With Insights From Pastor Joe Johnson with Heart of the Father Ministries*
Kristi and I were fortunate to receive instruction in healing and deliverance ministry in college. Many Christian pastors, counselors, and lay ministers today have not received this training and so they don’t know how to use the authority that Jesus gave them to pray in faith for God to heal those who are sick, oppressed by Satan, or suffering. All disciples of Jesus can be equipped and empowered for healing prayer ministry.
Instead of anointing the sick with oil, ministering the laying on of hands, and praying boldly for their healing (as taught in James 5:13-16) we may find ourselves praying, “Lord, if it be your will, please heal my friend.” But when two friends of Kristi’s and mine were diagnosed with stage four cancer they wanted to be healed and so we laid hands on them, anointed them with oil, and prayed for them to be healed. And God healed them through a combination of prayer and medicine!
Kristi and I are pictured above praying for physical and personal healing for a leadership couple who minister in Mexico. For many years we have regularly prayed for healing of sickness, headaches, back pain, nerve pain, and all sorts of medical conditions for our family, friends, and people we minister to. Similarly, we pray in Jesus’ mighty name for God’s provision and wisdom in many other situations of need. Sometimes we see God’s supernatural intervention and other times we do not. But this is how we pray for needs because it’s the good and loving thing to do!
Occasionally, we discern it’s not loving to pray for a miraculous healing, but still we can pray for a manifestation of God’s loving presence, care, and wisdom.
The healing of bodies and hearts are related ministries of Christian soul care. Physical healing may seem separate from soul care but it’s not. Our souls are embodied. Our body, mind, heart, soul, and relationships are functional aspects of our whole person which need God’s help and healing (Mark 12:30-31; 1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Healing Ministry In the New Testament
Nearly one-fifth of the verses in the Gospels are devoted to Jesus’ ministry of supernatural healing and deliverance! Eleven times the Gospels record that Jesus healed everyone present. Thirty-one times the Gospels record Jesus healing or delivering an individual of sickness. In both of these tabulations we are not counting multiple references between the four Gospels to the same event. (See “31 Individual Healings of Jesus Christ” on StrongInFaith.org.)
Matthew describes Jesus as having a three-fold ministry of preaching (announcing) the Gospel, healing the sick, and teaching (Matthew 4:23, 9:35). Notice that healing is in the middle of evangelizing and disciplining. When God heals someone physically or does another supernatural work of grace in their personal or relational life he is manifesting the reality of his kingdom of light and love. And healing can help our discipleship to Christ.
Jesus authorized his first disciples to cast out unclean spirits and to heal every disease and sickness (Matthew 10:1). Similarly, he commissioned his larger group of 72 disciples to heal the sick in order to show people that the Kingdom of God has come near them (Luke 10:9). Healing the sick is in Jesus’ Great Commission for all his disciples, as he told the Twelve to “instruct [new apprentices] in the practice of all I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19; see also Mark 16:15-18). In the Book of Acts we see that healing the sick and broken is a normal practice of the Church.
Yet, at the same time it is still true that “the whole world lies under the sway of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). In this life on earth we get to “taste the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come” (Heb 6:5). In this age we do not always experience healing even though we pray with faith and seek to live in the spiritual reality of the Kingdom of God. Sometimes even Jesus was not able to heal the sick because they didn’t have faith in God (Mark 6:4-5). Other times he left cities in which people wanted more ministry from him but the Father was calling him to go on to another city (Mark 1:37-38).
Clearing Up Misconceptions About Healing Ministry
To experience healing from the Lord or minister it to others we need to understand what the Bible teaches. We need to learn away some common false beliefs that undermine the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit. In general we don’t see God doing miracles in our life when we don’t expect him to.
“Healing is a Side Ministry”
Some Christians don’t read the Gospel as emphasizing Christ’s ministry of healing; they put it aside and focus only on his ministries of evangelism and discipleship, the other two priorities in Christ’s three-fold ministry. But healing is part of the atonement that Christ brought through his cross and resurrection. By his stripes we are healed, Isiah prophesied (53:5). Peter also says that we are healed by Christ’s wounds (1 Peter 2:24).
