PRAYER: Sermon Series III

How Do We Pray for Physical Healing
II Corinthians 12:7-10

This is the third sermon in a three part mini series on prayer. The first week I shared the most important lesson about prayer that I have learned – We pray as a child to the Father . A young child is unafraid to ask their parents for anything. But equally important we are to ask in a child-like way (trusting) rather than a childish way (manipulating, throwing fits) (PRAYER: Sermon Series I). The second week we saw how special it is when we take certain times of prayer and devote those just to bigger prayers that are meant to change the world. We want to pray for the revival of the church and the advancement of Jesus Kingdom in this world (PRAYER: Sermon Series II). I hope you have found these truths challenging – and I believe it will make your prayers more powerful.  

For our final teaching I wanted to tackle a type of prayer we often face but feel incompetent in. So there will be many false claims and false teaching that try to deceive us.

  • Praying for physical healing is one we face regularly – It is rare that someone doesn’t bring up a request for prayer for healing in Bible Study sharing times. It seems like we all know someone who has a physical problem the medical community can’t figure out or do anything about. Often the person we want to pray for is very close to us. We care deeply about them. Being in pain, our prayers are ones we deeply want answered and when we do pray, it often can be accompanied with much emotion.   
  • Praying for physical healing we also feel very ineffective at times. We are not sure we are doing it right. We are not sure what we should pray. We are not sure if God wants to heal the person. If the problem is major, we are already feeling very helpless just from situation.
  • So we become more susceptible to false claims about healing. Like the one a number of you received in the mail a month ago – it claimed your prayers for healing would be answered if you took their supposed “prayer blanket”, which was only a printed piece of paper; kneeled on it with BOTH knees and then send it back to them, God will heal they claim. In desperation it is easy to think: “What could it hurt.” That sets us up to be deceived which hurts everyone. Many claim to have found the secret to having your prayers for healing answered: say the right words, touch their hand on the TV, get certain objects, send money to them, come to their meeting, buy some statue; pray to past believers & put an ad in the paper – the list is endless. They claim if your prayer for healing is not answered then you aren’t doing it right or you don’t have enough faith. All of these picture God as someone to manipulate – they all picture prayer as a secret to be found by only the enlightened few.    

But prayer is simply speaking to God. The power of prayer comes not in learning to manipulate God – the power of prayer is aligning ourselves with God so we join Him in His work. Prayer is powerful because God is powerful and we are joining Him. So let’s turn to a person in the Bible who faced far more pain than almost all of us here – the apostle Paul – let’s see how he prayed for physical healing.

PROPOSITION: We want to pray honestly & intensely enough for healing that we can hear God’s answer, then we want to positively accept God’s gracious answer which always has something special for us in it.    

I.  The Apostle Paul’s experience

A. Many healed through him                                                               Acts 19:11-12

The first thing that we see is many were supernaturally healed through his ministry.  READ II Cor 12:12. Here we see that God has done many miracles through the apostle Paul while he was with the Corinthians. What kind of miracles? Listen to Acts 19:11-12: “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that touched him were taken to the sick and their illnesses were cured.” Wow! Paul knew what it was like to be part of seeing other people be totally and completely healed.

B. Could not heal some friends               (II Tim 4:20; Phil 2:25-28; I Tim 5:23)

Despite this gift of healing, we are told of at least three very close friends whom Paul could not heal. In II Timothy 4:20 it says, “I left Trophimus sick in Miletus.” In Phil 2 we learn that Paul’s co-worker, Epaphroditus had almost died from a sickness he got while serving Jesus. And we see that Paul was overwhelmed with sorrow. In I Tim 5:23, Paul told one of his closest, fellow pastors to use wine as medicine – no mention of calling an elder, anointing with oil, or laying on of hands for healing.

Paul had experienced both sides of God’s truth. God can and does heal – miraculously heal. Miraculous healing is not something that stopped back in Bible times. I can personally attest to that. When I was 19 I was miraculously healed. I was in a camp house which exploded when I lit a match to start a hot water heater. The house had filled up with natural gas. I was burned with awful smelling hair and 2nd degree burns (that’s blisters) over the exposed parts of my body. In the hospital I experienced the worst pain of my life as it felt like blow torches were constantly destroying my arms. A crippled man prayed over me – I don’t know what he said because there was only two words in his vocabulary “wndfl gd” (that is ‘wonderful God’ slurred a bit) – but he had tears in his eyes praying. I don’t remember anything after that until I woke the next morning. I got out of bed and had no pain, nor did it ever come back. I still had the blisters, red skin and greatly shorten hair but God had miraculously taken away all the pain.

Every Christian WILL be healed, but for most it won’t happen until the future in the millennium and heaven. That is the second truth Paul understood. This is a broken, corrupt world full of disease, pain, sickness and death. Every one of our bodies is breaking down. Even those believers who are healed miraculously as I was, will see their bodies go on to decay and then die. With all the healing abilities God had granted Paul, he still couldn’t heal all his friends. The Bible says the righteous will suffer. I have also experienced that part first hand. Some of you know that I was born with a genetic disease – I have muscular dystrophy – that’s the Jerry Lewis telethon disease. It is  slowly destroying my muscles – already my wrist and fingers are in bad shape (show by counting), it is beginning on my legs which is why I can’t carry weight up and down stairs anymore. My Dad went into pulmonary arrest two years ago because of it had weakened his diaphragm too much. There is nothing right now that can stop MD’s effect in my life. God healed me of one thing, but not the other – yet I have prayed for both and others have prayed for both identically.  

