A few weeks back a friend of mine died. She is only one of many friends that I have lost over the years to cancer. Quite truthfully, I hate cancer and I hate it when people die before their time and I’m sure I’m not alone in how I feel. However, her death brought me face to face with the reality of sickness and that got me thinking about what I would do if I got sick? I’ve never faced a terminal illness in my own life, so it’s easy for me to sit here and be an armchair critic on why people I once knew personally didn’t get healed, even though they prayed for healing. I realized that I needed to really question what I’ve both believed and been taught about healing.
I have always believed that Jesus wants to heal people because He tells us in the Gospels that He does. On three different occassions Jesus tells people “I am willing” to heal you when they ask him for healing. (Matthew 8:1-3, Mark 1:40-41, Luke 5:12-13) Scripture tells us in Hebrews 13:8-9 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines.” The writer of Hebrews is warning us that God never changes and to not be blown about by teachings that are different from the Bible. This doctrine that God is our healer is already present in the Old Testament. Exodus 15:26 says “I am the Lord your Healer”.
The real question then became, if I were tested in this area, what would I do? There is only one way to answer that, apart from actually getting sick and writing about it later, and that is to go back and look at all the stories of all those thousands of people who were healed in the Bible and try to find out if there is a common denominator. Have I, have we as the church, missed something? Is there a key that we somehow haven’t seen that unlocks this mystery? I invite you to join me on my journey of discovery.
The New Testament is full of stories of thousands of people who were healed by Jesus, and in some of those stories we are given the details of what happened. Each of those stories is unique and different. I began to realize that Jesus took the time with each person and dealt with them on an individual basis. Although it tells us that on some days Jesus healed all that were sick or diseased, I think that we make the assumption that those were mass healings, with no interaction with Him. For example in Luke 5:17 we read a story about a day when Jesus was teaching and Pharisees and teachers of the law had come from every town of Galilee, Judea and Jerusalem. “And the power of the Lord was present to heal them.” I would assume that anyone who wanted to be healed and had the faith to believe, could have been healed that day. Easy peasy right? I know that I’ve just assumed that He somehow waved His hand in the air, and poof, everyone was healed. But is that really what happened? I don’t think so.
Look at the story in Matthew 15:29-32 where Jesus gets up on a mountain, sat down and great multitudes came to Him to be healed. Matthew tells us that these people brought the lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others and they laid them down at Jesus’ feet, and He healed them. Imagine how long this must have taken. The line must have reached for miles, with people waiting for their turn. These people were bringing their parents, their children, and any and all family members that needed healing. In verse 32 Jesus tells His disciples that it had been 3 days and He had compassion on the crowd because they had nothing to eat. Think about it. It had been three days waiting in line, no food, no water, no bathrooms, you get the idea. Would I be willing to stand in line in the heat or the cold and wait for some faith healer to heal me? They couldn’t look Him up on the internet to see if He was legit. They were going on word of mouth. Someone they knew, or had met, had told them about Jesus. Would I wait that long in the hopes that this person named Jesus could heal me? I know I probably wouldn’t. I would have taken one look at that crowd and gone home. How do I know? Because I’ve done it in the past. Maybe I just wasn’t desperate enough to wait that long. Is that the key, desperation? Perhaps.
So often when we seek healing we are looking for a formula, like a slot machine, where if we find the right combination of buttons to push, the right prayers, the right things to say or do, then maybe just maybe, we will get our desired outcome: healing. I know I’ve done it, I’m sure we all have. We begin to treat God like some kind of impersonal force, that will bend to our will if we find the right combination of things to do to please Him and get His attention. But God is not a force. He is not an energy source. He is a Person, namely our Heavenly Father and what He desires most is a relationship with each one us.
Then there is the story of Jesus coming to a town called Nain, in Luke 7:11-17. As Jesus approaches the gate of the town, he encounters a funeral procession. A man had died, the only son of a widow woman. This woman was grieving her son, and as far as we know she didn’t ask Jesus for anything, yet the story tells us that when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her “Do not weep.” Then He came up and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you arise”. So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother. In both of these situations, and in many others in the Gospel, healing was initiated by the Lord himself because He had compassion on people.
I find that most of us focus on these two kinds of healings, the easy ones. When we talk about God healing us from sickness and disease we want our healing to be simple, easy, initiated by God and without effort, or at least not much effort on our part. We have created entire doctrines using these type of stories, to justify that healing has to be initiated by God. If we ask and it doesn’t come easy, then God must not want to heal us.
