When we had an extension built,first the builders had to knock down a rickety garage and construct solid foundations.If we want to be part of a church that has a healthy healing ministry,several myths about healing need to be demolished so that we can build on solid,biblical foundations.
Myths about healing
Myth 1 - Be healed by faith, don’t take your medicine.
If someone is taking medicine under proper medical supervision,they should never be told to ditch their tablets.It may be entirely different if you are dealing with a hypochondriac who swallows handfuls of self-subscribed pills every hour.A prejudice against medicine is as unhealthy as a prejudice against prayer. It ’s part of the false antithesis that suggests you have to make a choice between God and Science.Some anti-scientific Christians like that choice.So do some anti-Christian scientists.But it ’s a false choice.It ’s far better to receive prayer for healing and keep taking the tablets.
Myth 2 -The right method guarantees success.
It ’s human nature to turn a personal preference into a compulsory practice.In one church,healing prayer is incomplete without candles and incense.In another, healing prayer requires the laying on of hands in a particular way.In still another, healing prayer is incomplete without a lot of shouting. The liberty of Jesus comes as an almost shocking contrast.He seems to have taken delight in surprising those who like a fixed formula in prayer:he prays in public and in private,with and without touch,at a distance and even with mud.The Christian who craves a formula inhabits a world of the quick fix,the instant answer,the obsession with finding a foolproof technique. Jesus invites us to embrace naked faith, formula free.We need to trust the One to whom we pray and not get fooled into thinking that ‘the right ’methods of prayer can ever guarantee results.
Myth 3 - If it doesn’t work, blame someone.
When Christians pray for healing unwisely,it makes their churches sick. They start pinning the blame on some- one.Maybe it ’s the people praying,or maybe it ’s the person who is sick.Many pastors have met Christians whose spirits need to be rebuilt,because prayer that was meant to heal has turned into a curse. Whether or not someone is healed,our first desire should always be to bless with grace and never to curse with blame. Some note a higher ‘success rate ’for heal- ing in the developing world and then blame the Western church.Maybe their faith is greater.Maybe God is merciful upon their lack of medical provision. Nonetheless,I don ’t see too many Western enthusiasts for third world miracles choosing to move to the developing world and renounce first world medicine. Although God ’s works of supernatural healing are wonderful,God ’s gift of medical science often produces more reliable results.
Myth 4 - I have the power.
In the book of Acts,Luke records the exceptional healing ministries of Peter and Paul.He doesn ’t suggest that others have somehow failed because they are not as much used in healing ministry.He merely records that God used Peter and Paul in these particular ways. Paul demonstrates the right way to handle misplaced adulation when he rejects any attempt to offer him worship (Acts 14:15).He refuses to be attention-seeking,rejects any possibility of a cult of personality,and is concerned only to bring glory to Jesus Christ.We need to focus not upon the ones doing the praying,but upon the One in whose name our prayers for healing are made.
Myth 5 - Intense spirituality is always best.
One of the accusations against the first Christians was that they were atheists.They just weren ’t troubled by the many superstitions and minor deities of the Roman Empire. There are two risks for Christians today.On the one hand,we can become over-secularized,leaving God out of our lives altogether,except on Sundays. The opposite danger is that we become super-spiritual,seeing demons behind every sneeze,profound signs from God behind the minor events of daily living. In some circles,whenever a Christian dies young,Satan gets the blame:“God had work for them to do on earth,but Satan stole them early.”Trying to make sense of the mystery of a premature death,such Christians ascribe too much power to Satan.There is even a theory that Jesus ’death was a tragic accident, resulting from Satanic intervention,but that ’s a 20th century heresy with no basis in orthodox Christianity.Such super-spiritual dualism cannot be justified from the New Testament.
Healing and suffering
Paul ’s ambition was to know the power of Christ ’s resurrection and to share in the fellowship of Christ ’s sufferings (Philippians 3:10).Such a combination is both disturbing and profound.It speaks of a paradox at the heart of Christian living,in which God ’s strength is made perfect in our weakness and Christ ’s crucifixion becomes the perfect revelation of divine glory.Healing and suffering make an uncomfortable combination,and yet together they represent the full message of the first Easter,in the cross and the resurrection.
Healing is known alongside suffering.
Those who claim that healing always does away with suffering want a Christ of the resurrection without a Christ of the cross.An emphasis upon triumph alone is likely to lead to four results among those who are not healed.They may live in denial,pretending to be healed and hiding their symptoms or the drugs on which they continue to depend.They may live in guilt,assuming they have somehow failed God,so that their continued sickness is some kind of punishment or rebuke.They may sink from disappointment into cynicism,no longer believing in their church ’s rhetoric or even in God ’s power to heal anyone at all.Or they may embark on an endless quest to find Rev.Right whose anointed prayers will deliver the guaranteed healing into their life.