But healing is not universal for those who seek it from Christ in the same way that forgiveness of sins is.
“Healing Was For the Past, Not Today”
Other Christians think that physical healing was for the Bible days, but not now. We’re in a different dispensation of the Spirit they say. These people think that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12, like healing and miraculous powers, stopped in the first century.
But Jesus Christ has risen from the dead! He is alive and working in our midst right now. Most of the wonderful things he’s doing all around our bodies and within our bodies right now are things that we’re not yet aware of. The same Lord Jesus that healed the sick, walked on water, and rose the dead is active in your life. He is doing or can do in your city today the kind of things he did in Caperfaum two thousand years ago. The Bible assures us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
Jesus said we’d do even greater works than he did in the Bible (John 14:12), which, given the astounding nature his miracles, is hard to believe! But it becomes obviously true from our vantage point today when you think about the power of the Holy Spirit spread amongst millions of disciples of Jesus and over many centuries. There have been countless amazing miracles done in the name of Jesus around the world the last two thousand years! They most commonly occur amongst the poor and in third world countries, perhaps because they’re more open to then spiritual world, the Gospel of Christ, and divine healing.
By explaining away supernatural healing from our world today, the dispensationalist Christians seem to incorporate a strand of secular humanism. The secular materialist denies the invisible, spiritual world. “Scientific thinking” sometimes becomes like this. We only trust what we can see with our physical eyes or prove by human logic. For some, Christianity becomes so rationale and so tied to human doctrines or theories that spiritual reality and the supernatural are greatly discounted.
“We Can’t Imitate Jesus’ Healing Ministry”
Some Christians say that we can’t imitate Jesus — after all, he’s the Son of God! He’s sinless and has perfect faith, perfect submission to the Father. It’s true that Christ Jesus alone is perfect and he is the unique Son of God. But the Bible testifies repeatedly that Jesus is fully human, as well as being fully God. Citing the early Church hymn that goes back to the Apostles (Philippians 2:6-11), many Christian Bible scholars believe that in some mystical way the Son of God emptied himself of his privileges as God (his “kenosis”), confined himself to human nature, and did not use his divine attributes while on earth.
To imitate Jesus in every way is the most important thing we can do! However, we cannot succeed at this unless we internalize and depend on the Spirit of Jesus by faith in God’s grace to us through giving us Christ. God alone makes us righteous, knows what’s best, loves truly, and can heal the sick.
If you read the Gospels closely it seems that even Jesus couldn’t heal in his own power! The Bible says that Jesus healed the sick in dependence upon the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:14-21; Acts 10:38). In fact, Jesus insisted that he didn’t do anything on his own, but always acted in concert with God the Father (John 5:19). Jack Deere says in Surprised By the Holy Spirit that “Both Luke and Jesus made it absolutely clear that the source of power in Jesus’ ministry was not his deity, but rather his dependence o the Holy Spirit.”
Some Bible scholars disagree with that view, but they can’t refute the fact that Jesus commissioned his followers to carry on his healing ministry and that the Bible shows them doing exactly that.
Yet, perhaps it is true that some of Jesus’ miracles like turning water into wine, calming the storm, walking on water, feeding thousands of people by making bread out of prayer, or raising Lazarus from being dead in the tomb for four days are not repeatable by Christians today. Maybe Jesus did do these miracles out of his divinity or maybe his faith was perfect or maybe God did these miracles were done to show us the glory of the Son of God and inspire us to put our trust in him for the forgiveness of our sins and divine life for eternity.
Other Christians hold to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in a way that diminishes or even eradicates human responsibility. This is called divine determinism or hyper Calvinism (after the great reformer John Calvin who strongly emphasized God’s sovereignty). It’s as if when someone is sick with cancer that’s what God wants so we need to just accept it. Or if God wants to heal that person then he will and if he doesn’t then he won’t. But why pray if God doesn’t answer prayer? If God is just going to do whatever he’s going to do then it’s as if he’s the marionette master and we’re his puppets.
