I had just met the elderly, heavy-set woman at the dinner party. Without any prompting from me, she told me I needed physical healing (I did; I had a long-running, chronic illness). She said the reason I hadn’t been healed was because I had allowed Satan to keep me in bondage, but if I started praying in faith, God would take my sickness away.
I was a little jilted. I certainly thought I was praying in faith; and if I wasn’t, I knew a number of people who were. Although I knew she meant well, I ultimately shrugged off her comments. Maybe I did have unbelief in my heart; maybe Satan was vexing me – but either way, I figured God was big enough to help my unbelief or drop kick the devil.
I had seen God miraculously heal people before, and if He was going to take His time with me, I could live with it.
It Hit Home
Although I could dismiss the input of the well-meaning lady when it came to myself, this past week brought a new challenge: the simultaneous sickness of my wife and two daughters.
It wasn’t like they got cancer, but they were all extremely miserable due to viruses, ear infections, endless sinus drainage, and/or intense bouts of coughing. It doesn’t sound so bad until you listen to a child wheeze with congestion because she can’t even blow her own nose. And it only gets worse when you try to comfort her, but her throat is so raw from coughing that all she can do is hoarsely scream out in pain, her reddening face wet with tears.
Beyond medicating her, there was nothing I could do but beg God to heal her. And when she kept shrieking in pain, I began to get frustrated with Him, frustrated that He didn’t instantly take away her sickness. Scripture teaches that there’s healing power in Christ’s name. Did I not say the right words when I prayed? Was I not holding my mouth right?
As I said to a friend in an email, “My wife and both girls are really sick, and it stinks. I’m like, ‘God, can I please have one of those instant healings for my family? What’s the criteria for that?'”
I don’t know the criteria. And I don’t believe the people who claim to know the criteria, no matter how well-intentioned they may be. Those people still get headaches and broken ribs; they still deal with colds and skin cancer – and well, they all die. At the same time, I don’t want to be like those people who are too afraid to ask for the impossible, so they just pray, “Whatever is Thy will, Lord.”
With all this in mind last week, I went to God and basically asked, “What gives? Why are they still sick? I don’t get it. What’s the point in even asking You to heal them if they’re all going to stay sick?”
He didn’t speak audibly; there was no writing on the wall; but like an arrow into my brain, the Spirit brought a scripture to my mind:
And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened (Luke 11:9-10).
But what if there’s no instant healing? “Keep on asking.”
And what if things get worse? “Keep on seeking.”
What if it seems like I’m talking to a wall? “Keep on knocking.”
Because when I seek healing from Christ – no matter how He responds to my prayer – I find that it eventually leads me to Jesus. And the promise of Scripture is fulfilled when I find what I was actually seeking all along: Him.
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Several years ago I read a book where the author's mother had discovered the formula for healing. It was simple. All you had to do was say Jesus three times. Representing the Trinity maybe? When my daughter became ill, it didn't work for me.
I wonder how many formulas have been tossed around over the years – like we can control God or something.
I have done some reading on healing, mostly materials from Christian Healing Ministries (Francis & Judith MacNutt). They are very balanced and biblical, and they would never say what that woman said to you. They say that healing is a mystery and we don't always know why God heals and why he doesn't, but our responsibility is to pray and ask God to heal. And they do admit that sometimes we don't see healing.Also, they have found over decades of praying for people, that consistency is key. They find that if you lay hands on someone and pray for them over an over time (daily for example), most of the time you will see some improvement, if not complete healing. They say that instant healing does happen, but it's rare. It's the slow improvement that's much more common. While that is not a formula, that's their consistent experience, and it's reflected in the verses you referenced, that we consistently bring the issue to God. Knowing that has emboldened me to pray consistently over time.http://www.christianhealingmin.org/
In the past I used to pray for healing of one sort or another, for myself or a loved one, only to discover that prayer hardly ever changes those externals for which we pray; as a result I found myself getting angry with God for asking us to do something that seemed to lead us down an empty rabbit hole. As I have gotten older I have come to see that prayer is hardly ever meant as a means of getting the things we feel we need or desire, for ourselves or for others, as though God is our spiritual "candyman". In short, prayer doesn't change God's mind about our situation, but it does change our hearts toward a God who loves us and grieves at our pain and suffering.
It seems that many preachers and teachers who are preaching the "abundance" message are very popular these days. I also suffer from a chronic disease, and used to beg God through tears for my healing and restoration. While I don't believe that He enjoys watching me struggle or be in pain, I do believe through much prayer and study, that in my specific case, my disease has led me to be closer and more dependent on Him, and therefore healthier in my overall well-being and life, if not in my body. If we look at scripture, the apostles turned disciples were not always healed of their sufferings and trials, and they walked with Jesus and witnessed immediate healings! I truly believe in my heart that God loves us so much, that He allows us to suffer. We would never know the joy of the journey or be grateful for the mountain top if we lived there all the time, and I know that in my case, I would be a very selfish, uncompassionate, prideful woman indeed.
I learned a long time ago that my faulty theology does not mean that we have a faulty God… I do like the point you make here though, Josh. I pray to God for healing when we are sick and trust in His mercy in these situations… I also ask Him to show me what to do when Hero is sick to make him feel better. My grandfather recently died of stage 4 cancer. I had more than one person tell me that God would heal him and that really messed with my head. I had to rebuke them and say, "this REALLY IS in God's hands." I know for my friends with chronic pain that this topic is a touchy one that is very confusing with all the conflicting theology that surrounds it.
and what I mean by my own faulty theology was that I was once under the impression that God's job was to shield me from pain and illness and why did He let bad things happen to us? I've since come to realize that that faulty theology was not a true reflection of God.
Well, there comes a point when you realize God will not heal. And then what? My illness has not brought me closer to God. It just makes me see the damage that a broken promise can do.
There are a lot of weird "not yets" in Christianity that will leave you pretty doubtful and discouraged if you insist on having them now.
Have you read C.S. Lewis’ essay “The efficacy of prayer”? (You can find it in a small compilation book called “The World’s Last Night and other Essays”). The essay points the purpose of prayer toward a relationship with an all-knowing omnipotent God. The more we get to know HIM, the more we’re able to see how He answers prayers and align our requests with His will and not our own. Your article encouraged me to read the essay again today. One of my favorite lines, “Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine.” I think this changes the focus of prayer from an expectation of magically answered requests to a picture of a living and long-lasting relationship between the Creator and the created. As you nicely summed up in your article, we find our Creator through prayer. Thanks for sharing!
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