In explaining to the church why someone was not healed through prayer, I would say that, God's promise of healing the sick through prayer has raised Christians' hopes to the extent that today's church expects to see God's instantaneous healing of every sick Christian when prayed for. Sickness basically means suffering anything bad.The feeling of the church's instantaneous expectation of healing often degenerates into disappointments when healing does not occur immediately when a sick Christian is prayed for in the community. Surprisingly to say, the church today has taken strong anchoring stands without considering God's stands and maintain that the Bible tells us in James chapter 5:14-16 that if anyone in the church is sick, the elders should be called upon to anoint the person in the Lord's name to be prayed for in faith for God's healing. Since God is the ultimate healer of humanity, it is important to consider His position in His healing instructions in the church (Deut. 32:39).
James' narrative on healing suggests that it requires prayer to God and faith in God to heal the sick. We learn from Solomon's prayer to God in 1 Kings 8:28-9:1-9 that God requires persistence, humility, integrity, and sincerity to respond to prayer. Since prayer is a wish in supplication to God, expressed with the signature of faith for His will concerning miraculous healing of the sick person, it is obvious that, God may not respond to the prayer if the person praying for the sick has no right standing with Him (Rom. 14:17). We also learn from 1 Kings 41-45 where Elijah earnestly prayed seven times before God responded. Luke 22:44 tells us how Jesus prayed earnestly to God for strength to face His mission on the cross. These suggest that lack of persistence in prayer request might be fruitless and may cause the sick person not being healed when prayed for. There are times when we need to persist beyond maturation in prayer until we come to the level of genuine faith, thanking God at all times.
Hebrews 11:6 suggests that God is pleased with those who act in faith and that those who do not have faith can not please Him. We learn from Matthew 9:2 that it is the faith of the paralysed man's friends in Jesus that attracted His pleasure of healing and forgiveness of sins response. From this, we learn that healing likewise, can literally mean to cure in physical treatment and can figuratively be applied to mean spiritual healing. The church should remember that God's physical healing promise to His people is conditional, subject to obedience to His Word (2 Chron.7:14), while spiritual healing is related to forgiveness of His people's sins and their restoration to Himself (Jer. 30:12-20). This suggests that that ineffectiveness of healing after a sick person is prayed for may be due to the thought that the person praying for the sick may have lacked faith or doubt in God (Matt. 21:21).
The church is aware that as doing wrong is sinful, even so is sin not doing right; therefore as it is sinful to lie, even knowing the truth and not telling it is sinful. These sins of commission and omission often hinder prayer. Since sins further separate us from God, there is the need to confess them to God for forgiveness (Gen.3:10; Rom. 14:11). The mentioning of confession and forgiveness of sins in relation to payer of faith for healing suggests a case when sickness may be sent as punishment from God due to sin (John 5:14). Jesus has made it possible for us to access God's presence directly for forgiveness. As human beings, we do sin against God, the church, and individuals; these sins need to be respectively confessed to God, publicly and one another for forgiveness. There are situations in life when after confessing our personal sins to God we still live with the feeling of not being forgiven. In 1 Peter 2:9 believers are classified as belonging to the Kingdom of priests able to offer support to one another in assurance of God's forgiveness (Gal.6:2) But in a case where a sick believer's sins are not confessed, healing may not be effected when prayed for. We are all aware that life's uncertainties often disrupt our proposals to either delay or prevent them. God in like-manner can step in to disrupt and rearrange our plans either to allow them to happen before our expectation time, grant them at our desired time, hold on to delay them or even prevent them from taking effect. This tells us that we must acknowledge that, the fulfilments of our healing wishes in prayer for the sick are totally subjected to God's will.
