Preaching Articles

Why healing services? And what makes preaching at healing services different?

Worship services addressing illness and its corollary -- the desire for possible healing -- are a part of many churches’ routines. Healing services are one way that the parish can show it is taking seriously the following biblical observations and injunctions:

“Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” (James 5:14-16)

“And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)

These passages may provide rationale for holding healing services: the involvement of parish leaders in the service, the ritual action of anointing the sick with oil, the power of prayer by persons of faith, and the connection between sin and illness (which is a truly complex topic that needs discussion, given the potential for misunderstandings that exists on this subject).

Ministers seeking to introduce healing services should anticipate a number of questions:

  • Isn’t it enough simply to pray for the ill during the normally scheduled services?
  • Are healing services within God’s will for those suffering from disease and illness?
  • What if healing services yield no evidence of healing?

This latter concern raises the issue of teaching people to discern between “cure” and “healing.” The true question, however, is not if healing will happen but whether or not those in a healing service are being faithful to the ways God performs healing acts.

Healing in Scripture

In Scripture, we can find helpful responses to these questions; many passages attest to humanity’s pleas for healing and God’s varied responses to those prayers.

It is the preacher’s job to intuit and anticipate issues presented by the biblical texts to listeners, know how the texts raise new concerns, and how to help parishioners think through illness and healing theologically.

Texts featuring Jesus healing often do so in such a way that Jesus’ divinity is revealed, acknowledged by bystanders or feared by religious authorities.

Take Luke 9:37-43. Jesus’ mountaintop experience is concluded by a father who brings his son (“my only child”) to Jesus for healing. The disciples could not get rid of the spirit possessing the child -- only Jesus could. He heals the boy by casting out the unclean spirit that possesses him. This narrative shows the range of Jesus’ healing work -- no kind of illness (mental, physical, or spiritual) lies outside Jesus’ healing work. This can be a word of encouragement to all who suffer.

John’s Gospel urges believers to express their trust in God’s redemptive acts through prayer (see John 14:11-14). Jesus’ receptivity toward those seeking healing is depicted in many biblical stories as a call to faith for all believers.

The story in John 9 is almost humorous with the descriptions of the many participants who attempt to deny any involvement with the healed man. This raises a set of provocative questions: Why would people be afraid of this kind of power? Did Jesus’ acts of healing pose a threat to people? If so, what was the nature of the threat?

John 9 also raises another pertinent feature of many healing stories: the kinds of involvements of members of the family and the community who are pleased with Jesus’ healing powers, those who criticize it, and those who resist him.

Planning for Healing Services

Worship planners, both laity and clergy, will want to introduce such a service through different venues like Bible study, parish newsletters, and information posted on the church’s website, and should cite pertinent biblical and historical references to healing the ill (see above).

Planning worship as a vehicle for addressing illness can be a powerful experience for both those who plan and those who attend the service. Planning the components of a healing service usually includes

  • Prayer, including confession of sin
  • Scripture readings
  • Laying on of hands
  • Anointing with oil
  • Music
  • Proclamation

Scripture readings should be chosen for introducing the service and gearing it toward prayer, focused meditation, and proclamation.

The preacher's goal in a healing service is to invite listeners to focus on a God whose will for people is wholeness. Proclamation should be scripturally based. Secondly, it should be briefer than a Sunday morning sermon. It can also take the form of what some call guided meditation. It should be focused on God’s love and loving purposes with the ill, in a way that can be shared with all those who gather. 

Ordained in 1975 by the American Lutheran Church, Dr. Hedahl has served two full-time calls and thirteen interims. Dr. Hedahl has taught in seminaries for most of her career. She retired from Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in fall 2012. Her areas of on-going research include 1) preaching in the Abrahamic faith family, 2) inter-religion forms of proclamation, and 3) the real presence of Christ in proclamation.

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Dr. Ronald Shultz

commented on Apr 12, 2013 I have preached on the subject in response to the obsession with healing by some groups and their less than scriptural response to the times when there is no healing.

Jonathan Filson

commented on Apr 12, 2013

Doesn't James 5 indicate that the person who is sick calls for the elders and not the Pastor/Elders holding a service for the sick? It has always appeared to me that what is taking place in James 5 is a very solemn almost private setting - confessing your faults to one another, etc.

Michael James Monaghan

commented on Apr 13, 2013

Jonathan Filson makes a valid point . If James 5 is to be used as 'a rationale to hold healing services ' it falls flat on its face , as Jonathan points out , the sick calls for the elders to come to them . Many sick people would not be at a healing service , to partake of the expected benefits . And , in the Acts period , healing was immediate and full , at least those done by the Apostles . The elders were expected to be men full of faith , and righteous in life . And , then , if those conditions were met , THEIR prayer of faith would heal the sick . If the sickness was caused by sin , then they should confess and be forgiven and healed . After Acts times , healing took on a different form . It seems no longer guaranteed and even Paul had to pray , if God wills for Epaphroditus for example ?. I cannot account for the vast number of healings claimed by some today .Perhaps God is working with them as they preach in difficult places and difficult times.

