Even as a small child, sitting beside my father and mother in church, I noticed a pattern in prayer request. It seems as though times have not changed much. Almost every time when a prayer is mentioned it is for someone who is sick. On occasions a dear saint might ask for the salvation of a lost family member or someone might ask for prayer for their family or for our country. But I have noticed that most prayer request are for the sick, dying, and grieving. When someone would give a testimony of praise it, as well, usually involved a healing from a sickness. What is it about sickness that consumes so much of our prayer life? As believers, why are physical concerns our only concerns? Why are we not praying for our lost family members, friends, neighbors, and church members? Why are we not praying for our missionaries as they battle in this spiritual war waged against them? Why are we not praying for those who are destroying their own lives by living in sin? Why are we not praying for our church families who are falling apart at the seams? Why are we not praying for the immature, babes in Christ to grow in grace and knowledge? Why are we not praying for the faithful mature believers to remain strong and true? Why are we not praying for a spiritual hedge of protection upon our church? Why are we not praying for God to raise up godly men who are willing to do the hard things necessary in our churches and nation?
Perhaps it is the personal aspect. Unfortunately, even children of God tend to be self-centered in our prayer life. These types of prayers are hard to pray. It takes a spiritually mature child of God to deny self and pray earnestly for others. It takes hours and hours upon our knees to pray as we should. It takes a rejection of this physical world to place our thoughts and affections upon spiritual things. It is easy to ask prayer for Brother So-and-so when he is sick, but it is a lot harder to pray for Brother So-and-so who lives in bitterness, strife, and constant sin. It is a lot easier to pray for Sister So-and-so who is having surgery than to pray for Sister So-and-so who struggles with gossip. And it is a lot easier to ask prayer for ourselves when we are physically afflicted than to ask prayer for ourselves when we struggle and our faith is weak. You see, it is easy to pray for the physical things but these are not the most important things. It is only the spiritual things that will matter in eternity. It is not our sickness that will matter as much as how we deal with our sickness. When we become sick do we allow God to work in our lives, molding and shaping us into Christ’ image? Do we see the hand of God working to draw us closer to Him during these times? Do we see His perfect will being wrought in our lives and the lives of others? It is these spiritual things in which we should pray.
However, since sickness does acquire so much attention in our lives, it is important to recognize the different types. Whether it is our sickness or others that we are praying for, God is sovereign in it all. I believe that a child of God who diligently seeks the Lord and His face can petition God to reveal the purpose for the sickness. In Scripture, I have found at least four reasons.
The first and most apparent is the sickness unto death. “And as it is appointed unto men once to die…”Hebrews 9:27a. “For the wages of sin is death…” Romans 6:23a. We are all under the curse of death and there comes a point in our lives, as a result of sin, that our physical bodies will die and return to the earth. “And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” Genesis 3:17-19. Therefore, from the moment of birth we begin to physically die. The statistic is accurate. Ten out of ten people die. It is a part of life. We should seek wisdom from God to know when we should stop praying for healing and begin praying for grace. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” Psalm 116:15.
There is also a sickness due to testing. Job is an example of this. “And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life. So went Satan forth from the presence of the LORD, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown” (Job 2:6-7). There are times that God will send a sickness for no other purpose than to test our faith. A mature believer can learn to be thankful for these times of testing. For it is in trials that our faith grows. “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” James 1:3-4.
There is also a sickness for no other purpose than God’s glory. Do you remember the story of Jesus healing the blind man? Jesus and his disciples passed by a man who was blind from his birth. The disciples asked, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” John 9:2. Jesus responded that neither the man sinned or his parents but “that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” Do you remember the story of Mary and Martha sending messengers to Jesus about Lazarus’ sickness? “When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” John 11:4. I have heard story after story about a person who had cancer or some other fatal illness. But then God in His mercy answered prayers and healed this person. It was the sickness that revealed God’s glory to the world.
The fourth cause of sickness is due to unconfessed sin in the believer’s life. The Corinthian church was taking the Lord Supper unworthily and bringing about condemnation. “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” 1Corinthians 11:30. Many times God will chasten His children with an illness to bring them to repentance. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” Revelations 3:19. God loves His children too much to let them remain in sin. What would we think of a father who knowingly allowed his small child to play in the street? We would think of him as unfit at best or even uncaring and cruel. Why then, do we think that our Heavenly Father allows His children to play around with sin in the streets of destruction? He is holy, perfect, and just, therefore, He corrects His children. There are many backsliding believers who are under the judgment of God. They need to humbly confess, turn away from their sin, and turn back to God. James 5:14-16 gives us the remedy for someone who is sick due to sin. “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
Why am I sick? I do not believe it is wrong to ask this question. Seek the Lord for the answer. Whether it is a sickness unto death or as a test of faith let it be as a witness for God’s glory. If it is a sickness due to sin, confess your sins and “despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” Hebrews 12:5-7.