I found the insights that Francis MacNutt shared in The Power to Heal (Ave Maria Press, 1992) to be especially encouraging and practically helpful, especially when it comes to chronic illness.
The book built my faith for praying for healing of chronic illness. And its insights encouraged me to not give up praying for healing of chronic illness. Not in a flying unicorns kind of way, but in a very real way.
Informed by MacNutt’s decades of hands-on healing ministry, the book has much to teach beyond only that aspect of Christian healing ministry. I want to share how and why the book was especially freeing and encouraging to me, and how it has changed my approach to prayer for healing.
A Tale of 2 “Too-Fars”
One issue MacNutt succinctly summarized (and this is my paraphrase) is that there is a “too-far” position that says God wants (wills) to heal everyone, and now; and there is a “too-far-the-other-way” position that says people will be healed in Heaven, but everyone just needs to be resigned to suffering in this life, except in rare cases in which God decides to intervene.
Both of these positions are big problems for people with chronic illness. To illustrate how damaging they both are, I will share two personal experiences.
Too Far One Way: Everyone Healed & Immediately
I recently heard a speaker in a church service mix together two things that Jesus said, to create a third thing that Jesus did not say. He mixed the divine correction “If you can?” of Mark 9:23 with the affirming response “I am willing” of Mark 1:41 to create the brand new, not-found-anywhere-in-Scripture “If I am willing?”—as if Jesus had said there is never a time he is not willing to heal. The speaker was trying to build people’s faith for everyone’s healing right now. But he violated Scripture in his attempt. Let me just say: Don’t do that. Violating Scripture is never the way to build faith or to encourage someone who needs healing. (All one has to do is look at John 11:6 to see that healing everyone immediately is not always what Jesus wants to do.) And so it was incredibly jarring and disheartening to me to hear this man’s mashup stated as if it were Scriptural truth, because my spirit knew that the words he was putting in Jesus’s mouth had not come from there.
Besides this kind of speech being wrong and harmful to faith, it is also totally unnecessary to attempt to build faith in this way. It is not hard to find actual evidence in Scripture to make the case that God wants to heal people far more often than we see people being healed. I cite evidence for that case in my book Faith with Grit for the Not-Yet Healed. I also recommend the following resources in support of the case that God wants to physically heal many more people today than are being healed:
- The New Testament, including John 14:12 and Mathew 17:16-18;
- Francis MacNutt’s The Healing Reawakening;
- and Craig S. Keener’s Miracles.
Francis MacNutt’s The Healing Reawakening and The Power to Heal are also excellent resources for understanding why God’s will to heal is not being done when it comes to many, many people.
Too Far the Other Way: Hardly Anyone Healed Until Heaven
At the opposite amplitude of the pendulum of my own experience is an encounter with the other “too far” position MacNutt cited. In this one, a member of a prayer team of a church sent me an emailed prayer in response to my request for prayer for healing. But actual prayer in faith for my healing was missing from the prayer. I could best describe the actual prayer as a “prayer for resignation and acceptance.”
The impact of such faithless words was unhelpful, disheartening, and repellent. At that time, I was in a tough situation, greatly in need of God’s direct physical healing intervention. I needed and expected this church’s prayer team to stand with me in faith for the healing I needed, but a prayer for resignation and acceptance was all that they had the faith to offer.
Healthy people may have trouble grasping what a big deal this is for sick people who are already weary from years of chronic illness. Listen to me: It is. Even when it is time for someone you are praying for to die (and, as with many people with chronic illness, I was not then, and am not now, there by a long shot—so discernment in that direction was not in play in those prayers of little faith) there are still better prayers to pray for a sick person than prayers for resignation and acceptance. MacNutt (in The Power to Heal) and Agnes Sanford (in The Healing Light) have both wisely pointed out the need for discernment on the part of the person praying to know when it is not time to pray for physical healing, because there is God’s timing to healing, and there is also (as Ecclesiastes 3:2 and Hebrews 9:27 point out) a time for each of us to die. But both writers give examples for the kinds of prayers in those instances that are encouraging, comforting, and helpful to the spirit of the person being prayed for.
