What Role Does Faith Play in God’s Healing?

My wife Holly Butler wrote this, and I helped, on a topic we've both loved pressing into together. 

“Daughter, your faith has healed you,” Jesus tells a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. “Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (Mark 5:25-34).

This is a startling statement! Jesus tells this woman her faith has healed her. He emphasizes not his power, her circumstances, or the crowd’s hopes, but her faith. This is powerful, but raises questions for many of us: does this mean if we pray and don’t get healed, it’s because we didn’t have enough faith? How does our faith relate to God’s healing?

Jesus is a Great Physician, and he invites us to come to him. I’d like to share a few thoughts that can help us have a healthy understanding of how to approach not only this topic but also this Savior with confidence for everything we need.  

Reaching for Jesus

Faith is a huge part of following Jesus. This is an important starting point. Faith basically means trust, and we see this woman put her trust in Jesus, so much so that she’s willing to press through the crowds and risk embarrassment just to reach out and touch the hem of his garment, believing he has the power to heal her.

What brought her to this place of trust? She was desperate for Jesus. We read, “She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse” (v. 26). After she’d tried everything, however, when her bank account was empty and hope was gone, we read, she “heard about Jesus” (v. 27).

She heard about Jesus.

The Great Physician was in town, a better doctor was here, and even if she had to barge down the door, she was going to get in for an appointment.

Maybe you, like this woman, have been trying everything. Been to every doctor, read all the latest books, tried every diet fad, sat on the couch of every counselor in town . . . but you’ve still come up empty. And then, you heard about Jesus. It’s often in these desperate places, where we recognize our deep need for God and how hopeless we are without him, that we place our hope in him.

God invites you to come to him boldly, and ask for whatever you need. You can reach out for Jesus, and watch him stir in you a deeper life of faith.

What happens, however, when we do and our prayers aren’t answered?

Not If, But When

We often ask, if God will heal . . . But in the gospel, it’s not really a question of if God will heal, but when. Resurrection is coming. Jesus is going to transform this world for his glory, and in his kingdom all that is currently wrong will be made right, that which is broken will be made whole, those who are sick and dying will be healed and filled up with his life.

So, when we come to God in faith, it’s not really that God will heal some and won’t heal others, but rather that God heals some now and will heal others later.

When we see healing today (which I’ve had the privilege of witnessing many times), this joyous occasion is a foreshadowing of the greater healing that’s coming, an anticipation of resurrection. This means those who experience healing should inspire hope, not jealousy, in those who don’t, because the healed are a prophetic symbol of the restoration that is coming, when God’s reconciled world will make everything new.

When we don’t receive healing today, this doesn’t necessarily mean we didn’t have enough faith. Hebrews 11 describes a Hall of Fame of faith: various characters from throughout Scripture known for their great trust in God, even though many of them did not see the fulfillment of God’s promises in their lifetime. The author of Hebrews even emphasizes: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance” (v. 13).

Even Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, lived in perfect trust and communion with his Father, and this led him to the cross before it brought him to resurrection (Hebrews 12:2)!

So, we don’t always see the result of what we have faith for (yet).

Eric is a friend of mine, a pastor who works tirelessly at racial reconciliation in the American church. The work is often incredibly hard and frustrating, but he lives by faith, trusting that God has called him to it. I’ve often heard him say he hopes to live to see the results, but even if not, it won’t stop him from doing the work anyways. His trust is in God, even if the fruit comes on the other side of the grave.

Similarly, I often pray for revival in America. I hope and live by faith that this is coming, but I live in the tension that I may not live to see the Spirit blow in this mighty move of God across our cities and country.

We can approach our Heavenly Father boldly, knowing even the prayers we don’t see answered today, when we are grounded in the vision of his kingdom, is not a question of if but when.

Ask Boldly

Yet sometimes, the reality is, we have not because we ask not (James 4:2-3). Many people are so worried about miscommunicating no healing means no faith, that they end up giving the false impression that faith and healing have no relationship to each other. But this is not biblical either.

