Suffering, Healing, and the Prayer of Faith - Part Four
Today we continue in our study in James 5 and the relationship between prayer and healing. Our single focus in this article will be on the phrase, “the prayer of faith.” Continue reading . . .
Today we continue in our study in James 5 and the relationship between prayer and healing. Our single focus in this article will be on the phrase, “the prayer of faith.” Here again is the text:
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, 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 heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit” (James 5:13-18).
What is “the prayer of faith” (v. 15)? “The prayer of faith” isn’t one that we pray whenever we want to. It is a unique prayer, divinely energized only on those occasions when it is God’s sovereign purpose to impart a gift for healing. James was careful to place the definite article (“the”) before both “prayer” and “faith” (hence, “the prayer of the faith”).
One prays this prayer only when prompted by the Spirit-wrought conviction that God intends to heal the one for whom prayer is being offered. This is more than merely believing that God is able to heal; this appears to be faith that he, in this particular case, is not only willing to heal, but plans to heal right now. Only when God wills does God sovereignly bestow the faith necessary for healing. When God chooses to heal, he produces in the heart(s) of those praying the faith or confidence that such is precisely his intent. The particular kind of faith to which James refers, in response to which God heals, is not the kind that we may exercise at our will. It is the kind of faith that we exercise only when God wills.
It may well be that the "faith" James describes is the "gift of faith" mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12. The "gift of faith" is a special faith that "enables a believer to trust God to bring about certain things for which he or she cannot claim some divine promise recorded in Scripture, or some state of affairs grounded in the very structure of the gospel" (D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit, 39). In other words, it is the "God-given ability, without fakery or platitudinous exhortations, to believe what you do not really believe, to trust God for a certain blessing not promised in Scripture" (ibid.). Thus the "gift of faith" is that mysterious surge of confidence that rises within a person in a particular situation of need or challenge and that gives an extraordinary certainty and assurance that God is about to act through a word or action.
Consider these other texts that I believe are in the same way describing how the spiritual gift of faith operates:
“And Jesus answered saying to them, 'Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, "Be taken up and cast into the sea," and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you" (Mark 11:22-24; cf. Mt. 17:20-21; 21:21-22).
"And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing" (1 Cor. 13:2).
The spiritual gift of faith, like the other charismata, is not given to every member of the body of Christ. However, it would appear that any member of the body of Christ is a potential candidate for the experience of this manifestation of the Spirit. The gift of faith should probably be regarded, more so than most other gifts of the Spirit, as occasional or spontaneous, rather than permanent or residential.
When I was pastoring in Ardmore, OK, quite a few years ago, a young couple came to me before the service and asked that the Elders of our church anoint their infant son and pray for his healing. After the service we gathered and I anointed him with oil. At two weeks of age he had a serious liver disorder that would require either immediate surgery or, more likely, a transplant. As we prayed, something very unusual happened. As we laid hands on this young child and prayed, I found myself suddenly filled with an overwhelming and inescapable confidence that he would be healed. It was totally unexpected. Not wanting to be presumptuous, I tried to doubt, but couldn’t. I prayed confidently, filled with a faith unshakeable and undeniable. I said to myself, “Lord, you really are going to heal him.”
I then did something that I had never done before nor have I done since, although I’ve prayed for hundreds if not several thousand people. I was absolutely certain God had healed him, and I told them so. They were shocked by my confidence. The next morning the doctors had no explanation for a liver that was functioning perfectly. He was totally healed and is a healthy young man today.
I asked his mother to describe what happened in more detail. She sent me the following letter in 2011. I’ve taken the liberty to change the names, but everything else is left precisely the way she wrote.
“When Ricky was born, we assumed he would have physiological jaundice. All but our firstborn had it, from what we assumed was a blood incompatibility between my husband’s AB positive and my A- DU positive blood type. Ricky did have jaundice, and within 24 hours like we predicted. The doctors can do two types of blood work for jaundice: indirect bilirubin and direct bilirubin. I am not sure which one is the number we hear so often with jaundice. Once that particular number gets to a certain point, lights are used. The other number indicates how the liver is working to get rid of the bili. If that number is low, meaning that the liver is doing its job, then the higher number will soon go down and everything will be fine - sometimes without lights at all. Not all doctors even do the second number. Well, the doctors were doing the number on Ricky. He had the same blood type as me and should not have had any physiological jaundice at all. What I didn't know was that the number was slowly creeping up, meaning that Ricky’s liver was not working!
We were in Norman, Oklahoma, and I got a call from the doctor's office. Ricky was just a few days shy of two weeks. He had been such a great baby! I would literally have to wake him up to feed him (actually - not that great of a thing, I found out). His count had reached a critical level and the office had already set up an appointment with a pediatric gastroenterologist for Monday. I asked the doctor what the concern was and his reply was that Ricky either had a liver that was not going to work and he would need a transplant, or he had a blockage that could be fixed through surgery. For the first time I looked at Ricky with objective eyes. He was a bluish color and he had not gained any weight since he was born. He was very lethargic (remember -- the good baby - never cried!) and only ate when I made him eat! It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had a really sick baby and I hadn't even known!
We called you and asked if the elders would pray over Ricky. We went to church the next morning, and after church we went to your office with the elders. Ricky was born at 11:58 A.M. two weeks earlier -- so he was probably as near to exactly two weeks old when you did that. You told us as we left that Ricky would be just fine. I know you must have had a special word from God. WHAT DID HAPPEN TO YOU FOR YOU TO BELIEVE THAT? The next morning I got Ricky up and he was WHITE! He had been that awful blue color. He even had a fat roll under his chin! He looked great! I never had any special feeling come over me, but I knew I was looking at a baby that was very healthy! We took him in and the specialist did various blood tests on him. He had his chart and said that Ricky looked great to him - but his chart indicated that he was actually very sick. The doctor had records for over a week on Ricky’s blood work. He also told us that he would call us the next day and let us know what the results were and what we needed to do. He called that evening! He was very excited that the news was good. He said that Ricky appeared to be totally normal at this point. I asked him how that could happen and he said that he had no answers for me because Ricky had been very sick. I told him that we had the entire state of Oklahoma praying for him and at that point he revealed that he was a Christian! He told us that prayer was the only way that this happened and now he understood why Ricky was okay. It was a miracle! In fact, Ricky weighed more that day that the day he was born -- so he had gained a lot overnight. He has never had any health issues since. Prayer is a mighty, wonderful thing!”
To be continued . . .