There are some believers in the church today who have put their faith in anointing oil instead of God when praying for the sick. The church should understand that the early Christian communities had the presence of the charisma of healing which required special prayer for the sick in the Lord's name (Mark 16:17-18). To pray over the sick signalled the laying on of hands as suggested in the Old Testament (Ps.35:13). That oil used as an agent of extraordinary healing, is only mentioned in the 'Markan' form of the disciple's pre-Easter mission such as in Mark 6:13 where the disciples anointed sick people with oil and healed them. That the sick person anointed in the Lord's name may convey the idea of this tradition as against Mark 9:38, where a non-disciple believing in Jesus cast out demons in His name may not have possibly followed their tradition of applying anointing oil. This suggests that, healing is not just wonderful ceremonial acts, but the practice of the Jesus' Lordship. From this reason the church must understand that it is not the oil that brings healing to the sick, but the anointing in symbolic representation of the Holy Spirit's power, operating in both the Old (Isa. 61:1-2) and the New Testaments (Luke 4:18) in the practice of Jesus' Authority and Lordship.
In God's Word, the application of oil to anoint suggests symbolic depiction of medical and spiritual life's actives. Luke chapter 10:30-34 and 1 Samuel chapter 16:1-13 respectively, show us separate lives situations where oil was applied in the sense of medical and the Holy Spirit's authority. Since the subject of discussion is in relation to a sick person, I will say that anointing a sick person with oil could imply medical reason. If this is so; then there is the need for the sick to be patient since medical healing could be slow. This suggests that if healing does not occur immediately when the sick is prayed for it could be slow in its manifestation. It is essential for the church to consider as well that the raising up of the sick by the Lord at the offer of prayer of faith might depend also on the person's capability and fitness for deliverance; and whether God has anything further for the person to do in the world. These further suggest the possibility of physical healing not occurring immediately or, not occur at all, depending on God's will for the sick person. Our ability and capability to survive sickness, be healed or even die in the phase of prayer of faith in this fallen world is inevitably subject to God's will. In Luke 22:42 Jesus prayed a prayer of faith to God to take the sufferings of the cross away from Him. But God in His will did not answer immediately but allowed Him to suffer even unto death and raised Him up onto glory on the third day. Revelation 21:3-5 assures Christians that 'God's Tabernacle' shall be permanently with us on the last day, where God will dwell among us and wipe away all tears and take away all sickness, pain and death. This seems to connect healing promise to Christ's return. Job by faith demonstrated in his patient suffering, the truth of healing on Christ's return (Job 19:25-26). Jesus said those who believe in Him will not die; and that if even we die we will live (John 11:25-26). The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians15:50-55 explained to gives us the impetus to rejoice in this will of God for us on the last day when we shall be healed and transformed totally into incorruptible bodies. In the comprehension of this explanation, the church must bear in mind to balance the expectation of healing with Christ's return.
In conclusion, I say that the reason a healing may not immediately occur may be due to doubt in prayer to God, insufficient persistence or inappropriate stands with God. It may also be due to God's timing and will for the purpose of the sick. Sins not confessed and slow medical recovery could also be factors. And finally healing may be scheduled to be effected on Christ's return.
- Goodrick, W., E., J.R. Kohlenberger III, The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishers, 1999)
- Holman Bible Handbook, (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1992)
- Life Application Study Bible, KJV (Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1997)
- Matthew Henry's Commentary On the Whole Bible: Completed and Unabridged, (USA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006)
- Petts, David, Body Builders, (Mattersey: Mattersey Hall, 2002)
- Petts, David, Just a taste of Heaven, (Mattersey: Mattersey Hall, 2006)
- Strong, James, The New Strong's Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001)
- The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986)
- The Oxford Bible Commentary, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)
- Unger, Merrill, F., The Unger's Bible Dictionary, (Chicago: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1984)
- Urquhart, Colin, God's Plan For Your Healing, (London: Harper Collins Publishers, 1986)
- Strong, Exhaustive Concordance, Greek Dictionary, pp. 126; 187
- Petts, Body Builders, pp.153-154
- Unger, Bible Dictionary, p.1025
- Strong, Exhaustive Concordance, Greek Dictionary, p107
- Colin, God's Plan For your Healing, pp.104-105
- Strong, Exhaustive Concordance, Greek Dictionary, p.119
- Petts, Just A Taste Of Heaven, pp.19-22
- Holman Bible Handbook, p. 760
- Oxford Bible Commentary, pp.1261-1262
- Henry's Bible Commentary, p.2420
- Petts, Just A Taste Of Heaven, p.107