That lightning rod bad prayer said for me hadn’t been the only unhelpful one from the prayer team of that church, but it was the last one. I looked back at other emails from that team and I saw that someone had asked God to “stabilize my chronic illness.” These people had been asked and tasked with praying for healing. Why couldn’t they pray in faith for healing? I never asked that team to pray for my healing again. I don’t want people asking God for outcomes that diminish the church’s faith and work against my healing.
Will the Truth Please Stand Up?
So, which is worse—too far one way or too far the other way?
At least the first “too-far one way” person I mentioned is asking for healing and believing God is engaged. But twisting Scripture is not the way to accurately represent what God has already done or what he wants to do with regard to healing. To find the truth, we must be true to Scripture.
What about the “too-far the other way” prayer team? If we don’t have because we don’t ask (James 4:2), and those praying have no faith to ask for healing—how can we ever expect to be healed? While God may not will to heal everyone and right now, that doesn’t automatically mean that the reality of God’s will is a distant south of that.
Thank God these two “too-far” positions are not our only two choices, because neither one is a good option.
We would be far better off to find the position that aligns with Scripture—to find the faith that allows us to carry out our John 14:12 commission. And I think this the position that The Power to Heal can go a long way toward helping us find.
“Soaking Prayer” for People with Chronic Illness
I could not put the book down, as I read MacNutt’s account of a number of cases from his own healing ministry in which people with longstanding health issues were healed through repeated prayers over a period of time.
MacNutt explained how prayer for hours in a single day, or repeated daily or weekly (for minutes or longer periods at one time) had been used in slow, gradual—and observable—healings of chronic health issues—even physical conditions in which improvement is typically not seen. MacNutt made the point that “this kind of prayer is work” and can take months or years, and because of that, people tend to not persist in it, preferring instant results. He also addressed the reality that many people think healings occur instantaneously or not at all, and may not even be aware that slow, gradual healings through persistent, ongoing prayer are a way that God works.
He also mentioned that some people might even consider it a lack of faith to pray again, or ask someone else to pray, after one prayer for healing had already been said. He reminded the reader of the Scriptures in which Jesus urges believers to be persistent in prayer.
Many people think healings occur instantaneously or not at all, and may not even be aware that slow, gradual healings through persistent, ongoing prayer are a way that God works.
MacNutt recommended that “soaking prayer” be prayed for people with chronic illness by those in their families. I am grateful for loved ones who persist in praying this kind of prayer for me, and I want to recommend this book to you to read about soaking prayer, because I believe the experiences MacNutt shares will both build your faith and will encourage you to pray—and be prayed for—in this way.
There are too many people living with chronic illness for us to remain ignorant that God has done things this way and could reasonably be expected to do so again. Even though we would prefer the instant quick-fix, in MacNutt’s experience, prayer for healing is “often a process” that “requires time.” He also described some of his experiences with healing of chronic illness, which he found typically not healed instantly, but rather through the slower process of ongoing prayer.
Why Slow Healing?
I appreciated MacNutt’s forthright discussion of why some healings take so much longer than the speed at which Jesus healed people. I’ve wrestled for years with questions arising from this very issue, and my eyes are really being opened about this.
MacNutt believes (and James 5:16 supports) that all Christians have the ability to pray for the healing of others. However, he made an excellent case in this book that not all such prayers will be equally effective, and he compassionately discussed the reasons for that and what we can do to increase the life of Christ in our own lives and thereby increase the effectiveness of our prayers.
His words in this book helped me look at the incident in Mark 9:14-29 in a new way that challenged me to make changes. I don’t want to be in line for the kind of reprimand that Jesus gave when the disciples couldn’t heal the boy that God clearly wanted to heal. And I also don’t want the boy to remain unhealed, when I have been given the spiritual authority by Christ to help bring about his healing—and God wants to heal him!
