She was a well-known preacher and faith healer who came to Birmingham. I went one night to the downtown auditorium to hear her, along with a group of college classmates. I don’t remember much of her message, but I do remember the healing time following.
One of our friends used leg braces from a childhood disease. He stood in line and climbed his way onto the stage. After she prayed for him, he threw his braces down and began to prance about on the platform. I joined in the applause, wanting to believe I’d just witnessed a miracle. To the best of my knowledge, I exhibited real faith.
A few days later I saw him on campus walking with his braces. A classmate told me our friend’s doctor warned him sternly to use the braces or face a worse complication.
Every church prays for the sick, but it’s undeniable that it’s not always the will of God to heal the sick.
Two years ago our church experienced a sad year with seven deaths. We had three in 2020. All of these people were loved and prayed for. We were faithful to ask God’s healing grace for them, but God’s plan was different from ours and they’re no longer with us.
The apostle James said leaders should anoint the sick with oil and pray for them (James 5:16). A pastor who was my mentor told me he believed the oil represented the Holy Spirit and we shouldn’t follow this command literally. Other commentators say the oil represents medicine, as it did in Luke 10 when the Good Samaritan used oil and wine to aid the wounded traveler. In contrast, an elder I knew at a Presbyterian church kept a bottle of olive oil in his suit jacket and often led church leaders to pray privately with those who wished to after worship.
I’ve always contended that if someone requested oil and prayer, I would do this as a simple act of obedience. I never thought about who the first person would be to do so.
My mother asked me to anoint and pray for her when she battled cancer. She’d asked her pastor to do this earlier that week, and, she reasoned, my doing so would satisfy the exhortation “elders,” meaning more than one. Of course I did what she asked. But, sadly, it was not the plan of God to heal her from her illness.
Every church continues to pray for the sick, though we realize sometimes God supersedes our will with his and chooses not to say “yes.” This is among the mysteries we live with until the time all things will be explained to us (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Ala. The church's website is siluriabaptist.com.