This is a reply to a friend of ours who wrote me asking whether she should learn to live with her sickness or keep asking for healing.
Hi Anna(not her real name)
Thanks for writing me about the physical challenges you've been having. I am very sorry you are walking with these ailments. They sound extremely difficult and you carry them with grace.
The subject of prayer for healing is obviously a big and contentious one, but its absolutely vital that we wrestle with it as Christ followers. Praying for the sick with success is described as an accompanying sign of believers in the gospels, and is commanded in the book of James. Every one of us carry some disappointment when it comes to praying for the sick, but from my point of view, that does not mean that we shrink back from it altogether. I have seen God heal enough times to keep praying earnestly and expectantly, even though the success rate is not all that high.
I find the Hebrews 11 passage on the heroes of the faith very helpful when it comes to prayer.
Faith at the beginning of the chapter is defined as "believing that God exists and rewards those who earnestly seek Him" v 6
At bottom line, to pray in faith for anything means believing that God hears and rewards us.
That our prayers actually make a difference to God.
Then the passage seemingly contradicts itself by saying, "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive what was promised, they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance." v 13
And again, "All these were commended for such faith, yet none of them received what was promised." v39
It's not that they did not receive any of what was promised. Sarah, for instance, became pregnant and miraculously gave birth to Isaac. But they didn't receive all that was promised in their lifetime.
The Scripture is trying to teach us a few things here. Firstly, to keep trusting God and praying earnestly. This includes healing. It is part of what Christ purchased on the cross for us. (Is 53:4-5)
Secondly, that we live between the now and the not yet, like them. The kingdom is advancing, but is not fully come.We live somewhere between redemption and consummation. That is why we see some healing, but not complete healing everywhere.
We do not give up though. Sometimes healing is immediate, other times it is gradual, through faith and patience. (Heb 6:2)
Jesus' teaching on prayer often involved 'bothering' God. The person who wanted bread bothered his neighbor until he got it, (Lk 11)and the widow who wanted justice 'bothered' the judge until she got it.(lk 18)
In prayer, Jesus encourages us to bother God in prayer, knowing he is good and just.
Of course we have to remember that God is Sovereign. He is not our servant and we cannot dictate to Him. There is a precedent in Jesus' prayer life for prayer being an act of humble submission to God's Sovereign will, in the garden of Gethsemane. "Not my will but Yours be done, Father," and of course he taught us to pray like this in Luke 11.Paul's 'thorn in the flesh' was another such example of this - 'my grace is sufficient for you'. He wanted to get out of the situation and God said that He would not take him out of it but would give Him grace for it. However, in both Jesus' and Paul's situations God had made his will very clear to them - it involved suffering and they received grace to suffer according to God's will. God is sovereign and He has the right to take us through suffering, which in some cases includes physical sickness. However, this seems to be the exception to the rule and I believe we can ask God to make that clear to us. Many reformed theologians have taught it as the rule though- that prayer is more for the person praying than it is about asking God for something in faith - and have therefore robbed people of faith-filled prayer.
So my counsel would be to keep asking God for healing, for God's glory and your good, unless he makes it otherwise clear to you. Keep asking the elders to lay hands on you in faith too. Also, pray for grace to cope with the disability until you do get healed. And pray for the possibility of the common grace of good medical cure.
Hope this is helpful