The Bible says the prayer of faith will save the sick. What is the prayer of faith? What instructions does God give for such prayers? How can we know our prayers will be answered?
People who pray ask God for many different things, such as protection, wisdom and blessings. Some of our most fervent prayers are prayers for healing from sickness and injury for ourselves and others.
We all deeply desire for God to answer us right away. But what if He doesn’t? What does it mean if we can’t see God’s answer immediately? Does that always mean we haven’t prayed a prayer of faith?
What is a prayer of faith? How do we pray with faith and know we can expect God to answer?
The prayer of faith and healing
The only time the phrase prayer of faith is used in the New King James Version of the Bible is in James 5:15: “And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”
This is in the context of specific instructions from James for dealing with different situations. In the previous verses James says, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? 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” (verses 13-14).
The New Testament Church of God continues to follow this instruction, and elders of the Church pray for and anoint members who call on them. (See more in our article “Divine Healing.”)
But is the Bible saying that healing depends on the prayer of faith of the elders, while the sick person doesn’t need to have faith? No. The person who is sick is also expected to pray and to have faith.
For example, consider some of Jesus Christ’s healings and miracles. Jesus, of course, had perfect faith. But these verses demonstrate that the suffering person’s faith matters:
- “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well” (Matthew 9:22).
- “According to your faith let it be to you” (Matthew 9:29).
- “Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief [lack of faith, New International Version]” (Mark 6:5-6).
The passage in James also talks about forgiveness of sin, which the Bible shows only comes through repentance to God. (See our article “How to Repent.”) Being forgiven and right with God are important if we want God to hear our prayers.
Instructions about the prayer of faith and its power
Jesus taught many things concerning the power of the prayer of faith. Here are a couple:
- “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22).
- “So Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your unbelief [you could not cast out the demon]; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you’” (Matthew 17:20).
James reiterated the importance of praying with faith and the danger of doubt: “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6; see our article “Dealing With Doubt”).
Does this mean if we don’t receive an immediate answer, we don’t have faith? It could, but there are other factors to consider. God in His wisdom can answer yes right away, or He may want us to wait. Or He may even answer no when He knows what we have asked isn’t best for us or the person we are praying for.
But how can this be, when God’s promise to answer the prayer of faith seems so unlimited?
We have to consider the Bible’s other instructions about prayer.
The prayer of faith and God’s will
God clearly tells us He answers prayers according to His will.
When a disciple asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, Jesus included the instruction to pray for God’s will to be done.
“So He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’” (Luke 11:2).
Do we always know exactly what God’s will is, or might there be times we must ask God what His will is? Even Jesus Christ prayed for what He deeply desired, but added, “Your will be done”:
“‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.’ … Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done’” (Matthew 26:39, 42).
It may require even greater faith to pray for God’s will to be done—and to really know that His answer will be the best—than to assume that the specific things we greatly desire are exactly what God will fulfill.It may require even greater faith to pray for God’s will to be done—and to really know that His answer will be the best—than to assume that the specific things we greatly desire are exactly what God will fulfill.
The prayer of faith and persistence and patience
Jesus also taught us the importance of persistence and waiting patiently.
“Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). This was His parable of the persistent widow, who finally got the answer she wanted even from an unjust judge.
Obviously, the point is not that God is unjust. But with our limited human perspective, we often struggle to see the long view of God’s perfect timing and justice.
In explaining the parable, Jesus said, “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (verses 7-8).
God will answer speedily, from His perspective of the exactly right timing. But it may not always seem speedily to us. Study more about this in our article “God’s Timing Is Perfect.”
Jesus also talked about persistence and boldness in His parable about a friend asking his neighbor for bread at midnight (Luke 11:5-8). Obviously the point is not that we are to pester God, but that godly character includes persistence and patience. Learn more about these in “The Power of Persistence in Prayer” and “Fruit of the Spirit: Longsuffering.”
When we follow all of the instructions on prayer and pray in faith, we can be assured that God’s answer will be the best answer for us.
