We have seen that Jesus healed everybody who came to Him requesting healing and that He cured all those to whom the Father sent Him. But the rest of the New Testament is not a record of unbroken success. There are at least four references which may imply either unsuccessful or unattempted ministry for healing.
In 2 Timothy 4:20, Paul sadly records, “But Trophimus I have left in Miletus sick.” (Trophimus the Ephesian is mentioned twice in Acts as a trusted travelling companion of Paul). In 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul does not instruct his protégé Timothy to pray or have hands laid on him. Instead he urges him to “no longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.” Paul may have been writing about a personal ailment in Galatians 4:13-14, “You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject.” Finally, in Philippians 2:27, Paul records that the messenger Epaphroditus, “was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him.” Does this mean that Epaphroditus was miraculously healed, or is a slow, natural recovery a more likely explanation?
It is interesting to note that these four sick men were all servants of God and that Paul does not record any reason for their lack of healing. Their stories should be some small solace to us when we are faced with similar situations.
Disappointment is bound, at times, to face those of us who commit ourselves to the ministry of healing. There will be some people who are not healed, others whose initial healing lapses and a few who are half healed and then make no further progress. There are many questions about this puzzle and few answers in this life.
Sometimes, as I have suggested, the cure of our pride will be higher on God’s agenda than the healing of the person’s disease. In other instances, we will mishear God. There are bound to be a few occasions when we act out of human enthusiasm or because of worldly pressure. And there will be times when we have not prayed enough or have been distracted by materialism or unnecessary worries.
We might have been ambitious, impatient or fascinated by spiritual phenomena. We might have been concerned to stay safe in a narrow tradition or have experimented with unbiblical matters. We might have given up after a setback, exaggerated with false claims or, worst of all, we might have blamed the sick person for the failure and have pretended that sin or lack of faith was the reason for the disappointment. Blame God, if you must. Blame the devil, if that is what you really believe. Blame yourself, if you have to. But never, ever blame the sick person.
All too often, believers who are involved in the healing ministry imply, either by innuendo or silence or because they are embarrassed, that the failure is somehow the responsibility of the one they have prayed for rather than theirs. They hint that the person did not have enough faith or was perhaps a little bit rebellious, or maybe did not really want to be completely healed. All of these are theoretical possibilities, but they are rarely the truth.
In one sense, it can never be right to say that nothing has happened. With God nothing is impossible, so if we have spoken His words, radiated His love and performed His actions, something must have taken place. The gifts of our time and attention, our words and gestures, our prayers and practical caring all have healing value. This does not ignore the question of why physical healing has not taken place, rather, it negates the pretence that nothing has happened.
Sometimes, as with many of the Old Testament stories we examined in Part Two, the appreciation of the healing is delayed. At other times, the actual healing is gradual, as with Naaman, the Shunammite’s son, and the blind man in Mark 8. In cases like these there is no scriptural authority for suggesting that people should be urged to “believe” God for a fuller healing than they are actually experiencing. The participants in these stories were not urged to intensify or quicken the healing by praise or belief. They were simply asked to obey God.
“Believism” is pretending, or trying to believe, that we are healed. Real faith is something quite different. Matthew 13:58 informs us that Jesus did not work many miracles in Nazareth because of the general lack of faith, but it does not say that He tried to work miracles and failed. The Scriptures do suggest that Jesus found the presence of faith in some people to be quite remarkable. There is no record, however, that Christ ever informed people that they could not be healed because they lacked faith or belief, though He did explain to the disciples that their lack of faith was preventing a boy from being healed.
The mere fact that a person comes to Christ requesting healing demonstrates faith. We do not need to imagine the person into being cured or even to be thoroughly convinced ourselves that healing will take place, or to urge anyone to manufacture healing through spiritual willpower. We are only called to speak God’s words, to perform His actions and to be full of his overwhelming willingness to heal.
The truth is that people are sometimes not healed when we are absolutely certain that they will be and that they may be healed when we are full of doubt and uncertainty. Unfortunately, we can never eliminate some degree of mystery from divine healing!
Some people turn to the Christian healing ministry only when a loved one is dying and then see death as a failure. But, for believers, death is always the full and perfect healing and those who are involved in this ministry must have an adequate theology of death. We must celebrate the fact that Christ is as active in our dying as He is in healing and that there can be miraculous deaths as well as wonderful cures!
In the early chapters of Part Three, we thought about the fulfilment of healing, the total transformation which will take place at the day of resurrection. We saw that, somehow, we need to find the right balance between insisting that God does heal today and pointing people to the promised healing still to come. This means that we can look sick believers straight in the eye and promise them that they will be wonderfully healed. We can issue them with an unconditional guarantee that their pain and suffering will cease and that their broken body will be transformed. We do not always know when they will be healed, but we know that they will be.
In Christ, there is unlimited hope for healing, both now and in the future, and we need to encourage people to embrace every element of divine healing. They might not be healed now in the way that they hope, but they can be certain that in Christ and because of the cross, they will be.
We must, however, be careful how we urge people to receive God’s healing. There are many disabled people today who avoid Pentecostal and charismatic churches because of the insensitive treatment that they have received. I know that the Bible refers to “the blind”, “the deaf” and “the lame”, but it is completely unacceptable for us today to personify people by their disabilities in this way.
It is just not good enough for Christians to be eager to pray for people in wheelchairs but unwilling to install the slopes and special facilities they need. If our ministry of healing means that we genuinely care for “the disabled”, we will get involved in disability issues. We will help them on their terms and in the way that they seek; we will not presume that we know what they need or want. Some disabled groups campaign outside Christian healing meetings under the slogan, “Rights, not miracles”. I often want to stand with them and hold up a banner proclaiming, “Rights and miracles”!
