Praying for Loved Ones With Cancer
How to pray with confidence and hope for someone fighting cancer.
By Emily Lees
Out of the depths of my fear, panic and even anger, I learned how to pray for someone with cancer.
It had already been a tough night when my dad called with the news my brother-in-law had stage four bile duct cancer.
I was driving home after visiting a friend recovering from an unwanted hysterectomy. After ten years and multiple rounds of IVF, there would be no baby.
Then came my dad’s call. A sucker punch.
Tears nearly blinded me as a swerved off the road into an empty parking lot and began to pray. This was no rational, well-worded supplication suitable for Sunday morning; it was an explosion.
I was shocked, helpless, and enraged.
Screaming, I pounded on the steering wheel, bruising my palms. My car echoed with guttural sobs.
It was the first of many prayers for my sister and brother-in-law.
Here’s what I’ve learned about praying for the hurting people I love:
1. Pray with Honesty
That night in the car, I yelled at the top of my lungs. No one was around and I couldn’t hold it in.
“First my friend, and now my sister? This is too much suffering. It makes me so mad! I can’t believe you’re allowing this…”
Sometimes we hesitate to talk to God because we’re afraid we’ll say the “wrong thing.” We hear others pray and wonder how they seem to have all the right words.
But prayer is simply talking honestly with God. The words don’t have to be perfect.
It’s okay to tell God how you feel, what you think, and what you hope for. He already knows these things, but when you voice them, you open the lines of two-way communication.
A man named David wrote many Psalms in the Bible, pouring out his heart to God. In Psalm 61 he begged God to listen to his cries. His request wasn’t fancy, just honest.
I’ve had a relationship with God for many years—but from your very first conversation with Him, you can say what’s in your heart.
Be genuine. You don’t have to use “spiritual” words.
2. Pray with Submission and Trust
In our transparency with God—our screaming and our tears—we also need to submit to His will.
Submission is a choice that can be incredibly tough, and it takes trust.
If you do not yet have a relationship with God (see Knowing God Personally at the end of this page), or if your connection with him isn’t very strong, trusting may be the hardest part of praying. Deep assurance takes time—but even one sentence of surrender is a good start. God will see and respond.
The Bible says in Matthew 17:20 that mountains can be moved with faith as tiny as a mustard seed.
After my tirade in the car, I gave God my mustard seed. It was all I had that night.
“God, you know what’s going to happen and I don’t. There may not be a miracle for my brother-in-law, just like there wasn’t for my friend, but I still choose to trust you.”
3. Pray God’s Words from the Bible
When I got home that night and tried to pray again, I was at a loss for words. How many anguished times could I repeat, “Please help?”
When we’re in crisis, it can be difficult to know how to pray in any meaningful way.
Here’s what I’ve learned: the most powerful words to pray are not my own, they’re God’s. The Bible is not just an ordinary book, but inspired by God. When I pray through verses in the Bible, I’m speaking truth and aligning my heart with God’s.
For several weeks following my brother-in-law’s diagnosis, I camped out on the couch so my family wouldn’t be disturbed when my sister texted me in the night, sleepless and terrified.
I’d text back prayers using Bible verses I’d looked up. After searching “verses about hope” and “verses about God’s goodness,” I’d write down references and have them ready when my phone vibrated at two in the morning.
Here’s an example of how I would pray:
“God, you say in the Bible you are with us, so we don’t need to be afraid (Isaiah 41:10). Please help my sister feel you are with her right now. Help her not to fear.”
You don’t have to know the Bible well to pray this way. Search topics like “peace,” “strength,” and “rest.” You’ll find verses that will bring power and direction to your conversations with God.
The Bible promises in I John 5:14-15 that if we ask God for anything according to His will, He hears and will give whatever we ask. That’s a wonderful assurance.
4. Pray with Hope
At the time my brother-in-law was diagnosed with stage four bile duct cancer, there was no FDA approved treatment. The survival rate was less than 2%. Circumstances screamed there was no hope.
Yet as I searched for Bible verses and prayed them for my sister and brother-in-law, I began to feel hope not tied to a medical prognosis.
There were no guarantees of healing. There were still many moments of fear, panic, and even anger. But as I prayed, I was reminded that God’s love never fails.
All those dark nights, huddled on the couch praying in the glowing light of my phone, I learned that no matter what lay ahead, God was my hope. This confidence fueled my conversations with Him.
The more I prayed, the more David’s writing in Psalm 119:114 became reality for me: “You (God) are my refuge and my shield. I have put my hope in your Word.”
And this time, God chose to give a miracle. My brother-in-law’s scans have been clear for five years and counting!
Remember that Prayer is Powerful
Praying is the most powerful action you can take for your loved ones facing cancer. Don’t hold back. Talk with God!
Choose to surrender and trust.
Pray God’s own words from the Bible.
“The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth (Psalm 145:18).”
For more help with prayer, read Asking God for Help.
To learn how to have a relationship with God read Knowing God Personally.
For more encouragement for facing cancer, check out these Hopeful Stories.