Philip Yancey brings an interesting perspective to the issue of prayer and healing. He says that he has learned that when we pray for miracles, we need to learn to expect that “God is not a magician who rearranges life to fit our whims.” For example, our prayers will not reverse the aging process, conquer death completely, or eliminate our need for food. God has set in motion certain rules and natural laws, within which there is room for physical healing. This means that God uses the way He has already created our bodies and our knowledge of them to heal us much more often than supernatural healing.
Christian doctors today can testify to the results of prayer: quicker recovery times, complete disappearance of signs of cancer in patients, full recoveries from paralyzation, etc. And yet they also stress that these cases represent perhaps 2 or 3 people out of every thousand.
Richard Foster writes,
“There may be times when God asks us to rely upon prayer alone for healing, but this is the exception, not the rule. The refusal to use medical means to promote healing may be a gesture of faith—more often it is a gesture of spiritual pride…. Many trust in medical means exclusively and turn to prayer only when all available medical technology has failed. This only betrays the materialistic base of so much of our thinking.”
Instead of relying solely on one or the other, we should couple the two together.
Our bodies are not disconnected from our souls. While we read in John 9:1-2 that Jesus says a man born blind was not born this way because of his parents’ sin or his sin, but so that God’s glory might be shown, our infirmities can be connected with the hurts and pains of the past. We don’t get sick as a punishment for our sin, but because our emotions and painful experiences affect our bodies in negative ways.
Foster tells the story of a man who had been depressed and angry for 28 years. He had been in WWII, leading 33 men who were trapped by enemy gunfire. He had watched as two by two, they went out and were killed. He escaped with only 5 other men and that day had become an atheist. Foster told him, “Don’t you know that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who lives in the eternal now, can enter that old painful memory and heal it so that it will no longer control you?” Foster prayed for him and asked that as evidence, God would grant him a full night’s sleep. God immediately healed the man and he testified to waking with a hymn on his lips each morning. The healing ministry of Jesus is for the whole person, not just our bodies.
When we read the gospels, we read several accounts of Jesus healing people. But never is he systematic about his healings. He approached one man at the pool of Bethesda and asked, “Do you want to get well?” He did not heal everyone. He did not annihilate leprosy so that no one could have it ever again. While Jesus said it is the sick who need a doctor, he was not every man’s doctor. He did not come to reverse the laws of nature; he didn’t even turn a rock into bread. While the gospels record that he also healed everyone who was brought to him (Matthew 12:15), there are other stories where he did not.
Why is not everyone healed? The simplest answer is, “We don’t know.”
- Maybe we neglect natural means such as diet, exercise and sleep.
- Maybe we think what is needed is physical healing when it is actually emotional healing.
- Maybe we have not found the right doctor.
- Maybe we do not pray specifically enough.
- Maybe we have sin in our lives that hinders our prayers.
So what do we do? We wait, we ask, we believe, and we give thanks. And slowly we watch our skepticism over whether God heals turn into faith. God wants us to believe healing is possible.
Philip Yancey presents us with a checklist for when we desire a miracle of physical healing, which I think is a very practical tool to guide our prayers also.
- Am I expecting a miracle as an entitlement?
- Am I using the benefits of God’s ‘common grace’—the healing built into our bodies and the medical knowledge we have gained? Like the Good Samaritan whose love extended to taking care of the injured man’s wounds, we partner with God by using what we know to heal ourselves.
- Do I wrongly blame God for causing the suffering?
- Am I prepared for the possibility that physical healing will not take place?
In addition, we might ask:
- “Am I using the other means available to me for healing?”
- “Do I just need physical healing, or emotional healing as well?”
- “Do I realize that my healing is God’s will? It is what he wants, and yet it may not come to pass?”
And at the end of it all, we can pray in faith believing that God is at work healing us, mind, body, heart and soul.
I cannot think of a time I have said used the language of abiding or remaining to describe a friendship. I’ve never told my wife that one of us is a vine and the other a branch. It’s funny language that seems to be almost redundant, unnecessary. Why would Jesus, in the moments before His arrest and death, talk this way?
Maybe because he was going to the Father.
Maybe because he knew the real temptation the Twelve would have to walk away from all they had known in the past three years with him.
Or maybe because Jesus knew that the only way his disciples would have life and bear fruit would be in their attachment to him, not to anything else, including the Judaism they had grown up in.
John 15:1-4 says,
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
Jesus begins by saying He is the “true vine.” Why? In the Old Testament, Israel was called a vine. Vines were on some of its coins, too. In every instance in the Old Testament, Israel as vine meant Israel was being judged by God. For example, in Hosea 10:1-2, God says, “Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself. As his fruit increased, he built more altars; as his land prospered, he adorned his sacred stones. Their heart is deceitful, and now they must bear their guilt. The LORD will demolish their altars and destroy their sacred stones.”
Thus, when Jesus calls himself the true vine, he is saying that he can do what Israel failed to do: produce fruit out of a faithful relationship with God. And those who are connected to him will do the same. This connection with Jesus produces eternal life in his “branches,” in us, and it is this eternal kind of life being lived now that results in fruit.
Jesus says these words on the night of his betrayal. They are some of his last words to his disciples who would, after seeing his suffering and death, be tempted to at the very least question how this metaphor works. How do you remain in a dead Messiah? How do you stay connected to your dead Master? And what if the remaining, abiding relationship you have with him results in your own suffering and death?
Paul’s words of being found in him speak to this. Philippians 3:8-12 says,
8What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
What are the experiences, positive or negative, that you say have shaped you the most? I once had a pastor give an exercise where we wrote our forming moments on sticky notes and then placed them next to results from a Meyers-Briggs test, a spiritual gifts test, and a StrengthsFinder test.
This is perhaps so obvious and yet easily overlooked–God uses our daily experiences to shape us. The loss of a job, the birth of a child, a marriage, a tragedy, a crisis of faith, a powerful worship service, a time of devotions, a conversation with a friend, etc. All of these and more can be used by God to change us.
It is our job to begin viewing life through different lenses. What if God wants to use something but we’ve not opened our eyes to the possibility?
Let’s take an example from Scripture, from the life of Peter. What were the pivotal circumstances in his life?
- Being born a Jewish boy into a home where he was raised to love God, to know the Torah, to take part in Jewish rituals and feasts, etc.
- Becoming a fisherman, presumably like his father, as sons learned the family business.
- Being called to follow after Jesus (Matt. 4).
- The healing of his mother-in-law
- Calling Jesus the Son of God and then being rebuked by Jesus (Matt. 16)
- Witnessing the transfiguration with James and John
- Denying Jesus 3x
- Being forgiven by Jesus (John 21)
- Preaching his first sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2)
- Dreaming on a rooftop and meeting Cornelius (Acts 10)
Peter’s pivotal circumstances before meeting Jesus paved the way for him to follow Jesus; His pivotal circumstances as a disciple prepared him for leading the early church.
Peter’s first letter gives us another clue as to one of the most pivotal circumstances we experience: suffering.
- 1 Peter 1:6-7: 6In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
- 1 Peter 3:17-18: It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
- 1 Peter 4:1-2: Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because those who have suffered in their bodies are done with sin. 2As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.
- 1 Peter 5:8-10: 8Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your fellow believers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.10And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
Our suffering results in genuine, steadfast faith in God. While Peter spoke of suffering specifically for being a Christian, our present sufferings can be used in the same way. When we are faced with pressure at work, the loss of loved ones, broken relationships, financial difficulty, etc., God can provide the strength we need to face the suffering and come out of it having passed the testing of our faith.