Obviously, a sincere look at our world shows that there are many things that are not as God wants. Human beings are fighting and killing each other, sometimes even in the name of Jesus! We and God have a dark enemy who constantly tries to steal, kill, and destroy any sign of God’s goodness (John 10:10). His main ways of doing evil are to tell us lies and accusations (John 8:44, Rev 12:10). Angels are constantly battling against demons in order to expand God’s kingdom and minister God’s love to people (Psalm 91:11-12, 103:20; Daniel 10, Matt 18:10; Acts 12:15; Eph 6:11-17; Heb 1:14).
God has created a world that allowed for Satan and other angels to rebel and become demons and for humans to choose evil, and yet he is sovereign still and is working redemptively through all these things, bringing good out of bad. Sickness and disease are bad. It doesn’t make God happy for you or I to be afflicted with illness, physical or mental, or to be distressed in a conflicted relationship with a loved one. God does not cause these things. We live in a fallen world — we don’t live in the Garden of Eden anymore!
The Lord honors us by giving us free choice and by giving us influence in the outcomes of human history. He listens to our prayers for healing and all of our prayers for his supernatural intervention and he responds. In fact, sometimes, at least as far as we can understand it, the Bible shows us that the Lord changes what he intended to do in response to human prayers. The story of King Hezekiah being healed physically and his life lengthened is a clear example of this. (2 Kings 20:1-7. See also Exodus 32:14; Jer 26:13, 19; Jonah 4:2; Amos 7:3, 6). Also we see that Jesus changed his mind. (See John 7:6-10 for one example.).
But the Bible says that God doesn’t change his mind! (Num 23:19, Malachi 3:6) The essential point there is that God never lies and his character and overall purposes are unchanging. But on other decisions he may change his intentions. As Dallas Willard says, “The face of God is not a cosmic, unblinking stare!” God is a Person with personality and feelings and he is engaged in a real relationship with us in which he allows himself to be influenced (not controlled) by us and our prayers.
But when we pray for something didn’t God already know what he was going to do anyway? Or maybe sometimes God chooses not to know what he’ll do in what we experience as the future. Yes, God is omniscient, knowing all things, but God is also omnipotent, capable of doing anything, and maybe sometimes he chooses not to know something. Besides, he is perfectly loving and it wouldn’t be loving for him to control everything — that’s not a real relationship!
On the other extreme of divine determinism is the “Name it and claim it” evangelists who make a causal link between human faith and God’s healing. If I believe right or say the right prayer then God has to heal or answer my prayer. If God doesn’t heal then it’s because I or you didn’t have “enough” faith. This is forcing God; it’s reducing his sovereign Lordship.
A formulaic faith overemphasizes human responsibility. It turns faith into something we initiate and produce; it makes faith a human work and healing a reward for our faith or prayers. We become focused on our performance and generating results by our faith when we should be focusing on God, worshiping him and trusting him. Genuine faith is always a response to what God is saying and doing. We can’t have saving or healing or sanctifying faith without God! Faith is trusting and putting confidence in God — his Person, not something we want him to do.
Sometimes a faithful Christian is suffering, prays with faith for healing and receives prayers of faith for healing from spiritual elders, with worshiping God and trusting the promises of the Bible, with the laying on of hands and anointing oil, but still they’re not healed. It doesn’t make sense. It feels bad. The sick person needs lots of empathy and affirmation for their Hebrews 11 faith of persevering with God even when they’re prayers aren’t answered.
God is God. Sometimes we pray and he intervenes supernaturally in ways that we see and other times he does not, at least not yet. Do we still believe that God is good? Do we still love and trust him? While we wait for the healing that hasn’t come do we still believe that God is doing other lovely things for our well-being and our formation in Christ? Are we learning to see and participate in what God is doing in the spiritual world that interpenetrates the physical world?
