Does Healing Prayer Work?

by Francis MacNutt
Sep/Oct 2007

I don’t want to write this article, but I think I have to. You see, one of my favorite authors – someone I read all the time – has written in his most recent book that he believes it is a mistake to encourage Christians to pray for physical healing. As you know, the main mission of CHM is dedicated to the goal of restoring belief in Jesus’ healing ministry, so this author’s belief goes counter to our life’s work. If it was just an abstract belief, we could simply let it go, but I believe that lives are lost because Christians have lost their faith in healing prayer.  To us, it is a matter of life and death! For example, here are just three testimonies from our May international conference:

•    “I have been transformed, renewed and born again this week! I have been healed.”
•    “I loved everything about it. It was over the top! I learned a lot. I was healed. I loved the people.”
•    “I was inundated with miracles. I was crushed by miracles. I was reborn by miracles. I will never be the same again!”

The respected author to whom I refer is Philip Yancey, and his recent book is titled Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? (Zondervan, 2006). Yancey devotes one chapter to prayer for physical healing, and in it he discourages praying for bodily illness because he has seen so many sick patients devastated by Christians who tried to heal them through prayer.  Their last state was worse than the first! Yancey points to piles of letters on his desk, all complaining of the same problem: they were misled by the false hope that they could be healed if only they prayed with faith.

So what can we say?

First, I do not doubt that he has mounds of evidence that many Christians have held high hopes for being healed, but then were severely disappointed. As a consequence, they then blame God or their church – or worse yet, themselves – for their lack of faith. We could send him some more letters to add to his stack of evidence,Yet, now we must try to deal with his problem as openly and honestly as we can. The beginning of solving the question is to admit that some people are physically healed and some are not. We hope and believe that everyone to whom we minister is blessed and drawn closer to God by our prayers. The difficulties are created by well-meaning Christians who have absorbed false teachings: “If you have faith you are going to be healed tonight when we pray. If we just agree on it, you will be healed. Do you have faith for this?” I have dealt with these questions at length in Healing1 and The Power to Heal.2

For years we have struggled to do two things:

1.    Restore what we regard as Jesus’ clear teaching to pray for the sick with faith;
2.    Avoid the legalistic understanding that everyone we pray for will be unfailingly healed.

Most Christians, in our experience, tip the scales in one way or the other, either by ignoring healing prayer altogether or by claiming that healing always takes place if only people would have “faith.”

Having said that, we also have stacks of letters over on the other side: the witness of hundreds of people who testify to having been healed. I am well aware of the power of suggestion and the “placebo effect,” so we have always tried to gather as much objective evidence as possible over the years. It seems that we have always been somewhere in the middle: on one side, trying to encourage people to pray for healing while, on the other, trying to guard against extremism. It does seem strange, though, that the group we are trying to encourage the most are the evangelicals, whose strong suit is a belief in Scripture, asking them to believe in the overwhelming scriptural evidence that Jesus advocated prayer for healing. Of all groups, they should be the strongest proponents of healing prayer (Yancey is an evangelical), but they tend to follow John Calvin, who believed that Jesus himself healed the sick but denied that it took place after the death of the last apostle. Historically, this is simply not true. For 350 years the early church boasted of its healing powers3 and the ordinary Christian people have always retained their belief in healing, as witness those famous healing shrines, such as Lourdes.

Even if the scriptural evidence does not convince someone to try prayer when they are sick, the scientific evidence is also strong. To convince physicians in the reality of prayer as a method of healing, we at CHM took part in a study with Dr. Dale Matthews (in conjunction with a Pain and Arthritis Clinic, directed by Sally Marlowe, N.P.) in which we prayed for 40 patients who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis.  We chose this disease because it is medically incurable (at least at this point in history).  This was a scientific study and its results were published in the Southern Medical Journal (December 2000). Most of the patients were improved, and it seems that four were completely cured (we conducted a year’s followup). According to Dr. Matthews, the chances of the healings occurring by chance were only .0001, and anything better than .04 is statistically significant! One physician, Dr. Larry Dossey, claims that studies have shown that prayer works and asks, “Will we reach a point where physicians who ignore prayer will be judged guilty of malpractice?”4 How about Christians who ignore prayer?