C. Personally had an overwhelming, painful, persistent physical agony     II Cor 12:7

Paul faced an even more debilitating problem. READ v 7. Countless explanations have been offered for what this “thorn in the flesh” was. They range from incessant temptation, dogged opponents, chronic sickness (such as severely infected eyes where puss comes out, malaria, migraine headaches, and epilepsy), and finally some say it was a disability in speech. We won’t know exactly what it was until heaven. But we clearly know what it was like. As “a thorn” it was a very sharp pain – one you couldn’t ignore. “In his flesh” meant it was a physical pain in some specific part of his body. That it “tormented” him meant that it tortured and overwhelmed him. And they didn’t have the medicines we have today to dull the pain. Imagine being given the power to heal others of their pain, but you still having to face that overwhelming, painful, persistent physical agony day in and day out. This doesn’t include the countless other pains we read about in II Cor 11:23b-27. READ. All of this is why I believe Paul’s answer to this question is the deepest and most accurate we can find. It’s not just intellectual to him but it is something he had to live, feel and experience every day.  

II. Paul’s approach                                                                                                II Cor 12:7-10

II Cor 12:7-10 gives us Paul’s personal approach to praying for physical healing from the most persistent and painful conditions.  

A. Asked God for complete physical healing                                       “take it away”

First, he clearly asked God for complete physical healing. V 8. READ“take it away” – notice how he is praying like a child to the father. He doesn’t struggle with whether to ask God for healing since there is a reason why he has it – no, Paul unapologetically asks God to complete remove it. 

B. Intensely asked God for that healing now                                        “pleaded”

Second, we see this is not just a passing request. READ v 8. It says he “pleaded with the Lord.” He is intensely asking; he’s appealing earnestly; he’s begging God. There is a lot of emotion here. This is from his heart and he is sharing that.

C. Repeatedly (3 times) asked for that healing                                      “Three times”

Third, Paul is repeatedly asking for that healing. READ v 8. “Three times” - that’s how many times Jesus asked God the father to take the cross away in the Garden of Gethsemane. Three times Paul intensely pleaded with Jesus to take it all away. So these prayers are not just one time statements before a meal – these are serious, intense, times of deep interaction with God – possibly over days or weeks. 

D. Listened & accepted God’s answer as his greatest good                  II Cor 12:9                          (He let the painful sickness bring him closer to God)

Fourth, Paul then listened and accepted God’s answer as his greatest good – child-like, not childish. READ v 9. Why didn’t God say that the first time Paul prayed? He probably did, but Paul need to make sure that was really God’s answer. There is a process being pictured here – a wrestling through the deepest desires of our life. We always start focused on ourselves – that’s what pain does. So, like a child, we ask God to take it away. If God does then ‘amen’ & we praise Him for it. In this case, God doesn’t miraculously heal right off. That’s disappointing to us – we aren’t yet to the place we can see anything positive coming from this. So we pray intensely a second time – probably adding something like fasting to make it stronger. This time it isn’t answered with healing but instead we begin to hear God give us with some perspective – this is helping you battle sinful pride in your life. Still the pain is great, the frustration strong, so we ask again – this time asking the elders to come, pray and anoint us with oil. If we are not miraculously healed, God wants us to let this pain bring us closer to Him. God could have set up the world to give us a shot of morphine every time pain came up – but He didn’t want us to become drugged zombies. Instead God comes right next to us when we are in pain. Jesus is never closer to you than when you are in deep pain. After intensely asking God to take it away & its isn’t, we begin to accept that in the trust of a child. “You haven’t left me, have you Lord” “No, my child – I’ve been right here the whole time.” “You actually are empowering me inside aren’t you Lord – I know I have felt your peace or strength” “Yes I have strengthen & comforted you and I will continue to do so.” “You really are going to work through this and do something special, aren’t you” “Yes I am.”

E. Rejoiced in what God does through it                                             II Cor 12:10

God’s goal is transformation – Paul doesn’t just go to the place of accepting his lot in life – this is the cross I must bear (say sad and solemnly). No, Paul is so transformed through this experience that he is rejoicing in the midst of strong pain. READ v 9-10. Rather than removing the pain, God gives Paul supernatural grace. Rather than making it easier to do ministry, God unleashes supernatural power through him, so far more positive is done for this world than if everything had gone right in all Paul’s life. When God does NOT get rid of the affliction, He makes it work FOR us instead of against us; work for the Kingdom instead of against the Kingdom.  

III. Principles that help us

I think you have the picture, but because this is so important and your emotions will be so strong at the time, let’s go through what it would look like today.

