If you’ve been in a church service when prayer requests are shared, you may have noticed that many prayer requests ask for God to intervene in people’s health and wellness. The Bible also testifies to Jesus and the disciples healing people’s injuries, illnesses, and disabilities.
You may have even seen spectacular healings performed on television that looked too good to be true. Could these healings just be theatrics, or can God heal you physically? And if God can heal people, why doesn’t He heal everybody?
God can heal people physically. He is not obligated to heal us, and sometimes His purposes are better served by allowing injuries and infirmities to persist for a time.
Healing in the Bible
We could fill our allotted space just by pulling healing stories from scripture. The Bible records dozens of miraculous healings, many of them prominently featured in Jesus’ earthly ministry. In the interest of space, we will highlight only two:
The Centurion’s Servant
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” …
Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.Matthew 8:8-9, 13
What is notable in this story is that, unlike most of Jesus’ healings, this one happened outside of Jesus’ physical presence. The centurion recognized Jesus’ authority over all things (including disease) and appealed to that authority in his request.
When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.Matthew 8:14-15
Like the centurion’s servant, Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law instantly. Absent from this story, though, is a request for healing. From the information we have, Jesus saw a sick woman and responded without waiting for anyone to ask for her healing.
When Healing Takes Time
The Bible also records occasions when God chose to delay healing until a particular time in order to accomplish a greater spiritual purpose:
“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.Job 2:4-7
Job’s story is a story of suffering and perseverance. Threaded throughout much of the book is the fact that Job did not understand the purpose of his suffering, yet he chose to trust God and remain steadfast. Job was ultimately restored to full health once his trial ended.
Job’s story reminds us that sometimes we are called to endure suffering for God’s sake. As we have discussed elsewhere, God may use suffering to grow us in faith and perseverance, direct us toward a particular purpose, or teach us to rely on His grace.
The Blind Man
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.John 9:1-3
Upon encountering this man, Jesus promptly healed him (and spurned a lengthy investigation into the event). Jesus’ own words testify that God had intended for His glory to be revealed in this occasion, so this man was chosen to endure blindness until this time.
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”2 Corinthians 12:7b-9a
Scripture does not describe the nature of Paul’s affliction. Some scholars speculate that this is a reference to his limited eyesight (Galatians 4:15, 6:11). Others suggest it is something different entirely. Whatever the nature of Paul’s affliction, one thing is clear: he asked God to remove it and God said, “No!” Why? Because God wanted Paul to remain humble and depend on His grace.
Even today, God chooses to allow people to endure physical injuries or disabilities for the sake of bringing Him greater glory through their trials.
Joni Eareckson Tada
Joni was injured in a diving accident in 1967 and left paralyzed in all four limbs. After wrestling with anger, doubt, and her own faith struggles in the years that followed, Joni ultimately embraced her limitation and used it to bring glory to God. For over 50 years, she has ministered to thousands of disabled persons, offering them hope, encouragement, and purpose through the grace of God
Nick was born without arms and legs, having only a partially formed foot where his right leg would normally be. Still, he went on to enjoy marriage and fatherhood, and—more to our point—embark on a successful ministry as a speaker and writer.
How to Pray
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.James 5:13-15
The Bible instructs us to pray when we are sick and to pray over others who are sick. And we can do so with confidence, knowing that God hears our prayers and has the power to answer them.
Often, God answers with healing. This writer has personally been healed through prayer and been used to share God’s healing with others. In each instance, the healing was manifest in a way that brought clear and obvious glory to God and directed all attention to His goodness and power.
A Word of Caution
We can’t discuss miraculous healing without discussing faith healers. Several prominent people have built very public personas around theatrical, public healings that are often affected on stage in front of a full auditorium and television cameras.
Yet, from our earlier examples, we see that God’s healing, while sometimes is necessarily a public event (such as the blind man), more often is done in private.
We also caution that if a faith healer requires a “donation” in order to “enable” his healing gift, that is the sign of a charlatan. God does not allow His gifts to be purchased with money (Acts 8:17-21).
Faith healers on television also regularly rely on difficult-to-verify infirmities (back injuries or headaches) or instruct those seeking healing to go home and be made well.
However, when Jesus healed people, they were healed instantly. He did not delay their healing (but he did sometimes give a specific immediate instruction, such as washing in the pool, for symbolic purposes).
Discernment and Encouragement
So be discerning when seeking prayer for an illness or injury. If you’re connected with a local church, lean on your church family for prayer and support, just as James instructs above.
When He heals, it will be to His glory. And even if God chooses to allow an illness to remain, this is not a sign of a lack of faith or an inadequate prayer. But it is an opportunity to further seek God’s will and purpose in the situation (1 John 5:14-15).
As noted in the above examples, sometimes bearing in illness testifies to an even more mature faith, and a greater opportunity to bring glory to God. So above all, trust in God’s goodness and sovereignty.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28