Healing Line

Healing Line

Soaking Prayer

by Francis MacNutt
Winter 2013/14

One of our great discoveries has been learning about how much more healing happens when we take more time to pray. Many Christians have picked up on this discovery and now it's often called "soaking prayer."

In soaking prayer we spend more time than usual in praying, which is like putting something in warm water, so that the prayer has time to go beneath the surface and reach more of the area that needs healing. Soaking is a gentle word that symbolizes how prayer gradually transforms and heals the sickness and brings us health. It's like relaxing in a pool of warm water.

To me, soaking prayer takes away some of the impatient desire to see instant results, and it symbolizes the gradual, deepening and relaxing effect of healing prayer. Most good prayer is like that. We are freed from anxiety and we can rely on deepening movements of God's healing grace, gradually transforming us into the wholesome life of Jesus.

To give you a further idea of the different ways that soaking prayer works I would like to share the two cases of Lisa and Teresa.

At the age of two and a half, Lisa showed symptoms of a brain tumor, but after two and a half years of testing, the doctors diagnosed it as a demyelinization of the nervous system. Over a period of six years, the disease progressed until she lost her speech, her sight and her muscle coordination. She was completely bedridden and had to be tube-fed. Her spine was severely curved, causing the left rib cage to protrude and the right leg to be approximately two inches shorter than the left leg.

A few friends and I prayed for Lisa at the conclusion of a retreat in Dallas, Texas, followed by a week of intermittent soaking prayer by her church community. By the end of one week, Lisa's spine had straightened completely, her right leg lengthened, and left rib cage protruded less.

As you can see, Lisa's story is a beautiful example of the power of prayer to gradually roll back what had been the steady progress of disease. A minimum effect of prayer would be simply to halt the progress of the disease. A maximum effect would be for the sickness to be instantly healed. And somewhere in between is what we usually see happen, as in the case of Lisa.

Also, it is beautiful to see the entire Christian community at work in this prayer — and that her mother herself took a large part in it. They didn't have to wait for a well-known minister of healing to come to town again; instead, the dozens of people who prayed had a lively realization that Jesus is at work in his people as a body.

Another thing worth noting is that in this case, although there were many areas of Lisa's body affected, the healing that was taking place centered in the spine. There is no record of her sight coming back or the paralysis of her arms and legs being healed.

Healing often begins in a particular area of the body. It usually takes place in the area least affected by the disease; it makes sense to expect that life first begins to return to those areas least deeply affected. Usually when I pray with someone, I ask after a time if he or she feels anything happening. If they do feel something going on, then I try to continue in prayer whatever it is that God is already doing. Jesus' principle of discernment was: "I do what I see the Father doing." So I try to find out, when possible, what it is that God is doing, rather than to approach a sick person with my own predetermined or preconceived notion of how God should work. Pray for a while and see if anything happens. If it does, continue praying along that line. When nothing happens, you must learn to accept that, too, without necessarily feeling that you have failed, and without putting the sick person under a similar cloud of guilt.

The most remarkable example of healing through soaking prayer I have ever seen took place after a retreat my team gave in Colombia, South America. Towards the end of the retreat, members of our team ended up praying for a young woman with a withered leg. The team called me over to show me her deformed leg and excitedly told me that something had already happened — the leg had grown an inch or more. So I joined them in their prayer. Talking to the young woman, Teresa, I found that she had stepped on a sharp object in a swamp when she was only five years old. Due to the lack of proper medical attention, an infection developed which went to her bone and developed into osteomyeltis. As a result, her right leg had been warped, as it were, from the knee down. It was about six inches shorter than the normal leg and was twisted as well. She also displayed a deep scar where an unsuccessful bone graft had been attempted.

As we prayed gently for two hours, the leg seemed to grow about an inch. About eight of us were praying, taking turns holding her leg (since kneeling down for several hours can be painful). The bishop himself prayed as part of the group.

Then we took a break for supper and came back to pray for another two hours that night. Again, it seemed that her leg grew another inch. Also, the twisted leg was gradually straightening. You couldn't see it happen, because it was so gradual, but by comparing the length every ten minutes or so, we could see a comparative change taking place.

The next day we gathered and prayed for two more hours in the morning and two more in the afternoon. This day the leg seemed to grow another inch (it had grown about three inches the day before), so by that evening there was only about a two-inch difference between her two legs. Most remarkably, though, the right foot, which was flat and had no arch to speak of, grew and changed shape until the arch appeared the same as in the normal foot. The toes of the deformed foot, which were about half the size of those on the other foot, also grew, until they were almost the size of those on the normal foot. In a period of hours the toes on her right foot had nearly doubled in size!

Several other unusual developments occurred which helped us to understand better some of the factors we had already learned about healing. They had to do with the relation between bodily healing and spiritual healing. Twice we came to realize there was a need for a healing at the spiritual level. Both realizations, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, came because the healing and growth seemed to stop. After the first cessation we discovered that Teresa needed to forgive her mother for what had happened after the osteo developed. Because her family was poor, Teresa's mother had to give Teresa up and board her with other people who could afford to get her the proper medical treatment. It was the only thing that could be done in the circumstances, but to Teresa (as a child) it seemed like rejection. Amazingly, when we asked Teresa to forgive her mother and to pray for an inner healing of her feeling of rejection, Teresa's leg again started straightening and growing.

We then continued with soaking prayer and her leg continued to grow until there was only half an inch difference. At one session her foot made a turn until the scar that formed a spiral down her leg became a straight line from the knee to the foot. Now, for the first time in fourteen years, Teresa is walking again.

It's impossible to calculate exactly how many hours of soaking prayer went into this extraordinary healing, or how many people prayed. And there is still need for continued soaking prayer, for the leg still needs more healing. But most of the healing, which required that her leg and foot grow and straighten and be mended (when the doctors had given up hope of any further improvement) has taken place.

When you start praying, you never know — unless God reveals it — how much might happen, or not happen. And it's hard work — at times exhausting. No wonder Jesus referred to his healings as "works" rather than "miracles.""The works I do in my Father's name are my witness" (Jn 10:25).

Seeing the effects of soaking prayer has given me a whole new outlook on healing. It used to be that when I passed a disabled person, I would wonder if prayer would heal him or her. At the same time I would feel that the chances of a cure — although possible — were slim. Now when I see a disabled person, I just wonder if he could not be cured, or at least dramatically improved, if there were only someone who could take the time to sit beside him and pray.

This article is an excerpt from Francis MacNutt's book, The Prayer that Heals.


Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Winter 2013