Our own experience, gleaned by praying with thousands of individuals (and not just at large healing services) is that some physical improvements happen for most people we pray with, and a significant minority are totally healed. (We try to be honest and avoid exaggerated claims.)

Another inconsistency: no one suggests that we should not consult physicians for treatment for cancer because many patients die after their hopes for a cancer cure have been raised. Such a reaction to physicians is, on the face of it, ridiculous. Nobody would raise it, unless they believed that chemo or radiation were useless. If a cancer cure only worked 10% of the time, patients would go for the possible cure and not blame the physician. Furthermore, prayer has none of the harmful effects of chemo. It means that the critics simply do not believe that Jesus works healing through prayer.

Another additional factor not often mentioned is that, if the one who prays has been baptized in the Spirit, it seems to help. Before Pentecost, the disciples were already born-again believers who knew Christ intimately, yet they were not ready.  Jesus told them to go to Jerusalem and wait until the Holy Spirit came down on them and they were “endued with power from on high.” Perhaps that is the reason why charismatic and Pentecostal Christians give testimony to seeing so much healing. Peter and the other disciples were transformed at Pentecost, but it did not happen until then, even though they were already Christian believers who were sold out to Christ.


I have written this with a little more passion than usual because I would hate to see people die because they do not receive the help they need. It is not just physical death we are talking about: it is all the other devastating ailments from which Jesus came to free us. For instance, do we as Christians believe that Iraq war veterans can be cured of post-traumatic stress syndrome? Can so many suffering from alcoholism and other addictions be freed through prayer? Can the victims of sexual and physical abuse be cured? Our answer to all this is, “Yes! It can happen. This is the Good News of the Gospel.”

We cannot just let these cautious statements ride on by without a challenge.  We know that the skepticism about prayer for healing comes from a loving caution, but to us, it denies an essential part of the Gospel and allows the inert mass of Christians to remain in their pain and weakness. As Paul cries out, “Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death?” (Rom. 7:24).

And the answer is Jesus (Rom. 7:25).

1 Chapter 8, The Faith to be Healed.
2 Chapter 10, What is God’s Will? and Appendix One:  Faith or Presumption and A Husband’s Perplexity.
3 My recent book, The Healing Reawakening (Chosen Books, 2005), deals with the historical question of how we lost our faith in healing.
4 Prayer is Good Medicine (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996), 66.

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Sep/Oct 2007 Issue

All Things Are Possible When the Spirit Leads

as told to Anne Early
Sep/Oct 2007

Our hearts have been touched by the many ways God has worked to bring attendees to the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services (ICCRS) conference which Christian Healing Ministries, Inc., co-sponsored in Jacksonville.  We wish we could share all of them with you.  Since that is impossible, we have asked Maria De Souza for permission to write a brief summary of her experiences, as God gave her an understanding that she was to attend the conference and opened the doors that led to her finally arriving.

Maria is a laboratory assistant who lives in Calangute, Goa, India.  Several weeks before the conference began, she thought about the possibility of attending. Feelings of excited anticipation alternated with days of discouragement as situations occurred to get in the way of her plans.  Maria’s mother prayed for God to reveal to her daughter whether or not she was supposed to go to Jacksonville, and if so, how He would lead her there.  Maria’s mother speaks only one language, Konkani, which is the language of Goa, the region of her home.  During the days of praying, however, and while Maria struggled to overcome obstacles to her preparations for the trip, God gave her a few significant words in English as she prayed – words that showed the way for Maria to proceed.

The greatest obstacle seemed to be the obtaining of a visa – an extremely difficult accomplishment for a single woman in India. Maria had to go to Mumbai, a day’s journey from Goa.  She made an appointment with the American Embassy, paying the $100 fee.  When asked why the conference was being held in America, Maria told the consul that Catholic charistmatic renewal had started in America and spread from there to the rest of the world, and, also, that the speakers for the conference would be Americans.  Maria said that if only she could obtain a visa for eight days that would be sufficient.  The person conducting the interview would not yield.  Maria was given a 214(b) status, denying her request.

