Conflicting research findings disagree about the impact of prayer and faith in healing the sick. Victor Parachin suggests it is about focus.
“Our oldest child had a brush with death,” recalls Peggy Dunn. His flulike symptoms were serious enough to warrant a trip to the hospital. There, a doctor told the family that Greg was in septic shock and his condition was critical.
As the family huddled around, one member cried out despairingly, “He’s going to die.” However, Mrs. Dunn felt strongly that God could help heal her son. She called on family and friends to pray in earnest for her son. As the days passed, an army of prayer partners, including strangers, prayed for Greg’s healing. At one point, his toes turned black, and the doctors said they might have to amputate.
Greg’s aunt, a woman of deep faith, began to focus her prayers specifically on Greg’s toes and, within hours, the healthy pink color returned. Greg spent 20 days in the hospital, “but he is the picture of health today, and I thank God every day,“ says his mother.
That case, while dramatic, is hardly unusual. More and more doctors and medical scientists are seriously studying the role that faith plays in healing. In recent years more than two hundred studies have been done, and the evidence clearly demonstrates a beneficial link between faith and health.
For example, a landmark study in1984 led to the resurgence of the scientific evaluation of the effect of prayer on healing.* In that study, 393 patients admitted to the coronary care unit at San Francisco General Hospital were computer assigned to either a 201-patient control group or to the 192 patients who were prayed for daily by five to seven people in home prayer groups. Neither patients, nurses, nor doctors knew which group the patients were in.
The results were amazing as (1) those prayed for were five times less likely to require antibiotics) (2) they were three times less likely to develop pulmonary edema, a condition in which the lungs fill with fluid; (3) none of those prayed for required the insertion of an artificial airway in the throat, compared with 12 in the control group who required the treatment; (4) those prayed for experienced fewer cases of pneumonia and cardiopulmonary arrests; (5) fewer patients in the prayed for group died.
That study, and others like it, confirm what spiritual teachers and people of faith have known across the ages—prayer for the sick is effective. “As a physician, I have seen men, after all other therapy had failed, lifted out of disease and melancholy by the serene effort of prayer,” writes Alexis Carrel, winner of the 1912 Nobel prize for medicine.
So here are some ways to tap into the faith factor for health and healing.
Focus on God
“There are a few reasons people do not receive God’s help. One is that they really do not expect it,” notes minister and author Norman Vincent Peale. However, those who place their complete focus on God and trust Him wholeheartedly learn that God can be counted on to help. Peale tells of a time when he was traveling by train: “For some time, I had been under great strain. Worries and fears were haunting me by day and disturbing my nights. To add further to my unhappiness, a profound sense of failure had cast a heavy pall upon my spirit,” he recalls. He was working on his sermon for that week but had no enthusiasm or conviction for the project. In desperation he quit writing and bowed his head in prayer.
“In my prayer, something wonderful happened. In a moment of illumination, like a sudden flash of lightning on a dark night, revealing in clarity a hitherto hidden landscape, I saw into the secret of spiritual power. More importantly, I felt under me a vast power like a full, incoming tide lifting a stranded vessel from the shallows. It was overwhelming and awe inspiring. A great peace settled on my heart, a realization of the presence of God as the source of strength.... I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that in that moment, God touched my spirit and took away my weakness, fears, and sins, and gave me strength.”
Looking back at those moments, Peale concludes that the reason for such a powerful answer to prayer was his complete focus on God. “Weary and discouraged by living upon my meager power, I threw myself upon God, saying: ‘Anything You want to do with me is all right. I give my life to You. I am in Your hands.’ I had said that often before, and had meant it, after a fashion. But the surrender was not complete,” he says.
Focus on Scripture
To prepare your mind and body for healing, read, recite, and review some of the many scriptures affirming that God’s intent for us is to be healthy and whole. Some excellent passages include the following:
Exodus 15:26: “ ’I am the Lord, who heals you.’ “
Jeremiah 30:17: “ ‘ “I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,” declares the Lord.’ ”
Psalm 147:3: “He [God] heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
Focus on Jesus
The New Testament reports many incidents in which Jesus was involved in healing the sick. Two examples are Matthew 8:16, “[Jesus] healed all the sick,“ and Mark 1:34, “Jesus healed many who had various diseases.”
In his book The Bible Cure, Reginald Cherry notes, “The ministry of Jesus has, as a primary focus, the restoring of health to diseased bodies and tormented souls. Everywhere Jesus traveled in the Gospels, He acted like the Great Physician. In the four Gospels there are 41 distinct accounts of physical and mental healing (with a total of 72 accounts in all, counting all duplications). In many stories, not just one person but multitudes were healed.”
