What About Physical Healing?
Regarding physical healings—Does God gift people with the ability to heal physical ailments today? Thoughts on “healing”? Revivals? Thanks!
Question from Casas’ “What’s Next Class”
Dear Ms. WNC,
The gift of healing is one of the spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14. I do believe that all of the spiritual gifts are still operational today; therefore , I am certain that there are people who have the gift of healing. The gift of healing is the ability to lay hands on these who are sick and they are healed from their illness. I have yet to meet someone who is to operate in that gift with 100% success. However, I have met some who feel that they have the gift of healing and I have noticed that their prayers seem more effective than others.
I often view the spiritual gifts as being like a toolbox. God allows us to pull out just the right tool for use when we need them. In other words, I many not have healing as a primary gift but at times God might want me to pull the healing tool out of the box and use it.
Let me share with you some healing observations from forty years of ministry regarding physical healings.
My first healing experience occurred early in my ministry. Rhonda had suffered for years with left over pain from radiation burns to her back and spine from the early days when using radiation to eradicate cancer was not yet a precise procedure.
She opened her Bible and read from James 5:14-15: “Is anyone of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.”
“Would you please gather the elders and pray for me?” she asked. Unfortunately, it was not that simple.
I grew up in a denomination that ill-prepared me for her request. The unwritten, but strongly implied rule of our denominational culture, stated that pastors who ministered in the area of healing were “charismatic” at best, and deluded at worst. Also, our churches were organized around deacons; we had no elders. Furthermore, I was not sure what a “prayer of faith” was. Finally, I had never anointed anyone with oil and was not certain how to do it. Obviously, we never discussed the “how tos” of James 5:14-15 in seminary.
“Sally, you’re the first person to ask me to pray for healing according to James five. I am not certain what to do.” I explained my pastoral dilemma and then proposed a solution: “I suggest that we both pray and fast for five days. I’ll meet you in my office next Friday afternoon, and if God tells us to proceed, we will.” She agreed to the proposal.
Five days later we both wrote on paper what we thought God told us and then exchanged papers. The conclusions were identical. We made plans for a healing service on Sunday afternoon. Since we had no elders I invited our deacons.
During the thirty minutes before Sally arrived, I explained to the deacons her request, the background to her pain, and what I knew of James 5:14-15. I asked if any one had participated in a healing service before. No hands rose.
When Sally arrived, we asked her to confess any known sins. When she finished I took the bottle from Lucky’s Supermarket and prepared to pour olive oil over her head. One of the deacons averted a mess when he shook his head and whispered that a drop on a finger applied lightly to her forehead might work better. We took turns passing the bottle, anointing her with oil, and praying for her.
I wondered if perhaps Sally would now leap up like on television and shout, “Glory to God! I’m healed!” But nothing happened. As she quietly departed, she thanked us for our prayers and left a room filled with emotions of disappointed confusion, mixed with some measure of hope.
Unknown to us, the healing service had moved to another time and place. In the early morning hours, Sally was awakened by a strange sensation and knew instantly that she was healed. By the time she was out of bed, the pain was gone—never to return. Later Sally shared what happened that night in her bedroom: “I think that the reason God did not heal me in front of the deacons was because they might get proud. I think God waited until I was alone so He would get all the glory.”
From that inauspicious beginning God integrated a physical healing ministry into our church fabric. Since my encounter with Sally, God has spoken to me about a theology of healing which is fashioned upon a Biblical foundation, a solid dose of practical reality, and hours spent asking Him what to do in all sorts of complex situations.
1. Mistakes will happen in praying for healing, but the risks are worth it.
Healing prayers are personally risky. When my prayers were not answered, I dealt with feelings of failure and embarrassment. Some people got well, and some died. I was exhiliarted when some lived; I was embarrassed when some died.
Once I prayed something I knew in my inner spirit would not happen; but I prayed anyway because I wanted to give hope and encouragement. Ten of us were praying for a young mother whose breast cancer was raging out of control. When the cancer was discovered early in her pregnancy, the doctors recommended an immediate abortion because chemotherapy would kill the unborn baby. At great risk to herself, she delayed the treatments and carried her child to a successful, full-term birth.
