Melchizedek Priesthood holders have the privilege and authority to participate in the priesthood ordinance of blessing the sick. “Is any sick among you?” wrote James, “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.”
Along with authority, however, comes the great need to act through faith and inspiration: “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up.” (James 5:14–15.)
Faith, inspiration, and authority—all three are essential to giving priesthood blessings.
I heard Elder Matthew Cowley, a twentieth-century Apostle, tell the story of blessing a baby at the request of a Maori father in New Zealand. As he was about to begin, the baby’s father said, “While you are giving it a name, please give it its vision. It was born blind.”
“I was overwhelmed,” Elder Cowley said. “I was doubtful, but I knew that within the being of that Polynesian there was the simple faith of a child, a faith not beclouded by psychology or any of the learning of men but a simple faith in God and the promises he had made through his Son Jesus Christ. I gave that child its name, and eventually I mustered up enough courage to bless it with its vision.
“… I saw him a few months ago. He is now six or seven years old, running all over the place, and he can see as well as I can see this day.” (Matthew Cowley Speaks, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954, p. 5.)
A powerful experience in my own life involved an impressive Maori lady in New Zealand when I served a mission there. Seriously ill, she was taken to the hospital to have an operation. It was doubtful that she would survive, because of her weight and her advanced age.
She requested that I bless her, saying: “I know I’ll be all right if you’ll give me a blessing, Elder!” I sensed deeply the responsibility, and prayed at her bedside before assuming it. Then a blessing came to her through me that surprised both my companion and me by its positive nature—and I worried, fearing that I had been carried away by my own desire for her recovery. She held my hand and said, “Thank you. I’ll see you at church next Sunday.”
I did not believe her. Yet the operation was successful and her recovery complete—and she did attend testimony meeting the following Sunday. Though physically weak, she stood to eloquently thank the Lord for helping her at a critical hour. In this instance, her faith was a central factor in the blessing.
It is important for us to remember, however, that sometimes the Lord’s desires differ from ours. As his agents in the performance of priesthood duties, it is mandatory that we be receptive to his inspiration. A missionary I knew had a sobering experience giving a blessing. He was working on a renovation project at a branch chapel in New Zealand. The branch president, who was doing some repairs on the roof, lost his footing and fell to the pavement below. Immediately the missionary ran to his side and pronounced a powerful blessing, promising him life and complete restoration to health. A few minutes later, the branch president died.
Greatly disillusioned, the missionary went to his apartment and wrote three letters: one to his mission president, one to his bishop, and one to the president of the Church. The letters outlined his disenchantment with the priesthood and his intention to abandon his missionary service. Then he went to bed.
After worrying, struggling, and praying intermittently throughout the night, he gradually came to understand that the Lord’s will had been done—and that he needed to seek the inspiration and guidance of the Lord earnestly before undertaking any administration.
Once I acted in the same hasty manner. My wife, Marti, began having problems early in her pregnancy, and I instantly gave her a strongly worded blessing, promising her that her health would be protected and that the baby would live. As soon as I finished I knew that I had acted incorrectly and that the unborn baby had actually died.
After fasting and praying, I requested that a fellow priesthood holder assist me to give her a second blessing. This time I carefully listened for the Lord’s guidance and found that I was unable to promise that the baby would live—but rather that Marti would be the mother of other healthy children. That baby did not survive, but we have four children in fulfillment of the blessing. Although in the second blessing I hadn’t said what I wanted to say, Marti and I both enjoyed the peace that comes from the comforting of the Spirit.
President Spencer W. Kimball has explained the relationship of following the will of God and of performing the ordinance of administration for the sick: “We are assured by the Lord that the sick will be healed if the ordinance is performed, if there is sufficient faith, and if the ill one is ‘not appointed unto death.’ (See D&C 42:44–48.) But there are three factors, all of which should be satisfied. Many do not comply with the ordinances, and great numbers are unwilling or incapable of exercising sufficient faith. But the other factor also looms important: If they are not appointed unto death.”
President Kimball also declared: “The power of the priesthood is limitless but God has wisely placed upon each of us certain limitations. I may develop priesthood power as I perfect my life, yet I am grateful that even through the priesthood I cannot heal all the sick. I might heal people who should die. I might relieve people of suffering who should suffer. I fear I would frustrate the purposes of God.” (Faith Precedes the Miracle, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972, pp. 103, 99.)
