In this extract from his latest book ‘Jesus Safe Tender Extreme’, best selling author Adrian Plass gets angry and sad about healing frauds, but rejoices over genuine healings.
As far as I can see, not many people are healed by God. I hear a lot of talk about healing as I travel around the country and the world, and I read a great deal about something called holistic healing, which, as far as I can see, means that nobody gets healed but a lot of very serious nodding happens. I visited a Christian healing centre a few years ago and asked if anyone had actually been healed there. The person I was speaking to smiled enigmatically and replied, "Well, it depends what you mean by healing." "Oh, right," I said, a little taken aback. "I suppose I mean one minute someone is sick or injured, and the next minute, or not very long afterwards, they're not. Like when Jesus was here. Lepers and blind men. That sort of thing." "What you need to understand," explained the man, "is that we like to feel here we're setting out to heal the whole person, body, spirit, and mind." "I see; so would that include the whole person's elbow if it wasn't working properly?" He thought for a moment, then shook his head. "I don't think we've had any actual physical healings of that sort, but there was a lady whose recuperation period was significantly shortened ..." Investigations into dramatic healing ministries have all too often come to very depressing conclusions. I am filled with anger and sadness when I think of vulnerable people flocking into vast arenas in the forlorn hope that some outshy;rageously confident showman, who, for most of them, is just a dot in the far distance, will somehow release the power of divine healing into their lives. I wish every blessing on those who have genuine healing ministries, but I pray that God will convict all who know in their heart of hearts that they are frauds, preying on the same kinds of crowds that inspired such practical compassion in Jesus. It is difficult to imagine a more terrible, devilish cruelty than offering the certainty of healing to sufferers when that promise is nothing but a lie and an illusion. The truth about healing is so easily obscured. I have conshy;tributed to this obfuscation many times and have always felt like kicking myself afterwards. Someone tells me that her brother's friend's first cousin has been healed of an incurable disease, and I smile and nod vaguely because it feels unkind and uncomfortable to question or contradict what is being said, even though everything in me is saying that no miracushy;lous healing has been involved. And, you may ask, what is so terribly wrong with vague agreement? God gets the glory, and we're all a bit happier, surely. What's the matter with that? Well, the blindingly obvishy;ous fact is that God doesn't want the glory for a miracle that he didn't do. Thank him with all your heart for recovery from illness or any other good thing that happens, by all means, because all good things come from him anyway, but let us not play even well-meaning games with the supernatural power of God. The kind of pathetic response that I just described has the effect of diluting and distracting from the genuine healing ministry of the Holy Spirit, and we don't want that, do we? When my leg is hurting... In many parts of the church, there is a vague assumption that only deficiencies in technique and approach prevent us from seeing the kind of healings that we read about in the gospels. Perhaps a little tinkering with the controls is all that is necessary. It is easy to fall into this trap on a personal level. When I came to write this section, I realised the extent to which I have done it myself lately because my leg has been in pain. At its most absurd it goes like this: Phase one: My leg is hurting, so I ask God if he will be kind enough to heal it. He doesn't -except by the definition of our holistic friends, who would want to point out that my mind and spirit are okay, and wouldn't I agree that two out of three ain't bad? I would point out to them with some asperity that it wasn't my mind or spirit that I injured when I fell in the bath. Phase two: My leg is still hurting, but I have remembered a book written back in the sixties by somebody whose name I've forgotten, who said that if we praise God loudly for answershy;ing our prayers even though he hasn't yet, then he will. I go quite a long way to a secluded spot and praise God loudly and at length for healing my leg. I have to get an expensive taxi back from the secluded spot because my leg is in so much pain after walking all the way to the secluded spot. Phase three: My leg is still hurting. I recall a preacher sayshy;ing that you have to "lay hold" of promises from the Bible. Good idea. I decide to "lay hold" of the promise in that bit about your father not giving you a stone when you ask for a fish. I ask for my leg to be healed and briefly remind God of his promise in case he has forgotten it. He doesn't give me a stone, but he doesn't do anything about my leg either. Not even a fish. Not so much as a sardine. Phase four: My leg is still hurting, but I realise how silly I've been. In the gospels Jesus nearly always forgave people's sins before healing their bodies. Of course he did! On the way up to town to do some shopping, I confess as many sins as I can think of. I end up trailing dismally around the supershy;market, overwhelmed by the weight of my revealed sins and my shopping, not made easier by the fact that my leg keeps giving way. Phase five: My leg is still hurting. On the way back from the shops, I realise how spiritually timid I have been in this matter. For goodness' sake! What is the matter with me? I am a child of the Most High, a dweller in the kingdom of God. I decide to take dominion over the pain in my body with all the authority at my disposal. It might have worked except that someone came round the corner just as I was in the middle of shouting commands at my own leg. Absolutely nothing I could say. Lurched home. Phase six: My leg is still hurting, but it strikes me that Jesus was always telling people that their faith had made them whole. In his hometown he was able to do very few miracles because the locals lacked belief. I confess my unbeshy;lief and pray for increased faith. It occurs to me that I should have mentioned my leg. I decide to give up all this getting healed business. From now on, I announce to God, I shall just trust that you will give me what I need without complaining that you haven't given me what I want. I am secretly hoping he will be so pleased by this surrender to his will that he will heal my leg as a reward. He doesn't. Phase seven: My leg is still hurting. I ask God to disregard all previous communications regarding my leg. Let it be as though I never mentioned my leg and the fact that it hurts. A blank sheet. A clean slate. A fresh approach. A new beginshy;ning. A healed leg? Apparently not. Phase eight: My leg really hurts. All right, I'm getting a bit annoyed now. What do you have to do to get a bit of healshy;ing action around here? Nothing I say or don't say seems to make any difference. I