But as I continued to study the stories in the Bible of people who were healed, I noticed that sometimes Jesus asked people offensive questions such as “Do you want to be healed“? Such was the case in John 5:6 when Jesus finds a man lying near a pool by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem, waiting for an angel to stir the waters, so he could be healed. The man had obviously positioned himself correctly, yet he had been there for a long time. When asked if he wanted to be healed, the man came up with excuses. Clearly, there was something going on in this man’s heart, that Jesus was addressing that day. Sometimes God wants to deal with something else first, something that we may not even be aware of or want to deal with, before He heals us. Sickness gives us attention. It makes people feel sorry for us and spend time with us. Are we really ready to give that up in order to be healed? Sometimes, as was the case with this man, I think we like being sick more than we would like to be healed. That doesn’t mean He won’t heal us, because He clearly did heal the man. But, maybe we need to deal with this issue in our hearts first, before we can receive our healing.
There is also a story in John 9:1-7 where Jesus spits on the ground, made clay with His saliva and anointed the eyes of a man blind from birth. He tells the man to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam”. So he went and washed and came back seeing. Now at first glance, this may seem like one of those easy healings, but it actually reminds me of the story of Elisha the Prophet and a Syrian army commander named Naaman in 2 Kings 5:1-13. Naaman was a man of valor but he was also a leper. Naaman finds out that there is someone in Israel who can heal him, so he goes to Israel and asks the king for healing. The king of course can’t heal him, but Elisha steps into the situation and tells the King to send this man to his house. When Naaman arrives, Elisha sends a messenger to him and says “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean”. Naaman’s reaction is priceless because I think that it is such a wonderful example of how we so often react when God wants to do something in our lives, but He does it in a way that offends us! Listen to what Naaman actually says, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He (meaning Elisha) will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.” Ah, yes. We get it in our minds exactly how God is going to heal us, and when He doesn’t do it the way we want, we become offended, just like Naaman did. Fortunately for Naaman, he had some wise servants around him because they encouraged him to do it anyway, even if it didn’t make sense to him and Naaman was healed when he did. Why are these two stories similar? Think about what Jesus did. He spat on the ground and made clay with His spit and put it on the man’s eyes. How many of us would allow someone to do that to us, and then obey when they tell us to go to a certain pond and wash it off. Yuck! I mean isn’t that your reaction too? It certainly was mine. Forget that it’s Jesus. It’s spit! This blind man could easily have said “Get away from me, don’t put that on me and no I’m not going to go wash in that pool”. But he didn’t, he allowed Jesus to heal him the way Jesus wanted to. Would I? Would you?
I think my favorite story of being healed is probably in Matthew 15:21-28 where a Canaanite woman comes to the Lord and cries out to Him, begging that He have mercy on her because her daughter is severely demon-possessed. It tells us: But He answered her not a word. This must have gone on for hours if not days because the disciples got so fed up with her that they said to Jesus “Send her away, for she cries out after us“. Jesus ignored her but then turns to his disciples and tells them “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. Let’s put this into a modern context. You are sick, crying out to the leaders of your church for healing but you don’t get healed. They are getting tired of you pestering them, so they actually pray for Jesus to do something. Jesus then tells your pastor that He doesn’t want to heal you! Bam. The pastor conveys the message and you walk sadly away. But wait, she doesn’t do that. She ignores the leadership (disciples) and worships Jesus saying to Him again, “Lord, help me!” His response to her is once again negative. He tells her “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” Ouch. He is now insulting her. I’m not sure I could have continued at this point but she does. She does not give up, instead saying to Him these very famous words “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” And suddenly she has His full attention because He not only gives her what she desired, healing, but He commends her for her great faith! How many of us would have continued down this path the way this woman did? I’m not sure I would have persevered the way that she did. I really have to think hard on this one. Would I cry out to Him until I got what I wanted? I hope so.
Now please understand that I am by no means trying to judge my friends because they didn’t get healed. I have no idea what went on in their lives and far be it for me to come up with a simple formula or solution that gets us all healed. But I do want to suggest that perhaps we, in this microwave society, give up too easily, get offended too quickly and get it in our minds that healing has to come a certain way. Maybe just maybe, sometimes God is trying to accomplish something in our lives and in our hearts that transcends our physical healing. Maybe He is trying to deal with some issues of pride, offense, learning to persevere, and trusting Him when He asks us to do things that don’t make sense, in order for us to become healed.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 that we should examine ourselves before we take communion, “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.” He goes on to tell them that for this reason (Not examining ourselves first) many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep (suggesting death).
My purpose here is not to offend, or judge, but merely to get us all, including me, thinking about these things. First and foremost God is God and we are not. He knows what each one of us needs. Perhaps that is what each one of these people had to learn when their healing didn’t come easily or simply. Maybe they had to learn that He can heal them whatever way He wants to, and our job is simply to worship Him and not give up. Food for thought!