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Regarding "prayer requests" to heal the sick (also the "prayer of agreement")

(Garth D. Wiebe, Nov. 2015)

[Note: If you are reading my articles, you are not likely to be a newbie. If you are clueless about the goodness of God, about his provision for healing and health, perhaps even about the forgiveness of sins, then my heart goes out to you. This article is not meant to hinder you from seeking out someone who believes. This article is for those who have read the Bible, or at least, profess to know it and should have read it by now, and then also those who have been indoctrinated by the Roman Catholic Church, or its various "Protestant, reformed" institutional followings, concerning the subject. The fallacies taught, as well as traditional thinking on the subject, have become ubiquitous.]

What don't people understand about what Jesus said, when he said, "Heal the sick"? (Matt 10:8, Luke 10:9)

Jesus never prayed for the sick. He healed the sick. Same with the twelve apostles in Matt 10:8, the seventy-two others in Luke 10:9, and those who followed. Go back and read the whole New Testament again. You will not find any instances of anyone praying for the sick, or any instructions or teachings of being told to do so. (I am using the normal English language definition of "prayer." See What is "prayer" according to the scriptures? to better appreciate the biblical definition.) Regardless of what you have been taught, or the widespread religious traditions of men, I am speaking of what the scriptures do and don't say.

There are two categories of people in Mark 16:18, the believers and the sick. In that verse, the believers aren't the sick and the sick aren't the believers. The believers heal the sick and the sick are healed by believers. Then in James 5, there are the sick and the elders (old/mature in the faith). In that verse, the sick aren't the elders and the elders aren't the sick. The elders heal the sick, and the sick go to elders to get healed. Note also that the elders of James 5:14 do not "pray for the sick" as we popularly understand the phrase, but rather, it says,

προσευξασθωσαν επ αυτον αλειψαντες αυτον ελαιω
proseuxasthosan ep auton aleipsantes auton elaio
let-toward-vow upon same rubbing same in-oil
You see that it is something done by the elders to ("upon") the sick, not a prayer offered to God or some other deity, or some request to someone else at a distance.

The next verse continues,

και η ευχη της πιστεως σωσει τον καμνοντα και εγερει αυτον
kai e euche tes pisteos sosei ton kamnonta kai egerei auton
and the vow of-the faith shall-be-saving the suffering and rousing same
It is traditional "prayer request" or "prayer chain" thinking of the traditional church that if you can get more people praying, beating on the gates of heaven, God will heal. This is a very pagan view of God, that God is up there, somewhere, on yonder Mt. Olympus, with his arms folded, operating on a whim, and might respond to begging on the part of his subjects, if they beg and plead enough to convince him to do something, perhaps if they pray enough, fast long enough, etc., to perhaps appease him and satisfy him, or otherwise show him that they are worthy to receive his attention and divine intervention.

The reason you might venture to ask someone to "pray" for you (in the English sense of "prayer"), or to similarly "pray" for someone else whom you know, is because you don't yourself believe, but are hoping that some "man of God," or others, will believe for you, perhaps on the assumption that the "man of God" has more favor with God, gifted by God, specially anointed by God, or whatever, whereas you don't have so much favor with God, such that if he asks God then God will answer, but that God is less likely to listen to you. This kind of thinking is rooted in unbelief concerning the nature of your own relationship with God as your heavenly father and your identity in Christ, if it is the case that you are a Christian.

Then, there are those who have rightly realized that sickness is not from God, that God had nothing to do with putting sickness on a person in the first place, so that there is no reason to talk to God about it, but that it is the work of the devil, one way or another, whether by direct affliction, or naturally as a result of the curse, and that, in Christ, we have authority over the devil and his works, Jesus having defeated the devil, reversed the curse, and paid the price in his own body. Many of the latter folks still fall prey to the same error as with traditional thinking, which is that if you can get more people praying, maybe you can convince the devils or the devils' works to leave. That is constructing a hindrance to healing, which is that the sickness/devils will leave if enough people pray, or the curse can be reversed if enough people pray. You've correctly identified the source and are addressing the problem at the source, all right, and not God, who didn't have anything to do with it in the first place, but now beating that devil, or that sickness, will take a number of people praying, or some recipe involving a number of people, Jesus in one person not being big enough to beat a devil or sickness that big.

