Heal the Sick
The third part of the commission is that we are sent to heal the sick. Since the first elements of the commission have to do with spiritual healing and the healing of the soul, this one is to heal the body. Much misunderstanding surrounds this area of the Christian faith. When we take it out of the context of wholeness, healing is often seen as magic rather than the healing power of God's love.
If we see the body as that part of a human that enables him to express himself to other humans who are in bodies, we see it as an integral part of our wholeness. Flesh and blood will not inherit the Kingdom of God, but it is the form in which we make contact with both the Kingdom and the King. It is furthermore the form in which we begin walking in the vocation for which God has called us and to which He has sent us.
The only reason I can find for the existence of sickness in the New Testament is that the works of God might be made manifest. That is what we read in the case of the man born blind in the ninth chapter of John's Gospel. Paul seems to confirm the idea in his eighth chapter of Romans when he writes that the whole creation has been made subject to futility in hope. It is to be set free to walk in the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Sickness is not the ultimate will of God for His children. Wholeness is. We are born in sickness, in order that we might be free to choose wholeness. The conditions present in the Old Creation lead to disease at one level or another. The New Creation holds provision to correct those conditions. The inability of man to attain righteousness under the Law, is corrected when God supplies the ability by grace. That is not to say that grace is not to be found in the Old Testament. It is to say that grace is not the norm.
We read the Old Testament, where there are occasions when God sends sickness, and occasions when God heals sickness. Moses' hand is one case where leprosy was sent in a moment, and healed in a moment. Miriam's experience was quite the same. In the spiritual realm, God took His Spirit from Saul, and God sent an evil spirit into Saul, and then used that occasion to get David into the court. While God does not seem to be the direct agent, He permitted the illness of Job
Plagues were visited on Israel in the wilderness when they rebelled, and they were healed when Phinehas stood to make atonement before the Lord. The Philistines suffered boils and tumors when they had captured the Ark, and we presume were healed when they returned the Ark to Israel.
The only case of which I am aware of God sending sickness in the New Testament was the occasion when Paul struck Elymas with blindness because he was trying to interfere with the preaching of the Gospel. There are, on the other hand, healings that seem to be the norm among the disciples who surrounded Jesus, and later the Apostles. The power to heal was not curtailed at the Ascension. It was multiplied by the number of the Apostles, and even further by the disciples who came to Christ, by whose Spirit they were equipped and sent into the world.
It would seem that the presence of the Kingdom brought forth healing of the soul as well as healing of the body. Healing was the manifestation of the power of the Kingdom's presence. Today, healing is still the manifestation of the presence of the Kingdom of God. It is one of the gifts of God given to those who come to Him and ask.
Some healing seems to come with dramatic spontaneity, while in other cases there seems to be no apparent change. There are other cases where the healing takes place over a period of time. I have never had anyone explain this to me adequately, but I know that it is true, because I have observed it over the years. I have had many try to explain it, but mysteries defy understanding. We simply know them.
When I first learned that Jesus was present, and that He still healed those who came to Him, I was determined to go empty the hospitals and put the doctors out of business. When I began to try that out, I found that I could not do that. Healing was a great deal more complex than I had, at first, thought. It was not a matter of believing enough, or praying the right prayers, or holding my mouth right when I prayed. It was a matter of God reaching out in His sovereign power and touching people to make them whole.
Most of my seminary classmates and friends in ministry decided that since God did not heal all the time, they would not bother with it at all. It was something that some were called to minister and others were not. I am glad that there were , and are still, those who would pray for the hundred to see the one or two healed. I am thankful that God does not quit simply because we do not always do as He asks.
The truth is that I have not seen anyone who received prayer for healing remain untouched. I have seen many who were not healed the way I wanted them to be healed; but I have never seen anyone who was not touched at some level of his life.
I remember a woman who came to my parish for prayer. As I recall we prayed with her for a number of healings over the period of an hour or more.
When she got home, she wrote me a letter apologizing for taking up my time and energy, because nothing had happened. The next page and a half of her letter gave me an account of how her relationship with her in-laws had been changed in a rather dramatic way. I wrote back to tell her, I wish that all of my prayer efforts were that sort of failure. When I saw the lady many years later, she told me that time was the beginning of a long pilgrimage of healing that she had found since she had come to see me.
When we set our vision for the Kingdom and not simply the immediate crisis, we can also see that our life here is a pilgrimage and not a static situation we can bring to perfection in a moment of time. When I was young, I could not wait to get old enough to do what I wanted to do with my life. When I began to get old, I wanted to stay young. When I began to see the Kingdom of God, I was content to be the age and condition I happened to be at the moment, because I realized that nothing was going to be permanent until I reached the perfection Abba intended at the end of my healing.
