Why Prayers for Healing Fail

Why Prayers For Healing Fail, Part 1

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series healing

A Bible Study by Jack Kelley

People come up with all kinds of reasons why prayers for healing aren’t answered, most of them placing the responsibility on God. He’s not doing that anymore, it wasn’t His will, or His timing. He gave you your disease to help you become a better Christian. He did answer your prayer and the answer was no, and the list goes on.

It’s obvious that many prayers for healing go unanswered but in this study I’d like us to consider the possibility that God is not the problem. He calls Himself the God who heals us (Exodus 15:26, Psalm 103:3). His word tells us that one result of the suffering and death of His Son is so we can be healed (Isaiah 53:4-5). When we’re sick, His word instructs us to go to the elders for prayer and promises us that the prayer offered in faith will make us well (James 5:14-16). The New Testament contains many examples of the Lord and His apostles healing people without a single verse to justify man’s opinion that all that somehow stopped. In fact, news from around the world tells us of numerous healings happening in our time.

Because so much of the Western Church denies the existence of supernatural healing today there are no ”official” statistics on the reasons why prayers for healing fail. But having done a fair amount of research on the subject I can give you an unofficial list of the top reasons faith healers from all over the spectrum have compiled over the years.


By far the number one reason is our unwillingness to forgive those who have wronged us. In doing so we think we’re punishing the other person, but it turns out we’re the ones who suffer for it. Here’s why.

In Matt 6:14-15 Jesus said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Remember, there are two kinds of forgiveness believers receive. One is the forgiveness that brings salvation and eternal life. It’a a once for all time unconditional forgiveness that cannot be revoked (Ephes. 1:13-14).

The second is the forgiveness believers seek when they sin. It’s the forgiveness that keeps us in fellowship with God while we’re here on Earth. This is the forgiveness John spoke about in 1 John 1:9;

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

(If this is a new idea to you, read our study on Union and Fellowship here.

In Matt. 6:9-13 Jesus was teaching the disciples how to pray by giving them what we call the Lord’s prayer. Only a believer can call God “Our Father in Heaven” (John 1:12-13) so Jesus was not talking about the forgiveness that brings salvation, but the forgiveness that keeps us in good standing with God. Among other things, this forgiveness is conditional upon us forgiving those who sin against us.

Paul explained it this way.

In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold (Ephes 4:26-27)

If we let the day end without forgiving the person who has made us angry we’re sinning. This will give the devil a foothold in our life which, if we continue in our unforgivness, he will build into a stronghold, causing it to fester until it can actually turn into a sickness or disease. I know of some God fearing born again believers who have held on to their anger toward someone who wronged them for decades. It has made them bitter, unloving, untrusting, and in some cases physically ill, and yet they adamantly refuse to forgive the person who wronged them. What a different life they could have had.

Our prayers to be healed from a sickness or disease caused by this anger will go unanswered until we confess our sin to the Lord and are forgiven. And we can’t just go through the motions hoping the Lord will heal us if we say the right words. He knows the motives of our heart and is not happy when people try to fool Him. We have to sincerely forgive the other person. If we can, we should forgive the person face to face. If not, we can confess our sin to the Lord and ask His forgiveness.

Remember, James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins to each other so we can be healed. Confession purifies us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9) and makes our prayers powerful and effective.

The Unmerciful Servant

The Lord explained all this in greater detail in the Parable Of The Unmerciful Servant (Matt. 18:21-35).

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times.

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matt. 18:21-35)

What Does That Mean To Us?

We’ve often discussed the nature of parables; how they’re heavenly stories put into an earthly context and how the major characters always symbolize others. In the case of this parable the King is the Lord, you and I are His servants, the debts we owe represent our sins, and the jailer is Satan.

The King had forgiven a debt the servant couldn’t have repaid in a thousand lifetimes, and did so simply because he was asked to. The servant on the other hand demanded full and immediate payment from a friend for a much, much smaller sum. But the issue is not the legitimacy or even the size of the debt, it’s the comparative value. Shouldn’t being released from the burden of a debt so large he could never repay it have made the servant more forgiving toward his fellow servant?

