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Lesson 11 - The Ministry of Physical Healing

Refer also to Lesson 1 - Introduction to Prayer Ministry, Resource Sheet 1 - Healing in the Old Testament, Resource Sheet 2 - Healing in the Early Church, and Resource Sheet 3 - The Healings of Jesus for references to healing in the Bible. In many countries of the world many people first meet Jesus as the Healer. This convinces unbelievers of the truth of the gospel and the kingdom of God is advanced. Jesus' ministry on earth was accompanied by healing the sick, his disciples were commanded to do likewise (Luke 10:9) and healing promised (Mark 16:18). John Wimber speaks of the principle that guided him to pray for divine healing: obedience to God's word (Power healing, p.16). He prayed for the sick because he believed this was what God wanted to do. It was 10 months before one person was healed. "I realised I could get no results without God's anointing. My job was to obey, pray, and rely on his sovereign mercy; his part was to heal." (Power healing, p.72).

Colin Urquhart, in Receive your healing writes,

God is the Creator. He made you to be healthy and to feel well. You have a natural desire to be healthy, both emotionally and physically. If you experience tension, anxiety or fear, you want to be at peace. If you have physical pain you want to be free as soon as possible, both of the pain and its cause. Your normal reaction to sickness is to seek a cure. (p. 16).

God has given natural healing properties to the body with which doctors are to cooperate. Because the church has in the past refused to offer prayer for physical healing many people in desperation have turned to New Age and psychic healing. Such healings are possible, but healing of the body by sources of healing outside of God the healer can bring sickness to the spirit and soul.

John's prayer for Gaius, "Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. (3 John 2) indicates that good health is something for which we should pray. The English word 'health' comes from an old English word 'hal' meaning 'whole'. The World Health Organization definition (1948) - "health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity".

Christian healing can be said to be the whole work of salvation, actively operating in a person's spirit, soul and body, restoring them to harmony, wholeness and peace. Sickness and death only came when sin entered the world (Adam and Eve had perfect health). Jesus Christ came as 'the healer' and his death broke the power of Satan through sin, evil and ignorance. One day our bodies will be free from all limitations. (Romans 8:18-23; 1 Corinthians 15:24-26; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:4).

Biblical Healing

Old Testament

"For I am the Lord that heals you" (Exodus 15:26)

Here healing has to do with every aspect of life - individual, community and national - for God's covenant people (an exception is Naaman), and is included in the concept of Shalom (1 Samuel 25:6; Isaiah 57:18,19). No command is given to heal, but God reveals Himself as Jehovah Rapha - God the healer. (See Resource Sheet 1 - Healing in the Old Testament.)

New Testament

The healing ministry of Jesus is integral to his declaration of the kingdom of God. The New Testament focuses more on personal healing and is available to all. Jesus shows His followers how to do it and then tells them to, "cure every kind of disease and sickness", (Matthew 10:1,7-8), including those needing deliverance from demons. (See Resource Sheet 2 - Healings in the Early Church and Resource Sheet 3 - The healings of Jesus.)

Different New Testament words used give a better understanding to the meaning of 'health'.

  • Sozo - to make alive, to make healthy, save life, do good (Mark 3:4; Luke 8:26-39; Acts 4:9,1)

    John Wilkinson writes of the two fold meaning of sozo thus: is clear that its [sozo's] wide application in the gospels indicates that the Christian concept of healing and the Christian concept of salvation overlap to a degree which varies in different situations, but are never completely separable. Healing of the body is never purely physical, and the salvation of the soul is never purely spiritual, but both are combined in the total deliverance of the whole man, a deliverance which is foreshadowed and illustrated in the healing miracles of Jesus in the gospels. (Health and Healing, p. 33)

  • Iaomai - restoration of health, physical and inner healing (Luke 8:47; Hebrews 12:11-13; 1 Peter 2:24).

  • Therapeuo - care for, immediate and complete restoration to health (Luke 7:21; 8:43).

