Pray Expectantly

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5.13-16)

Have you ever thought about the fact that James doesn’t qualify these statements?

When he says, “the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up,” he doesn’t add, “but sometimes people die.”  When he says “pray for one another, that you may be healed,” he doesn’t add “but it might not always be God’s will.”

Daniel Doriani points out that James encourages us to pray with expectancy:

“Either the sick person or a close friend should expectantly call the elders.  And the elders themselves should trust in God’s goodness and power.  God will not heed a gathering of skeptics, who spin out a dead ritual.”

I was arrested by that word “EXPECTANTLY.”  The sick person or a close friend should EXPECTANTLY call the elders.  And the elders too should have expectant faith – they “themselves should trust in God’s goodness and power.”  So often, when I pray for others, I have little or no expectation that anything will happen.

James doesn’t qualify his statements because his emphasis is on faith. He wants us to trust in our God of awesome power.  James knows that not everyone is always healed.  James knows that eventually everyone will die.  God didn’t heal Timothy – he had frequent stomach ailments (1 TI 5.23). Paul left Trophimus ill at Miletus (2 Ti 4.20).  God didn’t deliver Paul from his thorn in the flesh.  Yet James also knows that many times God DOES heal, and raises people up from their sickbeds.  When we pray, we should try to focus on God’s goodness, power and compassion, and not be dismayed because he doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we’d like him to.

So keep praying with expectant faith. Keep asking him to bless, and even heal, unless God makes it perfectly clear that’s not his will. God would not give us means to receive blessing (e.g. prayer) if there were no blessing to receive.

photo by michiev

  • Anam Cara

    This is pretty hard to read right now. A friend went into the hospital last Monday with an infection. No one thought much of it. Wednesday we were told that the infection had spread through her entire body and she wasn't expected to make it. We rallied all the prayer warriors we could find. I began to pray almost every minute.

    Thursday after an hour of intense prayer I began to feel a peace. I KNEW she would get better. It might take time, but she would recover. Later we got word she had stabilized. her left side was paralyzed due to a stroke she suffered and kidneys weren't working, but she was no longer deteriorating.

    Friday we got news that the doctors had decided the brain damage was not as bad as they expected. We all knew she was on the road to recovery.

    Saturday morning things were pretty much the same, but we all were sure she was going to make it in time.
    Saturday night she died.

    We are trying to tell ourselves that now there is no brain damage – perhaps it is better this way.

    And yet, that is small comfort to her 5 children (3 still in school) and husband. It is hard to understand where the sense of peace came from and why we had it.

    What is the blessing that we received from this?

    • MarkAltrogge


      I am so sad to hear of your friend's death. And to hear about her husband and children. How devastating her sudden death must be to her family and all her friends. This is a sad, dark world we live in, and there are so many things that don't make sense to us. It is hard to reconcile God's promises to heal and answer prayer when we go through an experience that you have.

      Our church has been through similar tragedies. Just over a year ago, a good friend of mine, age 49, in the peak of health, suffered a seizure due to a brain tumor. He had 2 surgeries, but within 8 weeks, went to be with the Lord. It was extremely sad for his wife and children, especially considering that about 3 years before his oldest son was in an auto accident that left him with brain damage and in a wheelchair. In both cases, our church prayed fervently for God to heal. We are still praying, along with hundreds, for his son to be completely healed, and that is yet to happen.

      It's so hard to understand these things. God truly wants us to pray expectantly, yet to trust him at all times. DT 29.29 says the secret things belong to the Lord – there are things that we will never understand this side of heaven.

      I do know without a doubt, that our heavenly Father is infinite in his compassion toward us – infinite – and especially when we are grieving. Jesus is a sympathetic high priest and he has deep compassion for you and your friend's family and your fellow Christians. Ultimately, we must lean on Jesus for comfort and strength, and trust that even in tragedy, he is sovereign, good, wise and loving.

      I do pray that Jesus will comfort you in your pain and grief. I will pray for you as soon as I submit this comment.

  • Kevin

    You should read Joni E Toda’s new book. It’s a more clear look at healing and prayer than this short post.

    • MarkAltrogge

      Thanks Kevin,

      Yes Joni E Toda would certainly have something important and significant to say. Thank you.

  • Elaine

    @ Anam Cara, the loss of your friend breaks my heart for you; no words I type will be sufficient to ease your hurt or the hurt of her precious familiy. Only the Lord will give that comfort – it may take longer than we would like but He is faithful.

    Over the years, I have experienced the loss of loved ones and I have cared for families as they have lost their beautiful children to cancer, heart disease, or some traumatic accident. What has been a comfort to me in those cases is the hope of Heaven – for His children, they will always be healed -maybe not this side of heaven but He will heal every single one of His children.

