciate your continued prayer for me and this ministry, that we would be fully equipped to do the work that lies ahead.
Certainly, I have seen people healed when they called for the elders of the Church to pray for them and anoint them with oil. I have even participated in those group prayers. Such examples are important and helpful, but it is not the same as seeing results from one-on-one prayer.
Forgiveness and Healing
James 5:15 says that the prayer of faith will not only restore and heal the sick but also “if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” What is the connection between sickness and sin? Once again, we must turn to the Gospel of Matthew in order to understand what James meant. We read in Matt. 9:2-7,
2 And behold, they were bringing to Him a paralytic, lying on a bed; and Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Take courage, My son, your sins are forgiven.” 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This fellow blasphemes.” 4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise up and walk'? 6 But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—then He said to the paralytic—“Rise, take up your bed, and go home.” 7 And he rose and went home.
There is little doubt that James had studied this passage many times and that his words in 5:15 were his own commentary on the Gospel account. All sickness is rooted in Adam's sin, and the world condition has only become progressively worse since then. Unforgiven sin has accumulated over time.
Christ's death on the cross resolved this root problem, for we read in 1 John 2:2,
2 And He Himself is the expiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
Isaiah 53:5 prophesied,
5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.
Peter, who was James' close associate, wrote in 1 Peter 2:24,
24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteous-ness; for by His wounds you were healed.
Jesus healed on the basis of His own death on the cross—even before He went to the cross. We look back on that historic event, and this is the basis of our call to pray for the sick. In other words, His death on the cross paid the penalty not only for Adam's sin, but for all the sin of the world, as John tells us. This gives believers authority to heal the sick.
As agents of Christ in this world, we also have the authority to forgive sin. It is not that we ourselves forgive sin, but rather that we do what our Father does, and we speak what our Father speaks. If we are spokesmen for Him, then we are called to give voice to His verdicts that come from the throne of God. If we have the ability to hear His voice, then we not only have the right, but also the responsibility to speak what we have heard.
This responsibility is mandated in the law itself, which commands witnesses to testify in the divine court (Lev. 5:1). It is the same law by which the apostles overrode the injunction of the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:15-20. Thus also, in this matter of healing and forgiveness, as well as in any other matter where we have truly heard the voice of God, we are required to bear witness to Him by speaking His words and doing what we see Him do. I have experience in this area of law, but less experience in its application to healing. Nonetheless, I know that it is applicable.
The key seems to be that the words we speak cannot be our own words, nor can the deeds be our own. They must be the words and deeds of Jesus Christ Himself operating through us by faith and through the power of the Holy Spirit.