Kathie and I were leading a series of revival meetings for ten to twelve churches in 2016. I spoke on Thursday and Friday evenings. Kathie and another person both spoke on Saturday morning, and I wrapped things up on Saturday night. Our theme for the meetings was understanding the kingdom of God. After preaching Thursday night, we had the opportunity to pray with several people. One woman came forward at every opportunity to request healing prayer for significant back pain. She asked us to pray for healing on Thursday and Friday nights. Nothing happened. We prayed for her again early on Saturday morning, during the break between morning sessions, and again before lunch. She experienced no improvement at all. As she headed out for lunch, she asked me, “Why doesn’t the Lord heal me?”
That wasn’t a theoretical question; it was a question asked in great pain. I was honest and upfront in my response and simply said, “I’m so sorry, I just don’t know.” As Kathie and I headed off to lunch, I felt the Holy Spirit tell me I needed to be bolder and more forceful in my prayers and not accept no for an answer. I preached again that evening. When I finished teaching, Kathie and I headed over to the woman and asked to pray again.
When I pray with people experiencing physical pain, I often ask them to rate their pain level on a ten-point scale, with ten being excruciating. I ask this question for two reasons. First, it gives us a starting point for prayer. Sometimes healing is instantaneous, but at other times it is gradual. When a person notices the level of pain going down, she or he knows something is happening. It is very encouraging. I also ask people the question to let them know I’m expecting something to happen, which encourages their faith. This woman rated her pain at level ten. We prayed once more; her pain did not lessen. We prayed again. Once more, we saw no improvement. I was very frustrated. I felt I had faith for her healing, and I couldn’t understand why she was not improving.
I prayed again. When I asked the woman to rate her pain, she paused, thought about it, and told us it had gone down to an eight. This was very exciting. We prayed yet again, and this time she said her pain went down to a six. We prayed again. She told us her pain lessened again to a four. We prayed once more, and this time she told us she was completely pain-free. In all, Kathie and I prayed ten times for healing, and it wasn’t until the tenth time that she was healed completely.
Endorphins and Healing
It’s worth noting that sometimes people experience a reduction in pain, not because healing is taking place, but because the prayer time has temporarily increased the person’s production of endorphins. Endorphins are a group of hormones secreted in the brain and nervous system that, among other things, reduce our experience of pain. When the secretion of endorphins slows down, pain often comes back. Knowing this, I like to check back with the people I’ve prayed with before talking publicly about their healing. I don’t want to celebrate if healing hasn’t happened.
Did You Say?
I’ve noticed that the more we press in with shameless audacity, the more things God does without us asking. Several times I’ve prayed for one person, and another was spontaneously healed. For example, at a church service in Decatur, Illinois, Kathie prayed for a high school girl who had responded to a word of knowledge I had given about neck and back pain. The girl told Kathie that she had been playing in a swimming pool when a friend jumped on top of her, injuring both her neck and back. Kathie laid one hand on this girl’s shoulder and her other on the girl’s friend, who was standing beside her. Kathie began to pray for the healing of the girl’s neck and back when suddenly her friend started to scream. “Look!” she yelled, “I’ve stopped shaking!” She had suffered from tremors all her life. God healed her, even though Kathie wasn’t praying for her. When the girl with the injured neck saw her friend’s healing, her level of faith soared, and she was healed too.
Occasionally, God heals spontaneously in unique ways. In 2015, I was standing in a crowded exhibition hall at a conference, when I heard someone shout out, “Excuse me!” I didn’t take much notice. The exhibition hall was full of hundreds of noisy people talking, catching up, drinking coffee, sharing stories, laughing together, or looking at one of the many exhibitor booths from church ministries and universities. I heard the voice again.
“Excuse me. Are you Dr. Filby?”
This time I stopped walking, turned around, and saw this petite older lady walking toward me.
“You are Dr. Filby, aren’t you? I thought I recognized you from the Free Methodist Prayer Summit.”
The woman introduced herself and told me she was from New York.
“I have a question for you,” she stated, quite forcefully. My heart sank like a lead balloon. A university president’s work is never easy, and on just about any issue, I suspected I upset as many people as I pleased. I steeled myself for her question.