THE ROLE OF DEATH IN HEALING
If we are going to participate freely in the ministry of healing, we must make our peace with death. Death is no longer the enemy. Since the cross and resurrection, he is the one who keeps the door to the New Creation. It is Death who keeps us from taking all of our Old baggage into the New life. He is responsible for seeing that we are dead to the core, that we might be completely new in every respect. Without complete newness, we are not healed, or in evangelical language, we are not saved from all of the sin that bound us.
The image of St. Peter as the keeper of the gate is grounded in the promise of Jesus to give Peter the keys to the Kingdom. The keys enable the church to loose a person on earth, in order to loose that person in heaven. The alternative is to bind on earth in order to bind in heaven. We must realize that loosing or forgiving does not simply mean excusing sinful actions. It means separating us from the Sin that lies at the root of the actions. Death is simply the one who carries out the garbage when the separation takes place.
It would seem then, that physical healing is not intended to keep us alive in the body forever. In fact death is the ultimate healing. Physical healing is a matter of keeping us capable of doing the will of God as He unfolds His will for us. The healing of our body is a matter of equipping us to walk as His presence in the world. We are to be the incarnate presence of the Jesus Christ as we dwell in Him and He in turn, lives in us; and through us for others.
When we consider it seriously, we find that death is an essential element of the healing process at any level. When we see that we are being brought to wholeness through dying with Christ, so we might be raised up with Christ, then it follows that healing is a function of death and resurrection. It is a matter of the death of the Old Creation that is within us and the raising up the New Creation into us. It is the death of the disorder and disease, and the establishment of order and wholeness.
We may see that truth illustrated in the case of any infection we have. When we find that we have an infection, we normally take antibiotics. The purpose for taking them is to kill the invading organisms that are causing disease in the body. The hope is to destroy the present factors in the disease in order to establish an order that will restore and make the tissue new. There is the death of the invading organism and of diseased tissue and the resurrection of new tissue. Without the death, there would be no cleansing of the body.
If we are dealing with a cancer, that is not so much an invasion of the body by another organism as a disorder of some component of the body, there must again be the death of the diseased cells, and the resurrection of new cells to fill the gaps. Death without the resurrection would leave gaping holes in the body. Resurrection without the death would leave us with disorder and disease.
The ultimate death of the body is healing in the same order of things. We see the death and the elimination of the body of flesh and blood that we might receive a spiritual body. Paul would write about it as not seeking to be unclothed, but to be further clothed in the body that is the image and likeness of Jesus. John assures us that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see us as He is.
When we consider Christian healing in its comprehensive purpose of bringing us out of the disease of this moment into the wholeness of the Kingdom of God, we begin to see death as a part of the process rather than the enemy. I have prayed with many through the process of dying, and I have seen death come as a friend rather than an enemy.
The Gospel proclaims that we will pass through death into resurrection. It does not claim that we will not die. To the contrary, we must die with Christ, that we may be made alive with Him. The Gospel does not say death will not come to us. It says death will not hold dominion over us. We shall be set free in the perfection of the Kingdom. We are to die to sin, that we might be alive unto God in Jesus Christ, our Lord
The Gospel also proclaims that this is the acceptable year of the Lord. Now is the day of salvation. When we are born of our mother, we begin to die. The inevitable end of every baby born into this world is death. There is nothing we can do to avoid death, nor is there any profit in seeking to cut the process short. The question that we must ask is, "What am I to do with the time God has allotted me in the flesh?"
When we are baptized into Christ Jesus, we begin to live. We enter into a new life that will not always be apparent to us or to others. As we give up our life in the flesh to God in Christ, we are crucified with Christ. As we receive His life, we are raised up in newness of life. We are literally transformed from flesh to spirit as the basis of our being. We begin now to enter into eternal life. The death of the body is simply one of the last stages in the healing process.
I remember vividly the last few days of my mother's sojourn on earth. She was comatose, but she would come to consciousness from time to time. She did not seem to be suffering, but I was. I finally yelled at God (not out loud in the hospital, but in the spirit), "Lord! Either heal her or take her!"
I recall His answer was as gentle and calm as my cry had been frustrated and demanding, "I am going as fast as I can."
I was totally floored at the answer. I had not the vaguest idea of what would slow or speed God's action, and so I asked, "What do you mean?"
I am always impressed with the humor of God in crises. Things that destroy my serenity seem to pique His humor. It is when I am serene to the point of laziness that He seems to get demanding, so He answered, "It's culture shock. If you think it is bad moving from one place to another where you have been; think what it is like moving from where she is to where she is coming."