  • Hugiaino - healing of the whole person (Luke 8:43-48; John 5:6).

Isaiah 53; Matthew 8:16,17

"Jesus drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick, this was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah". (Matthew 8:16,17; Acts 10:38)

The Messianic prophecy of the suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 contains some of the most remarkable and detailed foretelling of Christ's passion. It foretells Christ's atonement for sin and His power to heal and free.

v.4 - "He took up our infirmities", (griefs KJV) - the basic meaning is sickness.

v.4 - "carried our sorrows" - physical and emotional pain. (Jeremiah 38:15; Luke 7:13)

v.5 - "pierced for our transgressions, by His wounds we are healed."(1 Peter 2:24,25)

Healing Throughout Church History

Up to 300 AD

The ministry of healing was an important focus of the Christian church. The elders prayed for the sick, as taught by James, and healing with exorcism was an expected part of initiation into the church.

300 to 600 AD

The level of spirituallity and commitment declined and with it the healing ministry. Emperor Constantine involved the church in politics and the affairs of empire.

600 to 1500 AD

The instructions of James 5 were reinterpreted from a prayer for the sick and dying to recover to a rite preceding death, emphasising the growing idea that the body was meant to suffer.

1500 to 1600 AD

Protestant churches agreed that sickness was punishment from God. For example the reformer John Calvin taught, "the gift of healing disappeared with other miraculous signs to render new teaching of the Gospel for ever wonderful".

1600 to 1900 AD

There was division between the natural and supernatural, with rationalism dominant. The belief in divine healing was held by few denominations. Towards the end of this period a common argument was that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were no longer needed once "the perfect has come" (1 Corinthians 13:8-12), assuming this to refer to the completed canon of Scripture. But the context of the verse is not the completion of Scripture but the return of Christ.

1900 to About 1975 AD

As the place of the Holy Spirit and His gifts have been rediscovered in the pentecostal and charismatic movements there has come a resurgent belief in healing. Mainline denominations discover healing as part of salvation again. Verses such as, "When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to Him, and He drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 'He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.'" (Matthew 8:16,17), began to be taken seriously again.

Pioneers like Aimee Semple McPherson, Kathryn Kuhlman, Smith Wigglesworth, Agnes Sanford, Dennis Bennett, Francis MacNutt and many others, through healing revival meetings, conferences and books, began to re-evaluate the erroneous teaching of the 19th and 20th century church.

John Wimber acknowledged the reason for his resistance to healing when praying through Matthew 9:1-8, the healing of the paralytic. God was able to speak to him. "I knew that for years I had refrained from praying for the sick because in part I hid behind a theology that denied God could heal today. But my doctrinal stand was a fašade for the evil of unbelief and scepticism in my heart." (Power healing, p.65-66). During the 1980s, by sheer determination and through his Vineyard movement, Wimber almost singlehandedly re-established the ministry of healing in the church. His example so impacted people such as Peter Wagner, Jack Deere and Charles Kraft, all prominent and influential Protestant academics, that through their books and conferences they began to attack the forces of rationalism and unbelief to which they had themselves previously belonged.

Apart from the inevitable counterattack from equally prominent theologians, mistakes were also made. For example, Some, particularly in Pentecostalism, link healing to the atonement in such a way that it becomes wholly dependent on a person's faith, although God's power to heal existed prior to the Cross (Exodus 23:25-26). They say that a Christian may be sick after conversion, but should not be. This places healing of sickness and disease on an equal footing with forgiveness of sin, i.e. we may be fully delivered from sickness, in the same way as we are from sin. This can bring condemnation for lack of faith, become legalistic, eliminate the sovereignty of God, and reject the practice of medicine. After all, Job was struck with an illness, brought by Satan, but permitted by God (Job 2:3-10); the man was born blind, not because of his sin but to display God's glory (John 9:1-3).

