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3 crucial ways to pray for the sick

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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The BatKid, Miles Scott, a five year-old leukemia survivor, throws out the first pitch at the San Francisco Giants' opening day game (Credit: Kari Van Horn via Twitter)

Miles Scott has been called “the tiniest superhero in the world.”  The five-year-old has leukemia which is now in remission.  His dream of becoming Batman became a reality last year, when San Francisco and the Make-A-Wish Foundation staged a daylong celebration for him as “Batkid.”  He dressed as the superhero and spent the day fighting crime.  Now he’s appeared again, this time to throw out the first pitch for the Giants’ home opener.

Leukemia is one of more than 200 different types of cancer, which is the second-leading cause of death in America.  You probably know someone who is dealing with cancer or another life-threatening disease right now.  How should you pray for them?

This question was brought home to me yesterday when I was asked to lead a prayer time for two very special people.  One is recovering from major cancer surgery; the other has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.  How should believers intercede for people who are facing such grave challenges?  I suggested three imperatives.

First, be focused.  Pray specifically.  Avoid generalizations such as “be with them”—since Jesus promised that “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20), we don’t need to pray for his presence.  Don’t ask God merely to “bless them”—what does this mean?  How would you know God answered?  Instead, tell God precisely what you want him to do.  When the crowds brought a blind man to Jesus, our Lord asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51).  He asks the same question of us.

Second, be consistent.  Jesus teaches us to “ask, and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7).  The Greek syntax is literally, “ask and keep on asking.”  Why does God want us to repeat our intercession?  Not to inform him—the omniscient Lord of the universe “knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8).  Not to persuade him—the God who is love (1 John 4:8) wants to do what is best for you.  Rather, because prayer positions us to receive what grace intends to give.  As we continue to pray, we continue to submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit so he can mold us into the character of Christ (Romans 8:29).  The more we pray, the more we are empowered, led, and matured.

Third, be expectant.  When we pray, God always gives us what we ask or whatever is best.  In the case of physical illness, he will heal us medically, miraculously, or eternally.  Sometimes he uses physicians and medical means, so we should pray for him to guide our doctors and other care providers.  Sometimes he intervenes in supernatural ways, so we should pray for such grace.  Sometimes he heals us eternally by taking us from our fallen, diseased bodies into his perfect paradise.  Unless Jesus returns first, Christians will all be healed in this way one day.

The only thing God cannot do is violate our free will.  He has chosen out of his own sovereignty to limit himself to the freedom he has given us.  When we position ourselves to receive his medical, miraculous, or eternal healing, we have done our part.  Now we can trust him to do his.

Who needs your focused, consistent, expectant intercession today?