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Prayer and the sick (thinking about our prayer culture)

Sometimes our prayers for the sick aren't very healthy. You may never have thought about this, but it can be a challenge to pray for the sick in a way that honors them and God. Since prayer is not just about expressing what’s on our heart, but also what’s on God’ heart, our prayers for those who are sick should go beyond a one-size-fits-all approach. Here are some things to think about to help us pray with the spirit and with the understanding. 

1. We should pray in a way that reflects our concern and our pain at the suffering of others.

One of the greatest things about prayer is that it is always a way to express our concern and love for others. Prayer is much more than positive thoughts—it is taking people before the throne of God. What a privilege that is! We should never underestimate the value and importance of that as well as what it communicates to those we are praying for.

2. We should pray in a way that freely expresses our desires and wishes but also submits them to God’s will.

The foolish King Asa refused to seek God’s help for his disease (2 Chronicles 16:12). Hezekiah’s life was extended as a result of his prayer (2 Kings 20). Prayer is definitely about expressing the desires of our heart to our Father and that’s important. But that’s not all prayer’s about. We should also submit our desires to God’s will. This is what Jesus taught His followers to pray at the beginning of His ministry (Matthew 6:10), and what we see Him do at the end (Matthew 26:36-46). The simple truth is that God’s plan and purposes don’t always align with ours—they are much better (Isaiah 55:8-9)! Accepting this often requires walking by faith rather than sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

3. We’ll pray in a way that recognizes that God is in control and is working all things together for good (even though we’re probably clueless as to how).  Romans 8:28-39

4. We’ll pray in a way that promotes strength and courage for all those suffering rather than victimization. God uses suffering—whether it is Paul’s thorn in the flesh, the travails of Job, or our own our pain. The sufferer is not the helpless victim of the arbitrary, chaotic, or meaningless. God is in control and He is with us! He can be glorified in our body by life, death, or anything in between. Paul understood this and desired to have the courage to use his circumstances to magnify Christ (Philippians 1:20). This is a truth that is too often absent from our prayers for those struggling with illness. They feel useless in their condition and need to know they are serving God just as much in poor health as in good health. Our prayers for their strength and courage can help them know that!

5. We’ll pray in a way that recognizes that sickness and death in keeping with God’s overall will. It is not our Father’s will that we live in our present condition forever so we shouldn’t pray as if it is. In hospice treatment, they practice “comfort care” when it is clear that a person’s life is ending. Always praying for everyone to get healed is sweet when coming from a child, but disciples can and should do better. Praying for someone’s peace and God’s continued presence at such times can bring great comfort and blessing.

6. We’ll pray in a way that reflects our belief that there is a better life beyond this one.

Because we know we’re going to be with Jesus, we can ask God for a brother or sister’s peaceful passing. We can thank God for their life and witness. We don’t have to fearfully cling to the vestiges of life when we know something much better awaits them.

7. We’ll pray in a way that doesn’t make our health the defining issue of the kingdom of God.

Prayer reflects our core values and kingdom people need to pray kingdom prayers. If our petitions (on the whole) are primarily about us telling God about the sick people we want Him to heal, we’re not practicing kingdom prayers and our prayer culture needs to change. At the heart of our prayers should be what was at the heart of Jesus’ prayers—that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven and the ways this is to work out in our lives (being forgiven, forgiving others, overcoming temptation, etc.). We must have intentionality about this or we’ll drift into prayers that are well-meaning but miss the mark.

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