Now that made sense. I could see in her initial trips into unconsciousness that she wanted to remain with me, her only child. I could watch her making her debut in the world where she was going, and over the time, I could see that she was more comfortable there. It was her involuntary nervous system that kept yanking her back into life on this side, until the process of death was complete, and she was free to go on with life on the other side.
I had another encounter with Abba over the death of someone else during this time of dying for my mother and teaching for me. I had lost a young girl in my parish who was also a student in our parish day school. She was bright and always had a smile and a hug for me. If I could have chosen one I would be willing to give up, she would be among the last. I would choose to keep her for my own comfort. She made my world a far happier place than it was without her.
She loved riding and jumping horses, and one day when it was raining, she was out riding. She apparently tried to jump a fence. The horse slipped and fell on her and she was killed. I had never really finished dealing with God on that issue, and He had not finished dealing with me.
When I had settled the issues over my mother's death, I started in on hers. "I understand why my mother is dying, Lord. She is old, and we all have to die sometime; but why Daisy? She was young and full of life, and such a joyful addition to our lives."
He did not give me an explanation. He made a simple statement, and He asked a simple question. "She had learned enough about love to come to me. Would you rather have her continue through puberty and the drug and sex scene where she lived, or would you rather have her live with me?"
We must make up our mind about death. Is it an end, as we so often see people consider it, or is it a transition into a state of greater wholeness and a more perfect relationship with God? If it is the first, I can understand the pain, panic and anger that so often surrounds us when we are faced with a loved one dying. If it is the latter, I wonder why funerals aren't joyful commitments of persons to God, and bodies to the ground.
The other side of the concern then is why live. I recall that I was ready to die when my mother died. When I had given the matter a lot of thought, I was ready to go with her. It was certainly a better deal than staying where I was with the constant crisis of ministering in an active parish. Certainly those whom I knew who had experienced near death experiences, did not want to come back. I understand there have been some who were greatly relieved by their return, but I have known only those who met Jesus.
The Lord directed me to Paul's Epistle to the Philippians where Paul wrote, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain....My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account." The reason for continuing in what we call life is very clear. We remain here to give or receive love in some way that allows love to flow in a dynamic of power to build up someone else.
If the Lord has a use for me here, then I cannot do that work with Him if I do not have a body to offer Him. It is only in the body that we are able to communicate through the body. That does not mean that we are always to be on the giving end of love. We cannot be on the giving end of love until we are on the receiving end of God's love. It is just as true that we cannot give love until there is someone who is willing to receive it.
We may offer love; but to give it, it must be received. There are times when the way in which we are to love people means that we are to receive from them. That is the only way in which we can love them. Our receiving from them is contingent on our being there in the body to receive. When we have completed this work with God, we are then free to depart and be with the Lord. In the meantime, we are free to be here with the Lord. It is as Paul wrote, "To live is Christ and to die is gain."
Healing is the equipping of the people of God to continue in that participation in love's dynamic. It sees death as an ongoing part of the process which is to purge from us the dross and slag. It is to destroy from within us, and ultimately even our external form, so that we might get on toward the wholeness prepared for us by God in the Kingdom.
Paul apparently changed his view of life after death from the Pharisaic belief that he articulates in I Corinthians and I Thessalonians. In the early writings, he believed that we all slept until the judgment day. It is much the same as the response of Martha to Jesus in the eleventh chapter of John's Gospel.
Philippians insists that when our body dies, we are with the Lord. In the second Corinthian letter, Paul writes about a man who had been caught up into the third heaven with the Lord. If Paul was writing of himself, the experience had changed his view of what accurs at death. He gives no description since he says that words cannot express it anyway. It sounds very similar to the near death experiences that have been published recently. Certainly his passage concerning this experience in II Corinthians might lead us to believe this was his own experience.
Those people who have had what we call NDEs or near death experiences will attest to the fact that we do not sleep long if we sleep at all. Their memory recalls the encounter with the Lord, or with some other spiritual being whom they acknowledged to be real. Since all who return are back in a brief period of time, it would seem that Paul's latter view is right. We do not sleep until the day of judgment, we continue on the path we are pursuing while we are here.
When we are born into the Body of Christ of water and Holy Spirit, we actually begin another life, even while the old one is passing away. Jesus made it clear that that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. We enter into the death and resurrection experience now. We are already being judged, we are already being raised up, we are already walking in newness of life.
If that reality is true, then death is simply one more step in the healing process. It is not to be feared. In my years as a priest, I have found that those who are afraid to die are also afraid to live. It is only when we have looked into the face of death and seen in it the inevitable step we shall all take, that we are can divest ourselves of the fear.
When I first became involved in the charismatic movement, there was a great hunger for stories about God's power manifest in His people. The accounts of people being raised from the dead were most impressive. The Scriptures had spoken of Jesus raising a number of people from the dead. Peter raised Dorcas and Paul raised Eutychus. Ought we not to be raising people from the dead? Think what an impression that would make on the world.