Unfortunately, the delay proved costly. Mom was dying as we gathered to pray the prayers of James 5. As I dipped my finger in the oil and placed it gently on her forehead, I knew deep in my spirit that she was going to die. Nevertheless, I prayed earnestly for God’s healing and thanked God in advance that all would be well. What came over me? Several months later I stood in deep snow in a lonely country cemetery in Northern Arizona with her widowed husband and three children as they lowered her casket into the grave.
That was not the first mistake I made praying healing prayers. Nor will it be the last. However, the risk of a few embarrassing incidents is small compared to the joys and benefits of God-honoring success. I am convinced that many people who would have remained sick got healed because we followed the explicit instructions of James five.
2. Intelligent praying for the sick requires an interactive understanding of God’s plan.
It is not always God’s will to heal. He sometimes has other things in mind. In John 9 Jesus healed a man born blind: His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God may be displayed in his life.”
The Apostle Paul accomplished some powerful healing and resurrection miracles; however, he did not do it every time. He could not help his sick friend Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-27). He left Trophimus sick at Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20). Instead of sending Timothy to the local faith healer, Paul told him to drink a little wine for his stomach troubles. When Paul was unable find relief from his thorn, God sent Dr. Luke as his companion.
Just because someone is sick does not mean it is God’s will to heal them. Some sickness to mature us to look like Jesus. Some are discipline for sin. Some are unto death. It is time to die. My first child, Jessie, was born to die. I believe that God used her short life to bring glory to God. God never guarantees anyone a set number of years. Some live to the ripe, old age of eighty-five. Others fulfill their life destiny by the age of two. The woman who told us that if we just had enough faith our daughter would be healed was clueless.
3. The James five prayer of faith can be exercised only with an understanding of God’s will and intentions.
After many experiences of praying for the sick, God demonstrated to me that the prayer of faith does not demand a leap into the unknown. It is not positive thinking. It does not mean to believe something so strongly that we make it come true—or that God must do what we believe. The prayer of faith does not rest on human emotions, feelings or desires. It is based on a word from God. In every case the heroes of Hebrews eleven based their faith on a word they heard from God. The prayer of faith is no different.By definition, it is not possible to pray in faith when there has been no word from God. However, on those occasions when God makes His will clearly known, I find it exciting to pray—and watch God work.
My first attempt at praying a prayer of faith occurred when a young mother was rushed to the hospital with a brain aneurysm. As I walked down the hospital corridor, I contemplated what words of comfort to share with her and just how to pray about her situation. I paused outside her door and sought help from God. Several moments later I had a deep inner impression that she was going to be fine. In my innermost being I sensed God say that Rhonda’s sickness was not unto death. She would survive with no complications and live to raise her children. An intense mental struggled ensued: “Was God really speaking to me? Was I just making this up? What if I told her what I heard and she died, I would look like a fool.” However, I could not ignore that immediately after I asked God how to handle this situation, I got an instant response.
Rhonda was awake, alert and afraid. “Surgery is scheduled for Monday,” she said. “The doctors want the swelling to subside before they operate. There is no guarantee that the artery will hold until then.” Fear filled her eyes.
With all the courage I had I looked into those eyes and said, “Rhonda, God told me that your sickness is not unto death. Whether the doctors will operate on Monday or not, I don’t know; but, you are going to be fine. Be at peace. All is well.” Never had I said words as bold and direct these. The sense of embarrassment and risk diminished as I began praying for her healing with no “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts.” I reminded God that she had young children to raise, and there was no reason I could see why she should not be allowed to raise them. Besides, God told me she was going to be fine. My prayer of faith rested on hearing a word from God.
Rhonda’s surgery on Monday was a complete success. In the twenty years since we prayed together she has led a relatively normal life. Her daughters are grown and married. She is alive and well.
The truth is, I usually have no idea what God intends when I pray alone or with our elders (we have some now) for the sick. In those cases I pray a standard prayer based on James 4:2 (“You do not have because you do not ask God.”). I always ask God for a full recovery with no problems or long-term complications. I want no one to miss out on God’s blessing because we failed to ask: “Father, you told us we could ask, so we did.” Then, I pray for submission to God’s will: “Now, since we do not know Your will in this case, we submit to what You have in mind. Your will be done.” Finally, I ask God to pour in the power of Christ and strengthen the family for any situation.