It is important, then, that as we are called upon to give a priesthood blessing, we do so not only with faith in the Lord’s power, but also with a humble desire to receive the Lord’s inspiration and to know his will—and then do his will when we receive his guidance.
Some priesthood holders I’ve known, lacking experience in spiritual matters or not recognizing inspiration, hesitate giving a blessing for fear of making a mistake or saying the wrong things. Others offer prayers to Father in Heaven rather than give priesthood blessings. However, it is natural that both praying to and receiving inspiration from Heavenly Father be involved, for both aspects are certainly elements of the communication process with our Father in Heaven and to that extent are appropriate in priesthood administrations and blessings and the exchange of faith and inspiration.
It is understandable that at times we may feel inadequate for the task. But if we have the Melchizedek Priesthood and are worthy, we have a responsibility to use it. However, our first concern should be to seek the Lord’s help through humble prayer before giving the blessing.
Thus, strictly speaking, an administration to the sick, which is a priesthood ordinance, differs in some important ways from a prayer. It is an ordinance performed by the authority of the priesthood, which is the power to act in God’s name. This means that the Lord allows us to act for him, using his power, when we are guided to do so. Prayer, of course, is a powerful way to communicate with the Lord—and it brings about many miracles. But the Lord allows us to administer to the sick through the power of the priesthood and grants appropriate requests regarding the use of priesthood powers. Such use enlarges the circle of administration to include the Lord, who promised, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:20.)
As priesthood holders, we have many opportunities to perform administrations to the sick. We can respond to the call of the quorum president and spend an evening at a hospital administering to the sick; or we can run to the side of a ward member stricken with illness. But the most important place to use the priesthood is in our own homes. Our families often have needs—such as physical illness, childbirth, discouragement, or depression—that could result in blessings of inspiration.
In addition to the need for administrations when ill, children need blessings when they are worried about social acceptance, peer pressure, failure to perform academically, a clash with a teacher, and a host of other problems. By obtaining inspiration in behalf of his children early in their lives, a father can develop a feeling of trust and confidence with them that will last through the years and will help to maintain a strong, cohesive family. A child who remembers his father’s sincere spiritual concern at difficult times may more readily confide in him over more critical matters. Children also need the inspiration from a father’s blessing before major events in their lives, such as a mission, the service, college, and marriage. (Oil is not used in these blessings of comfort and counsel.)
Regarding administrations, I have had occasion to administer to my own children under traumatic circumstances. One such experience occurred one night when our oldest son, Darrin, was suffering from a painful earache. He had been screaming because of the intensity of the pain; but soon after I gave him a blessing, he exhibited relief and drifted into sleep, obviously exhausted.
The next morning we took him to the pediatrician, who informed us that Darrin’s eardrum had burst in the night, relieving the pressure of serious infection and allowing him to sleep. We were astonished because we knew exactly when the break would have occurred. Because there was a genuine possibility that his hearing might have been permanently impaired, the doctor advised us to take him to an ear specialist after medication had alleviated the infection.
When we took him to a specialist a few weeks later, we were amazed that the specialist was unable to discern any problem with Darrin’s ear. He pronounced the eardrum in perfect condition, with no sign of a break. It was a powerful, sobering experience which taught us in an especially forceful way the power of the Lord and the efficacy of priesthood blessings.
The Lord has promised that our confidence can “wax strong in the presence of God,” (D&C 121:45.) With inspired confidence from God, we are able to exercise the authority God has given us and are able to find opportunities to utilize it in prayerful and positive ways.
After reading “Giving Priesthood Blessings” individually or as a family, you may wish to discuss some of the following questions during a gospel study period:
1. What role does prayer have in priesthood administrations? What role does faith have?
2. Why is it important to “seek the inspiration and guidance of the Lord earnestly” before giving a priesthood administration?
3. Do you know of someone who received a priesthood blessing for the restoration of his health but did not recover? What light do President Spencer W. Kimball’s words quoted in this article shed on such cases?
4. Have you ever received a blessing of comfort or counsel? What were your feelings at the time? What experiences in your family would make a blessing of this kind appropriate?