A. Start by praying your heart – as a child to the Father

Picture yourself with someone you care about very much (friends, kids, spouse, mom/dad) – now picture them badly hurt. How should you pray? Start by praying your heart – we pray as a child to the Father. Don’t try to first figure out whether you should ask for healing or whether it is God’s will for them to be healed now. The only way we are going to know IF God will heal them now is by asking God clearly and directly to heal them. Personally I don’t hesitate to pray for them to be healed – miraculously and completely. There are times when we are hindered from praying for a miraculous healing by the Holy Spirit inside us – He knows something we don’t - but outside of these situations, why not ask God exactly what we are feeling?

Sometimes we get worried other people will think badly about God, or us, if we prayed for their healing and it doesn’t happen. I had one person say to me when I visited them in the hospital the second time, “You aren’t a very good prayer are you – I’m still here” – Another said, “I guess God isn’t very strong, I’m still sick.” Don’t let these worries stop you from praying boldly as a child to the Father. You never promised to heal them (& if you did, go repent), you just said you would go to God and ask Him. Besides since most of us have seen someone miraculously healed through prayers here at the church, you can kiddingly say (only if kidding), “Must be something about you, God healed the last person I asked for J “ And don’t worry they will think badly about God – He’s a big boy, He can take care of Himself.

B. Pray different ways about the same situation 

(ask others, prayer chain, fasting, all day/night, regular, cry/breakdown, lay hands on, call elders, etc)

Second, if God doesn’t miraculously heal at that time then pray in different ways about the same situation – if God doesn’t miraculously heal, we are going to ask three times. – MAKE THEM DIFFERENT and make them strong.

  • You may chose to pray three times a day, 15-30 minutes a time for a week
  • You may chose to go away and pray ½ day all by yourself
  • You may chose to pray 12 times a day just for a couple minutes
  • You may chose to pray each meal for a month – those are all serious prayers that God hears and answers when prayed in childlike faith.
  • You may chose to ask others to pray – send it to the e-mail prayer chain or tell the people in your small group. Just don’t think the pastor is listened to more. Actually I like to tell new believers because God loves to confirm the value of prayer to them
  • You may chose to fast with your prayers – One person recently told me that they get their biggest answers to prayer after fasting
  • Or you may pray on your knees with tears
  • You may have someone lay their hands on you or you call the elders to come and pray with you and anoint with oil (you have to ask for that to happen Biblically).

C. Pray through three intense prayer cycles

There are many different ways to pray about the same situation – but I encourage you pray through three cycles as Paul and Jesus did. First intense prayer time, then watch for answer. Then a different intense prayer time, and wait for answer. Finally a third intense prayer time and wait for the answer. You will have been heard. God will answer. We need to receive it in a child-like trust not a childish anger.

IMPORTANT NOTE: There is nothing magical about ‘3 times,’ it is simply a good guideline to keep us from laziness on one side and childishness, not accepting God’s answer on the other hand. Sometimes 2 times will do while anything more than 4 is probably whining and lack of listening to what God is saying. There is nothing wrong with praying for something all our lives as long as we accept the ‘now’ and give God praise for the good He is doing now.

D. If no immediate healing, let it draw you closer to God (that is, go through it together with Jesus)

If there is no immediate healing by this third time, then let this time of pain draw you closer to God. You now know that Jesus is right there with you – so go through this together. “Lord I don’t know how I’m going to make it another day & I’m miserable company to be around, but thanks for sticking by me.” “Lord, I’m glad you’re here to get me through this.” We accept the path God has given in child-like faith. If we pray intensely on something AND we pray as a child to the Father without becoming childish, WE WIN no matter what. If God heals, we know we can go through that blessing without it ruining us. That is not true for most Americans – the blessing of money in our country feeds their ego and conceit. If God doesn’t heal us, we get to be closer to Jesus, know more of His grace, and experience more of His power. There is a lot more unleashed from prayer than just our request – remember God is going to heal everyone of us in the future, so His goal now is transformation – only God knows what will most help us be positively transformed. .

E. Insist on a grateful attitude (in yourself and others)

The final principal I leave with you is to insist on a grateful attitude in yourself and others. Paul is rejoicing in his weakness, yet the stuff he was facing really, really hurt. The Bible says, rejoice always – give thanks always. This is the long range attitude we absolutely need for inner health. Yes it is a process – we’ll have times of frustration, agitation, irritability, discouragement, pessimism and negativity, especially when the painful problems first come into our lives. Those aren’t the best response, but it’s not the end of the world either IF they are only temporary.. In the beginning, big problems jumble our minds and our emotions controls us. But as time goes on, thanksgiving and gratefulness have to grow in our lives or we, not the problem, we will put ourselves into bondage to bitterness and we will ruin the relationships with those around us.  

If you pray for physical healing and they are healed – praise God loud and often.

If you pray for physical healing and they are not healed – praise God loud and often – just realize you will probably go through a process, as Paul did, to get to that point. Pray as a child to the Father, pray intensely, pray three very different ways and listen throughout for God’s answer, because Jesus is closer to you than He’s ever been before. This process makes sure we know God heard AND we can again really hear God telling us that His grace and power is sufficient. To God be the Glory. Amen!