Why praying for healing is tricky

(or, a Watcher’s look at ‘troublesome’ Bible passages)

This post is the 3rd in a series on prayer. Post 1 dealt with the fact that we all like the idea of prayer, and yet are somewhat ashamed about putting it into practice. Post 2 examined the fact that prayer is important and non-negotiable because it’s about God and not ourselves, yet practically it is going to be difficult.

The big tricky question

Of course, the question that’s burbling beneath all of this discussion has yet to be answered.

Hint. The question is not: Will God miraculously heal my Loved One if I pray for healing?


We wish He would. We can’t really see why He shouldn’t. If He did Our Loved One would finally receive a reprise from their pain and suffering, and God Himself will be glorified through the miracle. It’s a win – win situation.

Or so we believe.

Yet we know the answer. We have experienced the answer to this. The truth is, God, in His sovereignty does not heal every sick person. We pray and our Loved One is not healed.

The big question then, is this:

What do we do about the passages in the Bible which seem to promise immediate healing?

Looking at the data

Let’s look at the evidence. It’s the only response I can see to such a question. It is part of the question. It is the passages we will look at below which make us afraid we are missing out on a miracle, and distrustful of a God who seems to be breaking His promises.

As Watchers, we’ve probably read or at least heard many of them before. We come to them with preconceived ideas and heavy, aching burdens. Before we proceed, let’s stop and pray for humility. It’s true that God’s Word changes hearts and minds every time it encounters them, but sometimes this doesn’t take the form of a sudden revelation or a new understanding.

Let’s pray for the trust to be able to take God at His word, and remember:

  • Context is crucial, and I couldn’t include it here without including half the Bible. It would be helpful to read the surrounding chapters of each verse
  • I’m not a theologian. My comments are not Biblical exposition. They are merely a few lines to help us think though the passages from a Watcher’s perspective.

Prayer = Healing

There are not as many passages on this topic as we perhaps like to think.

Mathew 7:7-8

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

This verse is often quoted in conversations about prayer and healing, but the truth is, when we look at the context, it’s actually talking about the kingdom of God – what it looks like and how to get in.  The doors in this verse seem to be referring to this. The passage goes on to say that God will not hesitate to give what is good to His children, just like a good father. It appears ‘the good’ is the Spirit, or salvation (not specifically healing).

Summary: God will Save those who ask through prayer.

Mathew 18:19-20

Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.

This chapter again appears to be addressing the Kingdom and is not specifically related to healing. It comes after Mathew 7, and is bound by the stipulations there, namely God will give what is good. That is the preciousness of having a loving Father. There is a notion here, however, that somehow, God is present in a special way among a community of believers, and blesses their prayers.

Summary: God is present when we pray together and will not fail to bring about good for His kingdom

Mark 11:22

And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

This passage is often quoted by those who say ‘if you believe enough, your prayers will be answered and your Loved One healed.’

Let’s look at the prefix, “have Faith in God”. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that ‘faith’ is indeed “having confidence” or ‘belief’. And yet further down the chapter, we are told the ancients who were “commended” for their faith, “did not receive the things promised.”

Specifically relating this to the topic of healing, we know King David, a “man after God’s own heart” prayed for his dying son, only to watch him pass away.

This prefix also carries a warning. Prayer IS reliant on faith. It’s not like a magic wand that anyone can snatch up. It only arises from faith. If we pray and do not believe, our prayer is useless.

This is important. Faith and hope in God changes us. It changes our hearts, our motives, and our priorities. It certainly changes our prayers. In order to pray and not doubt God will answer, we must be acquainted with His character. We must be certain that what we pray for is God’s Will.

Summary: If we have faith in God and truly believe He will do something, it will be done. Nevertheless, we can only truly believe He will do something if we are one hundred percent certain it is exactly what He wants.

James 5:14-16

Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

There is much debate about this passage. It seems to propose that prayer + faith = definite healing. Is this ‘sickness’ spiritual, as some suggest? What does the link between sin and sickness mean if not?

James’ original recipients would have understood. Two millennia later, we can simply say:

  • Prayer is the right response to sickness
  • It’s right to ask for prayer
  • prayer is part of Christian community
  • Prayer is powerful
  • Somehow, in some situations, personal sickness is related to personal sin (we can see this especially in the Old Testament)

I think the “therefore” seems to indicate that this is a spiritual sickness related to sin. Then again, the first few lines give no indication that this is the case.

It’s crucial to note that elsewhere Jesus rebukes those who assume that sickness or misfortune is always the direct result of sin (John 9:3).

Summary: Sometimes sin can be related to sickness. If this is the case, God will bring healing after confession, repentance and prayer. Prayer offered with the confidence that God will heal will be answered.

John 14-16

“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” 14:13

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” 15:7-8

“Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” 16:24

These promises are couched in several chapters relating to the 12 disciples going out to show the nations the glory of God. I’m not sure we can take them to mean Jesus will always answer prayers for healing, but they do reveal God will answer the disciples’ prayers so that:

  • He will receive glory
  • They will bear fruit
  • Their joy in Him may be complete

In our prayers for healing, are we looking for God’s glory? Would we be tempted to pray for healing even if it didn’t bring God glory?

Summary: The Son brings glory to the Father, so prayers prayed in His Name must have that as their objective also. Prayers aligned with God’s purpose for glory will be granted (vs.7).

To conclude

What do these passages say?

If God answered every prayer exactly how we wanted it, when we wanted it, He would not be God, He would be a ‘wish-granting factory’. I think what we can learn from these passages is that God is not a wish-granting factory.

He does not answer prayers arbitrarily, or on a whim.

He takes petitions seriously, and in fact, asks us for them.

Nevertheless, as a good Father, and as God, He answers prayers in such a way that His good plans and purposes will be fulfilled.

He longs for us to ask for what He desires for us. Such prayers are only possible through faith. Faith knows the character of God.

So they don’t promise immediate healing?

Do we want them to? On one level of course, we do! We want a magic word or a magic phrase – we want a quick fix to suffering.

But when we stop and deeply think about it, when we ponder God’s character – do we? Is that the sort of God we want? One who will do whatever we want, trusting that we know better than Him?

I’m not sure I do.

What now?

What now is up to you. The road is open from here. In the Bible some people were healed by prayer. Many, many were not. This situation did not cause the faith of God’s people to crumble, and it needn’t destroy ours.

I used to hate passages that talked about prayer and healing. Hate them with a hot, furious passion – because they seemed to laugh in my face. They seemed to mock the reality which I saw every day. I would read the viciously, muttering all the while ‘ha! These are lies! Ha, these aren’t true.’ (Yes, I actually did… I can, erm, be very ‘dramatic’).

I still find them difficult. I suspect I always will. But I don’t hate them any longer. Instead I am learning to treasure them for what they tell me about God. I am learning to come to them – not with demands and questions about when God is going to heal and how dare He not promise irrevocably to do so – but with a heart that asks, ‘what is my Saviour saying to me today?’

So much of the problems I had with these passages drifted away the first time I left my ego at the door, and prayed for trust.

// How do you approach these passages? What desires do you bring? How do they frustrate you? Have you been challenged to read them differently?

Come join the conversation and comment below!



Author: Emily J. M.

Hi, I'm Emily. Two of my closest family members struggle with chronic illness, and I watch them. That's hard, and so I write about life as a 'Watcher', what it looks like to support them and find Hope.

3 thoughts on “Why praying for healing is tricky”

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