“Please, would you pray for me?”

To me there’s no more humble, moving plea than a person asking for prayer on his or her behalf. But on the practical side I have to ask in return, “What would you like me to pray for, or pray about?” Whatever his problem happens to be, what is the person actually hoping for in seeking the prayers of others?

I ask, because when Jesus saw a man who’d been an invalid for 38 years he went up to the man and asked him, “Do you want to get well?” John 5:5-6. It sounds like an odd question, but Jesus picked out this man for healing and asked him that question for a reason.

We see the reason in verse 14. After healing the man, Jesus met him later on and said to him, “Now you are well, don’t sin as you did before, or something even worse may happen to you.” The reason Jesus healed the man was to kickstart him on the way to health, not so the man could revert back to bad habits and risk making things even worse for himself.

It reminded me of my childhood when a good report from my dentist meant a trip to a bakery to celebrate with the sugariest doughnut on offer. If the dentist had got wind of it, he would probably have said something similar to what Jesus said to the invalid, like “Come on son, you got a good report, now build on it, don’t ruin it.” And the same goes for someone asking for prayers for a sickness to be healed or a problem to be resolved. If God does actually heal, or he solves the problem, will the person build on it, or revert back to bad habits, and maybe make things worse?

I had to answer that question myself recently after getting a clean bill of health following a blood test for diabetes. My immediate reaction was relief, followed by the desire to celebrate, which I did with a favourite food I’d been avoiding – dates – which, of course, are loaded with sugar. Not a wise move for someone being checked for diabetes.

In contrast, Jesus’ advice to the invalid, after giving him a clean bill of health, was to encourage the man to build on it, not do things that would cripple his health again. In other words, when we’re feeling well, use it to advantage, not as an excuse to push the limits. Why? Because God raised Christ to bless us (Acts 3:26), by putting us on the road to “purifying ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God,” 2 Corinthians 7:1.

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