There is an additional popular phrase that avoids, in so many words, asking for prayer: It starts with, "Will you agree with me that...." However, you don't need anyone to agree with you for healing. God already agrees with you that Isa 53:4-5 is true, as Jesus demonstrated fulfillment of it in Matt 8:16-17, if you will believe that. Why would you need someone else to agree with you if God already does, and you know it because it says so in God's Word? By asking for a "prayer of agreement" you are seeming to presume to believe yourself, but you actually negate that by asking someone else to believe for you or with you, such that your believing in the Word of God is not enough.

Often the idea of the power of "agreement" comes from Matt 18:19-20

...if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them...for where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst.
But, this is in the context of a brother sinning (Matt 18:15-18), and how you deal with him. Verse 16 actually quotes from Deut 19:15
A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.
Here is the greater context of the "where two or three are gathered there I am" verse:
Matt 18:12-14 is the comment about one sheep gone astray of a hundred, that the shepherd leaves the rest to seek, find, and rejoice about.

Matt 18:15-20 is about the brother sinning (including the principle of earthly/heavenly binding/loosing, and needing the "agreement" of "two or three").

Matt 18:21-22 has Peter then asking about how many times to forgive.

Matt 18:23-35 has Jesus responding with the story of the unmerciful servant who does not forgive.
This is not "The Proverbs of Matthew" or "The Proverbs of Jesus, According To Matthew." It is a coherent, cohesive discussion, and that discussion is about someone sinning, restoring him, and forgiving him. Jesus just illustrated how one gone astray is important, that you don't just write him off, but go to great lengths to restore, even as one out of a hundred sheep.

Then, there is a process for restoration, which is first privately, then getting the agreement of "two or three witnesses" then going to the εκκλησια (the out-calling). Then there is the point about the power of earthly/heavenly binding/loosing, and that Jesus will be with the agreement of "two or three witnesses." Jesus is not changing the subject, or interjecting a random, off-topic thought here.

Then, the next question by Peter follows very logically, which is how many times to forgive, given that the one sinning could obviously turn around and do it again and again (literally, "until seven-ly?"), to which Jesus responds, literally, "not until seven-ly but until seventy-ly seven" (the adverbs make it qualitative, not quantitative, so it is not either the quantity "seventy-seven" or "seventy [times] seven")

Then, Jesus follows that with the illustration of the unmerciful servant, who was forgiven, but does not himself forgive, and ends up condemned for his original debt to his master.

All of this has to do with sin, restoration, and forgiveness. You cannot just throw a "prayer of agreement" for healing sick people into the context of sin, restoration, and forgiveness.

Despite the widespread sentimental, poetic appeal that "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst" has gathered as an independent proverb of sorts, it is, on the very face of it, a silly proposition, as if you needed two or three people to conjure up Jesus. "Christ in us, the expectation of glory" (Col 1:27) and in other scriptures promise that he is fully in us, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So, if he is fully in us, then that is sufficient for one person, as much as two or three.

I've also heard it cited how in Acts 9:40 it says that Peter "prayed" before he raised Tabitha (a.k.a. Dorcas) from the dead. If we go by the English language convention, what did he "pray"? The scriptures do not say. How about, "Oh God, forgive all these unbelieving mourners I just kicked out of the house"? Or maybe, "Oh God, I thank you that I am here for such a time as this." Or how about, "O God, I trust that the camel taxi back to Lydda will not wait for me, and someone will pay them for the trip over here, because this Tabitha is going to get up, and then there will be a big commotion, I will not be able to get out of the house, and they will want me to stay here in Joppa for a few days." In other words, the scripture doesn't say what he "prayed."

If he did "pray," then the best educated guess is that he would have followed the example of his own Lord and Master, Jesus, in John 11:41-42, which Peter himself was there to witness:

Father, I thank you that you hear me. I know that you always hear me, but because of the throng standing about I say it, that they should be believing that you commission me.
That's what Jesus prayed, before he raised Lazarus from the dead, which he did by saying, "Lazarus, come out!"

Now, if you want to dig a bit deeper and harmonize the issue of what is "prayer" better, read my article, What is "prayer" according to the scriptures? which I have been repeatedly hyperlinking in this article.

There I show that it is προσευχη ("pros-euche" or "toward-vow"), and doesn't intrinsically, by definition, necessarily refer to talking to God, or saying anything, to begin with.

