Together in Prayer

Vertical Prayer with Horizontal Impact

Effective Prayer for the Sick

This article appeared in Issue 32 (Jan-Mar 2018) of Prayer Connect

We pray for the sick in our churches for many reasons, such as compassion, obedience, and our desire to see God honored. But perhaps no reason is as compelling as Jesus’ words: “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40; for context see vv. 31–46). Ministry to the sick, including prayer, is one key way to serve Jesus Himself.

Some intercessors struggle with prayer for the sick (I’ll use the term sick to refer to any physical or emotional impairment, short-term or long-term). Prayer over health challenges, more than other kinds of prayer, tends to involve detailed accounts of difficulties. This can turn the focus of the prayer onto the illness and away from God.

Keys to Keeping on Target
So how can we pray effectively for the sick and mobilize this type of prayer in a church setting?

1. Keep It Vertical. “Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:9–10).

So begins Jesus’ model prayer. His prayer includes petition for physical needs (daily bread). But He begins with a vertical focus, and His focus remains vertical. This is the best framework for our prayers for the sick, too. Later in the same chapter, Jesus urges us not to worry about life’s necessities but instead focus on seeking God’s Kingdom (vv. 25–34). Jesus was speaking specifically about food and clothes, but the principle applies to health as well. Health-related prayer, when it emphasizes the illness and the difficulties, can amount to spiritualized worry.

One antidote to this worry is Kingdom-focused prayer. Paul wrote to the Philippians that he expected to be set free. But his primary concern was for Christ to be exalted, whether by Paul’s life or his death (Phil. 1:20). He recognized the ways God was advancing the Kingdom through his imprisonment.

2. Keep It Focused. “Your will be done” (Matt. 6:10).

We may not know God’s will regarding specific healing, but we do know several things He can produce in us through trials—qualities of joy, perseverance, and maturity (James 1:2–4). Similarly, Paul wrote to the Philippians that he had learned to be content in all circumstances (Phil. 4:11–13).

Praying for the hurting person’s contentment (and other growth) in the midst of their health crisis keeps us on track in praying God’s will. This doesn’t preclude praying specifically for healing, but it frames that prayer in a context of seeking the will of God.

3. Keep It Short. “When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matt. 6:7).

Those who came to Jesus for healing didn’t recount their illnesses at length. Jesus knew leprosy, blindness, lameness, and other infirmities when He saw them. And our Father knows every detail of the illnesses we bring to Him. Not needing to recite long litanies of the difficulties frees us to focus our prayers on Him.

4. Keep It Thankful. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6).
Thankfulness is another antidote to worry. Paul’s instructions tie thanksgiving to the petition, not to the answer. We can pray thankfully, knowing by faith that God hears and answers—even if we haven’t seen the answer yet.


Mobilizing Prayer for the Sick

Sufferers can become consumed by their health issues, focusing their lives not on God but on their own needs. Mobilizing prayer for the sick is one way the church can share their burdens (Gal. 6:2), redirect their focus, and encourage their spiritual growth.

Here are some ways to mobilize church prayer for the sick:

  • Small Groups. Small groups are the best place in most churches for the practice of confession of sin and praying for healing (James 5:16). Train small group leaders to pray and lead their groups in prayer for the sick among them.
  • Prayer Team. Train your church’s prayer team to pray for the sick.
  • Prayer Invitations. Set aside a regular time for prayer leaders and pastors to pray with the sick.

When we pray for the sick, we participate with God Himself in the work of intercession. The Holy Spirit intercedes with perfect wisdom beyond words (Rom. 8:26–27). Jesus Himself is also interceding along with us (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25).

Let’s join in!