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No series on prayer resources would be complete without some discussion of healing prayer. There are many excellent books on this subject. One of my favorites is Authority to Heal, by Ken Blue, ISBN: 0-8308-1700-X.
Recently the Lord asked me if I felt Jesus' prayers carried more authority than my prayers did? I answered, "Yes, they did". Then He asked me, "Why is that, considering I have given you my authority?" And then He reminded me of John 14:12-14 which says:
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.
So why is it that there is a discrepancy between the level of power God desires for us and the level we actually walk in? Why aren't we all out multiplying bread, healing the sick and raising the dead on a regular basis? The discrepancy between our faith and our experiences has been perplexing and frustrating for many believers.
Ken begins his book by examining how our mindsets or "Theological Hindrances" can keep us from walking in the fullness of what God intends for us. He examines four of them which effect our ability to pray effectively for the sick.
Sanctification Through Sickness
This is the viewpoint that God intentionally makes us sick for some redemptive purpose, to teach us some lesson. It "espouses that sickness is essentially good for us, that it is sent to us to purify the soul and build character." As a result, "accepting the 'cross of sickness' is seen as Christlike; seeking healing is seen as selfish. And so many who could be healed are not, simply because the think they should not be." (Page 22).
The problem with this theology is that it does not understand the nature and character of God as a loving father who desires good things for His children. It ignores Matt 7:9-11, which says:
Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone. Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?
Ken traces the roots of this wrong viewpoint of God and healing back to the persecution of the early church. The believers "struggled to make sense of what they regarded as a contradiction", where Christ "should be victor over his enemies, yet now his enemies appeared to be winning the battle. They resolved the tension of this apparent contradiction by finding dignity and purpose in their suffering." And they realized that "false rulers of this world continued to resist his authority by persecuting his true followers. Their suffering showed they were faithful to their king. So the early church learned to value suffering." (Page 22).
"When the state-sponsored persecution ceased, suffering continued in the form of self-persecution which often resulted in sickness, which in turn became associated with the sanctifying effects of the initial persecution." (Page 23). Then church theology began to change, as the church shifted "away from the ministry of physical healing" (page 24) that Jesus initiated, to value the suffering in being sick. "The healing passages in the New Testament were interpreted in terms of the soul. For instance, James 5:13-19, which clearly refers to physical healing, was used to support the notion of 'last rights' or 'extreme unction.'" (Page 24).
Ken goes on to give some modern examples of people who hold this wrong theology. He makes an interesting point.. most of them refuse to seek divine healing because they are afraid of missing out on the lesson God has for them. But at the same time, they go to doctors and physical therapists and take medicine in the hopes of reducing the suffering from the very sickness they don't want God to heal them of. How sad!
Let me share just one of his examples, from page 25:
I recently met a seminary student I will call Richard, who had suffered a stroke that left the right side of his body virtually paralysed. When I offered to pray for him, he thanked me for my concern but declined. He then explained how, in his affliction, he had grown close to God and therefore regarded the partial paralysis as a good thing. I agreed with him on what seemed to be a significant positive benefit and then suggested that if the stroke had been of value, how much more the healing of it would be of value! He thought over what I said but still declined my praying for him because, as he said, "I don't want to miss out on anything God wants to teach me through this." I suggested that some of what God wished to teach him might come through healing.
I then asked Richard if he took physical therapy to improve his condition. He said yes, of course he did. I then asked him why he would accept improvement for his condition through therapy but not through prayer. After a long pause, he shrugged his one good shoulder and said, "I don't know."
Ken goes on to explain that occasionally God will use suffering or sickness to "correct the behavior of his people. But when God afflicts his people, he tells them what behavior he wants to correct. People are not long in doubt about what to do to be healed. ... When God sends sanctifying sickness, it is sent to modify bad behavior. When the behavior is remedied, the sickness is healed." (Page 26)
This theology arises from a misunderstanding of the Sovereignty of God. The essence of it is that "God is sovereign, so anything that happens to me must be God's will. If I get sick, then this must be God's will for me." This theology is an attempt to address the question, why do bad things happen to good people? There is a very true underlying premise.. that God is all powerful and that nothing can happen that He says "no" to. This theology takes it a step further and assumes that anything which happens is God's express will and that is why it happened. It discounts human choice (though the Bible clearly teaches free will) and it discounts spiritual warfare. It presents a warped view of God as mean.. that He desires for bad things to happen to us as part of His good plans.