    But the stories I could tell you of how God has healed time and time again in amazing and glorious ways! The toddler who had cancer lesion on EVERY SINGLE bone in his body, who wasn't going to be given even one treatment because his prognosis was so bleak – two years later is declared healed. It is a mystery as to why the Lord heals some and why He doesn't heal others but until He shows us otherwise we look to Him as children and simply ask, knowing He is a loving Father Who delights to bless His children.

    • MarkAltrogge

      Thank you for adding these wonderful comments, Elaine. I wish I could answer every question, and I feel so inadequate to try. It truly is a mystery as to why God heals some and doesn't heal others.

  • Kevin

    The part here that you did not address is that sin played an issue in why the person was sick. How would this apply to a person like Joni? Or myself who has muscular dystrophy? My disability is not due to a sin.
    How would that factor into what James wrote?
    Doesn’t God still get to decide who is healed and who isn’t?
    “If the Lord wills it” seems more biblical than “pray and expect it.”

    • MarkAltrogge

      Kevin, great comments. Obviously, I can't address everything in a short post, which is challenging to even attempt. James says, IF a person has sinned, he would be forgiven (assuming he confessed his sin). Sin causes some sickness, the Bible makes clear, but certainly not all and not most. I would never assume someone has sinned because they are sick, so I wouldn't assume Joni sinned. In fact I would assume she didn't. I would never say your muscular dystrophy is due to sin.

      Obviously, God is the one who ultimately decides who is healed and who isn't. Yet, when he decides to heal someone, he works through prayers of people at times.

      I would say both are true – we are to pray expectantly, yet always submit to God's will. It's just interesting to me that James doesn't qualify his statements with "if the Lord wills" – of course he would have believed that, but his emphasis was on "the prayer of faith" – and he included the illustration of Elijah, a man with a nature like ours, to encourage us to have faith when we pray.

      Again, thank you. I need help from people like you who have suffered so much to find ways to try to address these issues in a way that would help them, not discourage them. I hope my post was not a temptation to you or discouraging. I want to try to sort out in a right way Jesus' commands to pray in faith, with a right submission to God's will.

      • Kevin P.

        After sleeping on this, and re-reading it this morning, I think my thoughts about it last night were related to the fact that my father is currently caught in what I tend to think are hyper-charismatic beliefs (Benny Hinn, Bill Johnson, Todd Bentley, etc) that say:
        "if you have enough faith, God will heal you," and
        "when you pray, declare healing in Jesus name," and
        "you have to expect God to respond when you pray, you need faith the size of a mustard seed for God to be move," and
        "there is a miracle in your mouth. You words create new life and healing to those that hear it."

        So when I read thing like, "So keep praying with expectant faith," I think I have a reflexive response against that kind of language when talking about healing.
        Like I said above, I have FSH-MD, and have lived with it for 20 years (I'm 33 now), and I'm going into a wheelchair next month because it is no longer safe for me to walk.
        Do I ask God for healing? Every day. Do I expect it? Honestly, not in this life.
        Do I believe God can heal, of course. God can do as He wills.
        But I have never seen or heard of people with my condition being miraculously healed.
        Of all the healing I hear about, they are always things like cancer or other illnesses that come and go or have medical treatment option. My condition is genetic and static. There are no treatment options, similar to cerebral palsy, missing limbs, or quadriplegia.
        If I have an expectation it is that I will be healed in Heaven when I see my Savior face to face. But I have no expectation of being healed in the here and now as if my condition is like that of the flu or the common cold.

        So, I do not find this post as a discouragement, but alarm bells go off in my head when when I read things that get close to what I hear on TBN.
        What is the best way to talk about prayer and healing and such? I"m still working on it myself.
        I am only half way through "A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty" by Joni Eareckson Tada and I think it is one of the best books I've read on the subject.

        Keep up to good work. I enjoy reading what you write.

        • MarkAltrogge


          I cannot even begin to imagine the suffering you endure and have endured. So many others have suffered so much, like Joni E Tada, that they would have far more to say than me about how to think about it. After your comments, I sincerely hoped my post was not discouraging to many, and I tweaked a couple lines here and there. I think it would benefit me to read Joni's book, so again, thank you.

          I'm not sure I can even address your question, "What is the best way to talk about prayer and healing and such?" Jesus definitely encouraged us to pray and to pray believing – I know that we can believe that God is a loving, wise, sovereign, almighty, compassionate Father. We can believe that he can heal, we can believe that he is for us, and never stops doing good to us. But I can't say we should believe that he will definitely heal. So by "expectant" I guess we could minimally believe that God will somehow powerfully use our prayers in some way, that none of them are wasted if they are for his glory.