As I went back to read the accounts in the Scriptures, I found that Jesus did not raise the dead because He had compassion on the dead. He raised the dead because He had compassion on the living. Peter had compassion on those who were mourning the death of Dorcas. Paul raised Eutychus because he had compassion on the people in Ephesus. The raising of the dead is a mixed blessing at best. I told my friends at that time, that if I die, leave me alone. If you raise me up, the first thing I will do is punch you out.
I recall sitting in a hospital room with a woman while she went through the process of dying. When she had ceased breathing, I was still talking with the Lord, and I mused, "Lord, I could raise her from the dead, couldn't I?"
He answered, "Yes. Do you want to do that?"
I thought of the effort she had taken to get through death into life, and the life I foresaw if she were to be raised up, and I replied, "No."
He answered simply, "Good!"
It is only as we look into the face of Jesus, and see the love of God that has given us the victory over death, that we can face death without fear. We can use death for the purpose for which it is given. We can use it as the process of gaining our life We can give up our lives to God that we might keep them eternally. Walking in the love of God, we can walk without fear.
A STARTING POINT
One of the great errors of our time is trying to determine our immediate vocation by looking at the needs with which we are surrounded. If I see anyone who is hungry, it is my Christian duty to feed them. If I see someone who is diseased, it is my duty to heal them. After all, God does not send sickness, and God always heals. That is the story of the cross. Since we are not blind to human needs, we can read there what we are to be doing to be about our Father's business. While that approach to ministry is held by most Christians, it is not necessarily true.
As many as are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. We do not find our initiative from human need, but from God's revelation to us and for us. There is a sense in which I am not to do anything about observable human need until I have brought it to God in prayer. The starting point is prayer. We begin with, "I see this need, Lord. What am I to do about it?" This practice is not a "cop out" to avoid Christian service, as some would say in accusation. It is a search for direction to enable me to exercise obedience to God, rather than chasing my tail in obedience to the common sense view of the world.
We seek first the Kingdom, and then God's will for us in the world so that we might be in the world, but not of the world. If we have dealt with the spiritual level of healing so we might be brought into the vocation to which God has sent us; we are then ready to ask for the equipment. If I am sick, it follows that I am a candidate for healing; but the healing will be at the level God, in His wisdom, chooses to manifest His love at the time.
If I submit myself to God and ask for healing, and the healing that I seek does not manifest in me, I go back to God and ask how I am to pursue my healing. "Lord, how do I pray to open my life to your will being done? Is there a need for forgiveness that has blocked the flow of your power? Am I able to glorify you in my illness better than in a whole body? Is there a time limitation that I do not know? Show me how to proceed toward the wholeness you will, and not simply into the healing I desire."
Much of our physical disease is simply the sacramental expression of an inner illness. The woman who had the narcolepsy is a case in point. The symptom was physical; the cause spiritual dysfunction at the soul level. The prayer for the healing of the physical symptoms were not answered until the prayer for the deliverance of the woman at the soul level.
I had a friend who was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis in her lower back. We prayed for the healing without any indication that we were making headway in healing. We went to the Lord to ask, "Lord, how do we pray?" His answer was, "Cast out a spirit of resentment."
When we cast out the spirit, the arthritic condition was healed. That does not mean that all rheumatoid arthritis is caused by a spirit of resentment, but this case seems to have been. What it does mean is that God has answers to questions that we overlook when we presume to know what He wants without asking. When we find the prayer ministry that we are using does not seem effective, ask Jesus what to do.
There are times when we pray for someone and see nothing happening until some crisis occurs which seems to open the way for God to have access. I was reading the third chapter of Acts one day, and it dawned on me, that there was a person that Jesus passed a number of times without healing him.
The man was lame from birth, and was sitting at the beautiful gate of the temple every day, to ask for alms. When the time was right, Jesus was walking down to the temple to pray. He was in the flesh of Peter and John. The man asked for alms, and Peter turned to John and asked, "John, you got any change with you?"
John replied, "No. I left all my change in my other pant's pocket. I didn't think we would need any just to go to church."
At which point Peter must have asked, "Lord, what do we do to find this guy some money?"
The answer that apparently came was, "Take him by the hand, and lift him up in my Name, and he will be healed." Peter did just that in obedience to the Lord, and the man was healed. Through that healing, God was seen to be still present in and through the apostles. He was glorified in a way that an earlier healing would not have glorified Him.
The point that is that God is the One who defines the method of healing as well as the occasion. We do not pray once, and leave it at that. We pray through until we have released the person into the presence of God. If we pick that person back up into our own anxiety, we pray once more until we have put that person back into the presence of God.