Others argue that because it was all done at the cross, so we don't need to pray for healing. However, there are no scriptures suggesting that Jesus bore our sickness (by substitution), as He bore our sins. (See 1 Peter 2:24; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 2:27; 1 Hebrews 7:26; 1 John 3:5) Rather, his death, resurrection and ascension allow the Holy Spirit to live in us and give us the power to do the things he did (Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:46-49; John 14:10-14).

1975 to Today

Following a series of "wars to end all war", disillusionment with modernity's rational and scientific approach to all of life set in, and with it an awakening to the more 'spiritual' aspects of life. The burgeoning New Age movement, and the rise of a postmodern consciousness has opened up many opportunities for the release of many 'healing' movements. The church must seize this opportunity to use the true ministry of healing as effective "power evangelism", as John Wimber once put it.

Biblical Considerations for Healing

  • The Lord Jesus Christ who came to reveal the Father spent much of his time healing people. We are therefore assured that God does heal.

  • Healing is not a power to be appropriated. God is greater than his miracles. But knowing he does give gifts of healings we can ask for such gifts and exercise them in praying for others.

  • We can not demand, dictate or claim our healing, but we can make sure that we live in right relationship with the Lord to be recipients of his promise of health Exodus 15:26).

  • Recognise that spiritual health is of greater importance than physical health. Joni Eareckson and Margie Willers both give testimony to the greater blessings they received in spite of not being healed physically. They learned the truth of Romans 12:1-2 - in offering their bodies as living sacrifices they were able to test and approve God's good, pleasing and perfect will. For them, God's perfect will was not to be healed physically in this life.

  • Like Job, we need to exercise faith in the face of unanswered prayer for healing and alleviation of suffering (Job 13:15).

  • All healing is limited and partial. Lazarus was raised from death but did die again later. Our physical life is limited by death, old age, frailty, sorrow and pain which are with us (Ecclesiastes 3:3; 2 Corinthians 4:16) until the perfect healing promised by God comes.

  • Paul's thorn in the flesh was a messenger from Satan for which he needed the grace of the Lord. He didn't receive healing (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

  • Healing may be immediate or an ongoing process or may belong to the future.

  • Healing is an essential part of the gospel and is freely available to all. (Luke 9:1,2)

  • Healing faith trusts in the compassion, love and power of God, not in 'my' faith.

  • We seek healing but often continue to speak sickness, allowing the power of our words to hinder healing. Praising and worshipping the Lord moves our focus from the sickness to the healer.

  • Healing is not an end in itself. We are healed to live as kingdom people - the truly healed life is a life of obedience to the one who saved us.

  • Healing is bestowed through the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

  • Healing is a body ministry. As priests we are to pray for one another (Galatians 6:2; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6).

  • Prayer with fasting may be needed in some cases, especially when demonic spirits are causing physical disease (Mark 9:29).

  • We resist, afraid to pray for healing - afraid nothing might happen. In each situation and every time we pray, God hears our prayer and something happens.

  • The only way we can guarantee that healing will NOT happen is by not praying (James 4:2).

Patterns of Healing

  • A technique is never a substitute for faith, but a means of expressing it. It is to be accompanied by and received by faith (Mark 1:15).

  • There is no one method - Jesus healed by touch (Matthew 8:3); by word (Matthew 8:8,13); by spittle (John 9:6); by being touched (Matthew 14:36); by laying on of hands (Luke 4:40); by casting out demons (Matthew 9:32); Peter's shadow healed the sick (Acts 5:15); Ananias healed by placing his hands on Saul (Acts 9:17-18); handkerchiefs and aprons touched by Paul were taken to the sick and their illnesses were cured (Acts 19:12); Paul recommended Timothy have some wine to help his stomach and frequent illnesses (1 Timothy 5:23).

The Laying on of Hands

"They will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well." (Mark 16:18)

Always seek permission from the person before placing a hand on them. Be careful not to violate a person by touching in an inappropriate place. You may ask them to put their hand in the place and lay your hand on their hand. Observe gender appropriateness. We believe by faith (not feelings), that the Holy Spirit is releasing healing to the person, as we pray in obedience to His command.

