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One of my good friends, Bill Beachy, was a medical doctor during World War II. At the end of the war, he left the practice of medicine and began praying for the sick. He attended divinity school at Princeton and studied under Agnes Sandford, a well-respected woman in the healing ministry. He retired years ago and is the chaplain emeritus of St. Luke’s Hospital on the Plaza.
Bill began his journey with a mixture of faith and doubt. He saw the healing of the sick as a pathway to gain greater confidence and faith in God. When he prayed for people and they got healed, it was another proof to him of the existence of God.
When I met him, he had one of the most vibrant relationships with God of anyone I have ever met. Bill’s daily life as a chaplain took seriously James’ message of healing.
James 5.13-16 – Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
Prayer in the Name of the Lord
Bill prayed in the “name of the Lord.” That did not mean that Bill merely ended his prayer with the phrase, “in Jesus’ name,” as if the words had magical powers. Bill sought to live his life in an abiding relationship with Jesus.
If Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise,” (John 5.19) can we do anything less? To pray in Jesus’ name means that we, like Jesus, we seek to both know, do and pray only for God’s will to be done.
I was praying with Bill and a few other pastors and asked them to pray about a growth on my back that had bothered me for a few weeks. During our prayer time I felt that I should ask them to pray for me. I remember Bill saying, “Let’s see what the Lord wants to do for you.”
That’s an important statement. Bill didn’t assume to know what God wanted. He waited to sense the leading of the Holy Spirit before he prayed. He knew to pray “in Jesus’ name” is to follow Jesus’ example in John 5.19.
The next week, we met again for prayer and Bill wanted to know about my growth. I told him that I felt it was possibly getting better. Bill, then, gave me another piece of information about healing prayer. He said, “Once God starts doing something, he often wants us to pray for God to finish the job.”
A few days later, I was looking at the growth on my back in the mirror. I took my finger and literally flicked it off. It was gone, never to return.
The first lesson in prayer for the sick is that the power of God does not operate like a light switch. Bill Beachy lived in an abiding relationship with Jesus. He could pray “in Jesus’ name,” because he lived in the presence of Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
Bill didn’t presume to know God’s will in my particular case until he paused long enough to sense what God wanted to do with me. Apparently, God wanted to remove a growth from my back to show me his power and love. Bill heard from God, responded to God and I was healed.
A major benefit of my healing experience was that I learned how the healing of the body increases our faith in God and his activity in the world.
The Prayer of Faith
James writes, “The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up” (verse 15).
If you are like me and have attempted to “work up” a feeling of faith, you know how futile this can be. We can’t manufacture a feeling of faith, because faith is largely not a feeling but an action.
Some people have “spare tire religion.” A spare tire is kept out of sight in the trunk of a car until it is needed. When needed, it is put into action. This kind of religion is not faith, but more like magic. Magic seeks to control God according to our needs and wants, not according to a living relationship with him.
A daily life that is lived in faith will have faith to pray for healing, as well as faith for other issues of life. It does not need to turn on the faith “light switch,” because the person’s faith is always in the “on” position.
If we are living a life of trusting God throughout each day, we won’t have to “work up” a feeling of faith. When we bring a need for healing to God and leave the results to God, our very action demonstrates faith.
Removing Obstacles to Healing
James writes, “And anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” (verses 15-16).
Sin that is deeply rooted in our lives is a frequent barrier to answered prayer for healing. It makes sense for this to be so. God wants more for us than we often want for ourselves. He wants us to have healthy attitudes, behaviors, and bodies.
The literature on healing is full of remarkable stories of healing that have taken place after people were first delivered from unforgiveness and resentments.
James ends his book by telling us the great value of helping people experience healing from sin. He writes, “My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5.19-20).
It is often easier to heal the body than to heal broken relationships or to get people to forsake habitual sins. We want our bodies to be well, but God wants our entire being to live in an atmosphere of health. He may withhold the healing of the body until we allow him to work on other aspects of ourselves.
James encourages us all with Elijah’s example of effective prayer. He wrote, “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest” (James 5.16-18).
The Greek word for “effective,” is used in the New Testament to describe activity that has been energized by the Holy Spirit. When we are living in an abiding relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit, we can expect to experience prayer as both powerful and effective. Praise God, Elijah is one among a multitude of examples of that truth.
New Blog Theme
We will begin a new study in the Sermon on the Mount tomorrow.
Dear God, thank you for the rich message of the Book of James. As we consider prayer for healing, please help us to live in an abiding relationship with you. We know that is the pathway to both health and healing prayer.