Hope is dangerous. Where there is hope there is genuine risk. It’s this risk that keeps many from actually pursuing God for a ministry of healing; and it’s this hope that, if deferred, can make healing ministry so painful.
The Price of Conviction
Scripture convinces me that it is always God’s will to heal. Jesus is the perfect revelation of the Father’s character (Hebrews 1:3, John 14:9) and he healed everyone who came to Him for healing. We never see Jesus telling someone that God had sovereignly given them their illness in order to teach them a lesson so “tough toenails”. He never turns anyone away, telling them to wait tomorrow for God’s time. He never even refuses to heal anyone because their faith was insufficient. If these behaviors seem aberrant to the character of Jesus, they should seem out of place for the Father as well.
Moreover, I have seen the fruit that comes with following through on this belief. I have watched as He dissolved metal in people’s bodies, I have witnessed scars from self-harm disappear before my eyes, I stood in awe as the lame have walked, the deaf have heard, and tumors vanished in response to my own prayers. Jesus said that mustard seed sized faith would move mountains, and while I have seen God do the impossible, I am confronted everyday with mountains that stubbornly refuse to move.
As a pastor, I pray fervently for those in my congregation who are ill and have not yet seen the breakthrough I know is available. I have members of my family that are still very sick and have yet to receive their healing. In spite of my best prayers and sincerity of heart, I just haven’t seen the same breakthrough for some of those who are closest to me that I have managed to see for strangers on the street or in other churches. It can become so easy to be disillusioned. The great joy of witnessing a genuine miracle is often tempered by the knowledge that another who hasn’t yet received healing is watching and may be going home disappointed.
Growing into His Image
I know that Jesus never had this problem. He never had to find excuses for why it never worked for Him because it always did. (Mark 6:56, Matthew 14:36) That doesn’t mean He never encountered the human emotion of disappointment. When His friend, Lazarus, died, Jesus wept in grief and was indignant in his holy anger against death. (John 11:35,38) But Jesus knew that He was the resurrection and the life. He raised Lazarus and the end of the story was not that Lazarus received the “ultimate healing” in Heaven, but that Jesus raised him and he lived out the remainder of his life.
When I compare my life to Jesus, I am painfully aware of the disparities. I cannot claim to have 100% results in healing (other than to say 100% of the people for whom I pray have one result or another.) But as my friend and pastor, Art Thomas, says, “If Jesus were to come in the flesh and hold a healing service, no one would leave disappointed.” We don’t have Jesus in the flesh. Instead we have imperfect vessels who are daily being formed into the image of Christ, and as long as there is forming to be done, there will be discrepancies between our lives and the One we are imitating. We should never blame God—or worse—those who are suffering for our imperfect faith. Neither should we condemn ourselves or strive in the flesh. We ought to look to Jesus and allow Him to make us more like Himself.
What to Do When Healing Just Isn’t Coming
All this is somewhat cold comfort, however, to those who are suffering or have suffering loved ones. Facing the ravages of the evil one in the lives of those close to me has sometimes filled me with a sense of overwhelming discouragement. So what do when the healing we’re praying for just doesn’t seem to be coming?
1. Keep an eternal perspective.
The great hope of our faith is the resurrection. Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead as the Firstborn from among the dead. (Colossians 1:18) Every healing is temporary. We will all run our race to the end. If the great hope of Jesus’ death and resurrection were simply healing in this life, the Gospel’s “good news” would not be all that great. While we rejoice in the temporary victories of miraculous healing, our great joy is that death has been defeated forever and we have victory because Jesus has overcome! The Church may gladly boast,
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?1 Corinthians 15:5 (KJV)
We must never allow our eternal joy to be overshadowed by temporary suffering. As the Apostle Paul so boldly declared,
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.Romans 8:18 (NIV)
2. Look at Jesus.
When John the Baptist was in prison, he began to doubt the word of the Lord which he himself declared.
When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”Matthew 11:2-3 (NIV)
John was the one who baptized Jesus. He saw when the Heavens parted, the Spirit descend upon Jesus like a dove, and heard a voice thunder from Heaven, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)
When John became disillusioned by his present circumstance, he began to doubt even the audible voice from Heaven. Jesus’ told John to stop focusing on the disappointment, and to look squarely at what God was actively doing.
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”Matthew 11:4-6 (NIV)
Jesus called Peter out of the boat to walk with him on the water. Peter stepped out of the boat and began to walk upon the waves with the Lord. Suddenly, Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and became impressed by the size of those rather intimidating waves. Peter forgot that he was walking on the water and when he removed his gaze from the Lord, he sank. (Matthew 14:22-33)
The author of Hebrews, after presenting an encouraging picture of faith in the lives of saints of old, gives great advice on how to get faith,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)
About this verse, Pastor Art says, “We look to Jesus and where we lack faith, He pioneers it and where our faith is imperfect, He perfects it.” Faith is looking at Jesus no matter what.
3. Diversify your prayer investments.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.Proverbs 13:12 (NIV)
When we have a huge need, it can be easy to hyper-focus all of our prayers on that one issue. Now, there is nothing wrong with focused prayer, but if we never pray for anything else, we risk our only experience with prayer being disappointment. Instead, we ought to diversify our prayer investments. Pray for lots of people. When one of those prayers are answered, we suddenly have a longing fulfilled that will be a “tree of life” fueling faith for breakthrough in other areas of our lives.
4. Don’t neglect intimacy.
When we aren’t seeing answers to prayer, it’s natural to have questions. “What am I doing wrong? Why aren’t you answering me, God? Why did You heal them and not me?” These questions are normal. Anyone involved in healing ministry has faced these questions from time to time.
We seek answers to these questions so we come to God. Great! But if we are in the middle of despair, we can make these questions the sole focus of our prayer lives. What we are doing is unintentionally making the answers to these questions barriers between us and God’s presence. We are effectively saying, “God, I can’t be close to You until you answer my questions.” We are seeking answers because we think that they will give us peace, but what if God Himself wants to be your peace? What if we can have joy and peace in the middle of our confusion and suffering simply because He is near?
5. Don’t stop praying.
Jesus told us the parable of the persistent widow in order to teach us about prayer.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”Luke 18:1-8 (NIV)
He ends the parable with a troubling statement, “…when the Son of Man coms, will he find faith on the earth?” It seems to me that, given the context, “faith” in this passage means prayer that perseveres.
James 5 talks about the effective prayers of righteous people. In context he is talking about prayer for healing. He then uses Elijah as his example for powerful and effective prayer.
Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its cropsJames 5:17-18 (NIV)
When we read the original story, we understand that Elijah didn’t see results the first time he prayed. In fact, he prayed fervently 6 times with no results. Finally on the seventh time a small cloud appeared on the horizon. That small cloud was enough.
There was a young lady in the campus ministry I led who was completely deaf in one ear. I prayed several times for her every chance I got. I prayed and prayed. Finally Jesus completely healed her when my students gathered around her to pray during a campus ministry retreat.
Had we given up, we would never have seen the breakthrough. If you are praying for healing in a certain area, don’t stop praying. Don’t stop asking for prayer. Don’t develop “prayer fatigue”. Look at Jesus and allow Him to fill you with hope. His plans for you are good, regardless of what your circumstances look like now.
May God bless you as you press in for what Jesus paid for.
Want to see God’s power at work in you?
For more from JonMark about power evangelism, healing, words of knowledge, and more, check out his new book, “The Adventure of Saying Yes.”
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