Christly Healing Prayer Ministry Today
Jesus commissioned his disciples — the twelve and the seventy-two and through them all of his followers — to carry on his ministry of healing (Luke 9:1-5, 10:1-5). He gave us his authority (exousia) and his power (dunamis) to heal the sick (Matthew 10:1, 8; Mark 16:16-18). In the early Church it was a normal and regular occurrence for the sick to receive a prayer of Elijah-like faith from a mature Christian — and it didn’t need to an professional or expert, just an elder in the local church would suffice (James 5:13-18).
We’re speaking of our ministries of physical healing and emotional healing. We learn about both from Jesus’ ministry of bodily healing. We also learn from the healing ministry of the Apostles which we see in the Book of Acts.
Here are some principles and practices to consider for offering healing prayer to others. But don’t look at these as a list of requirements! These are possibilities that may be helpful, depending upon the people involved and the need.
The Goal of Healing Ministry
It might be surprising to you for me to say that the goal of healing ministry is not healing!
“Papa Joe” Johnson says that the primary goal of healing ministry is to “Provide a safe place were faith is encouraged and we expect people to be healed while at the same time pain and suffering are allowed without shame.” He adds that people who are physically sick or emotionally wounded are vulnerable and needed to be treated with great respect and gentleness. In other words, the person is more important than their healing.
In his book Experiencing Healing Prayer, Rick Richardson writes, “Healing is primarily about the transformation of the person in to a truer and more whole follower, worshiper and lover of God.” (2005 edition, p. 27) We see this even in Jesus’ ministry. Obviously, his ministry of healing is a work of compassion for the one suffering, but even more his healings are “God-pointing, God-revealing acts” (John 3:1-2, MSG). Throughout his Gospel John calls the healing acts of Jesus “signs.” They give glory to God, reveal Jesus as the Son of God and Savior from sin.
In short God heals people to foster discipleship to Christ, to form them more into the blessed image of his beloved Son. This is a gift for all eternity and all creation!
Affirm the Value of Modern Medicine
Healing ministry is not to be practiced in isolation from modern medicine. All truth is God’s truth and all good is God’s good. God uses doctors, medicines, and all kinds of caregivers and treatments to minister divine health to people. He inspires scientists to discover new cures. He gives supernatural insight, ability, and strength to doctors and counselors. Of course, medical, psychological, and other forms of health care are most effective when we also pray for God to supernaturally intervene. Sometimes God chooses to heal without medical care.
Practice God’s Healing Presence
Rick Richardson has been involved in healing prayer ministry for many years, initially with Leanne Payne. He started a prayer ministry for healing in his church many years ago. He begins his healing prayer services with worship and Bible teaching, seeking to flood everyone with a sense of God’s loving presence. He says that “practicing God’s healing presence” facilities receiving the gift of divine healing.
When ministering to an individual he uses the same approach, saturating them in God’s gracious presence. In The Divine Conspiracy Dallas Willard calls this enthralling the mind with God. Rick describes how a woman named Sharon experienced emotional healing from a painful relational crash: “As she began to taste and see that the Lord is good, she gained strength to face her pain and receive truth and healing. She went on to experience deep healing for her soul and strength to make new choices.” (p. 54)
In the Old Testament when the Israelites under good King Jehoshaphat had to defend themselves from enemies they put singers worshipping the Lord on the front lines of battle and gave them victory! (2 Chronicles 20:21) When we worship God and proclaim the name of Jesus Christ demons flee, sin is dissolved, and we can be warmed by God’s loving presence.
Minister In Teams
When Jesus sent out his disciples to minister the Good News and heal the sick he sent them in pairs. “Two are better than one,” the wise man of Ecclesiastes says. “If one falls the other can lend a hand up. One alone gets cold, but two can keep each other warm” (4:9-11, paraphrased).
When we minister with a friend or as part of team not only can we support each other, but different people will notice different things and have different gifts to share. When a man and woman minister to someone together, like Kristi and I often do for Soul Shepherding, it’s especially effective. Their combined masculinity and femininity bring a fuller revelation of God’s character, like a loving mother and father caring for their child.
The Healing Prayer Session
When you’re meeting with someone to pray for their healing there are a few aspects to consider. If the person needing healing is receptive and their is time then you may want to incorporate some or all of these steps for ministering healing prayer.
