It has been done as long as some can recall and they vaguely remember something about a Bible verse somewhere, and so those who use prayer cloths continue the tradition in some churches.
Very often when someone is sick and sometimes unable to come to church, those in the church will gather together and touch and pray over a piece of cloth such as a handkerchief that may or may not have been anointed with oil. This prayer cloth is then given or taken to the sick person and is supposed to carry those prayers for healing to the ailing person. Such a practice is not taught in the Bible and there is no scriptural basis for using what some call prayer cloths, so it is simply one of the traditions of men. This practice most likely began because of an incident in the Bible where God performed special miracles by the hands of Paul.
And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them. ~ Acts 19:11-12
The Bible says these were SPECIAL MIRACLES by the hands of Paul. The word
special indicates that they were not routine, were uncommon, peculiar, and unique. Those miracles were specialized and for a particular purpose. Just like Peter walking on the water. How many people today walk on water? You could not find even one person out of billions because that was a special miracle Jesus used at a particular time for a particular purpose. The Bible does not teach us that anyone prayed over these handkerchiefs or aprons, but leaves the impression that they may have simply touched Paul's body. There is no indication that we are to pray over a cloth and take it to someone for healing today, and Paul is no longer around. The will and power of God needs no help such as a cloth in order to travel and arrive at the intended recipient or destination but as has been suggested, those miracles were for a special purpose, hence
For I am the LORD: I will speak, and the word that I shall speak shall come to pass; it shall be no more prolonged: for in your days, O rebellious house, will I say the word, and will perform it, saith the Lord GOD. ~ Ezekiel 12:25
In the Gospel of Luke we are told about the centurion soldier who felt unworthy to approach Jesus as He ministered in the area, nor did he feel worthy to have Jesus come into his house. He had a faithful servant who was sick and needed healing so he sent friends to ask Jesus to simply say in a word, knowing it would be done.
...but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick. ~ Luke 7:7b-10
Faith and obedience is the key to answered prayer, not a cloth which only serves to remove the focus from Jesus Christ. There are two reasons for unanswered prayer, the heart condition and living manner of the persons doing the praying (John 9:31) and the omnipotent will of God. Sometimes God answers our prayer in a way we do not expect and we may not recognize what He has done when He does answer. May be that we should ask ourselves, whether we are trusting in God and Jesus when we pray, or are we introducing an idol which becomes the focus of our faith? Whether we intend to or not, the cloth robs God of His rightful place and glory.
Probably no one but God can say for certain why He allowed the special miracles in Paul’s day and at Paul’s hand, but we can use the information provided in the Scriptures to conclude a possibility. As we know, the Christian faith was new to the world and there were few workers or means (no TV, radio, Internet, magazines) to spread the Gospel and plant seed. In order to keep the faith alive, for it to grow and prosper, many people needed to know about Jesus. Many people needed to be talking because the Pharisees and Sadducees were managing to quell small areas through persecutions and other violent means. Paul was one person and there were multitudes of sick and afflicted and their healing was a good way to show the power of God. Also a bona fide healing was something that would generate a lot of conversation, hence a spread of the Gospel. By using the handkerchiefs and aprons at this time it enabled Paul to reach many more than he could otherwise do as individually praying for the multitude would have possibly taken days.
Again, this incident in Acts 19 was a
special circumstance that God wrought through Paul ONLY and is not mentioned any other place in the Bible. For us to pray over a cloth and take or send it to someone for healing is a form of idolatry. James tells us what to do for the sick:
Is any sick among you? 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 shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. ~ James 5:14-15
The elders of the church need to go to the bedside of the sick person, wherever they may be but we don’t see much of this happening today do we? To GO is to serve others and to serve Christ, it is also a matter of obedience. We need to let our focus and faith be in the Almighty power and ability of God, knowing that He and He alone rules all the elements. Have no idols before us and simply trust fully in the Lord Jesus to do as He has promised after we do what we have been told to do, go and pray OVER the sick. To do less is to invite questions regarding ones faith in what God has said.
Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. ~ John 9:31 ~ Matthew 21:22