MacNutt has seen in his decades of healing ministry experience that it takes a different degree of spiritual power to heal some things compared to others. (MacNutt is careful to note that this is not a matter of the faith of the sick person. He is talking about the spiritual power of the people praying for the sick person.)
MacNutt states plainly: Some chronic illnesses are difficult to heal. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible, that God doesn’t want to do it, or that God doesn’t do it.
Wanted: People with Spiritual Power from God to Pray for Healing
I spent years wrestling with what MacNutt calls “abstruse questions about God’s will” for my healing (see my book Faith with Grit for the Not-Yet Healed), and have come to believe that God does want to heal me. I had reached that conclusion before I read The Power to Heal, but the Holy Spirit used this book and The Healing Reawakening by Francis MacNutt to confirm that.
So if God wants to heal me, then why doesn’t he? Although that’s the question that has long been the first one to roll off my lips, I now think it’s the wrong question. I think the correct question is When is the body of Christ going to do the Father’s will when it comes to healing—including my healing?
We are the body of Christ. You are. I am. God works through us. That is why Jesus spent precious time passing his healing ministry to his body, the church, to continue it after he returned to Heaven. He wants us to do it. He gave that work to us to continue. That is why Jesus said what he said in John 14:12.
I don’t know about you, but I have some work to do in this area. I have been praying for people to be healed, and so far, most of them would be able to say to Jesus the same thing the man in Matthew 17:16 said to Jesus: your disciple could not heal. That situation wasn’t acceptable to Jesus then, and I can’t think it’s good enough for him now. So what do I do about it?
From what MacNutt describes, it takes “enough spiritual power” on the part of the person or people praying to be the conduit of a healing God wants to do.
I appreciate how MacNutt describes this without any condemnation, but with the kind of compassion and straight-talk that challenge me to grow spiritually so that I can pray effectively for people who are sick and see them be healed. If God is waiting on me to increase my life in him so that I can be used as a conduit for more of his spiritual power to heal other people, then I want to get to it.
Am I filled with enough spiritual power that my prayers for the healing of others are effective? If not, why not? How can I align more closely with God to do the ministry he has given believers to do?
While every Christian is capable of praying in faith for the healing of others, there are also some Christians with the spiritual gifts of healing (1 Corinthians 12:9). As I considered this, I realized that there are probably many more people who have been given this gift than who even realize they have it or are putting the gift to use. Shouldn’t we be able to name several believers alive today in our country with this gift? Shouldn’t we be able to name one in each local church, or at least one in each city? I don’t know about you, but I can name no such person from any local church in which I have ever been a member in my life. So if your situation is anything like mine, no wonder we have a staggering number of people with chronic illness.
I believe Scripture supports that God does want to heal many more people than are currently being healed; and that in cases of delay, while that may be due to his timing, it is likely more often due to factors that lie within the church—that we need to address.
The church needs to raise up an army of believers who can pray with spiritual power and see people be healed, because we have a staggering number of people with chronic illness—which is just another way of saying unhealed people.
As a person with chronic illness and as a person who wants to pray effectively for other people who need healing, let me just say this: I am doing everything within my Christ-given authority, gifting, and ability to increase the effectiveness of my prayers for others’ healing. And I want to challenge you to do the same thing. There are many sick people in the body of Christ who need prayer in faith, with spiritual power from God, with as much persistence as it takes, as the conduit for their healing. And speaking as one of them, the wait is not easy.
AmyLu Riley is the author of Stay: Why I’m Still Here, A Spiritual Memoir (2019) and Faith with Grit for the Not-Yet Healed (2019). Join her email list at amylu-riley.com/subscribe.
Related post: I Thank God for the Life and Work of Francis MacNutt
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