Interview the Person Who Needs Healing
When praying for someone in need we shouldn’t just jump in and pray — we need to invite people to share what’s going on with them, how they feel, and what they need from God. We need to establish rapport. Ask questions. Listen. Discern what’s most important for them. Empathy is a from of prayer, or it can be, especially if you shoot up silent prayer phrases now and again as you listen or simply have a heart that is attending to God as you care for someone.
Jesus often asked questions of people he interacted with. In John’s Gospel the first words that Jesus says are a question: “What do you want?” (John 1:37). Mark shows Jesus asking blind Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Why did Jesus ask that? He knew what Bartimaeus wanted — he was a blind man stooped over at the side of the road irritating everyone with his constant begging for money! Everybody ignored Bartimaeus, but Jesus called for him. He was showing concern for him, establishing a connection. He was also inviting him to take some personal responsibility and initiative toward being healed. Jesus was cultivating Bartimaeus’ faith.
There are various questions we might ask in the spirit that Jesus models:
- “What do you need?”
- “What is this problem like for you?”
- “What has your doctor said about this?” (Learn details about what to pray for.)
- “How do you feel about this?”
- “When did it start?”
- “What was happening in your life at that time?” (Maybe a stress reaction is part of the problem.)
- “Have you prayed about this situation and if so what has your experience been?”
- “Has God led you to any particular Scriptures or given you any insights about this?”
- “How do you feel about me praying for you to be healed?” (You’ll learn how to approach your prayer in way that the person can better receive. Or sometimes it’s not appropriate to pray for healing.)
These are just some sample questions. Depending on the situation you may ask a few of these questions or similar ones.
Discern The Best Prayer Strategy
In Francis MacNutt’s book Healing he identifies four basic healing prayer strategies that differ depending on the need. Discernment is key. Prayer ministers need to listen to God as they listen to people. Long before the interview they need to be students of people and their pains and problems, and of the Bible and psychology, so that they have some ideas of what to look for.
Does the sickness or dysfunction have to do with the person’s spirit, their heart and emotions, their body, or are they being harassed by a demon? The prayer remedies differ. If the problem is sin in the spirit then repentance is needed. If the heart is wounded then inner healing is the need. If there is physical sickness or disease then a prayer of faith for healing is called for. If the person is wrestling with demons (plagued by Satan’s lies or oppressed) then deliverance ministry is the strategy.
Ask the Person Needing Help or Healing to Act With Faith in Christ
Before Jesus healed people he often asked them to do something. With the blind man begging outside the temple Jesus picked up some dirt, spit in it, and rubbed it in his eyes. The man could’ve told Jesus to leave him alone! But he trusted him. Then Jesus told him to get up and walk over to at the Pool of Siloam, walk down the steps, and wash the mud off of his eyes. He might have said, “I can’t. I’m blind.” But he did it. (John 9:1-7)
It was even more dramatic in the cases of the man in the synagogue with the withered hand and the paralytic by the Sheep Gate Pool. Jesus asked them to do things that they couldn’t physically do in their own power and they took Jesus at his word and did them with God’s power! (Mark 3:1-5; John 5:1-8)
We probably won’t be led by God to ask people to do physically impossible things in order to be healed. On the other hand, in my life of venturing on God to pray for family or friends and in our Soul Shepherding ministry to pastors and leaders I have learned to do many things that I don’t know how to do. I listen for God’s word, step out in confidence that God will act and will show me what to do, and then watch to see what great thing he will do! He keeps surprising and delighting me!
In prayer ministry we can ask people to do simple things that will exercise their faith and help them to receive from God. Meditate on a Scripture. Keep giving thanks to God. Open their hands to God as we pray for them. Kneel before an altar beside us as we pray together. Fast and pray. Imagine themselves in a painful memory, tell God how they feel in it, ask Christ to reveal himself. I’ve done all these things in my prayer ministry to others and have seen a great effect.