There is a prevalent teaching about prayer that teaches that we pray once, and then leave it alone. The basis of the teaching is that if we pray repeatedly, we are not showing faith that God heard the first time. A contrary teaching of Jesus says we should pray and not lose heart. He uses as His illustration the parable of the unjust judge. The widow kept continually knocking on the judge's door until he vindicated her against her adversary.
If we see intercessory prayer as that dialog wherein we are seeking to bring someone to God in Christ, then we see also that we will profit nothing from vain repetition; but we will also see that we will not do very well praying once and walking away anxiety-ridden over the one for whom we have prayed.
If we can see the situation of intercession as one of taking the one for whom we are praying to Jesus and leaving him there, we might see how both teachings might be honored. We pray first to bring the person into the presence of Jesus as the four brought the paralytic to Jesus. When we have prayed through to that point where we have released the problem to Jesus, we are to quit. Our task is complete. We have brought him to the Healer, and we will leave him there.
If I do not pick that person back up as an anxiety producing source in my life, I need not pray any more. On the other hand, if I do find myself worrying or fretting about the person, I pray through to that point of leaving the person in the presence of Jesus again. It is not my responsibility to heal the person. It is my response ability to bring that person to the Healer, or take the Healer, Jesus, incarnate in my flesh, to the person who has the need.
God is not beyond using the resources He has given us through the medical field. I once had a cyst at the base of my spine. They will not kill you, but they are very distracting and discomforting. I had all of my friends pray for the healing, some of whom were well known the this field of ministry. I finally said, "Lord, if you don't heal my cyst, I am going to a doctor."
He swiftly responded, "Fine. I'll tell you which one to go to. Get in touch with Bill Reed." Somehow the response brought me up sharply against my prejudice against medicine. Why should I have to go to a doctor if I am a Christian who believes and practices Christian healing? The answer was simple. It was to get me well the way God wanted to heal me. I suspect He also wanted to work on my pride which was able to set myself a little higher than the run of the mill people.
When I made the contact with Bill, he was speaking to a breakfast meeting at a cafeteria in the city where I lived. My wife was with me when we caught him in the parking lot. As it happened, she had cut her thumb and was showing some of the signs of blood poisoning.
When we had gone over my problem, and agreed that we could schedule the surgery in Tampa , where Bill practiced medicine; we asked about Julia's thumb. He looked at it, and gave us a list of things to do. The first was to get to the emergency room of the hospital, and get it lanced, and in hot soaks, etc. We stopped only long enough to pray for her healing there in the parking lot. When we got to the hospital, there was nothing left to lance. Her own doctor would not accept the fact that she had blood poisoning. Some weeks later, I went through the surgical exorcism of my cyst, which has troubled me no more.
More recently, my examining physician told me I had to have a mole removed for biopsy. I ran into Bill again at the North American Conference of the Order of St. Luke the Physician, and asked if he would be willing to do that. He allowed that he would. Since there seemed to be no rush in the matter, we set a date a month or so later.
In the interim, I developed a carcinoma on the back of my right hand. The Lord assured me that I had nothing to fear, but I had people pray for it at every occasion I could find someone to pray. On each one of three occasions, there was a healing of someone else's hand. When I got into the office to see Bill, I was once more healed through a surgeon's scalpel. I rejoice that the Lord got such mileage out of one diseased hand. I am delighted that He uses such a variety of ways to reach out to touch and heal His children.
Blocks to healing as well as errors in prayer may occur; but as we seek the Lord, we are led to uncover the blocks also. I was amazed one day to hear the Lord say, "He doesn't want to get well." I was praying with a man who had developed rheumatoid arthritis to the extent that he was on a walker. He had been involved in the healing ministry for many years, but prayer was not effective in healing his present condition.
The will to get well is essential to our healing because God will not impose His will on us. That is the question Jesus posed to the man at the Sheep Gate by the pool of Bethzatha. We are told by John that he had been sick for thirty-eight years. Jesus asked, "Do you want to be made whole?" If we choose disease, He will allow the disease.
When I asked the man with the rheumatoid arthritis if he really wanted to be healed, he answered, "Not really." There are many cases in which people have embraced their disease, and used it as an excuse to avoid things they don't want to do, and to receive attention from people with whom they live.
When we start with prayer, seeking the direction of the Spirit, we will be led to minister in ways that cannot be reduced to a technique or a method. Techniques and methods, and even prayer, do not heal. God heals. He heals in His way, in His time as He chooses in His infinite and unconditional love. If we are to find the way in which He has sent us to walk, it will be as we ask, "Lord, what would you have me to do?"
HOW DO WE PRAY?