Some believers seem to be in greater need of emotional healing than the disabled are of physical healing and we need to have a healing attitude which does not make people feel conspicuous, uncomfortable or unaccepted in their disability. We should not automatically assume that they are aching for physical healing or that they lead lives which are unfulfilled. Please remember that a person who is physically or mentally handicapped is as much in God’s image as a talented gymnast or a gifted dancer. We must respect each person’s individual humanity and value the special contribution each person can make, but we must also sensitively encourage everyone to look to the loving hands of Yahweh Rapha.
It would be easy to give the impression that every person I have ever prayed for has always been instantly healed or that the healing ministry at Kensington Temple is the greatest thing since the book of Acts. God has been gracious and I have seen Him work in quite wonderful ways, but I always return home and weep about the multitude of sick folk who have not received their healing. By writing about my daughter, I have tried to show that my partnership with God is rooted in pain and I know what it is to endure the daily domestic struggle with the practical issues of disability and hardship. I know what it feels like to face disappointment and to be bewildered by God’s sovereignty.
So it is from my experience in the whole area of helping the unhealed that I make the following suggestions of things that we can say and do when, after much ministry, an expected cure has still not taken place. As with the other suggestions I have made, please do not follow these slavishly, ask the Spirit to shape them to your own situation.
1. Have a prayerful de-briefing with your team and go through the steps you took in ministry. Try and find out whether you were obedient to every prompting. Establish if you made any mistakes or omissions.
2. Talk and pray about the whole matter with somebody who is more experienced than you in the healing ministry and ask for suggestions. If anything emerges from the process of de-briefing and seeking advice, arrange to see the person you ministered to again.
3. Pray and fast for guidance on your own. Ask God why the person was not healed.
4. Praise God with the person for the time of fellowship and prayer that you spent together. Point out that they are no worse off than before the prayer and help them to appreciate the care and love of the people around. Remind them that the healing God is with them and cares for them.
5. Establish one thing that you have learnt from the episode and explain it to the person. Find out what the sick person learnt through the ministry and praise God together for the insight. If other people were healed, encourage the person to praise God for the healings instead of wondering why they were not healed.
6. If the person you were ministering to is a Christian, encourage them to join you, or somebody else, in healing prayer for others. Point out that Elijah was healed of his depression by carrying out the three tasks he was given to perform.
7. Remind yourself that you are part of a battle, that the enemy is implacably opposed to healing, but that he has been defeated on the cross and will be destroyed at the last day.
8. Make sure that neither you nor the person feels guilty about the lack of healing. Explain that God’s priority is often to prune the healing partner’s reputation and pride and laugh together about this.
9. Remind the person that Jesus’ main purpose in supernatural healing is to point people to the reality of the kingdom rather than to give them a few more healthy years on earth. Show that Jesus does care about our bodies, but that He is more concerned about our eternal health and our full salvation. Encourage the person to take one more step towards God.
10. Send a short note thanking the sick person for giving the time, promising your continued prayers for healing and suggesting something helpful to read from the Scriptures. Encourage the person to meditate on God’s biblical healing promises and to apply them.
Some people, especially new Christians, do not know how to handle biblical promises and it may be useful to indicate a way of applying God’s words. For example, a man suffering from, say, asthma, could use Matthew 8:2- 3 in the following way.
He could be asked to sit quietly and to read the simple story several times. He could then be encouraged to imagine the scene and to “see” the leper coming to Jesus and being cleansed. Next, he could personalise the story by applying it to himself in this way: “And behold, I came and worshipped Jesus, saying, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me whole.’ Then Jesus put out his hand and touched me, saying, ‘I am willing, be made whole.’ And immediately my asthma was healed.” Finally, he can thank Yahweh Rapha for being with him and for guaranteeing his healing. This is, however, only one way of personalising God’s Word and it is not a healing technique.
The Bible is packed with promises and we can help people to apply all of them in a similar way. The references to many of these were given in Part Two, but we can also encourage people to use some of these verses:
- Exodus 15:26
- Deuteronomy 5:33, 7:15
- 2 Chronicles 30:20
- Job 5:26
- Psalm 23:1-2, 34:19-20, 41:3, 91:10-16, 103:1-3, 107:20, 116:8, 145:14, 146:8, 147:3
- Proverbs 3:7-10, 4:20-23, 9:10-11, 16:24, 17:22
- Isaiah 32:3, 35:5, 40:31, 41:10, 53:4-5, 58:8
- Jeremiah 17:14, 30:17
- Ezekiel 16:6
- Hosea 13:14
- Matthew 10:1, 11:4-5
- Romans 8:11, 32
- 1 Thessalonians 5:23
- 2 Timothy 1:7
- Hebrews 12:12-13, 13:8
- 1 John 3:8
- 3 John 1:2
- Revelation 22:1-4
Although we should urge people to go on praying for their healing and to go on claiming God’s promises for healing, we should not neglect to remind them to be hungrier for the Healer than for their healing. We have to recognise that, ultimately, healing is not the great hope of the unhealed, Jesus is. In the middle of all our pain and problems, all our disappointments and difficulties, our only hope of inner peace and contentment is to keep our attention tightly focused on Jesus and on His overwhelming love for us. He is the only rock which will stand when everything else collapses around us.
If we are preoccupied with healing, we will never be whole and we will never know peace. But if our goal is God Himself, we will find that Yahweh Rapha soon embraces us in His gentle healing arms.