Minister Healing Prayer In Tangible Ways
Interestingly, when you look at all the resources and methods Jesus used to heal people you can’t come up with one favorite approach to healing! He keeps using different ones. Apparently, what he says and does to tangibly minister healing depends on the person and the situation. He uses bread, spit, dirt, water, the hem of his robe, and various commands for immediate action to do his miracles. Sometimes he heals or delivers people in public and other times he takes them outside the village or behind closed doors in a house. Usually he doesn’t pray out loud for a miracle, but sometimes he does.
In the Bible and throughout history God has ministered healing through the bodies of people and through common objects made sacred, like anointing oil, the bread and wine of communion, or baptismal water. The point is that it helps us to receive a blessing from God if we pray with another person and do something like eat the body and blood of Christ, raise our hands to worship the Lord, kneel in prayer at an altar, look at a crucifix or Gospel painting, memorize a Scripture, speak in faith out loud, or skip with joy!
The laying of hands is a special Biblical ministry that goes with prayer. Papa Joe has studied this and says that in the Bible the laying on of hands is done for healing (Mark 16:17-18; Acts 14:3, 28:8-9), blessing (Gen 48:14-16; Lev 9:22-24; Luke 24:50-53), being filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:5-17, 19:1-6), receiving a spiritual gift (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6), and commissioning for special ministry (Acts 13:3). Anointing with oil is associated with the laying on of hands and provides another sensate conduit for the ministry of the Holy Spirit (James 5:14).
We need to ask permission to touch people, especially with the opposite gender and anyone who is sensitive to touch, maybe because they’ve been abused or maybe they haven’t hugged much and it’s uncomfortable for them.
It can be effective to touch the part of the body that needs special prayer, but if this part is near the breasts or genitals, the stomach, or another sensitive area then you should ask if the person would be comfortable putting their own hand there and then let you put your hand on top of theirs. Or perhaps the person’s spouse is part of the prayer and they can put their hand there and then you put your hand on top. Or you can just pray out loud, letting the person’s own hand or the spouse’s hand be your proxy.
Pray With Faith
Jesus said, “You don’t have because you haven’t asked. Ask and keep asking… Your heavenly Father loves to give you the best gifts!” (Matthew 7:7, paraphrase).
Don’t worry about whether or not your prayer will be answered — that’s God’s business not yours! As you listen, discern what good thing God wants to do. God is all-knowing, all-powerful, always present, and perfectly loving. Stick your neck out to ask the Lord to do something beautiful. John Wimber taught that in healing ministry “Everyone gets to play!” Let it be an adventure of discovering what God will do!
People always feel loved when you pray for them with confident, loving faith! Just in the last couple of years I’ve taken initiative to go over and pray for two neighbors with advanced cancer and both have been healed through a combination of prayer and medical treatment. Both were so thankful and told me that no one else prayed for them in this way. I was just doing my best to love my neighbor and pray for them as I would want to be prayed for if I were in their situation.
Pray With Authority
When you ask for God to heal, guide, or intervene supernaturally in some other way don’t be pleading, hesitant, or feeble about it — be bold! Jesus gave you authority to heal the sick and cast out devils in his name! (Matthew 10:1, Mark 16:15-20, Luke 10:9, Acts 3:6, James 5:14-16) When you’re sick or have a disease you don’t want someone to pray, “Please Lord, if it’s your will heal my friend.” You want a prayer of faith in God’s love and power to help you!
When Jesus and the Apostles prayed for healing they normally commanded it. Papa Joe says, “Jesus told blind eyes to see, deaf ears to hear, dead people to live, and the crippled to walk! The power and authority of the Lord is present with us to heal as it was with Jesus (Luke 5:17, 9:1, 10:1; John 14:12).”
Be confident in God (that he’ll do what’s good), bold, and optimistic when you pray for others. Express hope and faith in God’s readiness to care for your friend’s health (or your own) and to use the situation to form you and others to be more like Jesus.