4. Prayers for healing are not intended to replace medical attention.
Going to a doctor does not invalidate earnest faith. Occasionally I encounter Christians who are afraid that seeking medical help symbolizes a lack of faith. These people need instruction.
Evangelicals seem divided as to the meaning of the anointing oil in James five. Some anoint with oil as a sacred symbol of the Holy Spirit. Others believe that the oil represented good, first century, medicine. James may well have had both meanings in mind. Two extremes are to be avoided. One extreme is to pray with faith and refuse medical attention. The other extreme is to resort to medical help and never pray.
God taught me a hard lesson about this. After suffering with an intestinal disease for almost a decade, I decided during seminary to pray in faith for God’s healing. As a young, idealistic student, searching for the boundaries of practical Christianity, I reasoned that taking cortisone and sulfa drugs was a sign of unbelief. I told God that I would stop taking my medicine and place my full faith in Him for my healing. In less than a month I was hospitalized, and shortly thereafter the surgeon removed my entire colon. My “faith” was sinful, misguided presumption: “Thou shalt not put the Lord your God to the test.” I encourage people to pray hard and seek the best medical help they can find. Faith plus modern medicine is often a good prescription for healing.
5. God heals in a variety of ways.
I wish someone had explained to me before we prayed for pain-racked Rhonda why “gifts of healings,” as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:9, is a double plural. Then I would not have been disappointed when she did not jump up healed. After many prayers I have learned that God uses a variety of healing methods—some immediate and some resolving over time.
The Bible demonstrates that God’s healing hand moves with diversity. Occasionally healing is spoken directly. Peter said to the lame man, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). Sometimes hands are laid on the sick: “His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went into see him and, after prayer, placed hands on him and healed him” (Acts 28:8). Sometimes a healing occurs immediately, like with the man born blind (John 9:1-41). Sometimes it takes a while, like when Jesus healed a blind man and the job was only half finished: “I see men as trees walking” (Mark 8:24). Jesus then went on to finish the job.
My favorite unusual divine healing happened one Sunday evening after church. A medical student approached me in tears. Cancerous lesions were on her cervix and she was meeting with her doctor in the morning to plan a course of action. Judy stood with her husband and poured out to me her fears of pain, suffering and possible death. As a medical student she knew better than most the risks and complications involved. If she did live, she may never have children. She wanted prayer according to James five.
I invited several spiritual men and women to a corner of our now deserted church auditorium to pray for her healing. When we finished both she and her husband, Bill, thanked us and departed.
The next morning Bill called. “You’ll never guess what happened after we got home,” he said. “We were discussing the prayer time and Rhonda said, ‘I felt God’s power on me tonight. Wasn’t that exciting when the lighting crew turned that bright spotlight on me when Roger began to pray?’
“I said to her, ‘What spotlight? Nobody turned on any bright light.’
“She said to me, ‘Oh, yes, there was a light. You mean you did not see the light?’
‘”No,’ I replied. ‘I did not see any bright light.’ That’s when we realized the tech crew had gone home much earlier. The bright light had to be from God.”
The lesions were gone. She needed no surgery, no therapy, no treatment. She finished medical school, internship, and residency. Rhonda and Bill have two healthy children. She is a pediatrician and testifies to a living God who loves to heal.
6. Healing is a ministry tool to help hurting people.
A church that helps hurting people will always have a market. A large share of the market consists of people who are unhealthy or sick.
Healing is never put on ostentatious display in our church. We treat it as one of the tools in our ministry toolbox. Our goal is not to be known in town as the local healing church. So we keep it in perspective.
A young couple approached me after a worship service. “I want to encourage you with how God is working,” the husband began. “My wife is pregnant and having numerous complications. She just developed gestational diabetes. It is questionable whether or not the baby has damage. We were sitting in church, waiting for the service to begin, when a woman came over and wanted to pray for my wife and the baby. We were delighted. Suddenly she paused in her prayer and said, ‘I have this strange impression that I need to pray for your blood.’ She knew nothing of the diabetes.” He then continued, “You don’t know how frightened we are—and how comforting it is to come to church and have someone we have never seen minister to us in such a manner. Thanks.”
Healing is a divine tool for helping people in need. God has much to say through the ministry of healing to those He heals, those He does not, and those who do the praying.
I hope this answer is helpful to you. I will try to answer your question on revivals very soon.