Today’s marketplace offers an abundance of Christian gifts that encourage. Within the mix, you may have found or heard of a prayer cloth. But what is a prayer cloth? Is it biblical?
A prayer cloth is recognized in some church traditions as a sacramental, which means it is blessed by a priest to acknowledge its relevance to a sacrament—or an outward sign of an inward grace. Other sacramentals include blessed palms, holy water, a crucifix, or Ash Wednesday ashes.
Among Christians, prayer cloths are most popular in the Pentecostal tradition. Lebanese Christians bless prayer cloths and place them on areas in need of healing, while praying for intercession.
Methodists and Pentecostals may either apply blessed prayer cloths to the sick in church, or take the prayer cloth to the homes of those suffering with illness, according to Wikipedia.
Are Prayer Cloths Biblical?
The words “prayer cloth” aren’t found in the Bible, as Word for Life Publishing points out. However, we do find several instances where a piece of clothing is showcased in an act of divine healing power.
In Matthew 14:34-36, we see people suffering from sickness flocking to Jesus from all over the region around Gennesaret. They want only to “touch the fringe of his garment,” in faith that they would be find healing. And “as many touched it were made well.”
This account follows an earlier story in Scripture about the woman, bleeding for years, whose faith to touch Jesus’ cloak healed her as well.
The closest Scripture comes to modern application of prayer cloths is found in the Book of Acts:
And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. (Acts 19:11-12)
This is most likely the inspiration behind today’s usage of prayer cloths by Christians. But notice the phrase, “God was doing extraordinary miracles.”
The Bible does not claim that any ordinary cloth can be anointed and distributed for mass-application. The Bible says God chose Paul to perform God’s miracle through handkerchiefs and aprons.
What we have to be wary of when endowing prayer cloths with our interventions, as Got Questions explains, is believing our own sweat and power can imbue a cloth with healing favor, outside of the will of God.
The Bible does say that we ought to pray for the sick, and that the prayers of a righteous person have great power:
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:14-16)
However, in this passage we see the person sick with sin is called to pursue healing. It implores those in need to seek prayer from those in the church. It doesn’t specify the blessing of a cloth, or bringing it to homes of the sick.
Sending a prayer cloth to encourage someone that you care, and are praying for them, can be a kind gesture. But it’s important to note that the Bible doesn’t confer certain healing ability into our hands outside of God’s will.
In fact, WhatChristiansWanttoKnow.com suggests that “selling prayer cloths with the promise of God’s healing is worse than being a false prophet.”
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Zinkevych
The Origin and Use of Prayer Handkerchiefs or Cloths
The first modern use of a prayer cloth, or healing handkerchief, may have been by the Mormons in the 1830s. Historian Michael Quinn writes that a group of people asked Joseph Smith (Mormonism’s founder) to come heal them, but he couldn’t go to them. So he sent a red handkerchief, instructing his evangelist, “You go, and take my handkerchief.”
And because the traveling evangelist prayed over them, and some of the sick people healed, this handkerchief ritual became more commonplace. By the 1880s, however, Mormon leaders began calling it out as a “folk magical practice.”
As it faded in Mormonism, it grew in the Pentecostal church. It can now be found even in the Roman Catholic Church. Sometimes the cloths are anointed in oil or in the sweat of those who pray over it (Got Questions, Material Religion Project).
As anointing with oil and prayer are both in the Bible, a cloth that is prayed over and anointed with oil can be misconstrued as having divine healing power. What we must remember is that God can indeed use whatever object or method he wants to heal someone, but we’re not to glorify the item. Glory belongs to God and his timing. Although the Bible tells us prayer has power, it does not specify that a specific kind of cloth does.
In Exodus, we do see mention of “cloths of service,” but this is referring to the official and elaborate garments, or robes, of the high priest.
“And of the blue, and purple, and scarlet, they made cloths of service, to do service in the holy place, and made the holy garments for Aaron; as the Lord commanded Moses.” (Exodus 39:1)
Do Christians Use Prayer Cloths?
Some Christians may choose to pray over and send a prayer cloth to someone who is ill, as a way of reminding them that they are being covered in prayer and care. Jack Wellman, Pastor of Mulvane Brethren Church writes at patheos.com, “prayer cloths are still being used today in many parts of the world, including here in America… however this is not prescriptive but descriptive. Nowhere in the Bible are we told to seek or send prayer cloths to the sick, and there is nothing said in the Book of Acts or in all of Scripture where we’re told to send or ask for prayer cloths.”
Yet a quick online search will serve up a host of Christian prayer cloth suppliers, or artsy purveyors of handmade prayer cloths. Some are imprinted with prayers, others adorned with lace or ribbons.
Prayer cloths can be a beautiful gift, to remind someone that others care, or to provide someone a prayer to soothe them. But it isn’t biblical to expect the actual fabric to hold the power to heal, even if anointed with oil.
What Do You Do with a Prayer Cloth?
A prayer cloth is intended to be prayed over by others, and then carried by (or kept in close proximity to) the person prayed for to whom it was given. Proponents of prayer cloths suggested that they pin it to their clothing or place it where they spend the majority of their time.
The reason some use prayer cloths still is to reenact Paul’s example in Acts 19:11-12. They may want to participate in the actions, or ritual, of praying over a “handkerchief or apron” that is then “carried away to the sick” in the hopes that their prayers, not the cloth, would align with God’s will to heal as in the historical account in Acts 19.
All we can really do with a prayer cloth, is consider it a sweet reminder that people who love and care about your healing are praying for you. But we must be careful to worship the Creator, not the creation.
“They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” (Romans 1:25)
Prayer cloths can serve as a tangible and visible reminder of God’s will to heal or deliver. They are sometimes knit by hand, printed with prayers, and given as gifts.
Any expression of care, or signal to trust in God is in good faith. Let’s be sure, however, to not focus our faith on a cloth—but rather on the cross.
Gotquestions.org - "What Is a Prayer Cloth?"
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Lia Martin loves to inspire others to lean into the Lord daily. She's a writer, editor, marketer, former Crosswalk.com Faith Editor, and author of Wisdom at Wit's End: Abandoning Supermom Myths in Search of Supernatural Peace. When she's not cultivating words, she loves walking in nature, reading, exploring the latest health trends, and laughing with her two wonderful kids. She blogs at liamartinwriting.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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