Healing can make suffering harder. Suffering is a terrible mystery.We don ’t know and can ’t understand why some suffer greatly,some die prematurely and others live with great disappointments or under the shadow of long-term depression.If no-one suffered,there ’d be no problem of suffering.If everyone was healed,there ’d still be a problem of suffering,but at least there would be a guaranteed escape. But when some are healed while others continue to suffer,the problem and mystery of suffering become even greater.We rejoice with the couple who have been able to conceive at last.But we weep with the couple,longing just as much for children,who must endure lifelong infertility.
Healing speaks of mystery and hiddenness. If we could guarantee 100%success,if our prayer techniques unfailingly delivered the goods,we would inhabit a very different kind of world,in which healings would flow from prayer as certainly as water when we turn on a tap.Faith in the real world has to face up to the mystery of God.Because Jesus is Lord,sovereign and free,he cannot be a divine butler to our prayers.The first Christians rapidly discovered that faith was not about the trappings of a prosperous life,totally immune to every sickness and adversity. We have to face the hiddenness of God: we believe in his love but we cannot be sure how our prayers will be answered. Faith means holding onto the unseen God,not only when someone is wonderfully healed,but especially when we face Good Friday experiences of persecution, vulnerability,seeming abandonment by God,and imminent death.
Healing speaks of dying well, not of never dying.
To hear some Christians speak,you would think no one was ever healed.To hear other Christians speak,you would think no true believer has ever faced pro- longed suffering.When I pray with some- one who is near to death,I may pray the ancient prayer of God ’s presence:“God be in my head and in my understand- ing...God be at my end,and at my departing.”Or maybe the prayer of Simeon - “Lord now let your servant depart in peace.”Here the healing is not from death,but from the fear of death. I remember Liesl,stricken with a cancer that ravaged her with devastating speed.She didn ’t want to die,even though she knew she was dying.In her fear of death,she wanted to deny the inescapable reality.As we prayed,she was released from fear,trusting anew in her Saviour ’s tender care,even in the shadow of death.I suspect those caring for the dying in a hospice often know far more of God ’s healing presence than those filled with boasting rhetoric that one day they ’ll raise the dead.
The crucified healer
For as long as the church exists,there ’ll be extremism.But here are three extremes for the church to avoid when it comes to healing.
1. A one dimensional rationalism
In this kind of church,the Word is preached faithfully,the mind is used actively,but no one ever prays for healing.We swap the wholeness of Christ for the narrowness of a religion in which there is little hope for the sick this side of the grave.
2. Hype and unreality
In this kind of church,healing is forever being trumpeted.The arrival of total healing is promised just around the next corner.But the glorious church of 100%success is a tomorrow that will never come. Hype is a religious tranquilizer,numbing us to the harsh realities of the real world in which Jesus called us to live and serve.
3. A therapy-centred church
We all have unmet needs,pressures and uncertainties in our lives,and it ’s good to pray about them.But we also need a sense of perspective.Many of the needs prayed about in Western churches are very low priorities for people in the developing world where survival is a pressing daily issue.We can become self-indulgent, self-obsessed, so pre-occupied with our own needs that we forget the principle of Jesus:with the measure we give,we receive.The gift of wholeness and fulfillment is sometimes found not in receiving more prayer,but in learning to serve others more willingly.
Naive idealism can push the Christian towards unreality,looking for too much, too soon:of the things of heaven we only have a foretaste here on earth. World- weary cynicism can box the Christian too narrowly,pigeon-holed by unbelief and failing to enter into the fullness of all that is ours in Christ.What we need is biblical realism.Biblical because we want to embrace the full biblical inheritance,in all its richness and complexity,desiring neither more nor less than all the Bible offers us in Christ. Realism because we need to purge ourselves of all unbiblical fantasies and inflated rhetoric,growing in authentic faith in the real world.
Mark wrote a Gospel of two halves.In the first we see Jesus the Wonder Worker, astonishing both his followers and the crowds with his demonstrations of divine might.Sickness,demons,even the wind and waves,all bow before his authority. Here is the “charismatic Jesus ”,full of wonders and power.In the second half we see Jesus journeying to the cross.Here is the “suffering Jesus ”,still teaching and healing,but resolutely walking with God towards certain execution in Jerusalem. So why didn ’t Jesus wield divine power to crush the forces of the Roman Empire and respectable religion?That ’s what Peter wanted of him,and the crowds we remember on Palm Sunday expected much the same.But Jesus was demonstrating a more profound truth. The way of the Anointed King is the way of the Suffering Servant.The way of God ’s glory is the way of the cross. The triumph of love is found not in military might,nor in supernatural power, but in self-emptying service. If we really want to be disciples,Mark insists,we must join Jesus on the Great Journey of discipleship.We may be fortunate to delight in great privileges of healing,but sooner or later we are sure to face our share of suffering.Yes,Jesus is the mighty healer.But the centre of gravity, the pivot of discipleship,the defining point of divine revelation,this is not found in Jesus ’overcoming leprosy and blindness,paralysis and dumbness.If we want to know the heart of God,we must discover the journey of discipleship in the way of the cross.Healing is a glorious, mysterious,sometimes perplexing,gift of God.We would not be without it.But centre stage in Christian faith should always be Christ ’s cross.