James teaches, “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (4:7-8) Then as part of his instructions for the sick to seek prayer ministry from an elder he says, “The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned they will be forgiven.” (5:15)
The Verbal Prayer
In prayer ministry we’re “interceding” or “standing in the gap” to connect the person in need and the good Lord. In prayer you simply talk to God about how the person feels and what they need, using his or her name. Then you communicate God’s word of love for the person in your prayer by praying for the good thing that you believe God wants to do for him or her.
Papa Joe says, one way to begin is simply to pray along these lines… “Father, I thank you for your love for my friend _________. Manifest your presence Holy Spirit and show us how to pray and minister the Father’s love and healing… I bless you, _________, my friend with peace, healing, love, etc… I thank you dear Father for the healing that you are doing in the precious and mighty name of Jesus Christ.”
Visualize the Healing
Agnes Sanford in her classic book The Healing Light teaches us to visualize the healing light of Christ focusing on the specific part of the body that needs healing. Similarly, Rick Richardson, following Leanne Payne’s model, stresses the importance of using our imaginative faculties to see what good and loving thing that God wants to do. He urges us not to limit faith to the realm of reason. Of course, do use your thinking in your left brain!, but also use your intuitive and relational faculties in your right brain.
I find it important and powerful to use Scripture to guide my imagination. Personally and in my prayer ministry to others I usually use stories of Jesus healing someone or an image from the Psalms. This can be something simple like imaging the hand of the Lord reaching down from the heavens to bring help, which is a common visual meditation of the Psalmist (17:7, 18:35, 60:5, 89:21, 98:1, 104:28, 108:6, 119:73, 123:2, 136:12, 139:10, 144:7, 145:16). Adding in the healing hand of Jesus from the Gospels adds a huge source of power to this prayer.
Quietly Wait on God
Depending on the person and their particular prayer need, you may want to let there be some silent prayer for listening to God and sensing his movements. Silent prayer is essential as part of the ministry of healing prayer and often it’s helpful as part of prayer for physical healing. If the person I’m praying for is unfamiliar with silent prayer, I simply say something like, “Let’s wait quietly before the Lord and see if we sense a thought or impression from him.”
Look For Manifestations of the Holy Spirit
Joe Johnson says that as you pray for people (verbally and if you wait silently afterwards) face them and open your eyes. Look to see if you notice any movements of the Holy Spirit on the person’s body. You might see laughter, tears, glowing on the face, heat somewhere on their body, perspiration, shaking, eyelids fluttering, or “resting in the Spirit” (being “slain” in the Spirit, but not pushed!)
You might feel one of these things in your own body as a sign of God’s healing presence. Papa Joe feels heat in his hands — and I’ve felt it myself when he prays for me! I often feel warmth in my heart, like the “Jesus burn” that the disciples on the Road to Emmaus experienced when the risen Christ talked with them without them knowing it was him. Sometimes as I’m praying for people or speaking to a group I experience a sweet, warm heat on the back of my neck and shoulders. Rick Richardson says he often feels sympathy pain for the person in need who is seeking prayer ministry and this is before they tell him what hurts! Then he experiences God’s healing power flow through him.
Receive God’s Special Words
In healing prayer God may speak. Paul calls this “a word of knowledge” (1 Cor 12:8), but don’t think of that as necessarily being a super-mystical thing. Usually when God speaks it’s a whisper; it’s the still, small voice that Elijah heard in the cave (1 Kings 19:11-13). He simply gives us a thought, impression, or mental picture. Maybe it’s an insight that’s needed or a question to ask. Perhaps we see Jesus in the painful memory. Or out of the blue the Holy Spirit brings a Scripture to mind that fits the need perfectly. Or we feel an urge to speak without even quite know what we’re gong to say and God seems to form the words on our tongue!
If it’s an authentic movement of God’s Spirit then probably it’ll be a surprise. Surely, it will come with great peace and calm confidence, even if it’s about something very difficult. And surely the fruit will be good.
It’s not necessary for any of these signs of the Spirit’s movements to be manifest in prayer ministry, but of course it’s encouraging. What’s important is offering prayers of compassion, guided by Scripture, and in the name (attitude and character) of Jesus.