Reasons for faith
Why is the prayer of faith effective? Because God is all-powerful and faithful. Jesus promised His disciples, “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14).
God is the Creator, the source of all power. Nothing is impossible to Him. Moving mountains—or galaxies—would be no problem to Him.
And He has given us many promises we can claim. He deeply loves us and wants what is best for us.
Christ’s prayer for Peter’s faith
On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus lovingly said to Peter, “But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me [art converted, King James Version], strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:32).
Jesus’ prayer was a prayer of faith, and a prayer for faith. He also prayed for all of His disciples and for “those who will believe in Me through their word” (John 17:20). He doesn’t want our faith to fail, and He wants all of us to be strengthened.
God wants us to grow in faith, and He gives us many examples of answered prayers in the Bible to help us do that.God wants us to grow in faith, and He gives us many examples of answered prayers in the Bible to help us do that.
Elijah’s prayers of faith
Elijah’s prayers of faith are some of the most dramatic. The apostle James recounted one of them:
“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months” (James 5:17).
This miraculous punishment on evil King Ahab and his kingdom was designed to turn the people from Baal worship to the true God. And the drought ended after another prayer of faith and a dramatic display of God’s power.
Elijah called for the people to come together and watch a contest between Baal and the true God. The prophets of Baal futilely called out to their dumb idol for hours. Baal could not send fire to burn up their offering.
Then Elijah made the contest dramatically more difficult. The people watched as he drenched God’s offering with water three times.
Then he prayed a short and fervent prayer of faith:
“And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, ‘LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word.
“‘Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that You are the LORD God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again’” (1 Kings 18:36-37).
God’s answer was immediate and powerful:
“Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The LORD, He is God! The LORD, He is God!’” (verses 38-39).
It’s interesting to note that after this immediate answer, God did cause Elijah to wait for the next answer. Elijah bowed in prayer seven times before his servant reported a small cloud had finally appeared above the sea.
Very soon after that, God ended the drought with a torrential rainstorm.
David’s prayers of faith
King David is noted for his intimate connection to God and for his bold faith. Through His trust in God, he defeated a lion, a bear, the giant Goliath and numerous enemies.
Let’s consider a couple of David’s prayers of faith.
Psalm 56 dates from the time the Philistines captured David in Gath. In this desperate situation he said, “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You” (verse 3).
In Psalm 18 David also recounts his faith in God. “I will love You, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. …
“As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the LORD is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him” (verses 1-2, 30).
Other examples of prayers of faith
The Bible also tells of a time when the Israelite tribes east of the Jordan River faced an enemy by putting their faith in God.
“And they were helped against them, and the Hagrites were delivered into their hand, and all who were with them, for they cried out to God in the battle. He heeded their prayer, because they put their trust in Him” (1 Chronicles 5:20).
We can have faith without always knowing exactly how and when God will answer. We can have faith that God’s answer will be best in the end.And when King Asa faced an overwhelming million-man army from Ethiopia, he prayed a prayer of faith.
“And Asa cried out to the LORD his God, and said, ‘LORD, it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O LORD our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we go against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You!’
“So the LORD struck the Ethiopians before Asa and Judah, and the Ethiopians fled” (2 Chronicles 14:11-12).
Living faith and powerful prayers
Such biblical examples can help reinforce our belief that God has the power to answer any prayer. He wants us to grow in faith, and He gives us wonderful promises we can claim and rely on. We can pray with faith and know God will answer according to His gracious will and perfect timing.
We can have faith without always knowing exactly how and when God will answer. We can have faith that God’s answer will be best in the end (Romans 8:28), even if it is not what we were praying for.
The prayer that trusts God’s will and timing is in no way a sign of doubt or lack of faith. Recognizing that we may not get exactly what we asked for actually demonstrates more faith—the kind of living, trusting faith that pleases our loving Almighty Creator.
Continue your study about the vital subject of faith in our “Faith: Believing and Pleasing God” section of Life, Hope & Truth. And learn more about effective prayer by downloading our free study guide How to Pray.