          Thank you so much for your honest sharing. It is really helpful to me, especially to hear from someone who has endured as much as you and yet has faith that Jesus is God and loves him and will in heaven heal and wipe away all tears. When it comes to faith, I would not even consider myself in your league.


          • Kevin P.

            Well, sometimes I don't even think I'm in the league that I can pretend to be in. I am not surprised though that even with my disability my propensity to sin and wonder from God is just as great as if I did not have my FSH-MD.
            What I am amazed and perplexed at is how God has been gracious enough to save me, and that my MD has not caused me to be bitter and angry, which is just a likely a response to a permanent disability.
            I've met people with conditions similar to mine, and they do not share the same joy that only God can give that I do. Jesus still saved a wretch like me, and that is still amazing to me daily. That is what I am forever thankful for.
            Now if I may offer a suggestion: be care how you use the word "suffer." In your response above, I understand what you mean. But the thing is, I don't see myself as suffering. And maybe I don't think I'm suffering because I know that my present trials are but a vapors breath (to use Paul's imagery).
            And as I've reflected more on what it means to pray expectantly, I think I would phrase it this way: "pray expectantly, and be amazed at the response God provides." (and you did pretty much say that with this line: "When we pray, we should try to focus on God’s goodness, power and compassion, and not be dismayed because he doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we’d like him to.")

            Thanks for letting me dialogue with you here.
            It's all for God's glory. May Jesus' name be lifted higher. SDG

            • MarkAltrogge

              Kevin, again, thank you for these helpful comments. Your testimony to God's grace and goodness to you is incredible. If I ever say anything that is not helpful, please don't hesitate to let me know – I need all the help I can get.

            • Kevin P.

              For some reason I decided to read your bio posted in the "about" tab above. I did not know til now that you wrote “I Stand In Awe”.
              That song has moved me to tears many-a-time as I reflected on the words and what they mean.
              So, thank you for writing that song. :)

              • MarkAltrogge

                Thanks Kevin, your encouragement means a lot to me.

  • Rochelle

    Wow, I so desperately needed this reminder today, thank you!

    • MarkAltrogge

      Thanks Rochelle, I hope the Lord continues to encourage you.

  • Diane B.

    I was doing some studying yesterday morning on these exact verses. I just love it when God is moving in people you don't even know to be thinking on the same exact things you are pondering and meditating on!!! No coincidence!! Only a marvelous God moving in marvelous ways!!!

    Anyway, I looked up the James verses in Calvin’s commentaries. Calvin is a cessationist – which I’m not (I'm a reformed continuationist), so there was some stuff I wasn't focusing on as much on, however, I did really like what Calvin had to say, the insight, of which, is so applicable to us.

    Calvin writes: “But it must be observed, that he connects a promise with the prayer, lest it should be made without faith. For he who doubts, as one who does not rightly call on God, is unworthy to obtain anything, as we have seen in the first chapter. Whosoever then really seeks to be heard must be fully persuaded that he does not pray in vain.”

    Just loved that!

    I have a daughter, almost 18, who hit her head a year and a half ago, as was, up until a month ago, experiencing level 5 – 10 pain constantly, now thankfully it has at least dropped to a level 3 – 5 constantly.

    Praise God that her and I know the truth – that He loves her and cares for her and desires to deliver her. But for whatever reason, His good and beautiful reason, the timing is not now — so we continue to pray expectantly and wait with anticipation.

    • MarkAltrogge

      Thanks Diane! I liked the phrase "Whosoever then really seeks to be heard must be fully persuaded that he does not pray in vain." Whether God answers as we'd desire or not, that is key – we don't pray in vain. I hope that God heals your daughter completely and soon! I know he is blessed by your faith.

      • Diane B.

        Thanks, Mark. And I agree — that Calvin statement is so key!

  • Petra Hefner

    I very much needed this. When I first came out of a word-faith type situation, I couldn't pray at all anymore. I suffered great shell-shock and had very little or no expectation that anything would happen. But God has been faithful and my prayer life, although still extremely lacking, is growing. I've learned to pray expectantly again, expecting God to delight in my prayer, expecting God to listen and to care, and expecting God to act… In other words my expectation has shifted from what I would expect to expecting the very best from God even if it is the opposite of what I would expect. Hope I'm making sense. For example, I prayed with expectation right before Christmas concerning our youngest son. I even let God know what I would wish the outcome to be (because I believe He delights in that), but the exact opposite happened. Did it hurt? Yes, like a knife in the heart, but I still expect good from God–from His wisdom and from His timing. And, I have His peace that surpasses even my own understanding. Blessings!

