Every church believes God heals people. And, every church encourages prayer for the sick. But, do the elders of your church pray for the sick by anointing them with oil, laying their hands on them, and praying personally and intensely for them?
I was an elder in a wonderful, alive, conservative, evangelical, and non-charismatic church. We believed what James said in the following passage about the ministry of praying for the sick by the elders was true, but we just didn’t do it!
“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. And 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. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:14-16
Then, a dozen years ago, I told my fellow elders the following story of my dramatic healing experience, which led them to embrace with enthusiasm the ministry of praying for the sick.
My Story Thirty years ago I found out I had non-hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was given 5-9 years to live and began chemotherapy immediately. After two years of intense treatments, the cancer was still growing but with even greater intensity! Doctors could only offer experimental drugs. Get your house in order, was their unspoken message.
I’d come to true faith only the previous year. I had read James 5 and other places in scriptures that spoke of asking the leaders to pray over me, I just didn’t know any church that did. (I saw faith healers on television, but it looked like a circus to me, so I put it out of my mind!)
Then a friend told me of a small, conservative, non-charismatic church nearby, whose elders had a ministry of prayer. When I contacted them, they were more than happy to pray for me, on three conditions:
1. They asked me to take a few days to confess every known sin to God.
2. They asked me to ask forgiveness of every person I’ve hurt and attempt to reconcile any broken relationships.
3. Fast for the 24 hours before we met.
On a Thursday morning three or four elders gathered around me. One elder brushed olive oil on my forehead with his thumb, in the name of “The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”. They prayed passionately for my healing and encouraged me to pray as well. After 30 minutes, they ended and we dismissed. I don’t remember any “warm fuzzy feelings” other than the peace that I had obeyed God by asking the elders to pray over me.
I’ve never had any other treatments, chemotherapy, or any signs of cancer from that day on. I was healed!
Fast Forward Today the elders of my church offer to pray for anyone who shows up on the 1st Tuesday of every month at 6:15 p.m., before our regular elders’ meeting. Sometimes we have two people, other times 10 or 12 come. We’ve even had people come from other churches. If we have too many, we break into two or three teams of elders.
We also offer to pray on Sunday mornings between services, by appointment. We have someone who coordinates this time for the elders and follows up a few weeks later.
If you’d like to view the instructions our elders send to everyone who requests the elders to pray for them, please click here The Ministry of Praying for the Sick. In these instructions, are some basic teachings regarding what we believe about the sovereignty of God and why God heals some and not others.
If you have questions about the theology of healing and prayer for the sick, I recommend Andrew Murray’s classic, Divine Healing. If you’re serious about starting this ministry in your church and want to talk to me further about it, you can contact me at 616.942.0041.
Question: What question do you have about the ministry of elders praying for the sick?
Following Jesus in Real Life