Noe Ozuna

commented on Apr 13, 2013

I am a pastor who is going through a life changing experience. My 12 year old daughter was told that her chemo is no longer working. When we started this journey I un derstood that God is able to deliver instantly other times he will send us on a journey of faith. We must understand. Hurt, sickness, pain are all common to every human. God is not defined by miracles. When he died on the cross he died to set us free from sin and death. Preaching is not the same as living the word of God. The true miracle is that God is going through this with us. God Bless

Juli Harding

commented on Apr 13, 2013

My daughter was was healed of adhd/autism when she was in 5th grade. When she was in 2nd grade I requested prayer from the pastors/elders and they annointed my daughter with oil and prayed the prayer of faith. After they prayed, one of the elders came to me and told me that "the Lord has his hand on her life and everything is going to be ok". It was 3 years before the healing manifested itself and when it did it was sudden. Because she had so many behavioral, educational, and social issues the healing was obvious. I asked her what happened and she said "I don't know Mom, one day I couldn't do it and the next day I could." During that 3 year period, I often cried out "Lord I believe, help my unbelief" and I praise him that He is still Jehovah Rapha. Today my daughter is a 19 year old college student, active in music ministry and a devoted follower of Christ. With God all things a possible to those who believe...

Larry D. Johns

commented on Apr 13, 2013

I am a Pastor of a small church I planted almost two years ago. I trust God and I believe that God heals today. My wife and I are going through a life changing experience as well. October of last year we were involved in a terrible car accident. Shortly after the accident my wife suffered a stroke. It has been a difficult journey but I am trusting God for a full recovery for my wife. Maybe my faith is being replace with doubt.

Michael James Monaghan

commented on Apr 14, 2013

It's good to hear Julie Hardings' daughters recovery and healing . It may show that God today answers prayer in His way and His time. It seems that healing was in answer to the prayers of His saints . And that is what Paul was doing after the Acts times; praying for the healing of his fellow gospel evangelists and friends . I hope 'Noe' wont give up prayer and hope for his daughter ; perhaps we on this forum could remember her in prayer too ; and for Larry and his wife .

Ben Clinton

commented on Apr 14, 2013

Pastor ben clinton says.. dr Hedah has demonstrated a practical guide to conducting a healthy and effective healing service to liberate mankind from afflictions. Thank you ma

Mike Brenneman

commented on Apr 14, 2013

3 thoughts: 1. We all agree there is great power in prayer as James teaches. The location of the people praying is immaterial. Pray at home, pray at church or in a gymnasium. I don't see any scriptures limiting us from calling our members for a special prayer meeting. So Susan Hedahl offers some valuable thought on this. 2. Death and sickness are a part of life's journey, we all die someday unless the Lord returns first. Paul didn't get his 3 prayers answered in 2 Cor 12 the way he wanted. Prayer is asking God to intervene. Sometimes he chooses to grant our request, sometimes not. But it is good to pray and show our dependence on Him and acknowledge His power. 3. With the hope of being respectful to the scriptures I prefer not to use terms like laity and clergy. Also 1 Tim 2:9-15 comes to mind when I learn of women in Susan Hedahl's position. Clearly she is intelligent and thoughtful. And women are equal to men (Gal 3:28-29) but according to God's word--not my word--women have different roles than men. Correct me if I am mistaken. Blessings.

Michael James Monaghan

commented on Apr 15, 2013

Do you think 'Jesus healing work ' in Israel , is a special limited edition for a purpose ?. That purpose was to validate who He was to Israel ;He was their Messiah . Mathew 8:16-17 says all Jesus' earthly ministry doing those things was in fulfillment of what was prophesied by Isaiah 53:4 . . Do you think the Apostles healing ministry which was prophesied for them Mark 16:17-18 , was fulfilled Mark 16:20 . D Hedahl mentions 'healing services' . I don't think there is such a thing mentioned in the gospels, Acts , or the epistles . Dr H also mentions ' laying on of hands ' what about healing by shadows , hankerchiefs , robes , and from a distance ?. Instant , verifiable healing with a validating purpose . All these seem to have stopped in Paul's days .. The Apostle had to pray and hope for the healing of his friend and helper . And he had to advise Timothy to take a little wine to ease his oft stomach infirmities . Perhaps the last example is how we should handle ours or others desire for bodily healing today ?. God has proved He can and does , but they are not guaranteed now as then! . Or where are His ministers , and what is the purpose of their ministry today ?.

John E Miller

commented on Apr 15, 2013

Mike Brenneman you graciously and biblically articulated my own thoughts.

Lecora Taylor

commented on Apr 15, 2013

Yesterday, my Pastor, Dwayne Brewington, Victory Christian Church Int'l ( for replay), put it so eloquently. We have the general will of God for man, which pertains to the promises (healing prosperity, deliverance, long life, peace., etc.), which are always yes and Amen (2 Cor 1:20). And we have His will for us personally, which is yes, maybe, no, and this has to do with the call of God on our lives, not His promises. I'm called to take His Healing Power All Over the World, but there are times when He tells me "no", I can't go there, like He did Paul in Acts 16:6-7. Look at Jesus, whatever He did, God is still doing. He expressed God the Father. (Jn 14:9, Heb 1:1-3)

Bill Williams

commented on Apr 17, 2013

@Mike, like John, I too agree with the essence of what you wrote. As to the passage in 1 Timothy 2, I am assuming you are referring to Paul's instruction to women not to exercise authority over men. Dennis and I had a conversation about this text in a previous thread, and I'm curious to hear your thoughts. I pointed out to that according to Jesus' instruction in Mark 10, the disciples were not to exercise authority over each other. I think it is significant that Jesus and Paul both use the exact same phrase: "exercise authority over." Which leads to me to suspect that "exercising authority over" someone perhaps does not mean what we think it might mean; that it may not be referring to Biblical leadership in the Christian church; and most importantly, that it may be something that should be prohibited for BOTH men (Mark 10) and women (1 Timothy 2). Again, the same phrase is used in both texts, and in both texts the practice is prohibited. Your thoughts?

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