Prayer for Healing

Q.  Does Jas 5:14-16 mean that when we pray for physical healing, we should first ask for God’s forgiveness of sins for the prayer and the person being prayed for? “Confess sins to one another”. What sins are they? Does it mean forgiving the wrongs done to each other? “The prayer of a righteous man” Would it help me to become a bit more righteous at the moment when I pray and my prayer to be a bit more effective if I ask for forgiveness of my sins before I start my supplication?

A. First let’s read Jas 5:14-16

  • Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

My observations and deductions are as follows:

  • V14 the sick must call the church elders to pray over him and anoint him with oil;
  • V15 the prayer offered in faith will restore the sick i.e. it is a prayer for healing;
  • V15 if the sick has committed sins, they will be forgiven implies that asking for forgiveness is part of the prayer.
  • V16 “confess your sins … so that you may be healed”. The context indicates the sins confessed relate to the healing i.e. they are part of the causes for the sickness. Details are not provided, but could involve envy and covetousness for what others have, jealousy for what others would take from you, anger, bitterness or resentment at being treated unfairly, guilt over what you have done to hurt others etc. The confession should include forgiving the wrongs done to each other, else why bother? I don’t think unrelated sins are included, as indiscriminate confession to unrelated parties could cause more harm than good.
  • V16 “the effective prayer of a righteous man”. Two conditions are stated – (1) the person is righteous i.e. in a right relationship with God; (2) the prayer is effective i.e. producing the desired result, targeted, relevant. While asking for forgiveness of my own sins before interceding for others is a good idea, God knows our hearts if our intent is simply to be a bit more righteous at the moment. That would not constitute being in a right relationship with God, being righteous. Aim to keep short accounts with God all the time, not just before petitions.

I suggest two more thoughts. The first is that sin sometimes is the cause of sickness, though not always:

  • 1 Co 11:29-30 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep (die).

There is no need to assume that someone who is sick must have sinned.

The second is that v15 does not guarantee that “prayer offered in faith” will heal the sick every time. Some commentators believe that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Co 12:7) to be a weakness (2 Co 12:9) or illness for which he prayed three times to be healed (v8), but it did not leave. Paul advised Timothy to use a little wine for the sake of his stomach and frequent ailments (1 Tim 5:23). I assume he would have prayed for Timothy’s healing. Similarly Paul left Trophimus sick at Miletus (2 Tim 4:20). Most likely he would have prayed for him too, but again no healing. So the proper approach is to pray fervently for healing, but leave the results to God. It’s not our call whether God heals a person on that occasion, but His sovereignty. Don’t fall for the health and wealth (prosperity gospel) error.   

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