While there is no particular way in which we are to pray for healing, we must choose some way in which we exercise the ministry. When we approach God with a petition, we may look to the Scriptures and find His answer, "What can I do for you?" When we put forth our petition as we perceive it, His answer is, "So be it." or "You do not know what you ask," followed by an explanation of His response, or a teaching as with James and John in the tenth chapter of Mark.
If we are interceding for another, we are literally bringing them to Jesus on the stretcher of our prayers as the four brought the paralytic to Jesus. While prayer is always simple, it is not always easy. There are times when we have to go up and dig a hole in the roof, and let the needy one down into the presence of Jesus. Of course we do not often encounter a flesh and blood mob that stands in our way, for we are not at war with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers. There will be times when we must deal with spiritual forces before we can get our sick one to Jesus.
If we have learned something about prayer as communication with God, we can ask, "Lord, how do we pray for this situation?" We get still enough to listen. When we believe we have a direction for prayer, we proceed with what we believe Holy Spirit is leading us to pray. That opens the way for Him to act. When we read the Gospels we might note that Jesus used a number of approaches to healing the people who came to Him for healing. I feel relatively free laying hands on people, and praying for them. I shudder to think that God might ask me to spit on the ground and make mud pies to rub on someone's eyes, and tell them to go wash their face.
However we begin, we start with the realization that we are to be obedient, and God is to get the results. When we pray, we pray until we reach the point of releasing ourselves or the person or situation for which we are praying, completely into God's hands. That is something we learn to recognize through practice and experience. It is beyond some particular set of words. Perhaps it is as we come to the end of the words we are given by Holy Spirit.
When we pray, we use all of the resources we can muster. If I have time and access to the one for whom I am praying, I like to read a passage or two from the healing stories of Jesus. Often the hearing of the words reminds the sick person that Jesus is a Lord who heals. In a world where most of the people look to the medical profession for healing and the church for morality, we need to be reminded that Jesus is the healer. Physicians treat; God heals.
The practice is grounded in the realization that healing comes by the Word of God. It amounts to reading passages from Scripture that are relevant to healing. When people hear the passages about healing read from the Bible, they are often touched by God's healing love and made whole. If we do nothing else, we might dispel the idea that is so prevalent among Christians, that God sends sickness to punish sin.
For many Americans sickness goes hand in hand with guilt. There is an underlying feeling that says, if I am sick, I must have done something wrong. I recall a conversation I had with an oncologist friend of mine, who asked me how he could help his patients deal with their guilt. When I told him to get them to make a confession and receive absolution, he just stood there a shook his head.
My recommendation to anyone who suffers from serious illness is to make a confession. If you are not of a tradition that practices some form of confession to God in the presence of a minister, then you might find a sponsor from one of the twelve-step programs and use steps four and five. Make a fearless moral inventory, and confess your sins to God, yourself and to one other human being.
If anyone elects to follow that procedure, they would be well advised to follow steps six and seven without delay. Decide that you are thoroughly willing to have God remove your character defects and then ask Him to remove them. I have had a number of people who have done their fifth step with me so they might receive absolution. One of my friends who did their fifth step with me in the form a confession put off steps six and seven, and suffered unnecessary emotional pain until it was done.
The procedure is a form of prayer since it is addressed to God, and it fulfills the admonition of James to Christians. "Confess your sins one to another and pray for one another that you may be healed." Since we are talking about how to pray for the sick, we must include confession as one of the forms of prayer and a means of opening the way for God to move in the lives of those who are in need of healing.
The practice of reading to the sick from the healing miracles of Jesus seems to be a very logical practice. It is so practical that it is used as much by Christian Science as by evangelical Christians. If we take seriously Paul's statement that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, reading the Scriptures to the sick should be an obvious treatment of any illness.
When we pray for the sick who are close at hand, it is also helpful for us to lay hands on them, or anoint them with oil. It is the act of transmitting from the risen Christ who lives within us, His healing power and love. The Christian faith is not a faith for the untouchable. It is a faith to include a touch that recognizes that we are one Body in Christ and members one of another.
In the traditional sacramental church, anointing with oil is called the sacrament of Holy Unction. It follows the reading from Mark's Gospel, "they anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them." Mk 6:13 It is also found in James, "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith will heal the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven." Jas 5:14
The sacramental approach acknowledges that God uses things and people as instruments for His healing love to flow. For years the sacrament of Holy Unction was seen as a "Last Rites" sort of action. When the healing that was common in the very early church, began to slow down as the church became acceptable, the leaders decided that it must mean something other than healing. James was translated, "the prayer of faith will save the sick man." instead of "heal the sick man." In recent years the church has restored the sacrament to its original intention. Anointing is for the healing of the people of God.
