How to Pray for People Experiencing Life-Threatening Illness

In the time of Jesus, many people would go to the pool of Bethesda in search of healing. One day Jesus met a man there who was unable to walk. He may not have had a life-threatening illness, but it was certainly a life-altering condition, for it had rendered him unable to walk for thirty-eight years.

“Do you want to get well?” Jesus asked him.

“Sir,” the man answered, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

“Get up,” said Jesus. “Pick up your mat and walk.” At the word of Jesus, the man was immediately cured! (John 5:6-9)

I wish that praying for those experiencing life-threatening illness today were just that simple–that Jesus would see the barriers that prevent healing and wholeness, would speak a word, and that all would miraculously be well.

But even now friends and many others are struggling mightily against cancer, against stroke, against major depression, against Alzheimer’s disease, against other life-threatening illnesses. Such looming threats don’t take a break for the weekend, or for Advent or Christmas, or summer vacation.

How then shall we pray?

My list includes:

  • Pray for miracles.
  • Pray for healing and recovery.
  • Pray for relief from pain and endurance through many procedures.
  • Pray for faithfulness under trial, for strength to face each day, for the support of family and friends and Christian community, for the best medical care and scientific expertise, for the wisdom to make good decisions, for a sense of humour to push back against the threat of death, for the grace to live fully in each moment in spite of limitations and dread.
  • Pray for the practical things: for sunshine in the morning, for a room with a window, for an appointment to be moved up, for minimal side effects from medication, for enough money, enough sleep, for the ability to eat, for childcare, for care for the caregivers.

Some Helpful Resources

[For each reference below, click on the title for the original source with the full prayer or article.]

Four Ways to Pray for Those who are Suffering
by Allison Moore

I appreciate the way this article begins with a personal experience and the confusion we may feel at not knowing the best way to pray for someone experiencing a life-threatening illness. Instead of choosing just one way to pray, Scripture encourages us to pray for “healing…strength for the journey…peace…godly growth.”


Hope for the Journey
Meaningful Support for the Terminally Ill
by Kathy Kalina

This article sets prayer in the larger context of suffering, surrender, fruitfulness, promoting normalcy, confronting our own fears, and other dynamics in supporting those who experience life-threatening illness. In this:

Accepting what cannot be changed, relinquishing control of the uncontrollable, is crucial work. Struggling and straining to be free of the suffering, we risk being consumed by it. The key is handing over the burden to God, where it belongs, and accepting the peace that this world cannot give.


Ministry with Persons with Life-Threatening Illness
Discipleship Ministries, The United Methodist Church

See the complete article for the full prayer and related Scripture texts.

Grant us patience during this time,
that as we and _____ live with pain, disappointment, and frustration,
we may realize that suffering is a part of life,
a part of life that you know intimately.
Touch _____ in his/her time of trial,
hold him/her tenderly in your loving arms,
and let him/her know you care.


My Incurable Condition
How to pray for someone with a terminal diagnosis
by Todd Billings

The writer of this article has also written an excellent book: Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ.

It does not take a Ph.D. in theology to know how to pray for someone with incurable cancer. The most powerful prayer that I have received for my cancer was from a 15-year-old girl with Down syndrome in my congregation. She made me a colorful card, a week after my diagnosis, and wrote these words on it: “Get well soon! Jesus loves you! God is bigger than cancer!”

As soon as I saw it, I wept with tears of joy and wonder: God is bigger than cancer. My cancer story was already developing its own sense of drama—like a story that closes in the sky, enveloping my whole world so that nothing else could creep in. But God’s story, the drama of God’s action in the world, is bigger.


Prayer for a Baby’s Life-Threatening Illness

Oh Lord, our God, this life-threatening illness has wreaked havoc on this little baby, and it is so distressing to see him/her so very poorly. There is no one but You to whom we may turn, and so we come to plead Your intervention in this sickness and ask that You restore him/her to full health and strength.


Prayer for the Sick

May you be wrapped up in God’s love
Found deep in His everlasting wings,
Carried and kept, safe and cherished.


Prayers and Promises When Facing a Life-Threatening Illness
30 Short Morning and Evening Reflections
by Ed Dobson

God, thank you for waking me up this morning. I want to embrace every day, however limited my day may be, as a gift from God. I want to live this day to its fullest. I know there are things I can no longer do. I know I am facing daily limitations. But I want to focus on what I can do, not on what I cannot do. So help me God.

Writing/Reflection Prompt: What counsel and resources have you found helpful when praying for people experiencing life-threatening illness?


More links in my How to Pray series:

How to Pray for the People You Love


How to Pray About Mental Illness When You Can’t Find the Words


How to Pray About Work When You Can’t Find the Words


How to Pray Against Racial Hostility


How to Pray for a Loved One Who is Dying


How to Pray for a Wedding Dinner


How to Pray for Families Living with Mental Illness


How to Pray for Peace When You Can’t Find the Words


How to Pray for Public Tragedy


How to Pray for the Syrian Refugee Crisis When You Can’t Find the Words


How to Pray for Your Enemies Even When You Don’t Want To


How to Pray Powerfully for Peace


In a similar vein, my first e-book is How to Pray When Prayer Seems Impossible.

If you don’t have a copy yet, I’d love to send you one,

so please sign up here.

7 thoughts on “How to Pray for People Experiencing Life-Threatening Illness

  1. How grateful I am for today’s topic on healing which is SO-O-O important for me. Kathy’s article re praying for “incurables”. and Ed Dobson’s article are so valuable for me & my friends I’m praying for. Also thank you April for keeping up these Monday’s devotionals with ” keep on praying for miracles” thanks. (I’m trying again).

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Sue, and I’m glad that you were able to leave your comment. I was once asked if it’s all right to pray for a miracle, or if we are rather meant to pray “thy will be done.” I don’t see that as either/or, but as both/and, rather like Jesus praying in the garden for the cup of suffering to pass him by, and praying in the same breath for the Father’s will.

  2. We are relating to a friend with terminal cancer right now. This post is very helpful, also for other less crucial times. I find myself turning to God at times of frustration and that is always the best thing, even though at times it is my last resort! I especially liked the words from Kathy Kalina: “The key is handing over the burden to God, where it belongs, and accepting the peace that this world cannot give.” That applies in all situations!

  3. I bought a prayer book, where I can find different prayers for different situations. I find peace and feel content whenever I read/pray using that book. I bought one, just the same book my aunt with stage 4 cancer is using. I saw her everyday, holding on to that book from the moment she wakes up, during lunch time, at 6pm and during bed time. I miss her so much… Cancer and old-age took her away from us.

    Anne from

    1. My condolences to you on the loss of your aunt, Anne. I appreciate this glimpse of the special relationship that you had with her. Sharing prayer and the prayer book together makes a beautiful memory, and I hope that can be a comfort to you.

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