In his book How to Have a Healing Ministry without Making your Church Sick, Pentecostal theologian Peter Wagner discusses the ministry of healing prayer and the reasons a congregation should have one. I think nobody would disagree that the care of sick people is a common area among Christian denominations that deserves attention despite tradition.
Despite Wagner offers readers an interesting point of view on healing prayer, he might stir some controversy when he states, “Some times God heals directly, and sometimes He uses means for the healing but He seldom heals directly unless we ask Him to” (p. 217). After reading this passage, I realized whether Wagner’s approach might lead believers to understand prayer as a way for “waking God up.” In other words, that without human intervention, God would become passive in relation to the hostile power of sickness. I do not deny the fact that prayer is a powerful and useful means in pastoral care, but prayer’s main purpose is not about “waking God up,” or changing the future according to people’s own terms. One should pray always and not only when things are not going well in people’s lives.
Believers pray to be in communion with God and be aware of God’s will for their lives. Praying is a means to know God’s heart and to develop a heart after His own heart. The more one prays, the more one is concerned about the things of God’s concern –proclaiming the Good News to all people and establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. Therefore, praying is more than “waking God up,” if that’s possible at all. Praying is about having communion with our Creator and developing an intimate relationship with him. Does this mean Christians should not pray for healing? Of course not… They should. Believers should pray more than for healing; they should pray for spiritual and physical wellness every day.
As a response to Wagner’s approach to healing prayer, I consider prayer is best defined as “calling upon God.” Through praying, Christians approach God and recognize His lordship in their lives. And because of that acknowledgment, they then express to God their desire. Now, because God is the Creator and he knows human beings well, as the Psalmist expresses, God also knows all their needs, even the need of healing more than they may know it. Thus, healing prayers are not done simply to “wake God up,” but as a way of lament where believers recognize their limitations, sufferings, and their dependency on God. He then may freely respond or not to their prayer.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, the Scripture states, “Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” The Apostle Paul here tells believers it is God’s will that they may pray continually (and not only on special occasions such as one needs healing). So for praying properly, believers need the Holy Spirit, who is the One who encourages them to pray to God and helps them acknowledge their need of God. Hence, praying calls believers to obey. Thus, Christians should always pray according to God’s will and not their will. Similarly, healing prayer may be an opportunity to get closer to God and know Him better. The problem arises, however, when people understand healing prayer in an instrumentalist sense –the belief that through third-party prayer, it is the only way that people may receive healing from God. There is no limit to the creative ways God may heal. He may heal someone during worship in a Sunday service, during a morning while reading the Scriptures, and during a child’s prayer for a family’s wellness.
The role of prayer is important in pastoral care because praying strengthens people’s identity as Christians by reminding them that God is their Father and that they are His children. Also, praying reminds us we are not living by ourselves, but by God’s power. With the power of the Holy Spirit, we may realize in prayer that we are not independent of God, but we all need his grace, mercy, protection, and care.
The Heidelberg Catechism has an adequate definition of prayer.
Why do Christians need to pray?
Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us. And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking God for them.
The Catechism helps Christians see that praying is an activity of thankfulness. Thus, the primary purpose of praying is not about asking God to do something, or change the future, for instance, but to acknowledge God in the world. With healing prayer, it recognizes the prowess of God to overcome evil and sickness. A noteworthy verse is 1 John 5:14 that says the following, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” One notes in this passage that the mechanical act of “praying” does not mean that God hears us. Christians should pray according to God’s will, and in order to do that, they need the divine intervention, something that reminds me that praying is an activity that God has started and has granted to His children.
As believers, we have the privilege of addressing God in confidence and assurance that we may communicate with Him through the power of the Holy Spirit. If we are sick, we should pray, of course. But we should never use prayer as a “weapon” to get all we want with a selfish attitude. Prayer is a gift that God has given to us so that we may communicate with him, that we may develop our relationship with him, and that we may give thanks for all his goodness and mercy. When praying for healing, we should also remember that we do not even deserve it, but God may grant it to us in Christ.