Many people interpret the writing of Paul about Holy Communion, as an indication that it is also a healing sacrament. When he writes that the cup of blessing is our participation in the Blood of Christ, he is saying that in some way we participate in the "Life" of Christ. It is one of the ways in which we receive the life-giving presence of the Living Lord into our own lives.
The service of Holy Communion is surrounded by many traditions, and they do not all agree. If we, in any tradition, take seriously the words of Jesus, "This is my Body," we must acknowledge the fact that in some way, He intends to come to us in a real way to communicate His life to us. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.
I recall a story Jim Glennon told of a woman who came to visit him. She was a cancer patient, and so he expected to see someone who was rather emaciated and weak. To his surprise the woman was hale and healthy. Her story was that she had learned what the Communion service actually was, she had met Jesus in the sacrament, and she had been healed.
If we do not see The Lord's Supper or Holy Communion, as a healing action, we might at least see it as a health-giving adjunct of our prayers. It is another way to bring the sick to the Lord that He might touch them and make His power and love manifested through them. I personally use it as a time of transaction wherein I bring my problems, and illnesses, and stresses to the Lord, and I receive His solutions, His wholeness, His peace in return. It becomes a healing prayer process that is also preventive in terms of serious illness from stress and other secondary causes.
There are occasions when Holy Baptism seems to be the instrument of healing. I recall baptizing a small child because the child was scheduled for some sort of surgery to open a tear duct that was not functioning. This was not a matter of routine faith, for the mother was not a regular worshiper at my parish. . It was more like a panic faith. When in doubt and worry, call on God. I am so glad to see faith from any source, I do not hesitate to honor it. I baptized the child, and the next morning, before the surgery, the tear duct was working. The surgery was not needed.
Perhaps a more dramatic illustration was from one of my regular communicants whose baby was born with Highland Membrane Syndrome. He was given a short time to live. The father called me and asked if I would come to the hospital to baptize the child. I went that afternoon to baptize the child and to anoint him at the same time. The next morning the child no longer had Highland Membrane Syndrome.
Some Christians have problems with the word "metaphysics." It is used by so many in systems that are obviously not Christian, that the assumption is made that it is a non Christian word. The truth is that it speaks of that reality that is beyond the realm that can be known by the senses. If we have no metaphysic, we have no way in which we can talk about a New Creation or a risen Lord. They are both beyond the realm of the senses; but they are essential to our understanding and grasping the Truth that is to set us free.
Jesus taught us to pray, believing we are receiving. I often wonder how someone can pray, "believing they are receiving" without a vision of the answer God is giving. There are times when I pray for others without any vision of what God is doing. I pray regularly for a young girl with scoliosis. When I pray I always see her with a straight back, and a huge smile. It is not my effort to visualize what I want God to do. It is God's vision given to me, of what He is doing.
Perhaps the way in which we approach the use of metaphysical tools in the ministry of Christian healing, is to ask God how He wants us to see these people for whom we pray. It is not a matter of telling God, or trying to get God to do something our way. That would be a form of incantation that elects to use the power of the mind for the power of God. Christian visualization is a matter of asking God to reveal His will that we might be workers together with Him in the healing of His people. It is our effort to see the reality of the Kingdom that lies beneath the clutter of the old creation. It is, in effect an experience of transfiguration, as occurred on the mount with Jesus.
We are not always able to reach out and touch the people for whom we pray. I have prayed for many who are far away from my prayer closet. We find that in Jesus there is no time and space. Prayer spans whatever gulfs lie between us and those we love. Jesus is no longer bound by time and space. He is everywhere there are people for Him to love. He is not present as some general spirit of the age. He is there as a personal Savior, to make Himself known to those who will receive Him. When I talk to Him in my Florida home, He can easily touch the friend for whom I pray in Washington state.
Intercession works well in combination with the metaphysical visualization. When I pray for someone, I like to see them in the presence of Jesus, and left with Him. That uses a form of visualization, but it is also an affirmation of the reality that Jesus hears our prayers, and that we are actually in the business of bringing people to Him in the Spirit. As we pray and see Jesus with the person for whom we are praying, we are not so much creating a reality, as viewing a reality. He is with that person, even when we think of that person being alone.
There is a sense in which our practice of visualizing is a correction of our perception of reality. When I normally think of someone whom I love, but who is not present, I think of them being alone, or with others of the family. When I pray for them, I see them in the presence of Jesus, who is always there. It is not a matter of what I should or should not do; it is a matter of correcting a normal error with a revelation of the Truth
Often when we begin to intercede for a person, we will not see resolution in the life of the one for whom we pray, but crisis. There is a warning that some of the more mature teachers have given me in the past. "If you are not willing to see the person for whom you are praying walk through hell in some way, don't start praying." It would seem that when we bring someone into the presence of God's love that the crisis must precede the healing.