“When you spoke at the National Prayer Summit, did you say, ‘The healing in your foot is starting now?’”
I hadn’t expected that question. It took me a few seconds to respond. I thought back over my four sessions. My message was identical in each session, although each ministry time was different. I remembered that during one of the sessions, I had mentioned an incident in which I had prayed for a young woman’s foot the day before she was scheduled to have her foot amputated. However, I didn’t say, “The healing in your foot is starting now.” I confirmed this to the woman.
“Why do you ask?”
“Why do I ask?” she replied. “Well, you see, I’d hardly been able to walk for the last year or two. I had terrible pain in my foot, and it was challenging for me to get about. Anyhow, during your session, I clearly heard someone say, ‘The healing in your foot is starting now.’ As soon as I heard those words, I felt heat shoot down my leg and through my foot, and the pain went away. It was amazing. Look at how I can walk.”
Walk, she did! She took about ten steps in one direction, turned, and walked twenty steps in the other direction before returning to stand in front of me.
“The thing is,” she continued, “ever since it happened, I’ve wondered if it was your voice or God’s voice that I heard. It must have been God’s,” she concluded.
“It must have been,” I agreed. “I definitely didn’t say it. But,” I continued with a wry smile, “if you weren’t sure if it was God or me, do you think that means God has an English accent?”
Over to You: Keep it Short
It has taken me many years and lots of failures before I saw any success in healing prayer. This is not uncommon. I remember reading that John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard Church movement, prayed for hundreds of people to be healed over nine months before anyone was healed. One of the reasons I saw little healing at first was that I didn’t pray scripturally. I’d pray, “O, God, please take so-and-so’s pain away if it is your will. Amen.” Interestingly, Jesus never asked the Father to heal a person; he commanded the condition to be healed. He also never doubted it was God’s will to heal. I used to pray long drawn-out prayers. I never asked questions to see if anything was happening, and I never had any way to measure if there was any improvement.
I’m told that when you learn to ski, the hardest part is learning to lean forward when instinctively you want to lean back. Praying for healing is a little like that; you must lean in. Begin by asking the person their name and use their name in your prayer. Ask the person their level of pain and range of movement. These are excellent ways to assess if any healing has taken place. It is very encouraging when a person experiences an increase in their range of motion or a reduction in pain.
Then pray short, simple prayers, commanding the condition to be healed and ask the person if anything has changed. Nowadays, my prayers for healing rarely last more than thirty seconds. I don’t want to waste time in a long-winded prayer when I could be finding out what God has done.
If the person experiences some improvement, thank God, and pray again. If nothing appears to have changed, pray again. This is the only way to learn. When a person is not healed then and there, never say it’s because they lack faith. This is not helpful. Whether healing happens or not, you’ll want the person to experience the love of God for them through your ministry time.
Please don’t be put off when nothing happens. You may pray for many people before you see the first one healed. Besides helping a person become a Jesus follower, few things will build your faith as much as seeing someone healed through prayer.
At times we get discouraged and want to stop praying for healing. When we do that, we stop learning, and no one gets healed.
Questions for Reflection and Conversation
- Scripture is so important. Search through the Gospels and write down how Jesus prayed for healing. What patterns, if any, can you detect? How can you adjust your prayers to pray more like Jesus?
- Have you found a good mentor? If so, how do you spend your time together? Or, if you mentor others, how do you do this effectively? Share your experiences as a mentee or mentor with your group.
- Do you know anyone who prays effectively for healing? If so, perhaps you could ask them if they would involve you in some of their prayers so that you could watch and learn. Maybe you’ll be able to slipstream in their gifting to get a feel for this type of ministry.
- Look for opportunities to pray for people to be healed. Keep them very low-key. You might simply say, “I know God heals people. Would you mind if I prayed with you? I know God loves you very much.” Then pray a short, confident prayer. Call the person by name and thank God for them. Remember, even if the person is not healed, your prayer can still be powerful. God is always at work in mysterious ways.
Did you find this entry helpful? It’s an excerpt from Ivan Filby’s new book, Livestream: Learning to Minister in the Power of the Holy Spirit.
- Leaders training ministry teams
- Small groups hungry for mission
- Sunday school classes
- Individuals seeking ministry empowerment