Anointing With Oil

(The disciples) "anointed many sick people with oil and healed them" (Mark 6:12). In obedience to God's word the sick person is to call the elders to pray (James 5:13-16). Watchman Nee tells the story of being anointed with fish oil by simple believers who liberally poured the oil over him. This accomplished the desired healing although the after smell was less desirable! Usually perfumed olive oil is used, although in the absence of that, handcream or margarine has been used to good effect. Anointing on the affected part, if appropriate, or on the forehead if not, is often accompanied by prayer in the name of the Trinity.

Worship, Healing Through Words

"Just say the word and my servant will be healed." (Matthew 8:8)

The words of the Lord bring life (Proverbs 4:20-22; John 6:68) and healing (Acts 3:6). It is important to take God at his word and not come under doubting words. We can be healed during a time of worship, hearing or reading the word of God. Kathyrn Kuhlman became known for divine healing, but "she believes sincerely that the salvation of the soul is the most important of all miracles. ... the Word of God is the foundation on which she has built her ministry, and she is definite in her belief that if one hews to the Word, there will be power without fanaticism" (I believe in miracles, p.7-8).

Once, with a twisted ankle, I (Di) couldn't walk so I lay on my bed with a cold compress on it, completing my KYB study. Isaiah 30:26 spoke of the Lord binding up the bruises of his people and healing the wounds, and Isaiah 35:6 about the lame leaping like a deer. I thanked the Lord for the truth of those verses for me, bound my ankle and went to sleep. As I awoke through the night I continued to believe that God was doing that for me even though the ankle still hurt. In the morning I was able to walk.

Because the Holy Spirit gives words of knowledge, wisdom and discernment, take time to listen to him before praying. Encourage people to focus on the Lord, building up their faith in him, his love and compassion and his desire to bless them in body, soul and spirit.

There are occasions when Luke 5:17 is true, "the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick." There are gifts of healings. Some have high numbers of healings when praying for eyes, others for ears. Healing evangelists are given knowledge of a specific ailment. The person seeking prayer for this is healed. Similarly, there are occasions when scepticism and unbelief can block what God would love to do. Jesus was affected by such lack of faith. "He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them." (Mark 6:5)

Holy Communion, the Lord's Table, Eucharist

Healing eucharists and liturgies are advocated by many, including Kenneth McAll and Leanne Payne. Peter and Heather Toth, the founders of >Anazao have found by experience that communion with unleavened bread and alcoholic wine releases healing and deliverance, but that bread with yeast and non-alcoholic wine is not as effective. This needs exploring. At communion, focus is on the death of Jesus and the salvation he accomplished which brings closer fellowship, oneness and intimacy with Christ. However, the bread is his resurrected body, and so brings us life, not death. As we come into the very presence of God the Lord will draw near and heal us during this time of awesome communion with Him (John 6:53-57). Paul warns of the physical effect of not preparing for communion well (1 Corinthians 11:30).

Inner Healing, Prayer Ministry, Prayer Counselling

The presenting physical symptoms are often evidence of underlying causes - hurts, unforgiveness, resentment, memories and guilt. We are a unity of spirit, soul and body - what affects one part affects all parts. When asked to pray for a physical need take time to ask the Lord if there is a deep-level cause to deal with first.


About a fifth of Jesus' healings involved deliverance from demons. Physical ailments can be caused by demons (Luke 13:10-16). Deliverance or casting out demons is done in Jesus name, and by the authority He has given us as His followers (Matthew 10:1; 28:18-20). See also Lesson 7 - Intergenerational Problems and Deliverance.

Medical Gifts of Healing (Matthew 9:12; Philippians 2:27; 1 Timothy 5:23)

"Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings." (Colossians 4:14)

Rather than refuse medical help and medication thinking this shows lack of faith in God, such means for healing should be acknowledged as gifts from God. Receiving medication with thanksgiving, asking the Holy Spirit to make it effective has hastened healing. Ecclesiasticus, (a book in the apocrypha), or, as it is also called, The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, written by a Jewish scribe, probably around 180 BC, directs the reader:

Honour the Doctor for his services, for the Lord created him. His skill comes from the Most High, and he is rewarded by Kings ... The Lord has created medicines from the earth, and a sensible man will not disparage them...