I recall a time when one of my children ran a low-grade fever for about six weeks. Nothing we did seemed to touch it. It would be up or down slightly, but it would not go down and remain down. The child was constantly fretting. One day when Brother Dunstan, one of my Franciscan friends was visiting us, we asked him to pray for Thomas to be healed. When he prayed, the child almost immediately spiked a high fever which stayed with him until the next day. When it abated, it went to normal, and remained there.
When the crisis comes, do not back off the prayer. Pray through it. When we are praying for someone who is addicted to alcohol or some other drug, they will often get worse. When they do, we are not to pray for their ease, but for their healing. There is not much that will drive an alcoholic to sobriety quicker than a bodacious hangover or a case of DTs. The need is to pray through for the grace to move out of the addiction on either side of the crisis. Grace is essential to the deliverance. When God begins to manifest His grace, it may become a great source of agitation until it is received.
Hal Hill used to recommend that in praying for an alcoholic, and I assume it would hold for a drug addict also, that you pray for such a devastating hangover that they will be driven to look for the grace to crawl out of the addiction into the Kingdom of God.
The methods of healing prayer described above are not mutually exclusive. It is perfectly permissible to read healing Scripture to the person you anoint, visualizing them in the presence of God as you anoint. When you pray for them, even as you hold their hand you are interceding. You are the one who is carrying the sick person on the stretcher of your prayers into the presence of Jesus that He might touch them.
Healing is nothing more or less than the manifestation of God's love through the Christian for the sick and disabled. It is a witness to the fact that God is concerned over the well-being of the body as well as the soul. It is the way in which we take part with God in the equipping of His people for ministry. We are not the healers, God is. We are the flesh that He uses to reach out and touch with healing, as He reached out through the flesh He received from Mary to touch and heal with that same love, those of whom we read in the Gospels.
FOR WHOM DO WE PRAY?
I remember listening to a talk by an old English Bishop who was concerned that we did not anoint someone who was not a communicant of the Episcopal Church. One of my friends turned and whispered to me, "He is afraid that God might heal the wrong person."
If we have begun at the beginning, we will be led by Holy Spirit to pray for those for whom He wants to pray through us. Remember, Paul writes that Holy Spirit speaks through us with groans and tears, and I presume tongues, as He intercedes for the saints. We are to be the body of Jesus who still intercedes for those for whom He died. If we are led by the Spirit, we will pray for many whom we do not even know, and whose state of health we may never hear. It is not simply our prayers we bring. We become the one through whom He prays.
We certainly pray for those whose lives are closely linked with our own. It is important for us to release them into the love of God in order that we might not be an obstacle to their healing. That is not so much a prayer for God to heal as it is for Him to receive them into His love. When our relationship has been healed through the release, it seems to be an easier matter for the person to receive the healing that God has for them,
Sometimes it is only this prayer that we can pray. When my children are sick or in trouble of some kind, I ask others to pray for them to find God's grace in healing or to find resolution of the problem. It is difficult for me to pray, "Thy will be done," when my heart is screaming, "My will be done." It is incumbent on me at that point to turn them over to the Lord, and leave them in His hands.
That is not so easy as it sounds. I have never seen it stated more clearly than in Norman Renshaw's book, No Strings Attached. He writes of the night his daughter was suffering from a respiratory disease while he was trying to write a sermon. He finally stopped what he was doing and prayed through to the peace of knowing that he had deposited her in the arms of God's love.
When the child once again was gasping for the breath of life, Norman again picked her back up into his anxiety. It was not enough to say, "Well I have already prayed for that." He began again to pray through to that place where he could release her into the arms of God's love.
There is often a question about whether or not to pray for healing for someone who is considered terminal. I suppose I have rationalized the whole picture by saying to myself that death is healing. I will pray for the healing of anyone, and allow God to manifest that healing as He sees fit. If we see healing as the effort to keep someone alive in the body of flesh and blood, such prayer is a cop out. If we see healing as our pilgrimage out of hell into the Kingdom, it is wisdom.
When we are in those situations, Holy Spirit is there also to lead the prayers we pray for the people. There are times when the prayer will be for recovery of the person in this body; but there are other times when the prayer will be for that transition through death wherein the body will be left to return to dust while the person receives a spiritual body in its stead.
When we pray for healing, we often have to give the person permission to die. There have been people whose healing was retarded by those whose anxiety kept them bound in the body, rather than allowing them the freedom to depart and be with the Lord. When my mother was dying, the Lord told me to tell her two things. First, it was all right with me for her to die. Second, was when she got out of the body to look for the brightest light she could find, and He would take it from there. Her death was healing.