I had been a Christian for many years when I first experienced a personal touch from the Holy Spirit through the hands-on prayer of another person. It happened at an intercessors’ conference in another town, in a church very different from my own. A little overwhelmed, I approached one of the speakers after the worship service and told her that this was my first time in a church where the person and work of the Holy Spirit were so emphasized.
“Well then,” she said understandingly, “Can I pray for you?”
She placed her hands on my head and uttered a simple prayer that God would open my heart to His Spirit. I don’t remember her exact words. But I do know that something in me changed from that day forward. My fear evaporated. I became more sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s voice. I developed a new passion for intercession. I can look back to that hands-on prayer and see that it was one catalyst for much of what God has done in and through my life in the years since.
Laying hands on someone is not, in and of itself, particularly dramatic. Scripture refers to it simply: “When Paul placed his hands on them the Holy Spirit came on them” (Acts 19:6). The Bible does not state specifically why we are to do it, or that it guarantees any predictable results.
Scripture does show us, however, that it was a practice Jesus followed and modeled consistently for His disciples (Matt. 8:3, 17:7, 20:34; Mark 1:41; Luke 4:40, 5:13, 22:51). After Jesus left them with instructions to carry on His ministry (John 14:12; Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-18; Acts 1:8), the apostles and the early church continued to follow His practice of laying hands on people (Acts 19:6; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6). No doubt this is why the writer of Hebrews included it in a list of the elementary teachings of the Christian faith (Hebrews 6:1-3).
With all that in mind, the “laying on of hands” is something we as modern-times followers of Jesus should also be imitating when we pray for others. It’s not a ritual or a formula, but rather a faith-filled sign of our expectation that God is about to do something supernatural. We might lay hands on people when we are interceding for God’s intervention in their physical, emotional, or spiritual state. We might do it when we are praying for healing, such as when Jesus healed a leper (Matt. 8:3); commissioning for ministry, such as when Barnabas and Paul were deployed on their missionary journey (Acts 13:2-3); imparting a fresh work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 18:17); or releasing a spiritual gift, as Timothy received through Paul (2 Timothy 1:6).
As in any after aspect of Christian ministry, the laying on of hands should be done in a fitting and orderly way (1 Cor. 14:40). A few guidelines are in order. It’s always a good idea to ask permission before laying hands on someone. A light touch on the head, shoulder, or arm is adequate. “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands,” Paul warned Timothy (1 Tim. 5:22), cautioning him against possibly sharing, by association, in the sins of others. Neither are we to regard the laying on of hands as some sort of magic trick. Peter had harsh words for this attitude” (see Acts 18:18-22). But after common sense considerations are taken, the laying on of hands as a gesture of faith that we should not hesitate to employ when we are praying for others.
I’ve experienced—and practiced—the laying on of hands many times since my first encounter years ago. Sometimes, there have been immediate, dramatic results. Other times, delayed results. And sometimes nothing seems to happen at all. I just have to trust that the way the Holy Spirit chooses to work ultimately will be at His discretion, not mine. I do know that the laying on of hands is more than symbolic. It is a golden opportunity to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit, and to offer the love, compassion, and personal touch of Jesus to those who need or desire His work in their lives.
This blog post has more reference scriptures than usual, and for a reason: I encourage you to look them all up in your Bible and see for yourself what an integral part of our Christian experience Jesus intended for “the laying on of hands” to be. In fact, I hope after reading this you will be more confident to step out in faith on both the receiving and the giving end of this powerful intercessory tool!
(c) 2017 Arlyn J. Lawrence. All Rights Reserved.