Another thing I noticed was what these people prayed for. Think a minute. The last time you specifically asked someone to pray for you, it was about your physical health wasn’t it, or the health of a family member or friend? Here is a challenge for you: pick up a concordance and look up every use of the words pray, prayer, prayed, praying, or any other form of the word. Confine yourself to the books of Acts through Revelation, since the point here is how early Christians prayed. As you read through those passages, make a note of everything they prayed for or about. Out of 52 passages, I found once or twice where physical health was mentioned or even alluded to—well, three or four if you count all three times Paul says in the same verse that he prayed for his thorn in the flesh to be removed.
So what does that say about them and us? Here were people, the majority of whom had come out of paganism, who had to make drastic lifestyle changes, who, despite their immaturity in the faith—as we who were “raised in the church” or at least grew up in a “Christian nation” would define immaturity—these people, could see that the spiritual mattered much more than the physical. As Paul might have worded it, they were spiritual and we are carnal. Ouch!
Does that mean it is wrong to pray for “the sick and afflicted?” Of course not, since we do have a few examples. I have asked for a lot of prayers lately. But what is our motive in praying for health or safety? What was theirs? As Paul says in Philippians, do I want to stay here for the sake of others, for the sake of the gospel? Do I want to stay healthy so I can serve the Lord and his people? Or have I just not been everywhere and done everything I wanted to? Am I just so sold on this life that the next holds no appeal for me?
Once you have completed the little challenge I gave you earlier, try this one: pray one prayer that does not mention anyone’s physical health at all. You know what will happen? If you are like me, a very short prayer. You sit there and wonder, what do I say? That was a sure indication to me that my prayers were not as spiritual as they ought to be.
Here are some passages that may help you start changing the emphasis of your prayers: Eph 1:15-19; Phil 1:9-11; Col 1:9-18; 4:2-4; 2 Thes 1:11,12. You can also refer to the list you made earlier. The point is not to remove all prayers for the physically ill, but to add more for our spiritual needs, the things which should be most important to a Christian.
You know that passage that says Ask and it shall be given you? You will find that when praying these more spiritual prayers, when God answers them, your life will change for the better, no matter what your state of health.
But if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and does not upbraid, and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing doubting; for he who doubts is like the surge of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed. For let not that man think he shall receive anything of the Lord, a doubleminded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:5-8