On one occasion, when the disciples are unable to heal a demon-possessed boy, they ask Jesus, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” Jesus responds, “Because you have so little faith” (Matthew 17:19-20). Similarly, on another occasion in his hometown, Jesus “was amazed at their lack of faith,” and because of this, we’re told, he could not do any miracles there, “except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them” (Mark 6:5-6).

Jesus locates the absence of healing, on both of these occasions, in their absence of faith. So, faith is not irrelevant to healing.

We should pray bold prayers. Too often, we’re too timid in our prayers. I’m tired of what I like to call, “Lord, if it be your will . . .” prayers. You know the kind I’m talking about, where we give God fifteen outs and excuses not to answer our prayer, and make sure to explain we’ll still believe in him even if he doesn’t. While these prayers can have an atmosphere of faux-trust in God, on a deeper level, they’re often really basically just a way of saying: God, I know you’re probably not going to answer this, so I’m going to give you an out so you don’t have to.

My children would never say, “Momma, if it be your will, can I have some ice cream? But I totally understand if not, I probably don’t deserve it anyways,” or, “You’re probably really busy,” or, “I know I didn’t finish that chore . . .” ” No! They ask me boldly for what they want, and trust in my heart for them when they don’t get it.

If they didn’t ask boldly, it would probably signal their lack of faith either in my desire to provide for them, or my power to provide for them, which is probably a sign of a break or dysfunction in our relationship. Similarly, we often don’t approach God boldly, I believe, because we either don’t have faith in God’s desire to care for our needs, or his power to accomplish what we ask.

Hebrews, however (in that Hall of Fame passage above), tells us “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (11:6)” So, we should be like that bleeding woman in Mark 5, pushing through the crowds to get close to him, believing he has both the desire and power to meet us in our time of need.

A Few Tips

So where to start? What are some practical ways we can cultivate a life of faith? I once heard Pete Greig, founder of the 24/7 Prayer Movement, respond to the question, How do we get more faith? by saying, “Faith comes to us when we spend time in his presence. It is not earned, rather it is a relational posture of trust that enables us to receive the will of God in a way that others can’t.”

I love that emphasis on relationship with God and spending time in his presence. Here are a few practical tips (many inspired by some other things Pete said) that I’ve found helpful in my own life:

  • Worship: focus on God’s goodness & greatness (faith decreases when we obsess over our problems, and increases when we focus on God).
  • Fellowship: spend time around people of faith whom you want to grow to be like.
  • Fasting: whether from food or other things you fill your life with, create space free from distraction and to cultivate a hunger for God and awareness of your dependence on him (I find Daniel 10:2-14 and Mark 9:29 inspiring).
  • Confess: Time to get honest. Is there anything you need to confess? Is there sin in your life you’ve been avoiding acknowledging before God? Is there anyone you need to apologize to or forgive? (Mark 11:25; James 5:16).
  • Risk: has God been stirring a conviction in you to step out and trust him with obedience in a particular area of your life, even if it might cost you? John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard movement, famously said, Faith is spelled: R.I.S.K.
  • Hall of Faith: study Hebrews 11 and go back to the Old Testament to read more of the backstory from some of the characters listed in that chapter. 
  • Journal: record God’s acts of faithfulness in your life. Write down your prayers and things you think God might be saying during your time with him, so you can come back later to revisit it and celebrate answered prayers.
  • Listen: make space for silence in your prayer time, in case there’s something God wants to speak to you. We serve a God who spoke creation into existence, who upholds all things by his powerful Word, who has filled us with his Spirit and still loves to commune with us today.
  • Persevere: Keep coming back to God, knocking down the door, fighting through the crowds to get ahold of his garment. Am I desperate for Jesus to break through in this area of my life? Do I want this enough to keep praying for it (Luke 18:1-8)?

So, go boldly to Jesus and ask! Seek the Great Physician for healing, whether it’s physical, emotional, or spiritual! Ask God to grow your faith, and be proactive by spending time in the Word, in prayer, and in worship! Then, go and share your story of healing so that others may also grow their faith through your witness!