There are several biblical accounts that are the basis for the modern practice of using a prayer cloth to assist the pray-er to receive positive answers to prayer. Matthew 9:20–22 tells the story of a woman who had suffered severe bleeding for twelve years. She managed to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak, believing this simple contact would heal her. Jesus countered in verse 22, telling her, “Your faith has made you well.” In Matthew 14:34–36, the people of Gennesaret had a similar thought. All the sick from the area desired to touch only the hem of Jesus’ garment. All who did were healed. Acts 19:11–12 relates how handkerchiefs that Paul had merely touched were carried to the sick, in hopes that people would be healed of diseases and evil spirits.
It should be noted that in none of these stories in the Bible is Jesus’ garment or Paul’s handkerchief called a “prayer cloth.” The first modern use of a prayer cloth may have been by the Mormons. As the practice 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.
At its most innocent, the prayer cloth is merely a reminder that a group of people are praying for an ailing friend. The group may pray while holding the cloth, and then send the cloth to their friend, who keeps it near as a comfort. More disconcerting is the belief that the oil or sweat the prayer cloth is anointed with acts as a point of transfer that allows the blessings of God to enter the recipient. But the most disturbing trend is the use of prayer cloths as a fund-raising device among prosperity gospel televangelists. Such programs encourage viewers to send their name and address and perhaps a short prayer request. In return, the viewer receives a prayer cloth, instructions such as “place it in your Bible for one night” or “put it under your pillow” or “write your name on it,” and an envelope to return the cloth with a substantial donation. Variations on the prayer cloth include a “prayer fleece,” a “prayer cloud,” and coins. Some prayer cloths are designed specifically for financial gain.
There is nothing theologically wrong with sending someone a tangible reminder that friends are praying. There are, however, two major potential problems with prayer cloths. Acts 19:11 points out that the use of cloth in Paul’s ministry was “extraordinary.” Miracles are signs that a teacher is specifically chosen to reveal God’s Word. Paul, a former enemy of the church, would have needed extraordinary miracles to confirm his new position as evangelist. But, with the completion of the Bible, we do not need signs gifts to identify God’s prophets. And God certainly does not need oil or sweat to more easily pass on the power of His Spirit.
Second, and more troubling, is the use of prayer cloths as a shameless money scheme. Second Peter 2:2–3a reads, “Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words…” While Paul pointed out that the work a pastor performs does merit compensation (1 Corinthians 9:14), nowhere does the Bible imply that prayers and spiritual favors can be bought and sold.
Where in the Bible does it talk about prayer cloths?
Prayer cloths, also known as prayer shawls or prayer garments, have been used by various religious traditions for centuries as a symbol of faith and a means of seeking divine intervention. While the term “prayer cloth” may not be explicitly mentioned in the Bible, there are references to the use of garments or cloths for spiritual purposes. The Bible contains passages that provide insight into the concept of using cloths in prayer and healing rituals.
One of the notable biblical references to the use of a cloth for healing is found in the New Testament, particularly in the Book of Acts. In Acts 19:11-12 (NIV), it is written, “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured, and the evil spirits left them.” This passage suggests that cloths that came into contact with the apostle Paul held a healing power, demonstrating the belief in the transfer of spiritual energy through material objects.
Another reference can be found in the Old Testament in the book of Numbers, where God instructed Moses to create a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Those who were bitten by venomous snakes could look at the bronze snake and be healed (Numbers 21:8-9). Although it is not a cloth, this biblical account illustrates the principle of using a physical object as a conduit for divine healing.
What does the prayer cloth symbolize?
The symbolism of a prayer cloth can vary depending on one’s religious or cultural background. However, there are common themes and meanings associated with prayer cloths across different traditions:
- Faith and Belief: Prayer cloths are often seen as tangible representations of an individual’s faith and belief in the power of prayer. They serve as a reminder of one’s connection to a higher power and the belief that through prayer, healing, protection, or blessings can be received.
