“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” I think about this verse often. I am not sure who counts as a righteous person, and I’m not sure how to qualify “working.” The sentence before says, “confess your sins to one another and pray for each other, so you may be healed.”
I heard a priest say recently that salvation can be translated from the Greek as both “saved” and “healed.”
I grew up Presbyterian, and I think I learned implicitly somehow not to pray for healing. God’s will seems so vast and unchanging and unbending that why even supplicate, especially for something as fleshly and worldly as an ailment? My good health and my shining youth, I think, made this an easy position.
I took my little son to a healing prayer service the other night. I would have balked at this a year earlier, but I know much less now than I did about Big Things. I saw a room full of old people, ailing people, and people who came alone to sit in the back. I am like these people. I am not coming alone, but I am carrying a little boy with many ailments. Too many ailments to list, and the list seems both fleshly and otherworldly at the same time. The Book of Common Prayer tells us ailments are a sign of the Lord’s visitation. “Wherefore, whatever your sickness is, know that it is certainly the Lord’s visitation.”
What sort of Lord both visits the sick and sends sickness to visit?
I am now in a church that practices spiritual gifts, one could say. I am still wary, but I am open. I am open because I am emptied out, and I don’t have my own words to pray for my son anymore. So I take him for prayer. And I let righteous people pour their words and ask for God’s spirit to be over my son, and I think, from your mouth to God’s ears.
I have a new friend. He has cerebral palsy; he was born early. He is my age now, and lives with his parents. He texted me that he is “praying always” for my David. I think that this is a righteous person. And I think, “from your mouth to God’s ears.”
Is praying for healing futile? The grave will welcome us all, ailments or no. Am I praying that David’s life lease is longer?
I think now that if David dies, I won’t have to worry about him anymore, because he is Christ’s child, and he will be on Christ’s knee. Maybe there he will take his first steps, or feed himself, and laugh and sing praises with angels. This is not a fairytale, but this is my earnest hope. The worry I have for David is too big — it seeps out of me and it puddles on the floor, and I am empty. I don’t have words, or prayers. I just have David. A nurse saw me recently at my doctor’s office. She took one look at me and said, “Child, have you taken your burdens to the man no one can see? He is at the hand of God. Do not worry. David is covered by Jesus. Mom, do not worry.”
If we pray for healing, and as Sufjan Stevens sings in a song I like, “Tuesday night, at the Bible study, we lift our hands, and pray over your body, and nothing ever happens,” and if nothing does ever happen, are righteous prayers not working? Are they not powerful?
Perhaps the sustenance of God, the healing of God, goes much deeper than I can see. David is still blind, and he still has a cleft. But perhaps, or I would say, certainly, God is sustaining his every breath. I am not sure of the length of his life lease, or mine, or my husband’s, or my other childrens’, another of which I am carrying now. But the healing of God, his salvation, is much deeper than the skin marred by sin. It is now in our souls and bones. We are baptized; we are marked.
My little son Gray is learning the sign of the Cross, and he said we do it because we are God’s and we need to remember that we are God’s. The longer I live with David, the greater sometimes the comfort of death seems. I think this is an appropriate maturing of the Christian life. Death is not a punishment for Christians, as it is for those who do not know God. Death can be a salvation, because of the work of Christ. David is wholly God’s. Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth. In the name of God our Father, Christ our brother and our friend, and the Holy Spirit, our comfort.
I wonder if the disciples prayed for healing when Christ was on the cross. What a futile prayer it must have seemed. And then he died, and there was a stone, and in the darkness all seemed lost. What righteous prayers worked then? But where their eyes could not see, Christ had defeated death, and broken light into all the darkest spots, not least my own heart. And so it could be that we look for healing in the wrong place. Our physical bodies may be healed of some things and not others, but they will have a certain end. Christians can say that the end is just our beginning, and when I touch the bread and the wine to David’s lips, I feel like the friends of the lame man lowering their friend down the roof to Christ. I have nothing to offer this little boy, no more words, and no more prayers, but I can lift him down to Christ, cut a hole in the roof of my heart, and know the end of David’s story isn’t in just healing but his story ends and begins in the person of Christ, our friend and our brother.
So it may be that some days I pray for healing, and it may be that someday I will learn to thank God for his visitation, for his chastening, for sickness which can be turned to our profit, and remember “that to Christian persons there is no greater comfort than to be made like Christ” and “our way to eternal joy is to suffer here with Christ.” It may be that I can learn, like Spurgeon, to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages, and when I pray for healing I can also thank God also for David’s ailments, and I can have a heart that breaks in thankfulness instead of in anger and bitterness, and this is the character of Christ. If you see me, someday, thanking God for David’s birth defects, you will know it is a miraculous work of God that you have witnessed. You will have witnessed the healing hand of God.