Monday, February 15, 2010

Letter to Anna

This is a reply to a friend of ours who wrote me asking whether she should learn to live with her sickness or keep asking for healing.

Hi Anna(not her real name)
Thanks for writing me about the physical challenges you've been having. I am very sorry you are walking with these ailments. They sound extremely difficult and you carry them with grace.
The subject of prayer for healing is obviously a big and contentious one, but its absolutely vital that we wrestle with it as Christ followers. Praying for the sick with success is described as an accompanying sign of believers in the gospels, and is commanded in the book of James. Every one of us carry some disappointment when it comes to praying for the sick, but from my point of view, that does not mean that we shrink back from it altogether. I have seen God heal enough times to keep praying earnestly and expectantly, even though the success rate is not all that high.

I find the Hebrews 11 passage on the heroes of the faith very helpful when it comes to prayer.
Faith at the beginning of the chapter is defined as "believing that God exists and rewards those who earnestly seek Him" v 6
At bottom line, to pray in faith for anything means believing that God hears and rewards us.
That our prayers actually make a difference to God.
Then the passage seemingly contradicts itself by saying, "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive what was promised, they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance." v 13
And again, "All these were commended for such faith, yet none of them received what was promised." v39
It's not that they did not receive any of what was promised. Sarah, for instance, became pregnant and miraculously gave birth to Isaac. But they didn't receive all that was promised in their lifetime.
The Scripture is trying to teach us a few things here. Firstly, to keep trusting God and praying earnestly. This includes healing. It is part of what Christ purchased on the cross for us. (Is 53:4-5)
Secondly, that we live between the now and the not yet, like them. The kingdom is advancing, but is not fully come.We live somewhere between redemption and consummation. That is why we see some healing, but not complete healing everywhere.
We do not give up though. Sometimes healing is immediate, other times it is gradual, through faith and patience. (Heb 6:2)
Jesus' teaching on prayer often involved 'bothering' God. The person who wanted bread bothered his neighbor until he got it, (Lk 11)and the widow who wanted justice 'bothered' the judge until she got it.(lk 18)
In prayer, Jesus encourages us to bother God in prayer, knowing he is good and just.

Of course we have to remember that God is Sovereign. He is not our servant and we cannot dictate to Him. There is a precedent in Jesus' prayer life for prayer being an act of humble submission to God's Sovereign will, in the garden of Gethsemane. "Not my will but Yours be done, Father," and of course he taught us to pray like this in Luke 11.Paul's 'thorn in the flesh' was another such example of this - 'my grace is sufficient for you'. He wanted to get out of the situation and God said that He would not take him out of it but would give Him grace for it. However, in both Jesus' and Paul's situations God had made his will very clear to them - it involved suffering and they received grace to suffer according to God's will. God is sovereign and He has the right to take us through suffering, which in some cases includes physical sickness. However, this seems to be the exception to the rule and I believe we can ask God to make that clear to us. Many reformed theologians have taught it as the rule though- that prayer is more for the person praying than it is about asking God for something in faith - and have therefore robbed people of faith-filled prayer.

So my counsel would be to keep asking God for healing, for God's glory and your good, unless he makes it otherwise clear to you. Keep asking the elders to lay hands on you in faith too. Also, pray for grace to cope with the disability until you do get healed. And pray for the possibility of the common grace of good medical cure.
Hope this is helpful


  1. Great post Al. I trust you guys are doing well!

    Not sure I agree with this part: "... in some cases includes physical sickness."

    Heres my view. Paul and Jesus both suffered, but it was for the Gospel sake. Their calling required suffering, and so it was Gods will for them to suffer.

    Throwing sickness into the mix, under the guise of suffering, undermines the exact work that Jesus came to destroy.

    As Rom 6 says, we are to reckon ourselves dead to sin. We are to believe of ourselves that our the old man, us being in the dominion of sin, has died. Even if we sin, we are still to reckon ourselves dead to sin. Its believing the gospel above our experience. I think the same principle applies with sickness.

    So just as God wouldn't use sin as our form of suffering, because its what he set us free from, I also believe He won't use sickness.

    Practically, its also difficult to rebuke sickness if you feel that it might be from God. Why rebuke something that God wants you to have? Or are we not called to rebuke sickness?

    From another side, if a sick person thinks his suffering is from God, then he has no right to seek any medical attention as he'll be doing so against Gods will.

    I know this topic is multifaceted:) You could look at it from a few angles. Let me know your thoughts Al.


  2. Hey JM - thanks for your comments. The book of Job is a challenging example of how God at times allows sickness into a believer's life. Be careful of dismissing it as old covenant. It still has something to teach us. Paul's sickness was not clearly from suffering for the gospel - (most commentators say his thorne in the flesh was his failing eyesight).It just was and God's grace was sufficient.Nor was Timothy's stomach ailment. Paul didn;'t tell him to go snd get prayed for, he told him to take some wine.
    For some reason, even though Jesus healed everywhere he went, he didn't heal everyone.
    Hear me, I am not advocating an approach where every sick person you pray for you ask, "God is it your will that they be healed?"I believe the atonement includes physical healing.
    But we are living between the now and the not yet.
    Plus we cannot make God do anything. Our faith is important but it is not ultimate. God is ultimate.
    Finally, an example - A man called Nick Vuyicic who was born with no arms or legs. He asked God to heal him many times, but God told him that his disability would see multitudes coming to Christ. Today he has access to preach the gospel into areas that are absolutely closed to it, and has seen massive gospel fruit from it. His disability has resulted in the greater miracle of sins forgiven. God can be glorified in sickness/disability.
    That said, I am desperate to see more healing. We are beginning to see it! It us part of the kingdom advancing.