- Healing and Protection: Many people use prayer cloths as a means of seeking physical or spiritual healing and protection. They believe that the cloth, when used in prayer or placed on a person, can transmit divine energy or serve as a conduit for God’s healing grace.
- Comfort and Solace: Prayer cloths can also provide comfort and solace to those who are facing difficult times, grief, or illness. The act of holding or wearing a prayer cloth can bring a sense of peace and reassurance, knowing that they are not alone in their struggles.
- Connection to a Community: In some religious communities, prayer cloths symbolize unity and solidarity. They may be distributed within a congregation to foster a sense of communal prayer and support for one another.
- Anointing and Blessing: Prayer cloths may be anointed or blessed by religious leaders or individuals with spiritual authority. This act imbues the cloth with a sacred quality, making it a powerful tool for intercession.
Where did the prayer cloth originate?
The use of prayer cloths has a long history, and their origins can be traced back to various cultures and religious traditions. While it is challenging to pinpoint the exact origin of prayer cloths due to their widespread use, we can explore their roots in different contexts.
- Jewish Tradition: In the Jewish tradition, the use of prayer shawls, known as “Tallit” in Hebrew, dates back to ancient times. These shawls are worn during prayer and contain fringes or tassels known as “Tzitzit,” which are intended to serve as a reminder of God’s commandments.
- Christian Tradition: The use of prayer cloths in the Christian tradition is linked to the New Testament, as mentioned earlier in Acts 19:11-12. This practice is believed to have emerged in the early Christian church as a means of invoking God’s healing power.
- African and Indigenous Beliefs: In many African and indigenous cultures, the use of prayer cloths, often called “ritual cloths” or “spiritual cloths,” is deeply ingrained in spiritual and healing practices. These cloths are used by shamans, healers, and individuals seeking spiritual guidance.
- Hinduism and Buddhism: In Hinduism and Buddhism, prayer flags are commonly used to convey prayers and blessings. These flags, often made of cloth, are inscribed with mantras and are believed to carry the prayers to the heavens when they flutter in the wind.
- Native American Traditions: Many Native American tribes have their own traditions involving prayer cloths, which are often used in healing ceremonies and rituals to connect with the spirit world.
The use of prayer cloths has thus evolved and adapted within various cultural and religious contexts over time.
What is a prayer cloth for healing?
A prayer cloth for healing is a sacred or consecrated piece of fabric that is used in religious or spiritual practices to invoke divine healing and intervention. The concept of a prayer cloth for healing is rooted in the belief that the cloth, when used in prayer or placed on the body, can serve as a conduit for divine energy and assistance in times of illness or distress. Here are some key aspects of prayer cloths for healing:
- Healing Rituals: Prayer cloths for healing are often used in specific healing rituals or ceremonies. These rituals can vary widely depending on the religious or spiritual tradition. The cloth may be anointed with oil or blessed by a religious leader as part of the ritual.
- Symbol of Faith: Using a prayer cloth for healing signifies a strong faith in the power of prayer and the belief that divine intervention can bring about physical or spiritual healing. It is a tangible expression of trust in a higher power.
- Physical Contact: In some practices, individuals place the prayer cloth on the affected part of their body, believing that the cloth will absorb their ailments and transmit healing energy. Others may hold or touch the cloth during prayer to connect with the divine.
- Distribution and Sharing: Prayer cloths for healing are often shared within religious communities. They may be given to individuals who are in need of healing or comfort. The act of sharing these cloths fosters a sense of unity and support within the community.
- Variation in Beliefs: Beliefs and practices surrounding prayer cloths for healing can vary widely. Some believe that the cloth itself has inherent healing power, while others see it as a point of contact for their faith and prayers.
In conclusion, while the term “prayer cloth” may not be explicitly mentioned in the Bible, it has a deep historical and cultural significance in various religious traditions. The use of prayer cloths symbolizes faith, healing, and protection and can be traced back to diverse origins, reflecting the universal human desire to seek solace and connection with the divine. These cloths continue to play an essential role in the spiritual and healing practices of many people around the world.