Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Powlison on Praying Beyond Health Concerns

Our petitions are windows into our priorities or, put another way, what consumes our prayers consumes our hearts. In a recent article at 9 Marks, David Powlison, no stranger to health problems, gives valuable counsel for remedying a common ailment of congregational life - so much of our praying never gets beyond requests for physical healing. Powlison believes that this is due, in part, to the prayers often modeled by pastors:

Such public prayers may be medically informative, but they are spiritually impoverished. They usually center on physical healing. And they typically amount to nothing more than requests for effective doctors, procedures, and medicines.
Visitors of many churches might be pardoned if they get the impression that God is chiefly interested in perking up our health, and that radiant physical fitness is our greatest need. They might also be pardoned for thinking that God can’t do what we ask, because so many chronic illnesses remain unhealed.
Powlison's point isn't that we shouldn't pray for healing but that we should frame those requests in the context of broader biblical priorities which he reminds us of from James 5 and other passages on sickness and prayer. "Is God interested in healing illnesses?," he asks, "Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Yet he is always interested in making his children wise, holy, trusting, and loving, even in the context of pain, disability, and death."

Powlison's provides profitable instruction and encouragement to those who are sick and those praying with and for them.

12 comments:

read with open eyes said...

This is one of my biggest frustrations. About 90% of the requests turned in for prayer in our church are for health needs, but none of them asks for healing. People pray for sick people (sometimes skipping over the requests for spiritual growth and salvation of the lost), but don't expect God to intervene. The prayers are usually along the lines of, "God, please heal Joe's broken arm in the next 6 to 8 weeks." As a pastor, I try to set a good example, teach on the subject, and urge people to consider a new way to pray, but people stay in their familiar ruts. Help!

KP said...

What I've often noted, Jerry, is that we frequently skip over praying for the spiritual growth of the sick people we're praying for. What I particularly appreciate about Powlison's article is that he gives a brief list of the kinds of temptations those who are ill encounter and reminds us to intercede for them in these specific ways. I think we sometimes avoid doing so, not only because those concerns aren't on our radar screens, but also (especially when praying in the presence of the ailing person)because we fear that it will be interpreted as dispassionate to ackonwledge that sin is still an issue for those who are suffering physically.

As always, it's good hearing from you.

Danielle said...

That's kind of sad, that he would see praying for healing for the sick as somehow wrong.

KP said...

I'm puzzled, Danielle. What in the article gives you the impression that its author regards praying for the sick as wrong?

Danielle said...

Well, for starters, this kind of stands out:
"Such public prayers may be medically informative, but they are spiritually impoverished. They usually center on physical healing. And they typically amount to nothing more than requests for effective doctors, procedures, and medicines."

KP said...

If you read the entire article, you'll note that Powlison is in no way discouraging prayer for the sick nor implying that prayers for healing are inherently wrong. For example, he writes, "When pastors and churches pray for the sick (which will teach the sick how to seek God for themselves), they ought to do so in a fiercely thoughtful firestorm."

What he is responding to on one hand is praying that proceeds as though God cannot heal except through the means of medical intervention and, on the other, prayer that focuses solely on physical healing, oblivious to the transforming work of the sick person's soul. As he writes in the conclusion, "We all tend to pray for circumstances to improve so that we might feel better. Such requests are honest and good—unless these requests go no further. Detached from God’s purposes for sanctification and hearts that groan for his kingdom to come, such prayers become self-centered."

Danielle said...

I did read the entire article.
I don't think he knows what goes on in people's minds and hearts enough to make that judgement, that their prayers "go no further". He just really seems to want to tear people down. He seems very angry, for what reason, I dont' know.

KP said...

He's not making a claim to have knowledge of what's going on in people's hearts beyond what is expressed by their public prayers, which is the focus of the article. When you think about it, he's not really doing anything different than you are by drawing conclusions about what's in a person based upon his words. If, as you suggest, it's necessarily so that critique is generated by the desire to tear others down, what am I to conclude from your criticism of Powlison's article?

Contrary to the popular concept of "tolerance," it's not necessarily the case that criticism and/or correction are motivated by hostility. From a biblical perspective, admonition and correction are,in fact, elements of love.

You've mentioned previously on the blog that you used to attend Joel Osteen's church so I can somewhat understand why you might take any message that is not obviously positive as somehow being mean-spirited. That's one of the reasons I'm so opposed to ministries like his. Being positive takes precedence over being comprehensively truthful and thus portions of what God has revealed are muted or totally ignored because they sting; a sting that precedes and is essential to spiritual growth and health.

Danielle said...

And praise the Lord that i have seen the light and realized that having a positive life is clearly against God and obviously sinful.

ANNIE said...

Danielle said:

"And praise the Lord that i have seen the light and realized that having a positive life is clearly against God and obviously sinful."

Danielle,

A question comes to mind: Just which light do you think you've seen?

Everything I've read here by you flies in heavy contradiction to the Powlison post and the other communications with you that I've read here.

Milton Stanley said...

Thanks for pointing to Powlinson's article. I linked to both his posting and yours today. Peace.

KP said...

You're welcome, Milton. It's a joy to point others to solid material like that. Thanks for the link.