After the Prayer Resume Your Interview
Really, by praying in the way that I’m describing you haven’t stopped interviewing. Watching what God is doing on the person’s body and listening to God personally are part of the interview. But once you sense that God has done something or there’s been a long enough period of waiting on God or maybe the person seems to have become uncomfortable with the silence, then it’s good to check in. You might say, “What’s happening for you?” Or “What is your experience with this prayer time?”
Depending on their answer you might pray again for healing. Sometimes Jesus ministered healing in stages; he modeled “process healing.” In other words, even Jesus’ healing interventions didn’t always happen immediately! In fact, sometimes he wasn’t able to heal people because they didn’t trust him, they didn’t have confidence in him or in God (Matt 13:58).
With the blind man at Bethsaida he led him by the hand outside the village to minister healing by putting mud on his eyelids. Then he asked him, “Do you see anything?” The man looked up and replied, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Mark says, “Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” (Mark 8:22-26)
When you pray for someone to experience God’s healing love in a painful memory or other emotional wound or struggle receiving that healing is normally a process that takes time. It is a supernatural work of the Spirit when God touches an emotional wound and their may be instantaneous comfort and change in the person, but the whole personality will not be instantaneously transformed. Inner healing is in the realm of sanctification or becoming like Jesus in our character and that requires faith-development and obedience over time. It’s a journey.
Post Prayer Counseling
Agnes Sanford taught that once we prayed with faith for healing we need to stay in that prayer by visualizing it. She said at this point instead of continuing to ask God for healing, we’re better to thank him for it because we’ve already asked in faith. When we keep giving thanks to God for his healing and help, for his goodness and lovingkindness, it helps us to remain open to the work of the Holy Spirit and it keeps us in a positive, faithful mindset.
Thanking God for a healing that hasn’t yet been visibly manifested is not denying that God may not heal. It’s certainly not putting an expectation on God that he has to heal. It’s being grateful to God that he has heard our prayer and he is indeed doing something beautiful and wonderful that we haven’t yet seen. This is an important part of spiritual warfare to resist counterattacks from Satan.
Additionally, it’s helpful for the one receiving prayer to meditate on Scripture that’s related to their need. Maybe God will lead you to an encouraging passage to share.
It needs to be re-emphasized that for medical situations the one prayed for needs to continue treatment or get a second opinion from another qualified doctor. This is also true for other health needs, like someone who has a mental disorder and needs psychological care.
Learning From “Failures” and Running New Experiments
As we’ve said, sometimes God doesn’t heal, he doesn’t open the door that we’re knocking on, or he doesn’t provide in some other way that we need help. It seems that our prayer has failed. We should not be embarrassed or feel that we have “bad faith.” To pray with love for someone in need is always a good thing and an act of faith.
But there may be something we can learn from our experience. Agnes Sanford says we ought to approach prayer like a good scientist: we run our experiment and see what the results are. Then we try another experiment and see what the results are this time. Always we look to God and we keep offering ourselves to be formed to be more like Jesus and to be used in his service of ministering to the broken and suffering and those in need.
In other words, we ought to practice praying for God’s supernatural interventions. Like anything else that we’re learning we should start small. Pray for God to help you find your lost keys. Pray for healing of headaches. When you or a loved one has a muscle pain in your back or somewhere else in your body pray for God to give you knowledge about why it hurts and what you can do for healing. When someone has a special need ask, “Can I pray for you now?” Only one time can I recall someone saying no to that offer.
Ministering prayer to others is part of our ongoing discipleship to Christ. We’re learning how to work with God’s supernatural power and gifts and as Paul says we’ll do this imperfectly (1 Cor 13:12).
The person receiving prayer needs to learn too. For instance, I’ve suggested people with an illness read a faith-inspiring book on healing like Agnes Sanford’s The Healing Light.
* Joe Johnson is a friend and a Soul Shepherding Associate who is a Lutheran pastor and the founder of Heart of the Father Ministries. This article gleans from his seminary class on “Inner Healing.” His class draws on decades of his own healing ministry and learning from other healing ministers like Francis MacNutt, John Wimber, Ken Blue, and Jack Deere.