I remember my first healing service like it was yesterday. I was a very young pastor, fresh out of seminary, and the prayer ministry had asked the pastoral leadership to do a healing service for the church. There is a service in our United Methodist Book of Worship that involves prayer, the laying on of hands, and the anointing with oil.
I had never experienced a healing service growing up in the Methodist church as a child, and I was very curious about what would happen and how we would proceed. Visions of dramatic and overblown ”healings” from pentecostal television filled my imagination, and I tried to reconcile those images with how we methodical/Anglican-based Methodists would do such a service.
The service began, and after a homily, people were invited to come forward to kneel at the altar and be anointed with simple olive oil from a bowl. The pastors made a sign of the cross on the foreheads of those who came, and offered a prayer for each. As I laid hands on the people who were directed to me by the ushers, I felt the power of God in the words and the anointing as they knelt and received. There are very few moments in a worship setting that can be as powerful as a healing service.
James 5 (Common English Bible)
13 If any of you are suffering, they should pray. If any of you are happy, they should sing. 14 If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.
This is where churches receive authority to offer healing services. James lays it right out: Call out the leaders. Pray. Anoint. Do it in God’s name.
15 Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.
So here was my conundrum. If we all gathered and prayed from our collaborative faith for healing, surely the Lord will restore the person to health. That’s what it says, right? So what happens if healing doesn’t happen after a healing service?
My thoughts were immediately put to the test as a woman in her final days of terminal cancer was brought over to my side. Her husband pushed her wheelchair to the altar, and as I leaned over to anoint her and lay hands on her head, I realized she was wearing a wig. Of course she was. Chemo had stolen her hair many months before that. But that detail has remained in my memory for decades. I can still feel the surprise of that false hair under my fingers and palms.
Two days after the healing service, she died.
So what did that mean? Why wasn’t she healed? What happened to her anointing? Did our prayers not work?
A few days later, her husband sent us a note to thank us for the healing service. He said it was the first time his wife had been out of the house in over a year, and her first time back in the sanctuary since her diagnosis. He went on to thank us for allowing her to receive healing that night. When she got home that evening, she was filled with joy, peace, and hope in ways that she hadn’t felt in years. Her appetite was back and they shared a late night supper. She had confessed her sins at the altar, and knew exactly where she was going the minute the oil touched her forehead. Right before she passed two days later, she told her husband that she was finally healed.
Prayer had healed her. Hope had healed her. Jesus had healed her. Death had healed her.
17 Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. 18 He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
I am glad that this happened early in my ministry, as it taught me to never be afraid to boldly ask for healing in the name of Jesus from that point on. It also taught me that Jesus will ALWAYS heal….and it may not look anything like what you were expecting.
What aspect of your life needs healing? Remember that the prayer of the righteous person is POWERFUL.