What is healing prayer? Healing takes many forms. We see this in the Gospels, as Jesus uses spoken word, touch, and even mud to heal those who suffer afflictions. Christ’s healing work encompassed physical, emotional and spiritual afflictions– the whole realm of human existence.
Jesus called us to “do the works that I do” (Jn 14:12). That includes healing. All healing comes from God, and there are many healing professions that we should not discount. Yet, even in our 21st century context, there are many types of prayer that can be effective for healing. What they have in common is reliance on God and the Holy Spirit for healing. It is not the act itself that heals, but the action of the Spirit through Christ.
One of the most ancient of these practices is anointing with oil (James 5:14-15). This is considered a sacrament in the Catholic Church, and is practiced by many Protestant denominations from Lutheran and Episcopalian to Charismatic and Mormon (LDS). In this ritual, prayer is combined with anointing of the suffering person with olive oil as symbolic of reenacting that person’s union with Christ.
Laying on of hands is likewise biblical in origin (e.g. Mt 8:1ff), and is practiced in many churches, including my own Mennonite denomination. I have seen pain relieved, a tumor shrunk, and other physical healing take place as the result of this powerful form of prayer.
Equally ancient is the practice of deliverance, or casting out of unclean spirits. The Gospels show Jesus contending with Spirits many times. Upon the return of the seventy (Lk 10:17-18), Jesus expresses joy that they, too, were able free people from spiritual torment. The scientific era rightly proved that illness has other causes, but spirits can and do cause or take advantage of physical and emotional infirmities. Deliverance remains an important tool for healing, especially among those with a troubled past. It changed my life and that of my family.
Other forms of healing have developed based on biblical principles. Pastoral counseling and spiritual direction typically use one-on-one formats to address emotional or faith issues, respectively, Spiritual Direction can also be undertaken in a small group context.
Transformational Prayer (TPM) is practiced one-on-one, and seeks to identify where we don’t fully believe what the Bible teaches. For example, if I say that I trust God to provide for my needs but I’m plagued by worry about health or finances, obviously I don’t really believe that God will take care of my needs. TPM seeks to identify the incident that (in this hypothetical instance) caused me to believe that God won’t take care of my needs, to bring that incident to God, and to have my belief transformed.
Genogram work addresses a family’s history, seeking out patterns of sin, trauma, abuse, addiction, and so forth. These patterns are passed down from generation to generation. The family system we grow up in imprints on us, and we carry the same wounds into our lives. In the Bible, these are described as generational sins that can be passed down through multiple generations. Jeremiah 31:27-30 promises that this pattern will be broken. This generational work seeks to fulfill this promise by identifying and healing generational wounds.
There is, of course, that profound form of healing sometimes called “ultimate healing”– raising from the dead. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11), and also a widow’s son (Lk 7:11ff) and Jairus’s daughter (Lk 8:49ff). Peter raised Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9:36ff), and Paul raised Eutychus (Acts 20:7ff). Elijah, too, raised a widow’s son (1 Kgs 17:17ff), and Elisha raised a young boy (2 Kgs 4:18ff). Interestingly, these two Old Testament instances involved non-Jews, pagans. To be honest, the closest I’ve witnessed to this kind of healing was a baby goat born not breathing in a bad delivery. She began breathing in my hands, and is now in her old age.
These profound acts of healing are rare. They are not up to us, they are up to the Spirit. Obviously if everyone was raised from the dead, we’d run out of room on the planet. Our bodies are mortal, and eventually we must give up this mortal life.
And yet healing is available. Especially spiritual healing, for God wants us to be in communion with God.
“What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10:51)
Prayer is how we answer.
Healing Refuge Fellowship meets for sharing and healing prayer on Thursday evenings at 7:00 pm, Parkview Mennonite Church, Room 19.