My son, if you have an illness, do not neglect it, but pray to the Lord, and He will heal you ... Then call in the Doctor, for the Lord created him; do not let him leave you, for you need him.

There may come a time when recovery is in their hands; then they too will pray to the Lord to give them success in relieving pain and finding a cure to save their patient's life. (Ecclesiasticus 38:1,2,4,9,12-14)

God is the Healer

God is the healer, all healing has its source in His creative power. Divine healing takes place wherever the Holy Spirit of God moves in power. The Lord God who heals us is unchanging - Jesus healed during His earthly ministry, doing the things He saw His Father doing.

Our physical bodies do not live forever, and all die. We should always seek the Lord's healing in obedience to His word, firstly, by prayer through the body of Christ; and secondly, by receiving and thanking Him for the healing He offers through medical means. The absence of healing should not stop us praying and seeking prayer whenever this is offered, until or unless the Lord tells us we are not to pray for healing. The focus should be the Lord and growing closer to Him, whether or not the healing is accomplished at that time.

Suggested Reading and Bibliography

  • Dearing, Norma, The healing touch: a guide to healing prayer for yourself and those you love. Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books, 2002.
  • Deere, Jack, Surprised by the power of the Spirit, Eastbourne: Kingsway, 1993.
  • Eareckson, Joni, Joni. Melb. S John Bacon, 1981.
  • Gammons, Peter, Christ's healing power today. Tunbridge Wells: Monarch, 1992.
  • Glennon, Jim, Your healing is within you, Lond: Hodder & Stoughton, 1978.
  • Goldingay, John, ed., Signs, wonders and healing. Lond: IVP, 1989.
  • Horrobin, Peter J., Healing through deliverance: vol 1 - the biblical basis, Chichester: Sovereign World, 1991.
  • Kuhlman, Kathryn, I believe in miracles. Lond: Lakeland, 1962.
  • Kuhlman, Kathryn, Nothing is impossible with God. Leicester: Ulverscroft, 1974.
  • Lewis, David C., Healing: fiction, fantasy or fact? Lond: Hodder & Stoughton, 1989.
  • McPherson, Aimee Semple, Aimee Semple McPherson, the Story of My Life. Word Books, 1973.
  • MacNutt, Francis, The power to heal. Notre Dame, IND: Ave Maria P, 1977.
  • MacNutt, Francis, Prayer that heals: praying for healing in the family. Lond: Hodder & Stoughton, 1981.
  • Murray, Andrew, Divine healing, Pittsburg: Whitaker House, 1982.
  • Redding, David A., The miracles of Christ. Westwood, NJ: Fleming H Revell, 1964.
  • Sandford, John and Paula, The transformation of the inner man, Tulsa, Oklahoma: Victory House, 1982.
  • Sanford, Agnes, The healing light. Evesham, Arthur James, 1949.
  • Taylor, Harold W., Sent to heal: a handbook on Christian healing, Ringwood, Melbourne: Order of St. Luke the Physician, 1993.
  • Urquhart, Colin, Receive your healing. Lond: Hodder & Stoughton, 1986.
  • Wagner, C. Peter, How to have a healing ministry without making your church sick. Eastbourne: Monarch,1988.
  • Watson, David, Fear no evil: a personal struggle with cancer. Lond: Hodder & Stoughton, 1984.
  • Wigglesworth, Smith, Smith Wigglesworth on Healing. Whitaker House, 1999.
  • Wilkinson, John, Health and Healing. Edinburgh: Handsel P., 1980.
  • Willers, Margie, Awaiting the healer. Eastbourne: Kingsway, 1991.
  • Wimber, John, Power healing, Lond: Hodder & Stoughton, 1986.