Q&R with Brad Jersak- How do we trust God when prayer for healing are denied?


Dear Brad,

How do you remain in a state of trust and faith when your prayers for healing are continuously denied? Not to mention those of your friends and family.  

When I read about Jesus in the scriptures, I see a character who values restoring those to healing and wellness. I don’t recall Jesus ever turning anyone away, or saying He wanted to teach someone “a lesson” with their suffering. I also think of the following verse: James 5:14-15 – “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.”

I’ve known people with so much faith, that they have even refused medical intervention  because they were sure Jesus would heal them. So I can’t believe that it’s really an issue of not enough faith as is often claimed. I see people continuously spiritually crushed. I for one have been very close to throwing the faith away because of this issue. 


It’s a very difficult question. And while “denied” seems like a very overloaded word, I get what you mean and feel the painful edge in it … I too have hoped and prayed and believed for many people to be healed through the years, believing that through faith and obedience, we would see many more people restored to health and life. Most of these have either recovered naturally, or remained disabled or diseased, and some of them died.

If none of them had ever been healed, it would be baffling, given the stories we read about in the New Testament and the apparent promises we find there. I know them all. I’ve prayed them all. But in that case, if nobody was healed, we could at least come up with a straightforward answer, such as, “God used to do that but now he doesn’t.”

But it’s all the more baffling when we do see God heal sometimes. I have seen too many authentic, miraculous and medically verified healings to be able to say, “God doesn’t heal today.” But for every one of these, I also have to walk through the grief of those who are unhealed, chronically sick or disabled, and terminally ill. It leaves me asking an even tougher question: Why this time and not that time? Why this person and not that person?

I have many Christian friends who can’t honestly say they’ve ever seen a single divine healing and I know others well (people of integrity and not hype) who see and minister healing with astounding regularly. This is bewildering to the point of troubling. 

How then shall we live? I tried the “figuring it out option” until I was weary. Rationalizing and theologizing mean squat when you’re at the bedside of a suffering child. Presiding at the open-casket funeral of a toddler was one of the worst experiences of my life. So I diligently searched the Scriptures, hunting for reasons why some are healed (I found 10). And I looked for reasons some are not (I found 7). On both lists, one of the answers was “it’s a mystery.” Personally, knowing those texts didn’t help me. Pastorally, sharing them would have been spiritually abusive. Eventually, I threw away the list. Figuring it out was a dead end.

I have also tried many different approaches to prayer, searching for any avenues that would lead to better fruit. I’ve had lots of years to experiment with everything from demanding, militant, word-faith and spiritual warfare approaches to completely passive, contemplative, and resigned ways that disavowed praying for anything except change in me. I personally experienced the extremes to be painful ditches … and the fruit wasn’t much better in either. I tell the story of that journey in my forthcoming book, A More Christlike Way.

Today, I have learned to pray, “Lord, have mercy,” believing that Abba’s mercy is always pouring despite my expectations of how that must look. Sometimes Abba’s mercy comes as a profound physical healing or transformative inner healing. At other times, we express gratitude to God for natural recovery or medical interventions which we regard as secondary causes (in which God is the first cause or ultimate Good. We also see folks who continue to suffer nevertheless experience God’s mercy as a gift of patient endurance and a sense of God’s love, apart from any physical improvement. By understanding that God IS mercy, and knowing he ALWAYS answers the prayer, “Lord, have mercy,” I’ve stopped getting offended when he doesn’t ‘obey’ my petitions. My role is simply to draw others under that waterfall of Grace with me. Again, I go into detail about this in A More Christlike Way.

Yes, you could just throw your faith away … I almost did too. I didn’t like how God didn’t meet my agenda and seemed to fail in delivering what I was sure the Bible claimed should be true. Good luck with that, though. It took me years to recover.

Here’s another option: you could save a lot of grief and years and choose to dive in deeper into trust as you participate with as a servant and child of God’s agenda of mercy, becoming, in part, the answer to prayer wherever you can.

Practically speaking, I’m just now memorizing the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. I’d like to pray it daily, but for now, I just pray it a bunch of times on Tuesdays while I’m at a 12-step meeting. Imagine looking around a group of addicts, hearing their stories, praying this prayer and then sharing whatever healing words God gives us to say in that moment. 

  • Lord make me an instrument of your peace,
  • Where there is hatred let me sow love.
  • Where there is injury, pardon.
  • Where there is doubt, faith.
  • Where there is despair, hope.
  • Where there is darkness, light.
  • And where there is sadness, joy.O divine master grant that I may
  • not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
  • to be understood as to understand;
  • To be loved as to love
  • For it is in giving that we receive-
  • and it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned.
  • And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life.
  • Amen.

I suspect the active ingredient in prayer, faith and even healing is the Mercy of God, mediated through Christ and our role is to emulate Christ in his life of self-giving love and complete surrender to the Father. We might grow as Christlike, Jesus-following friends through whom God’s love flows. Maybe we can yet learn this and see more people healed … that’s not guaranteed. But what is guaranteed: as we join ourselves to God’s agenda, we will see more loved.

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