The servant’s demand for payment demonstrated his lack of gratitude for what the King had done for him. That’s what aroused the King’s anger, and He turned the servant over to the jailer.

Our debt of sin against the Lord is similarly impossible to repay, but in the Lord’s case He can’t simply overlook it. His requirement for justice demands the debt be paid in full. Knowing we could never pay it, He sent His Son to pay it for us. This freed Him to completely and unconditionally forgive us just because we ask Him to. Don’t forget, from the Lord’s point of view we were all murderers, adulterers, blasphemers, thieves and such when He forgave us (Ephe 2:1-5). These are all crimes punishable by death. We’ve been forgiven so much, isn’t even a significant sacrifice justifiable under the circumstances? What offense would be too large to forgive in others when compared with what the Lord has forgiven in us?

Our unwillingness to forgive legitimate sins others commit against us demonstrates our ingratitude for what the Lord has done for us. It’s the result of the typical human double standard wherein we demand justice from others while expecting mercy for ourselves. This ingratitude is itself a sin and like all unconfessed sin can cause us to miss out on blessings we might have otherwise received.  It also leaves us open to attack by our enemy which may even subject us to torment from the enemy.  That’s why, in the parable, the jailer represents Satan.

The great lesson of this parable is in the Lord’s final statement.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matt. 18:35).

Please read this carefully. If your health issues are due to your refusal to forgive someone who has wronged you in the past, you can’t blame God. Holding onto your hurt or anger has put you out of fellowship with Him and given the devil a foothold in your life, which he has turned into a health problem for you.

Matt. 6:14-15 says God can’t forgive you for your sin of unforgiveness until you forgive the one who wronged you from your heart. Your sin of unforgiveness is blocking your prayers for healing.

Don’t take this lightly. When I asked the Lord to show me all the people in my life I had failed to forgive, I was amazed at the number. It seems like every day for weeks He was recalling another incident to my mind.

Ask Him the same question and when He brings someone to mind, forgive him or her from your heart. It doesn’t matter if your feelings were justified, the Lord would have been justified in refusing to forgive you, but He did it anyway. Go and do the same.

The Bible spends a lot of time on this subject and so we have, too. In the coming weeks we’ll look at some of the other top reasons why prayers for healing go unanswered. See you then. 08-22-15

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  • Joanne Hamner

    Thank you Jack for this wonderful article and the way you convey things!!! I would be lost without you!!!

  • George

    Great article Bro Jack. Karen and I read your posts daily and find them uplifting and very informative. This series is no exception. we are both looking to future articles. see you tomorrow morning.

  • Ddenney1

    I believe my prayers seem or go unanswered not because I have any doubt of God’s ability but I feelings of non worth! I do not just mean healing but all money relationships healing etc… I believe God but I am sure I am the biggest obstacle of my answered prayers and often fear God is disappointed in me!! I pray for more faith daily!!!

    • gracethrufaith

      Because of His great love for you, God who is rich in mercy, made you alive in Christ even when you were dead in your transgressions (Ephes. 2:4). Having done all that for you, do you think He’s now going to find you unworthy of his blessing? He who did not spare His own Son, how will He not also graciously give you all things (Romans 8:32)? These thoughts of unworthiness are from the devil. Get rid of them.

  • starnz

    I have heard this line of thought before but am not sure I fully agree. While I do agree that we definitely have the ability to block or impede our blessings because of our behavior, I don’t necessarily believe that an unanswered prayer means something is wrong in our life, or that we are in some way not right before God. There are several examples of seemingly bad things happening to righteous people as a part of God’s plan. Joseph was right before God but was still sold into slavery then thrown into prison on false testimony. Daniel was right before God but was still thrown into the lions den. We see these things as bad when seen from our horizontal perspective. But if we had God’s perspective, we would understand that Joseph’s dilemmas were a necessary part of God’s plan for his people’s survival. Paul prayed several times but his thorn remained. Jesus prayed before his crucifixion if there was any other way but accepted the cross as the Father’s will. On the flip side, King Hezekiah prayed to be healed and he was. And as a result one of the worse kings in the OT was born and ruled in evil for 55 years.

