SHOULD WE PRAY FOR SICK PEOPLE?
by Shawn Brasseaux
It is one of the first questions every grace believer asks once he or she comes to understand the dispensational changes connected with the Apostle Paul’s ministry. That was one of my first questions, actually. We will take this opportunity to study the Scriptures and let them speak to us in this regard. While our denominational biases will most definitely interfere with the clarity of the verses, we trust that the Holy Spirit will teach us and that we will listen to His words. Brethren beloved, prepare for a major revolution in your prayer life!
I can almost hear the dear brother’s perplexing statement from years ago as if he just spoke it, “But if God is not healing bodies today, then we have nothing left to pray for when it comes to sick people!” This concept has surely crossed the mind of every Bible student who understands right division. We know full well that the abounding physical healing miracles present in the Four Gospels (Jesus’ earthly ministry) and the book of Acts, gradually diminished in Paul’s ministry. As the latter half of the book of Acts records, Paul was temporarily endowed with the supernatural ability to perform miracles. He raised at least one man from the dead (Acts 20:7-12), he took healing handkerchiefs from his body and distributed them to sick people (Acts 19:11-12), he survived a deadly snakebite and healed many ill people on the island of Melita (Acts 28:1-10), he healed a lame man who could not walk (Acts 14:8-12), and so on. These are all Luke’s accounts of Paul’s ministry. When we come to Paul’s epistles, however, a very strange reality is manifested:
- During the book of Acts, writing in Romans, Paul writes how we believers groan and travail in pain with all of creation that is subject to suffering, sickness, and death (Romans 8:18-25).
- Also during the book of Acts, writing in 2 Corinthians, we seeing Paul explain how he glories (finds value) in his infirmities, et cetera. We will examine this passage shortly.
- In Galatians, also written during Acts, Paul writes about some kind of physical infirmity that afflicts him, perhaps ophthalmic (eye-related) in nature (Galatians 4:13-15).
- After the Acts period, in 1 Timothy, we see how Paul does not offer to heal sick Timothy but instead encourages medicinal use (1 Timothy 5:23).
- After the Acts period, in 2 Timothy (his very last epistle), Paul says that he just left a Christian brother sick, unable to heal him (2 Timothy 4:20).
(So, why did Paul perform healing miracles in the first place? Why did those miracles of Paul’s ministry cease? See our study titled, “Could you please explain Paul’s ‘Acts’ ministry?”)
WHAT PRAYER IS AND WHAT PRAYER IS NOT
If you listen to the average prayer meeting or attend church services where prayer requests are made, 90 to 95 percent of them will involve sick or dying individuals. Dear friends, we most definitely should pray for sick people, for that is the caring and respectful action to take. But, here is where it is most important. We need to be sure that we pray in accordance with what God is doing today in the Dispensation of His Grace. What is God’s attitude toward sickness/difficulties/troubles? That is the view we need to adopt, and then we need to pray in light of that divine viewpoint.
Firstly, prayer is simply repeating to God the doctrine that He has taught us in His Holy Word, the Bible. Lamentations 2:19 describes prayer as “pouring out thine heart like water before the face of the LORD.” Psalm 62:8 says, “Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah.” No matter what the dispensation, prayer is always the believer talking to God in light of His Word to that believer. That is why dispensational Bible study is ever so important. We need to know what God told us so that we can know what to tell Him! God speaks to us through His written Word and we speak His written Word back to Him through prayer.
When the Bible says, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), it is teaching us to notice and differentiate between the various distinctions in God’s Word. There are assorted instructions given through the Bible timeline. These instructions are given to different people at different times. Not everything in the Bible is to or about us. What we need to understand is that Paul is our apostle (Romans 11:13). He is God’s spokesman to us Gentiles in the Dispensation of Grace (Ephesians 3:1-4). Paul speaks on behalf of the risen, ascended, and glorified Lord Jesus Christ. What does Jesus Christ have to tell us? We find it in the Pauline epistles, the Bible books of Romans through Philemon. “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).
We need to see how Paul’s epistles address sickness/suffering/hardship. That will enable us not only to pray for sick and suffering people, but it will also allow us to cope with our own illnesses/problems as well. It will revolutionize the way we have been taught to think about them in religious circles. Our prayer lives need to be completely revamped, that they match the doctrines of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ. This is the key to avoiding deception concerning prayer!
As 2 Corinthians 4:16 says, “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” The Bible says that our outward man is perishing. Our physical bodies are growing older and weaker, closer to dying, actually. Nevertheless, our inward man is renewed day by day. This is our spiritual body, our soul and our spirit. God’s indwelling Holy Spirit interacts with our spirit, giving us spiritual light through the divine words that we read. We then take that doctrine and believe it in our heart (soul), allowing the Holy Spirit to take us and conform our lifestyle to match that Word of God.
