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Prayer of Faith

James 5:15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

Isn't it strange that we can talk about concepts like “faith” which have no corporeal substance but are nevertheless treated as an object such as a book? “I have no book” versus “I have no faith.” Well, enough of my musing.

I am able to teach children the abstract concept of arithmetic, such as “2 + 2 = 4,” and explain why to them. But when it comes to the abstract concept of faith, I cannot explain or prove it. The understanding of faith needs to grow from within one's own heart. Nevertheless, I can throw out enough seeds so that – on the fertile ground of your soul – at least one should grow. Therefore, I’ll send you several concepts, and hope it will help.

Faith is, as you know, very important in the Christian life. “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). And also (the verse quoted above), “The prayer of faith shall save the sick.” (James 5:15)

I am now 70 years old. When I was 15, I found and seized upon the verse “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all people abundantly and doesn’t withhold at all” (James 1:15). That became my theme prayer for fifty years. I prayed it almost daily, and many times more than once a day. Over the years I’ve learned not to compare myself (or my “wisdom”) with that of another person, but only with myself. I can always find someone wiser than I and someone more foolish than I. Trying to be better than another person is not only foolish but also not the object of getting wisdom at all. The object is trying to be better than I was. And today, I must say I’m better than I was before. I’ve taken education seriously. I read beneficial, educational books regularly. I think and reflect. I listen to educated and experienced people. If I had ended my education with graduating from school, I’d be a sorry person indeed.

At age 65 I decided it was time to seek something in addition to wisdom. The Bible says, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23). Well I certainly need that, more love, more patience, more peace, more kindness, more gentleness, more self-control. I think the Bible implies these occur naturally as you grow in the Spirit. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to ask God to increase this fruit in me.

1 Corinthians 12 talks about the gifts of the Spirit. “There are different kinds of gifts... To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits... All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” (vss 8-11).

Therefore, since faith is a gift of the Spirit, I asked God for faith; not just a little faith, but huge, great gobs of faith. Shortly after that – later on the same day, I think – I felt overwhelming thankfulness to God for his wonderful being, for his goodness and love. This elated feeling of excessive gratitude continued for several days. It was like being “baptized in the spirit” but for a specific purpose. I thought, “Isn’t it strange. I asked for faith and I was given gratitude.” It occurred to me, that is faith. Being thankful to God for himself, for his goodness and power and love and kindness is faith. At least, it requires faith to believe there really is a God, and that he really does love us and wants us to succeed.

Concerning the “prayer of faith that heals the sick.” (James 5:15), there is a prayer of faith that heals the sick, but let me remind you of something else, first.

God, in his greatness, goodness, kindness and wisdom designed us to die. Trees die. Plants die. Animals die. People die. They must die. Every living thing must ultimately die. “ Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Without physical death, there could not be physical life on earth, because new life feeds on that which once was. Animals eat plants; the plants die. Animals eat meat; the previous animal dies. Trees grow in the forest in the dirt fertilized by previous, now dead, leaves, trees, and carcasses.

Adam, designed to live and not die, had a fleeting experience of everlasting life, but that “life,” – I think – might refer to spiritual life rather than to physical life. It could be argued that passing from physical life is no more than getting out of a car in God’s eyes. When you get out of a car, you are not “dead,” you are still living but without being surrounded by a car – or body. Therefore having a body in Adam’s case might not have been what is referred to when God said “you shall surely die” (if you eat this fruit). It was a spiritual death God was talking about. With Adam, as with all of us, to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6-9).

Jesus raised people from the dead. Do you think no one died during Jesus’ ministry in Judah and Galilee? Surely, people died just as much as before and after his ministry; it’s just that he raised three or four people (counting himself) that we know about. If no one died during those few years, wouldn’t it have been widely reported? And when Jesus left the earth, he entrusted his ministry to his disciples, some of whom raised the dead. Yet, death still generally occurred. Jesus did not come to stop people from physically dying. He came to save souls.

Although death is absolute, illness, which frequently precedes death, is more on a scale. There are degrees of health. You can be “just a little” under the weather, or you can be “gravely ill.” If we moved the scale up, so that what we call today “gravely ill” no longer existed, that term would still exist. It would simply apply to the illnesses on the lower end of the scale. Just like some people call 57 degrees weather “freezing,” and 99 degrees “scorching.” It’s all a matter of human interpretation.

All that philosophy may not help a person who is sick and wants to get well. I was only trying to caution you not to expect everlasting physical life. We’re all going to die. But to overcome the discomfort of illness – even grave illnesses – we should pray for health as well as go to the doctor and follow his directions. If you pray for health but do nothing to acquire it (that is, take care of yourself) you’re making a mockery of God and don’t deserve health.

“The prayer of faith shall save the sick,” (James 5:15). Also, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) It doesn’t take a lot of faith to heal the sick. Just a very little. The error of many people is to think, “Why pray? Why ask? It won’t work anyway.” Not asking at all is being faithless. You can at least ask. Refusing even to ask is having no faith at all.

A pitfall many people have is to think that healing must happen immediately. “I pray this minute and next minute she should be up and around.” That’s not the way it happens at all . More often than not it takes time to recover after healing. You pray for the person’s healing and you continue to take care of her until she is up and around again.

In the Bible, two Greek words are used for the healings that Jesus did, therapeuo and iaomai. Therapeuo (from which we get “therapeutic” and “therapy”) is used most often, as in Matthew 4:23, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” Therapeuo, the type of healing Jesus did most often, means “the result of treatment which embraces physical and psychological therapies, and usually involves a permanent change of lifestyle... It is ongoing; recovery may be rapid or slow...”*

The other word, iaomai, means instantaneous healing, which is rarely used in the Bible to describe Jesus’ works. Iaomai (for instant healing) is used in the story at Matthew 8:5-13. The words “healed” are translated from iaomai.

So, I’m saying that when you pray for healing you must

1) actually pray and not say “it will never work for me.”

2) expect a gradual recovery with a change of lifestyle if necessary,

3) accept non-healing, if that occurs, as the will of God, with thankfulness for God’s love, mercy, kindness and wisdom

4) give thanks to God, whether the person recovers or not.

I hope that information helps somehow.


(*footnote 1 from The Source New Testament by Dr. A. Nyland, pg 21, Smith and Sterling Publishing, 2004)