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Should the sick pray for healing?

iStock/Anastasiia Stiahailo
iStock/Anastasiia Stiahailo

I’ve been in pain since childhood. I will probably never be without pain till I enter heaven. In other words, I am chronically ill. Chronic illness is most basically defined as an illness that doesn’t end.

I’ve been prayed over countless times by people with good intentions. They ask God to heal me. Each time, I can't help but brace myself, because I know what often comes next: if you have enough faith, you’ll be healed.

Don’t pray for my healing — at least, not like that.

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Here’s why. These types of prayers have a particular set of unbiblical beliefs behind them. I refer to it as “Claim-it teaching.” It holds that anyone can be healed if they claim in faith that it is. It is important that one believes strongly. Sometimes, it’s encouraged to act like you are well even when you’re still experiencing symptoms as a further show of faith.

And those who aren't healed? “Claim-it” Christians think the unhealed are neck-deep in sin they won't admit. Or, they argue, the unhealed don't believe hard enough. Either way, the blame is laid on the sick.

This is destructive. The chronically ill are already hurting physically, emotionally, and probably financially, too. They are in dire need of community and support. The last thing they need is to be told is their illness is their fault due to a lack of faith. The Church is called to help the sick — not shame them.

Not only does this teaching fail the Church interpersonally, but it’s also failing us theologically. It warps our perception of God. It reduces the Lord to little more than a vending machine that spits out exactly what we want when we input the right numbers and coins. That's why “Claim-it” teaching is centered around self rather than God. It revolves around our will and not His. It pushes aside God’s sovereignty. He is the Creator of Heaven and Earth. His words spoke the universe into existence; you cannot force His hand with yours. 

Since these prayers are attempted to be justified by Scripture, it’s necessary to take them apart by Scripture. “Claim-it” Christians misapply many verses, including Isaiah 53:5, and don’t consider passages like 2 Corinthians 12:6-10 at all.

An older relative of mine constantly uses Isaiah 53:5 to pray over anyone with any sickness, which says in the NIV, “By his wounds we are healed.” With sincere intentions, he believes I need to repeat it with enough faith, and my chronic illness will vanish. It got to the point where I’d feel a pang in my chest whenever I heard that verse. I knew it was being used out of context. I knew he meant well. I was still angry. It still hurt.

Isaiah 53 is a prophecy about Jesus taking away humanity’s sin through the agony of the cross. Through His sacrifice and resurrection, we are healed of our sins. Isaiah 53 has nothing to do with claiming healing from literal sickness through prayer. It promises something better. Being reborn is a greater healing than being spared from illness in our short time on earth. Isaiah 53 is about salvation that reaches from now into eternity.

In 2 Corinthians 12:6-10, there is no doubt that Paul suffered and yet wasn’t healed. Paul, the author of much of the New Testament, had some sort of physical problem. The exact nature of his pain is unknown. Paul asked God to take his problem — his metaphorical “thorn”— away. He asked three times. God responded, “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Instead of being ashamed, Paul boasted in his weakness. Why? He knew the Lord would work through him, and thanks to that weakness, the credit would rightly go to God.

Most Christians would agree that Paul was a man of great faith. Certainly, he had enough if that is all it took to claim healing! Yet, God allowed his problem to continue. Sometimes God walks with us through our pain instead of taking it away.                     

So, please, do pray for the chronically ill. 

Pray with compassion and without blame.

Pray for healing and recovery, but do not say “amen” without adding that His will be done. Maybe it is His will that the “thorn” remains.

Pray that we would rely fully on Him, be comforted, that we could comfort others, and that we would grow spiritually. 

Yes, pray for the sick, but in a way that does not attempt to — by your will— “claim” what only God can do.

Kelsie Lawson is a woman with a passion for encouraging fellow Christians facing chronic pain and illness. She draws from her years of personal experience. She is based out of the Midwest.

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