What is the gift of healing?

Heidi Charalambous

When I saw Emily, she was sitting in a metal dining chair crying surrounded by a dozen high school girls — her small group. They huddled around her, hugging and crying.

The second to last evening service of Gauntlet just ended, and students were milling about, either waiting for buses or catching up with friends from other campuses. I speed-walked through the crowd to discover that the pandemonium surrounding my sweet friend was not sadness but elation.

“This guy just prayed for me, and I think I’m healed,” Emily said.

I had never encountered a supernatural outworking of the gift of healing, and all my years of Bible study hadn’t prepared me for this.

A decade prior, Emily had been in my Fuse small group. An optimistic, bubbly teen from Pendleton who loved Jesus and her family more than anything on earth, Emily was one of the first students I developed a real kinship with. She was like a spiritual little sister, and at that moment, I was more divided than I ever had been in how to respond.

A snowboarding accident had left Emily unable to lift one arm above her head, and for several months she’d been struggling with muscle problems in her leg. After months of therapy, she was still unable to walk on it most days.

As much as I wanted to celebrate with her, I also wanted to protect her. Who was this guy who claimed he could heal people? Isn’t Jesus the only one who can do that? As well-meaning as this guy may have been, what if it didn’t work? How would that affect her faith? And what about her girls?

I had never encountered a supernatural outworking of the gift of healing, and all my years of Bible study hadn’t prepared me for this.

What is the Gift of Healing?

In 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, Paul lists several gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the gift of healing. Paul didn’t want the church in Corinth to be uninformed — like I was — about how the Holy Spirit works in us and through us:

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit…”

The gift of healing is different from the healing most of us experience through the common grace of medical intervention. The gift of healing is when the Holy Spirit heals someone from a disease or infirmity supernaturally.

We see this in the gospels and the book of Acts, when Jesus’ followers heal people through prayer, anointing with oil, or the power of their words.

  • Peter and John tell a lame beggar outside the temple to get up and walk and he does (Acts 3:1-10).
  • Philip preaches the gospel in Samaria and heals many who were paralyzed or lame (Acts 8:4-8).
  • Peter tells a paralyzed man named Aeneas to get out of bed and walk and he does (Acts 9:32-35).
  • Peter also prays for a woman named, Dorcas, and she comes back to life (Acts 9:36-43).

That same Holy Spirit that worked through Peter, John, Paul, and all of the disciples lives in us. If God chose to supernaturally heal people back then, why couldn’t He do the same today?

Common Misunderstandings about the Gift of Healing

Like every gift from the Holy Spirit, the healing is a gift we receive, not an ability we earn or strive for. Just look at Peter’s rebuke when a magician tried to treat the Holy Spirit’s power like a commodity (Acts 8:9-24).

“... your heart is not right before God,” Peter told him.“ ... you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

We can’t control or conjure up the gift of healing. The Holy Spirit might give someone the ability to heal in one situation, but that doesn’t mean that person can heal at will or that everyone he or she prays for will be healed.

One person does not have a monopoly on every sort of healing. At times, a person with gifts to heal will not be able to heal, and we may not understand why. For example, why did God raise Dorcas from the dead and not someone else?

We don’t get a detailed explanation of the Spirit’s motives, but we do see an obedient servant in Peter and a burst of revival in the church as a result (Acts 9:42). This is another good way to know if someone is responding to the Holy Spirit. His gifts, including healing, are meant to build up the church, not the person exercising the gift.

When people tried to worship Paul for healing a lame man, he quickly redirected their awe saying, “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God” (Acts 14:15).

Is it Faithless to See a Doctor?

In all situations, God is the one who miraculously brings healing. Whether healing comes immediately through prayer, as a result of medical intervention, or through our body’s natural restorative processes, it’s still from God for His glory and our good.

After Gauntlet, Emily knew something in her body was different. She started to walk again, then she started running with me early in the mornings.

Doctors and physical therapists couldn’t explain why her body suddenly started responding.

Over the next several weeks, as we ran and talked, I had to repent of my unbelief. I was worried that this young man might let her down, but the Lord used his obedience to the Holy Spirit to heal Emily and build faith in me.

I had seen God bring my mom from the brink death after a horseback riding accident. I had seen God heal my husband of a rare form of lymphoma. And while both of those situations stunned the doctors, they still involved doctors, hospitals, and a whole host of medical interventions.

Emily’s healing happened gradually, but the change was no less dramatic. Doctors and physical therapists couldn’t explain why her body suddenly started responding. The only thing that could have prompted the change was the gift of healing exercised through prayer.

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