The phrase “the prayer of faith” comes from a passage in James 5, which says that “the prayer of faith [or “the prayer offered in faith,” depending on the translation] will save the one who is sick” (James 5:15, ESV).
Some Christians believe this verse means that, if only one prays with enough faith, healing for the sick person is guaranteed. Others believe that “the prayer of faith” simply refers to the prayer offered by the elders of the church, and the word save refers sometimes to the spiritual and emotional comfort of God, rather than physical healing (see 2 Corinthians 1:3–5).
Here is the context of the verse: “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:14–16).
The “prayer of faith” is made by the elders of a church visiting a sick person under their spiritual care. The prayer, accompanied by an anointing with oil, is offered “in the name of the Lord”; that is, in the Lord’s authority and subject to His will. Prayer is made in full confidence of God’s power to heal. If the particular illness is the result of personal sin, then confession and repentance of that sin is also called for.
The “raising up” of James 5:15 is not necessarily physical—if it were, then no believer should ever die! Many Christians do die from disease or injury every year, but this doesn’t mean they are lacking faith or that those praying for them lack faith. It simply means that it was not the Lord’s will to heal in that particular instance (see 1 John 5:14). The prayer of faith is offered in faith, and part of faith is trusting that God knows best. Those who pray should be unwavering in their confidence that God will always do what is right. Having prayed the prayer of faith, we can cheerfully commit our lives into God’s hands. The restoration of the sick one that James 5:15 guarantees as a result of the prayer of faith includes emotional, spiritual restoration that comes in the form of God’s comfort and peace.
Jesus talked to His disciples repeatedly about prayer. He told them to pray for God’s kingdom to be represented on earth and for His will to be done; He told them to pray for their daily sustenance, for forgiveness, and for strength against temptation (Matthew 6:9–13). He also told them that anything they asked for in His name, for God’s glory, would be done for them (John 14:13–14), and He assured them that God knows how to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11). All of these passages emphasize God’s goodness and concern for us, but none of them guarantee physical healing. We ask for God’s will, we plead for what we desire, and we pray in His name, but sometimes physical healing is not His plan for us.