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The Mystery of Prayer and Healing

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

Wednesday, March 15 Lent Calendar* Invite: Attend Holden Evening Prayer.** Pray today for those who are sick and in need of healing.

“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.” Those words come from the Book of James, written nearly two thousand years ago. It is what we still do in the Christian church. We pray for the sick. Sometimes we anoint them with oil. Just last week, the day before a friend was having breast cancer surgery, my husband and I went to her house. He made the sign of the cross with anointing oil on her forehead. We both sat beside her, hands on her shoulders, and prayed.

I have offered countless prayers for the sick through the years. I have always been drawn to the stories of Jesus healing. In a world that seems so full of illness and pain and brokenness, I yearn for people to be healed and made well.

I believe in the power of those prayers. I also struggle when prayers for healing seem unanswered. Like why did the sweet little boy with hundreds of prayer warriors have to die?

And then sometime you reach that point where you are not sure what to pray for… like when do you switch from prayers for someone to be made well to prayers for someone to die well?

What do you pray when people want different things? At the crack of dawn one morning when I was a young pastor in my early years of ministry, I was summoned to the hospital to pray with a couple in their early 70’s. The woman was scheduled for surgery to remove her ovarian cancer. The husband, obviously pained and anxious, asked me to pray that the surgery go well and remove all of her cancer. “She can’t die,” he said to me with tears forming in his eyes. “We have been married for almost 50 years.” Moments later the woman pulled me close and whispered in my ear, “Can you please pray that I will be in as little pain as possible and that I will die quickly? He wants me to have the surgery; I don’t want it. The prognosis is not good. I am ready to meet my Savior. Pray he will okay, will you?”

In these ensuing years, I have witnessed the power of prayer and celebrated miracles while at the same time accepting that sometimes my prayers can be so messy and seem to have no power at all. What a mystery it is. I get why a man, looking to Jesus as he tried to reckon with his faith, said “I believe, help my unbelief!”

Prayer has a way of whispering through our mortal bodies that age and break and get disease. How fragile we are! At the same time, how marvelous we are! We have skin that scabs over scrapes and bones that come back together after being fractured and cells that fight cancer. Wow!

In all the mystery, here are few things I know to be true:

  • We are called to pray for those who are sick and in need of healing. It is part of our biblical story.

  • Jesus was a healer.

  • Prayer does have healing power. Sometimes we see it on earth. Sometimes we don't see it until heaven. But its power is real. Even when we wonder.

  • Prayer brings us closer to the sick. How can you not feel compassion for someone who is sick when you are praying for them?

  • Prayer brings more peace. When we can breath deep and talk in all rawness to God, we are able to bring voice to our pains and struggles and hopes. That kind of realness, that kind of surrender, brings its own peace.

  • Prayer will help us discern what to do… how to help someone, what words to speak, when to hold on, when to let go.

  • Prayer brings us closer to ourselves, for our deepest prayers are really our deepest longings.

  • Prayer brings us closer to God, to the God who wants to hear our deepest longings, and who longs for us to hear him answer back, “I love you.”


*Find the daily Lent calendar here; or for the Lent calendar more specific to Ascension Lutheran Church, go here.

**Holden Evening Prayer is at 7:00 PM on Wednesdays at Ascension Lutheran Church during Lent (up until Holy Week).

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