    • MarkAltrogge


      Thank you for adding your wonderful comments – "I've learned to pray expectantly again, expecting God to delight in my prayer, expecting God to listen and to care, and expecting God to act… In other words my expectation has shifted from what I would expect to expecting the very best from God even if it is the opposite of what I would expect." This is excellent. And thanks for sharing about your son–I know that few things are more painful than some of the trials we can go through with our children, and few things stretch our trusting God more.

      Your trust in Jesus glorifies him and brings him great joy.

  • singlesouthernlady

    Just reread this post. Encouraging as I, and others, pray for a spouse, and many women pray for children. Especially in reformed churches, we focus so much on the part of prayer that builds relationsip with the Lord and helps us to accept His will, we forget that He is actually powerful enough to give us the things we ask for. I get so discouraged when I am praying for healing or provision and people's first remark is, "well prayer is more about asking to be able to accept His will." True, Prayer can change the heart of the person praying, but I think when we assume God won't provide, we are almost giving him a shortcut out (as if He couldnt provide) instead of praying BOLDLY and EXPECTANTLY for an answer…

    If God chooses to say No to my petitions, then I will have to deal with that then, but until He does, why would I slam a door shut that He has not yet shut?

  • Trusting

    Psalm 27 verse 13, David is clear that he is expectant to see the goodness of God in the land of the living, when we receive Jesus eternal life starts, not just once we are dead, but God knows that Godly character is more important than comfort. I am a farmer that has had 2 years of failed crops, and at the moment have no feed for my cattle, and my debt has reached unrealistic proportions, after 20 years of farming we are trading insolvent, as the world sees, but I believe that we serve a God of miracles, why we suffer some things, I dont know, but our faith is tested through fire, and Gods ways are not our ways. I have faced enormous trials once I started walking in a relationship with Jesus, I look back now, I lost my daughter, I am looking at losing our farm and livelihood, actually just days away from closure, but I trust that God is good, and He plans to prosper me, and not harm me, and I believe that come summer again we will be here, and plant again, the bank were here this week, and will let me know by Friday, if they are going to give me time, I know that God is in control, I must be expectant, I dont know why all this has happenned, why did my daughter die, we can live life asking why, or we can choose to trust in a good God, that will never leave us nor forsake us. I choose to live a thankful life, thankful that Jesus loved me so much that He died to wash my sins away, thankful for my good wife, a true crown of jewels on my head, thankful for my 2 children that I still have, I have so much to be thankful for, and I have so much that I am anxious about, but as I walk through my hungry cattle, I believe that God will sustain them, I am so expectant of a miracle, and I know my miracle is close, I have despaired even of life itself, and even considered taking my own life, so my family would get a pay out, and be financially secure, it kills me to see my family going without, but just then I read 2 Corinthians 1 verses 9 and 10, which encouraged me, that my trust, and hope must be in the Lord, and not my circumstances, the Amplified says expectant hope, so whatever the circumstances, take refuge that the Lord is in control, and dont listen to preachers that sell you a lie, regarding sin and blessing, when we are in Christ and seek Him and His righteousness, we leave our cherished sin behind ( Psalm 66 18&19) God answers prayer, not always how we expect, but God is always willing, Jesus healed them all, Jesus tells the leper He is willing, Peter and John told the guy at the gate to get up and walk in the name of Jesus, they did not pray, if God wills. The authority of Christ is in us, it is no longer us who live, but Christ who lives in us. I have found in my life that it is so easy to believe the word, but God wants us to live it, and I have tried to live it through the TBN prosperity gospel, and although the principle is correct, we need to personally get into the word, and seek Gods face, I have seeked sin, because I couldnt see Gods goodness, I have tithed double, because I was seeking a blessing, now I know just to seek God, and all the promises of God in Christ are yes, and amen to His glory through us, and the promises come with a condition, not a legal condition, but a heart for Him, a heart for righteosness, peace and joy, to have Godliness with contentment, which is great gain, regardless of the situation, God is good. The power of death and life lie in the tongue, and with the tongue we set on course the very course of nature, which is set on fire by hell, so in all things believe the good, speak life and blessing, healing and provision, and God who raises the dead will save us also. Can dry bones live, God tells us to speak to those dry bones, they shall surely live, sing o barren, and expand your tent posts, at midnight, in out darkest hour, when we are chained in the inner cell, let us be heard singing hymns and praising God, and not only will our chains break free, but those hearing us also, sometimes our trials are not about us, but about been salt and light so others will be saved, and is our earthly trials get 1 soul saved for eternity, than I suppose its all worth it, and that is the greatest miracle of all.

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