On 10 April we held our first ever healing service in the Cathedral on Epiphany Island. It seemed appropriate during Lent to offer the opportunity for anyone to be prayed for individually for any particular need they had. Members of the Prayer Ministry Team were available to pray with anyone who chose to come forward to ask for prayer. After the service comments made suggested that opportunity was appreciated by members of the community. It was certainly a great privilege for those of us who prayed to be able to minister in this way. There was a real sense of God’s presence.
The readings were Psalm 145:14-22, James 5:13-16, Matthew 9:2-8. My reflection looked at what James had to say about the ministry of healing in his letter.
Though a man of great faith, my friend George felt very nervous. He began to regret that he had volunteered to be a member of the team praying for those who were attending a big evangelistic meeting. However, it was too late to back out. The invitation had been given and those who wanted prayer were streaming to the front of the hall. Trying to put off having to pray with someone for a while, George wandered away from the main group of people. He spotted a young girl sitting in her seat and was drawn to her for some reason. He asked her if she wanted to be prayed for and she said yes. It seemed odd that she hadn’t headed down to the front but George thought he had better pray anyway. He was so nervous that he forgot to ask what she wanted prayer for. He simply launched into a prayer. Suddenly the girl began to scream: ‘It’s moving, it’s moving!’ If George had been nervous before, he was petrified now. He couldn’t imagine what was happening or if he had done something terribly wrong. He watched bemused as the girl stopped screaming and stripped off her shoe and sock. ‘Look, look, it’s moving!’ He looked and saw that the foot was badly deformed with the livid, puckered skin of a bad burn all over it. As he was looking he saw what the girl meant. The foot was straightening out and the skin was smoothing right in front of his eyes. Eventually it was as good as new.
When our son, James, was just two years old he fell and knocked his mouth on a coffee table. Naturally he screamed in pain and we could see that his mouth was bleeding profusely. My husband and I managed to swill cold water around his mouth and could see that James’ tongue was badly cut and that was the source of the bleeding. Although we succeeded in slowing the bleeding, we realised that we would have to go to the hospital to see what could be done. I sat in the back of the car with James on my knee. Gradually his voice was becoming more muffled as his tongue was swelling. I prayed all the way to the hospital that James would co-operate with the medical staff so that they could help him. Eventually we were seen by a nurse who looked in James’ mouth and seemed very puzzled. She called a doctor who was also puzzled. They told us there was nothing they needed to do as there was no injury present. We were amazed but very grateful at this unexpected result.
I don’t think we can hope to understand everything about healings such as these but I have told the stories to show that healing still happens today. It is not just a New Testament phenomenon. It happened in the Old Testament and it continues to happen now. I didn’t want to tell you anything that I had just looked up in a book or on the internet, but something that I know first hand or from a reliable source. I assure you George is a reliable source.
This will be the first time that we have held a healing service here in the cathedral of Epiphany Island. We are obviously limited in what we can do as we are not physically present with one another. However, as much as we can we will be following what James instructed the Church to do in his epistle.
James refers to three conditions people might be in. If in trouble, suffering in some way, he tells the person to pray. There can be a temptation to turn away from prayer thinking God doesn’t care but we are told to turn towards God in prayer in difficult times. If we are cheerful, far from feeling complacent, we are to turn to God in thanksgiving and praise. If we are sick or weak in any way we are to pray. Prayer is commanded in all life’s circumstances. This is how Christians are to live their lives. It was true for the early church and it is true now.
James then tells the people how to pray. The elders of the church are to be called for. By calling for prayer, a person is expressing their faith. The elders represent the church and the authority in it. Praying in this way is in line with what Jesus said about two agreeing about anything they ask and thus being given what they ask for. Agreement in prayer releases power for an answer. And so some of the leaders of our church will be praying today.
The prayer is to be in the name of the Lord. The name of someone refers to what they are like. To pray in the Lord’s name is to pray in union with his nature. The power of healing is not coming from the one who prays but from the one in whose name we pray. We cannot use oil to anoint in Second Life but nor did Jesus and his disciples most of the time. It is Jesus’ power, as we pray in his name, that will heal rather than some magic in the oil.
James writes of the prayer of faith saving the person. Our faith may not be very great but we should summon what we can. I think Jesus understands that we can struggle with this at times. He healed the epileptic son of the man who said, ‘Lord I believe. Help me where faith falls short.’ Jesus knows our weaknesses. Even with faith the size of a mustard seed we can move mountains.
Something else that James mentioned is the need to confess our sins and you will notice that there has been a time of penitence close to the beginning of the service. James indicates that if sin is part of the problem for someone who is ill in some way, forgiveness will be available for the person. This is very much in line with the story we have read in the gospel where Jesus, faced with a man with an obvious physical need, addresses instead the spiritual need: ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’ That was the heart of the problem. The physical healing is almost an afterthought, to prove that Jesus truly has the authority to forgive sins. Sometimes there is more to healing than a change in the body.
What can we expect if we follow James’ instructions about prayer? He tells us that prayer will save a person, in the sense of making them well. The person will be raised up, will be physically restored. Along with physical healing, we are assured that God will forgive our sins.
The issue of praying for healing and finding that the result is not what we had hoped for is a difficult one. I think we come back to trusting God with whatever faith we have and believing that he has our best interests at heart, even if we can’t see it at the time. Even if the person prayed for dies, they have received the ultimate healing, though that might be hard for us to accept.
I’ve mostly focussed here on what James said in his letter. However, there is one thing I would like to pick up from the gospel. The man who was healed was carried to Jesus by his friends. We have no idea if he agreed to being taken there or not, but it’s pretty obvious that he couldn’t get there alone. Some of your friends too will not be able to get to Jesus alone. Maybe they are so hurt or angry that they are not capable of coming to Jesus. Maybe they struggle with faith. Maybe they are just not here today. Those who come forward for prayer today can come on their own behalf or they can come on behalf of a friend.
Whether the need is yours or that of a friend, I urge you to take advantage of this opportunity to receive prayer which will be given after our normal time of intercession. Prayer is powerful and effective and as Christians it is our privilege to offer it for one another.