  3. Hi Alan,

    Good post. It's heartening to see you contending for the gospel on this issue. You said:

    "But we are living between the now and the not yet. Plus we cannot make God do anything. Our faith is important but it is not ultimate. God is ultimate."

    Sadly, many do not share this view. I'm sure you're aware of the popular teachings coming out of California and other places that would purport that it is by all means our faith that determines healing. They may not teach it as explicitly as that, but it is the essence of their doctrine--in which they leave no room for the sovereignty of God.

    From reading your post and subsequent response, your high view of God expresses a humility that extends to the place where many fear to go and work so hard to deny, and that is to render this life as it truly is-fallen. Our redemption is in Him, and we will not see "all things restored" until He returns. In the meantime, God's Divine prerogative is such that He sends rain on the just and unjust, even as He allows sickness and grants healing to same.

    Sadly, it seems many Christians are no longer founded securely upon God's principles, and the sin of provocation is upon many who "demand" of God for healing as opposed to submitting to His all-sufficient grace and sovereign will. The curious thing about this "demand" I've observed is that it is not overt, but rather a subtle yet dogged belief that it is God's standard to heal all at all times no matter what.

    And that is what I take issue on. There are well-known testimonies such as the one stated above, Nick Vuyicic, and well-knowns such as Joni Eareckson Tada and Tony Snow that display the glory of God unequivocally. And there are others who are not-so famous who live out their faith and gain a greater glory for God, even when it means leaving loved ones behind due to what we would call an "untimely death."

    Chris Klicka, a 48-year old Christian man (father, leader, lawyer, husband, author) recently passed away due to complications from a long drawn out battle with multiple sclerosis. I understand he breathed his last with his family around him, including his 8-year old son. Only a few days prior his death I had awoken from sleep in the middle of the night with a strong impression of him on my heart and mind. And the Lord spoke to my heart: "Here is a man who fears the Lord. His memory will live on because He fears me."

    Only God knows what his 8 -year old son will become when he grows up.

    Do we pray for healing? Absolutely. Do we trust in our faith? Absolutely not. We may please Him by our faith, and He may act accordingly, but God's ways are eternal and beyond finding out.

    Though He slay me, yet must I trust Him!

  4. E that is some profound stuff. Also, love your blog 'finding the motherlode' - both stylish and substantial. I cannot for the life of me find out who you are though...

  5. Some thoughts - With regards to people 'demanding' healing, I think its more a case of people commanding sickness to leave a person, than it is 'demanding' God to heal. Jesus commanded, rebuked, and spoke to sickness.
    While he ministered, He was training his disciples. He even told his disciples to "heal the sick" (Matt 10, Mark 16). Practically, we see his disciples handle sickness the same way Jesus did in Acts 3. There are many theological views on Peter and John at the gate called Beautiful, but if I read it simply, with no pretenses, they didn't even ask God to heal the crippled beggar - They said "what I have, I give to you, In the name of Jesus (an authoritative command) Walk".

    This doesn't detract from the sovereignty of God, or the leading of the Spirit. God can still sovereignly heal anyone He wants, and we should believe that He is more than able to heal on His own, even without our faith. But at the same time remembering that He wants to display His kingdom through us. We should be Spirit lead, but we can also command sickness to leave someone without being specifically lead by the Holy Spirit. We can do it out of obedience to the word.

    Jesus healed everyone who came to him for healing… He didn't turn anyone away, or give them a reason to keep their sickness. I'm not saying that God is not allowed to keep some one sick for his purpose. God is sovereign. I just don't see that revealed at all in Jesus' ministry.

  6. HEY JM
    I THINK THAT SUFFERING IS OFTEN FOR THE GOSPEL, but the 1 Peter passage about suffering is not because of the gospel but because of personal faith and character being strengthened. "do not be surprised when you suffer trials of many kinds because the testing of your faith produces charcter, perseverance etc...."
    So sickness could be one of God's trials in God's sovereignty, like it seemed to be for Job, Paul, and Timothy.

  7. Shot Al... Thanks for this... I think it serves as good discussion hey... and it also opens up truth on both sides. Hope you don't mind my comments on your blog :) Thanks for taking time out to answer!!

    Here is a commentary from Albert Barnes (1798-1870) on the thorn in the flesh passage (2cor 12):

    "...and the idea is, that the trial to which he refers was as troublesome and painful as such a thorn would be in the flesh But whether he refers to some infirmity or pain in the flesh or the body is another question, and a question in which interpreters have been greatly divided in opinion. Every one who has become familiar with commentaries knows that almost every expositor has had his own opinion about this..."

    Maybe we're reading different Commentaries? :) It seems like there is speculation over Paul's thorn in the flesh. Maybe it is sickness. Maybe not. If it we're 100% clear that it was sickness, guys wouldn't disagree.

    I do see how God uses suffering to produce character, like in James 1... God wants us to overcome suffering + temptation (KJV) that comes our way, and let it produce perseverance, faithfulness, ect. It's tested faith. I'm with you on that one for sure:) Is sickness included? Possibly. Sickness is a form of suffering. I don't see any reference to sickness in that passage though. I think there is grey area there again...

    I heard that you guys are going to be doing a series on Sickness? If so, I'll definitely download it when its available.

    Hope you guys are enjoying USA.

    Lots of Love,