What should we pray for the sick?

What should we pray for the sick?

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When we come to pray for those who are sick, it seems obvious to us what we should be praying for. Surely we should just pray for them to get better? That seems to be their biggest problem, so that is the thing we should pray for. The end result is that prayers this time of year seem to be dominated by prayers for healing.

The problem is that physical healing is not the thing anyone needs most.

It sounds odd to say that. We value health and youth, and as a culture, we are often unsure what to do with ageing and death. Surely being healthy and strong matters more? After all, we are told, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything!

It is right to see the value in health. It is a good thing to be able to use our gifts well in different ways, to serve our boss like we serve God, to love our families and build up our brothers and sisters in Christ. Health means we can do these things; illness prevents us from doing them.

However, our biggest problems are spiritual rather than physical. Our sin is our biggest problem. We see that in the Lord’s Prayer, where Jesus encourages his disciples to pray for God’s kingdom first and resisting temptation before we think about our physical needs. We see it in Paul’s prayers, which rarely cover his physical needs or those of the people he is writing to. Instead, Paul prays that they may deepen in their knowledge of God’s love (Eph 3:14-19), that the gospel might be proclaimed (Phil 1, among other places) and thanksgiving often is more prominent than asking for things (as in 1 Thess 1).

Christians need to be more thoughtful in praying for the sick and needy. Yes, by all means, pray for healing. God can do it if he wills. But pray for the more important things too. Pray that the time of incapacity might make them rely more on God and his grace. Pray that the time of trial might lead them to know Jesus if they don’t already. Pray that they might be a good example to others as they suffer through sickness. And pray for Jesus to come back, for a world with no sickness and pain, where the effects of sin are no more.

Sickness should point us to our inability and brokenness, and God’s capacity and love. Let’s reflect that in what we pray for. We need to make sure we view sickness through the lens of our faith and not simply fear it as those who are not believers will do.