It is oh so sad, oh so sad, oh so sad to say it, but most true believers have allowed superstition to deceive them, especially concerning prayer. I used to be one such believer! Let me give you some common superstitious prayers. “O Lord, guide the surgeon’s hands, that the operation be a success.” “God, let her come out of this coma. Let her make a full recovery.” “May you quickly heal this person of this disease, this illness, this infirmity, et cetera.”
I say this gently, but the above is not the right way to pray for sick people. It will only lead to disappointment. Friend, precious reader, God never promised us these things. We should not expect these things and we should not pray for these things! There is no verse in Paul’s epistles that promises us good health. There is no verse in Paul’s epistles that promises us successful surgeries and full recoveries. We should not ask God for something He never gave us. Many believers die of some type of medical problem. Some Christians spend their whole lives suffering complications from botched surgeries. There may be no cure for their condition. They may take medication for the rest of their lives. Does God not love them? Beloved, we cannot make God do something He is not doing. God is God, and rather than trying to force Him to do something, we need to recognize what He is doing and go pray for that!
By now, I have probably gotten your attention, my friend. Perhaps you have become a little angry with me, a little resistant at this point. That is okay. I still love you. Please continue reading. Precious reader, these truths will set you free from religious bondage. Please let them. We need to see how the Apostle Paul prayed. If anyone knew what God was doing today in the Dispensation of Grace, it would be the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul, would it not?
HOW TO PRAY FOR CHRISTIANS WHO ARE SICK
If the sick person has a testimony of salvation in Jesus Christ alone, soul salvation is not the issue. You need not pray for that. However God’s Spirit worked through Paul to pray for Christians, and that is what we need to pray for Christians. We do not have to make it complicated. In Romans through Philemon, we find four primary Pauline prayer models (Ephesians chapter 1, Ephesians chapter 3, Philippians chapter 1, and Colossians chapter 1). Do you want to know what to pray for concerning other Christians? Try these four passages. (Please see our study linked at the end, “What is the ‘Pauline’ way to pray?”)
As we briefly saw earlier, 2 Corinthians talks about our “inward man is renewed day by day.” What exactly does this mean? In chapter 3, Paul prayed that the believers in Ephesus would be “strengthened with all might by [God’s] Spirit in the inner man.” Paul wanted the spiritual eyes of these believers to be enlightened (1:18). He wanted him to understand exactly what the Holy Spirit was doing today. As God desired, Paul wanted these Christians to “come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). What is the Holy Spirit doing today concerning difficulties, sicknesses, et cetera?
We read in Romans 5:1-5:  Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:  By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;  And patience, experience; and experience, hope:  And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
It is in our troubles and trying times that we can come to better appreciate God’s love for us. Difficulties are not something to flee; grace teaches us to find value in suffering. The weaker we are, the stronger we are in Jesus Christ. This is what Paul finally learned when he prayed for deliverance from his troubles. Read 2 Corinthians chapter 12: “ And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.  For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.  And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
What we should for concerning sick Christians is that these understand these simple truths, that they rely more heavily by faith on God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ. That they have the peace of God, that no matter what happens, God’s grace is more than enough to get them through it. They have a chance to grow spiritually, as Romans chapter 5 says. In fact, no matter what happens, God guarantees them a new glorified body, a resurrected body, one that will never age or decay (Romans 8:23-25; 1 Corinthians 15:51-55; 2 Corinthians 5:1-5). This is the hope that sustains us!!! Let us be thankful no matter what we are experiencing in life. The life to come is much better, and this temporary life is nothing compared to it!
HOW TO PRAY FOR LOST PEOPLE WHO ARE SICK
The main dilemma ill lost people find themselves in is not that they are physically sick. Their primary problem is that they are spiritually sick and going to a devil’s hell forever! They need way more than a miracle healing of this temporary body. What they need is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved from their sins (Romans 4:1-5). They need to rely exclusively on His death, burial, and resurrection as sufficient payment for their sins (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). There is something far worse than a stroke, a heart attack, pneumonia, broken limbs, brain damage—it is a place that burns with fire and brimstone forever and ever and ever, and all sinners go there forever and ever and ever! If you know a sick lost person, my dear Christian friend, you need to pray for that person’s soul salvation. In fact, if you pray fervently and long enough about it, you will find yourself by that sick person’s bedside giving him or her the Gospel of Grace! (Do not believe me? Try it and see!)
You will find that sick people are less resistant to the Gospel than they are when they are well. The longer the illness, the graver the sickness, the more desperate they become for solace, and when they realize the terror of death creeping up on them, they will grab at anything religious or spiritual. A rosary, a hymnal, a prayer book, a medallion, religious music, candles, anything. That is why you have to be there with the Gospel of Grace—you have to be there, saint, to give them something they need, something they truly, truly, truly, truly, TRULY need!!!