While in Pakistan on a mission trip several years ago, I had the pleasure of being the guest of a wonderful Christian family. They had a 20-year-old daughter who suffered from infirmities so debilitating that she had missed four years of school. In and out of the hospital, she had endured a coma, high fever, seizures, migraines, shortness of breath, and sores on her legs; at times her parents feared they would lose her. Although they spent much money on medical treatment, her doctors were unable to find a cure. Concerned believers prayed to the Lord to deliver her from her sickness, and although there was improvement, she was not totally healed. As the story of her misery was relayed to me, I suspected demonic involvement. I took her aside to minister to her. But I did not pray to the Lord to deliver her. Instead I commanded the evil spirits to leave her. After about five minutes she began to cough uncontrollably, and the demons began to go. She began to recover from her infirmities, made plans to return to school.
Why did the Lord not heal her in response to the prayers of the local believers? The answer is most likely given in Luke 9:1 and Mark 16:17. Jesus has already given the authority to cast out demons to believers, and he has commanded us to cast them out in His name. We are generally not to ask Him to do it for us. Prayer to the Lord and fasting may precede the deliverance, but ultimately it is to be executed by believers in the name of Jesus.
As an everyday example, suppose you had a two-year-old child. You would be expected to dress your child every morning. In twenty years, you would expect your child to have graduated from college, fully prepared to care for herself and contribute to her community. But what if each morning she decided to call you and ask you to dress her? Clearly your child suffers from severe retardation in her development. It would be understandable if you were reluctant to dress her.
In the same way, we cannot afford to remain spiritual infants forever in this area. Jesus expects us to grow up and use the authority He has already given us to cast out demons. When we instead ask Him to do it and our prayers are not answered, we are not surprised. At best we conclude that God must mysteriously have some greater purpose in mind; at worst we accept the lie that God has not heard our prayer or is not interested. But the real explanation is more likely He expects us to cast out the demon. We fail to understand and obey the word of God to our own loss. The same may be true for healing from physical disease.
Just as we have been given authority to cast out demons, we have been given authority to heal the sick. Before we continue with this line of argument, let us pause to remind ourselves that our primary context is the preaching of the gospel. We are commanded to heal the sick and cast out demons as miraculous signs to confirm the gospel to unbelievers. This argument does not necessarily always apply to the healing of believers; although in many instances, where it is God’s will to heal the believer, it may.
What is the most Scriptural way to minister healing? Most believers are familiar with the practice of “prayer for healing,” in which we close our eyes and humbly request the Father in the name of Jesus to heal the sick one. We accept this practice as deriving from James 5:14-15, where “the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up.” But usually our prayer for the sick is not the “prayer of faith,” but rather the “prayer of doubt” which ends with “if it be Thy will.” I believe we do not understand the healing ministry taught in James 5. If we study the healing ministry practiced by Jesus and the disciples in the Gospels and Acts in the context of preaching the gospel, we can understand how to minister effectively to sick believers in accordance with James 5. The basic principles should be, and in fact are, quite similar. The difference is that the sick believer is required to search his heart and repent from sin if necessary. There is no such strict requirement for the sick unbeliever. Jesus did not command people to repent before healing them. Only after experiencing his healing touch did many choose to follow him as their Messiah.