Maria was terribly discouraged, but her mother continued to pray.  She received two English words as she prayed – “visiting visa” – and asked Maria what they meant.  Other words flowed from God as she continued to pray:  “They are going to worship God in tongues, and many bondages will be broken.”  After some time of praying, she said there was going to be “generational healing and many souls . . . would be released into heaven.”  Finally, another word, “consul,” came to her as she prayed.  The message was: “The Holy Spirit will come on the consul and the visa will be granted.”

Maria felt that God’s word to her mother meant that a visa would be granted, so again she paid the $100 fee and applied for another appointment at the U.S. Embassy.  All appointment times for April and May were blocked out; none were available.  Since Maria had to work, her sister went online for two or three hours every day to watch for an opening that might occur as a result of a cancellation, because a new opening would be taken within five minutes or less should one become available.  Finally, her sister was online when a scheduled time for April 25th opened up.  (The first appointment had taken place on March 29th.)  Maria’s brother flew to Bombay to submit her forms.  Maria went to Mumbai for the second appointment, confident that she would get a visiting visa as God had given the word to her mother during prayer.

Maria’s second appointment at the U.S. Embassy was very different from the first one.  She had promised God that if she got the appointment she would testify there about the reason for her going to the conference.  That she did, telling the woman who interviewed her about God’s love, his saving grace, and how she was going to learn about his healing power. When the woman pointed out in amazement to Maria that she would be spending an amount comparable to her salary for one year in order to go to the conference, Maria assured her it was worth that much to her. (Maria’s mother had been healed through prayer a few years before.) She said, “After all, were it not for the charismatic movement, I would not have my mother. My mother is worth much more than that!” And, to her surprise, a ten-year visa was granted!

Sep/Oct 2007 Issue

Children of the Light

by Linda Strickland
Sep/Oct 2007

Traveling with Judith MacNutt all over the country is a privilege and a blessing. Recently, we were at a women’s conference and, during one of Judith’s talks, she said something that has stuck with me: as a matter of fact, it has changed the way I think about my identity in Jesus. She was reminding us of the opening scene of Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion. If you saw this unforgettable film, I am sure you will recall this scene: Jesus is in the garden praying and the camera pans down to His feet where a horrible yellow snake is slithering. As you watch, you begin to think that maybe Jesus is unaware of the looming danger, when suddenly, without even looking down, He stomps His foot and crushes the head of His enemy. The point Judith was making was that, although Jesus was aware of His enemy, He was not focused on him.

This teaching is one I really needed to hear. As I said, I have traveled to many places with both Francis and Judith over the past months, and I have seen amazing things. I have seen cataracts disappear from eyes, I have seen people get up out of wheelchairs and walk, I have seen people throw away hearing aids, and I have seen lives completely transformed through inner healing and deliverance.

Yet something else I have witnessed is that some Christians tend to focus on the enemy more than the Savior. These are well-meaning people who live their lives in a state of fear, convinced of the fact that the devil and his demons are around every corner and under every rock. It troubles me to see God’s children like this – crouched in the dark, giving satan credit for every negative aspect of their lives.

Being a Christian does not mean we will not go through dark times, but, as children of the King, we do not reside there. As Christ’s own, we are to live in the light, knowing our enemy has already been defeated. Satan cannot have us and he knows that, but he can influence us and when we’re under his influence, we are weak, sickly, depressed and unhappy. If he can discourage us and make us doubt who we are, he can negatively affect our usefulness to God and the quality of our lives here on earth.

At Christian Healing Ministries, we are dedicated to the practice and teaching of healing prayer. We encourage people to “touch the hem of His garment” (Matthew 9:21). Although we should never forget that we have an enemy, Jesus is, and always should be, our focus.

This leads to the second lesson we can learn from that garden scene: on what, exactly, is Jesus focused? He is focused on His Father. Even with darkness at His feet, He continues to look up into the light. It is a scientific fact that darkness and light cannot co-exist: in the presence of light, darkness naturally disappears. This is what I want in my own life. I want to be so tightly bound to Jesus that nothing, including my enemy, can separate me from the love of God. I want to be so full of the light of Jesus that wherever I walk, darkness will run screaming!

Linda Strickland Linda Strickland is The Associate Director of Ministry and Personal Assistant to Judith MacNutt Sep/Oct 2007 Issue