Like the people of the New Testament, place your focus on Jesus and invite Him to bring you healing. Here is a simple prayer to use: “Dear Jesus, I know You ministered to all who came to You in earlier times. Today I ask You to look with compassion upon me. Heal me and restore me to complete health. Just as those in times past turned to You for Help and healing, I turn to You asking You to bring me health and wholeness.”
Focus on the emotional
Some physical problems may actually have their roots in emotional issues. Before praying directly for a physical healing, do an internal audit to determine if there are past emotional issues that manifest themselves in physical ways. Ask God to heal those memories and emotional hurts.
Agnes Sanford, an authority on prayer and healing, discovered that there are times when healing of the mind must take place before there is healing of the body. She tells of visiting an army hospital shortly after World War II. There she encountered a German-born American solider who had been bed-bound for two years.
His leg, riddled by shrapnel, was so weakened that it broke easily and frequently. After numerous hospital visits, it was determined that he had a permanent disability and would never regain proper use of his leg. As Sanford befriended the man she calls “John,“ she explained to him God’s healing power and asked if she could pray with him. “I prayed for the healing of his leg. At first it seemed that God touched him in a most wonderful way. Within days the doctors were speaking of a change that had begun to take place,” she recalls. Before long he was walking and dismissed from the hospital.
The three foundations for biblical healing
In their book The Faith Factor, authors Dale A. Matthews, M.D., and Connie Clark cite the following as the three foundations of biblical healing:
- God is love. The very nature of God is love, according to the Bible: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.” (1 John 4:16)
- God loves us. The Bible tells us that God loves us as parents love their children. He yearns for us, broods over us, delights in us—even when we neglect or reject him.
- God wants to heal us. Because God loves us so much, he wants to give us gifts, including health and well-being. Healing is so much a part of God’s nature that the Hebrew word rapha, which means “to cure, to heal, to restore health,” is one of the words used to describe God in scripture; Yahweh-Rapha is a name for God as healer. In the New Testament, the same Greek word, sozo, is used for both “healing” and “salvation,”thereby linking earthly healing with our heavenly destination.
However, a few months later, Sanford found him in another hospital ward, back in traction. “I broke my leg again,” he explained. As she pondered and privately prayed for the man, she realized, “there were wounds in John’s mind deeper than the wounds in his body. I began to suspect that unless we were able to reach these mind-wounds and heal them, John would forever be breaking that leg.” One issue the man had was anger management.
He told Sanford that for reasons unknown to him, he would fly into uncontrollable rage from time to time. As she probed, she learned that he had grown up in Nazi Germany, that his parents were taken from him and placed into concentration camps, that he himself was frequently the target of Hitler Youth.
With that information, Sanford began to pray asking God to heal John’s memories from his youth. Shortly after she began praying this way, she heard from John, who explained, “What has happened to me? All of a sudden I feel entirely different. And somehow I know that those old feelings of rage will never come back.” His observation was correct. “In spite of the usual ups and downs of life, the rage has never come back, and neither has he broken his leg again,” she says.
Focus on prayer partners
When asked what advice he has for people who learn they have a serious illness, Dr. Larry Dossey, author of Healing Words: The Power and the Practice of Medicine, simply states, “Get on as many prayer lists as you can.” As a physician and researcher into the link between prayer and healing, Dr. Dossey is convinced the prayers of others are instrumental in the healing process. This, of course, is not only a scientific view but one found in Scripture. Writing about the prayer of faith, the apostle James says, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. . . . Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up” James 5:13–15). When you are in need of healing, don’t hesitate to ask others to include you in their prayers.
Consider the case of Keith Mullins, a California businessman. While on a business call another driver collided head on into his car. Mullins was left in a coma that stretched on for weeks. While in a coma from January through February, hundreds of family, friends, and even strangers began to pray for a miracle, which finally came on February 27. That day, his wife of 32 years, Marilyn, held up a photograph of the couple. Mullins slowly reached out and brought the snapshot to his eyes and kissed it. That was the beginning of his recovery, which would take several more months to complete as he learned how to speak and move again. “All the medical staff here said that if he woke up, it would be a miracle,” Marilyn remembers. “It has been prayer, prayer, prayer that made this miracle happen!”
Although much is being researched, studied, and reported on the connection between prayer and healing, ultimately the matter is one of faith. Human reason alone can never fully explain why or how God heals. Our responsibility is to call on God to do the healing and then leave the results up to Him.