Why are Our Prayer Requests Mostly Health-Related?

26 Jun

With the disclaimer that praying for health needs is not wrong (James 5:13-16) I have been thinking lately about why so many of our public prayer requests, whether in church or on social media, are health-related,when the prayers of the Bible seem to focus on so much more than just health.

Why the Focus on Health?

1.  It is not threatening to pray for health. It’s nice to pray for people to feel better. Most everybody would gladly ask for such prayer and almost anybody would gladly receive such a prayer. Praying, on the other hand, for somebody struggling with sin or for somebody to be saved might be more threatening to some people, so we are reluctant to pray for these kinds of things.

2.  Health problems are more readily evident than many spiritual problems. If a man has a heart attack, everyone knows it and can pray for him. If he struggles with worry, it may be less evident or only evident to his closest friends. He may be unaware of his struggle or ashamed of the struggle. In addition, health problems are usually easier to discern. A husband may be asking for prayer for his wife and it may be that he is the source of many of the problems in the marriage. If somebody broke their arm, we know how to pray, but human conflicts and our inner struggles are more difficult to discern.

3.  We care more about comfort in this life than we do about eternal life. If all our prayer focuses on other people feeling better and never addresses the souls of people, we probably are too focused on being happy here rather than having a focus which views eternity as ultimately significant. This eternal mindset is not a “pie in the sky” or “so heavenly-minded you’re no earthly good” view. It is, rather, a view which elevates God and His glory over my temporary comfort and prays in such a way that the desire of our hearts for ourselves and for those for whom we pray would be for the work of God to flourish in our lives. What good is it to be cured of cancer and to go on in rebellion toward God or apathy toward Him? How much better, while praying for health needs, to pray for the so much more essential needs of the soul.

4. We pay too little attention to the prayers of the Bible. When Jesus prays, His prayers are largely about things other than health. He prays for the unity of His people, He prays for the spread of His kingdom. He prays for strength to fulfill the mission the Father gave Him. When Paul prays, he prays for the unity and spiritual strength of the churches he serves and he prays for the salvation of Israel and he prays for those in authority and he requests prayer, not so much for his health needs (and we know he had a thorn in the flesh, which may have been health-related and that he struggled at times with sickness and weakness) but for the effectiveness of his ministry of the word in the mission God had given him. As we look at Old Testament prayers, very often they are focused on God’s deliverance for His people but very rarely simply on feeling better. The requests relating to health are almost always tied to some greater purpose of God in a person’s life.

5. We view prayer as a transaction rather than part of our relationship with God. When prayer is viewed only as asking for things and not as communion with God, we can be sure that it will become shallow, thus leading to a focus on primarily outward things, like physical health. But when prayer is viewed in light of our overall relationship with God, it is something God uses to cultivate spiritual affections in us, changing our perspective so that we are not just focused on outward things.

I am sure there are many other reasons for this focus on health requests. I even think, on a very practical level, of most church bulletins and newsletters. The prayer list is normally a list of sick people. Should we pray for the sick? Yes. But could it be that if our bulletins only list the sick that it plants the seed in our minds that the main thing prayer is for is to pray for the sick?

Now again, I am not against prayer for the sick. It’s just that prayer should be so much more in our lives and in our churches than just praying for the sick. I don’t want anyone to feel guilty for praying for health needs. I do, however, want those who only pray for health needs to step back and take a close look at their prayer life.

There are three resources I have found helpful in thinking about prayer. I hope as you are thinking about these issues that you might check out one of these books.

Ben Patterson’s Deepening Your Conversation with God

http://www.amazon.com/Deepening-Your-Conversation-God-Learning/dp/0764223518/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340718154&sr=8-1&keywords=prayer+deepening+your+conversation+with+god

Paul Miller’s A Praying Life

http://www.amazon.com/Praying-Life-Connecting-Distracting-World/dp/1600063004/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1340718236&sr=1-1&keywords=a+praying+lifeLife

and D.A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation

http://www.amazon.com/Call-Spiritual-Reformation-Priorities-Prayers/dp/0801025699/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1340718352&sr=1-1&keywords=a+call+to+spiritual+reformation

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