For a seminary professor with a terminal illness, the phrase “Thy will be done” can provoke serious theological reflection. Writing a month before his death, Rod Decker and his wife, Linda, offer spiritual insight and practical advice on the power of prayer.
When praying for the terminally ill, believers hold two ideas in tension:
God can choose to heal through medical means (and He often does). This appears to be His normal method of bringing healing. But it is also true that God can heal supernaturally apart from such human means. When He works in this way, we call it a miracle.
Got is not obligated to heal. Just because God can heal in either of these two ways does not mean He is obligated to do either. He may choose either means of healing, or He may not choose to heal at all—even if many Christians pray asking Him to do so.
God is not a cosmic vending machine waiting for us to put in the right change. Instead we trust the good, sovereign Creator of the universe to do what He knows best.
So how does one pray for someone who appears to be securely in the incurable column, someone whom it does not appear that God is going to heal? We can’t know that for sure, of course, but when the terminal condition persists, doctors appear to be unable to do anything more, and God does not show any indication of intervening, then what? You may continue to pray, hoping that God will heal at the last minute, or you might consider praying for that person’s physical and spiritual needs as they face death. Or both.
Here are a few suggestions, not in any particular order.