have to assume either that God doesn't exist after all or that he doesn't want my leg to be healed. If things don't soon improve, I might have to give in and go to the doctor... You may think this sounds ludicrously exaggerated and childshy;ish. Well, it is a bit, but I am afraid that it is not a million miles from the truth as far as I am concerned. How about you? Truth, obedience and God So, having said all these rather negative things, where do I stand on the whole issue of healing? I have no doubt that there are some who, having read what I have said so far, would dearly love to break through onto the screen of my computer so that they can tell me about their own very specific and well-documented healing. There will be others wanting to describe the ministry they are involved in where hundreds of people are healed and the power of God is manishy;fested visibly every hour or day or week or month. Please don't trouble. Despite what I have said, I do not need to be persuaded that this is the case. I welcome and rejoice in every true account of miraculous healing that I hear. Despite the fact that my leg still hurts (are you listening, Lord?) I believe with all my heart that God can heal, wants to heal, does heal, and will heal much more through his church in the years to come. My lack of trust is not in God but in men and women, a view shared by Jesus himself, as we learn from the second chapter of John's gospel. Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man. (2:23-25) I am one of these men the passage refers to, and so I know how easy it is to delude myself. All I am asking is that we should try to tell the truth. Hear are some points that might be worth considering. First, in the twelfth chapter of the first book of Corinshy;thians, Paul asks the rhetorical question ‘Do all have gifts of healing?’ thus implying that some do not. In the same chapter he lists healing as a very specific gift, occurring in the same list as wisdom, tongues, prophecy, and others. Perhaps each of us should be asking God if this is a specific gift that he might wish to give us, and if so, what we should do about it. Second, John Wimber, for whom I had the greatest respect, was obliged by the Holy Spirit as a matter of obedience to preach about the efficacy of healing for a year. During that time none of the people who came to him for prayer were healed, and, in fact, quite a number of them died. It was only after twelve months of faithfully doing what he was told that a dramatic change occurred and 75% of sufferers found healing. How much do we really want to see healing in our churches? No two people will take exactly the same path, but it does look as if God is likely to demand that we take these things seriously. Third, whatever we may say about a specific gift, or about Wimber's year-long commitment, the most dramatic and instantaneous healing that I know of occurred when a new Christian heard the Holy Spirit whisper in her ear as she sat in a meeting. She was brave and obedient enough to take the healing hands of Jesus to a friend of ours, named Jenny, who was speaking from the front, and was rewarded by witnessshy;ing a quite remarkable physical transformation. Jenny had suffered from a chronic inflamation of the joints that had confined her to a wheelchair for several years. Many well-meaning people had prayed for her, some proclaimshy;ing boldly that she would be healed instantly. All had been wrong. On this occasion, however, in the course of a meetshy;ing that she was leading, Jenny was not just "significantly improved", nor "lifted in her spirits", nor "upheld in her sufshy;fering", but totally, unequivocally, and indisputably healed of her physical ailment. After a brief excursion to the washroom to recover from her recovery, as it were, she returned to the front of the hall and late, on her return home, lifted her own wheelchair out of the car. Why Jenny? Why then? Why not before? Don't ask me. I don't know. What I do know is that the girl who had prayed for this miracle was not particularly confident; in fact, she was probably more amazed than anyone else by the outcome of her prayer. She simply heard the command of the Holy Spirit, and she obeyed it. That, surely, is the important lesson for you and me. If I am a follower of Jesus, I may be required to follow him suddenly and unexpectedly to a place where I have never been before, and depending on the will of God, I may or may not go there again in the future. The obedience is what counts. Look at your hands. Go on, do look at them. Are they his, or are they yours? Fourth, and perhaps most important, as my third point illustrates, God is in charge. He will do what he will do when he wants to do it. He will heal whom he will heal. He will not heal whom he will not heal (including legs). You may study Scripture until you are blue in the face, as some colourshy;ful characters have done, and come up with the most careshy;fully organised theology of healing that the human brain is capable of assembling. What you will never manage to do is put together a book of rules and techniques that can turn miraculous healing into some kind of measurable or quantifiable science. Under laboratory conditions it just disappears. Thank God for that, I say. I want a wise Father, not an effishy;cient medical administrator. As we look to Jesus, we see in the New Testament how he healed hundreds of people in the course of his ministry. There are these two passages from the gospel of Mark for a start, one in the first chapter and one in the sixth. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. (1:32-34) When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognised him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (6:53-56 NRSV) The healing just flowed, didn't it? Because Jesus was there, and because he cared and because the power was in him, people only had to touch the edge of his cloak and they were made better. The very air must have hummed with the posshy;sibility and prospect of healing and health. So thrilling! The disciples had the same experience after he gave them authority to go out in pairs and have a go without him. Jesus told them to take the good news and to heal. That's exactly what they did. They came back, filled with excitement, to tell him that even the demons had submitted to them. Is that what Jesus wants for us? Should the healing still be flowing, and if it should, how can we help to make it possible? We don't want to mess about and play games over this. If our thinking is wrong, we want to look to Jesus to put it right. If we have become lazy and are failing to apply ourselves serishy;ously enough to the issue, we ask Jesus to discipline us and strengthen our commitment. If our relationship with him has atrophied and become loveless, we ask him to help us regain that closeness and subsequently the compassion for others that might make healing possible. For whatever he wants, we want it, or at the very least, we want to want it. For he was and is the Great Healer. Extracted with permission from ‘Jesus Safe Tender Extreme’ by Adrian Plass, published by Zondervan (£8.99) 0310268990