    • gracethrufaith

      From your comments one could take the view that being afflicted is a good thing while being healed is bad. It wasn’t God who sold Joseph into slavery. neither did He throw Daniel in the lion’s den. These were the acts of men bent upon evil, which God turned to good.

      As for Jesus and Paul you’ve been the victim of some bad teaching. Jesus was confirming with His Father that the only way to save us was for Him to die, and Paul’s thorn in the flesh consisted of the repeated beatings he took for preaching the gospel. God healed him from all of these and even raised him from the dead after he was stoned.

  • Hrtmom

    I have a son with a complex heart defect. He is 15 months old, has undergone 2 open heart sugeries (has 1 more to go), had a stroke, seizures..and just struggles to survive with half of a heart. I have prayed over him many times and have asked God for a full restoration…but it hasnt come. Outside of original sin, he is innocent…beautifully made…loves everyone and everything and has taught me much. This lack of healing wasn’t because of his fellowship with the Lord obviously…but maybe it is my lack of…fellowship, forgivness or something. Ouch. Thats painful to know I have failed him and it isn’t necessarily Gods plan. It was MUCH easier just trusting that everything my child has to go through is for the good of Gods perfect plan. I have told myself to just not question that..stay positive, thankful for our blessings…and enjoy the beautiful things God is doing through and for our family. But reading this….ohhh its just painful to know I am blocking this ability to cure a noncurable disease. Heartache 🙁

    • gracethrufaith

      My heart goes out yo you. I’ve lived through a similar situation with close friends and have some understanding of what you’re going through.

      But it’s way too early in our series for you to be assuming responsibility for your son’s condition. After all we’ve only covered one of the many reasons why prayers for healing sometimes go unanswered. Stay positive, keep praying, and leave the outcome in God’s capable hands.

    • PNWShan

      Your situation reminds me of the man who was born blind. The disciples asked who had sinned to cause him to be blind, him or his parents. Jesus said, “Neither…but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

      Two weeks ago at our denomination’s summer youth camp, a 15 year old girl was healed of cerebral palsy. Hundreds of youth saw this teen walk normally for the first time! Later she gained control of her arm. This miraculous healing made me think of the man born blind. Like him, her healing gave glory to God. Many youth committed their lives to the Lord because of what they saw.

      I’m not making a prediction, just pointing out another possible reason. As Jack said, he has more to write on this subject.

      • gracethrufaith

        What a great testimony to the power of God in our time. Thank you.

  • 7dove

    So do I understand that the reason this parent’s 15 month old baby, with a complex heart defect, has not been healed is because of her/his lack of forgiveness or lack of faith ?? What a horrible burden to carry.

    • gracethrufaith

      No … You don’t understand. I specifically asked people not to jump to conclusions about any of these things but to use them as diagnostic tools with which to do a self evaluation. There are more coming, therefore it’s premature to make any kind of judgment.

      And if you don’t mind me saying so it’s never appropriate for you to make a judgment about another person’s situation. Your job is to pray for them.

  • dove7

    You are right that I should not have judged how they might have felt… I WILL pray for them and I am asking them to please forgive me.. They are very special parents to see the beautiful things God is doing in their family. May they continue to stay positive. I will pray with them that God will heal that precious little boy.

  • gracethrufaith

    As I said in the article, Matt. 18:21-35 is a parable which means everyone represents someone else. I made the claim that the jailer who tormented the servant represents Satan. They key to this parable is the very last sentence. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” That means He will treat us in the same way the king treated the servant in the parable. So the question is, are there cases in scripture where God has given Satan access to believers? The answer is yes. He gave Satan access to Job in Job chapter 1. Paul told the believers in Corinth to turn the unrepentant adulterer over to Satan in 1 Cor. 5. And Jesus gave Satan permission to “sift” Peter as wheat in Luke 22. I stand by my interpretation.