Coming back around to Acts 9:40, it says

ο πετρος θεις τα γονατα προσηυξατο και επιστρεψας προς το σωμα ειπεν ταβιθα αναστηθι
o petros theis ta gonata proseuxato kai epistrepsas pros to soma eipen tabitha anastethi
the peter placing the knees toward-vows and upon-turning toward the body says tabitha be-you-up-standing
If you set aside the common English definition of "prayer" and go with the original language definition, it does not actually even say that he said anything at all (i.e. "prayed" anything at all, by the common English understanding of "prayer"). He made a "vow" "toward" the object of that vow, and that could have been a verbal or non-verbal declaration, and that "toward-vow" could have been an instantaneous resolve of his mind, as in (even non-verbally), "Okay, this woman's getting up." In other words, that "toward-vow" ("prayer") would then have been expressed as him turning toward the body and saying "Tabitha get up." From my other article, I prove that this counts as biblical "prayer," notwithstanding how the English word has been commonly (but unfortunately and inadequately) understood.

If you are truly in trouble and you need help, get help, letting the job get done according to someone else's faith, for we are all in this together as one body of Christ, but repeatedly settling for soliciting others to do the job, or help you do the job, that Jesus told you to do ("Heal the sick") will send a corresponding message that you do not yourself believe that God's Word is sufficient for you, by your own declaration.

The question again is, "What don't people understand about the directive given by Jesus, 'Heal the sick'"? Jesus never said to pray for the sick, or to pray to God, asking God to heal the sick, or to ask anyone else to heal the sick for you, or to ask anyone else to ask God to heal the sick for you. He said, "Heal the sick."

Although a bit of a digression, there is also sometimes a bit of a religious-sounding protest that goes something like, "We can't heal the sick; only God can heal the sick." To this I ask a simple question, which is not a trick question: "When Jesus sent out the twelve, and later the seventy-two, and told them to heal the sick, who was he telling to heal the sick?"

If you are thinking that it couldn't be that simple ("Heal the sick.") then that is your problem. Jesus made it simple, and you are making it complicated, one way or another, doubting that God's Word is that simple and straightforward, so that you must complicate it and question it, perhaps needing to jump through some hoops of some sort to get it to happen. All failures that we experience are rooted in low expectations -- that it couldn't be that simple as what the Word of God simply states, and the fact is that really, despite all our "faith talk," we don't actually expect anything to happen. So nothing does.

As Mark 11:22-24 says, as literally as I can render it,

and answering Jesus is-saying to-same be-having faith of-God amen for I-am-saying to-you that who ever may-be-saying to-the mountain this be-being-lifted and be-being-cast into the sea and no/not may-be-doubting in the heart of-same but should-believe that which he-is-saying is-becoming it-shall-be to-same what if-suppose he-may-be-saying through this I-am-saying to-you every/all as-much-as ever towards-vowing [προσευχομενοι] you-are-requesting [αιτεισθε] be-believing that you-are-getting and it-shall-be to-you
translated less hyper-literally, using proper English grammar, punctuation, and flow,
"22 And Jesus answered saying to them, 'Have faith in God. 23 Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, "Be taken up and cast into the sea," and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. 24 Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.'" (NASB'95)
We all need to raise our expectations, that it is just no problem healing the sick, whatever the affliction may be, instead of questioning whether you can just do that, such that you would need to ask someone else to "pray" for you, as a first resort.

This article is not meant to condemn anybody. Certainly, there is no one in history who has walked in completely effectual faith such as Jesus demonstrated. On the other hand, we need to acknowledge where we have fallen short, and raise our expectations. Jesus had no sympathy whatsoever for unbelief, going so far as to say, "O generation, faithless and having been perverted! Until when shall I be amid you? Until when shall I bear you?" (Matt 17:17, Mark 9:19, Luke 9:41). That particular statement was in the context of the demonized boy whom the disciples couldn't heal. When Peter walked on the water for a while, then sank, Jesus didn't commend his faith, or say, "Hey, good job! Nice try! So encouraging, that you walked on water for a while, and you were the only one who had the boldness to step out of that boat into stormy waters!" He said, "You of little faith, why do you doubt?" (Matt 14:31). And when the disciples asked him to increase their faith (as if he could wave a magic wand and compel them to believe more), he rebuked them with the illustration of the unprofitable servant (Luke 17:5-10).

Faith in God, that is, the choice to believe and trust God, is our responsibility. We cannot make an excuse to pass this responsibility on to others. If you must, then do, for it is better that someone else believe for you than that you or someone else get sick, stay sick, or die. But realize the choice that you have made and resolve to raise your expectations of "Christ in you, the expectation of glory" (Col 1:27).

No copyrightI grant this work to the public domain.