Ken shares three emotionally gripping examples of how divine determinism paints an unloving and uncaring father who would intentionally hurt the children He loves for his own secret plans. Let me share just one of these stories with you...
Bev, a single mother, was told some years ago that her son had leukemia. She was confident that God could do anything for anyone. But her question was, Will He do something for my son? Confused about whether or not God intended to heal her child, she called for the elders of her church to come and pray, which they reluctantly did.
Later Bev recounted to me her elders' concerted effort to avoid any thing of presumption on God's will by liberally lacing their prayers with "if it please thee, Lord" and "According to thy will" and "if it be thy will." She remembered these as prayers of doubt and not as prayers of faith. Shortly following the meeting, her son went to the hospital for the last time. After his death, she fought desperately to reconcile her lifelong devotion to a God who could have healed her son but chose not to.
In the midst of her schizophrenic struggle to love a God who had killed her son, an older woman from the church said to her, "While we don't understand why, this too fits into God's secret plan." This statement served to crystalize the issue in the young mother's mind. She knew from that moment that she wanted nothing to do with a God who used the painful, humiliating death of a six-year-old boy for some higher, hidden purpose. (Page 35).
We must be careful not to present God to others as a divine masochist or look at Him that way ourselves. God is not a God who takes delight in causing bad things to happen to us.
We must understand that there are times when things happen outside of God's will.. because He has given free will to His creation (to humans and to angels and demons). The demonic forces have chosen to actively resist His will. For some reason God permits His creation to oppose His perfect will in some areas. God's will is not always accomplished. For instance, we know it is not His will for any to perish, yet He allows people to die without accepting Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. In short, God does not always force His own way in every circumstance. There are times when things happen to His children that are outside of His perfect will for them. So we are not expected to passively sit by and be sick, accepting it as God's will for us. Rather, we are to pray for healing. In fact, we can have confidence that it is almost always God's will to heal His children:
The clearest and fullest view of God's attitude towards sickness and healing is found in his son Jesus Christ. As we read the record of his earthly ministry, we find God's desire for this matter unambiguously disclosed.
In Luke 13:10-15, for instance, Jesus heals a woman who "had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years" (v. 11). It was by Satan's will that the woman was sick. It is Jesus, acting in accordance with God's will, who heals her. The synagogue ruler, thinking that he is upholding God's will in the issue, unwittingly sides with Satan saying that the woman should have remained sick on the Sabbath. It is Satan's will to cripple. It is God's will to heal. Unfortunately, many religious people are confused on these points.
When we want to understand God's will, we should not try to deduce it from the circumstances of a fallen world. Neither should we form an abstract concept of God's will from a non-biblical notion of divine sovereignty. Rather, we should look at Jesus, who is the explicit declaration of God's will. (Page 40).
The previous two "theological hindrances" work towards destroying faith. But we can error too much in the other direction as well. We know that faith is important to God, but our faith must be in God, not in "our faith" itself.
Ken begins this chapter by sharing the true story of the Gilmores, parents who had a baby that was sick with an easily treatable disease. Instead of seeking medical assistance, they "stood on faith" for their baby's healing and watched the baby die. He says, "It distresses me to criticize any teaching which exhorts us to stand on God's promises. I welcome the call to aggressive faith, but when faith becomes a technique to manipulate the power of God, it becomes destructive. This kind of thinking first choked out the discernment of the Gilmores, then it took the life of their son." (Page 42).
"'Faith formula' thinking is based on the theology that there is a strict causality between faith and healing. It holds that all divine blessings, such as health and prosperity, are constantly and fully available to all believers... [but must be] appropriated providing the individual Christian knows enough and believes enough. The most dominant feature of this type of thinking is its human-centeredness. Faith formula defines faith as the human will to believe. The human ability to believe is the key which unlocks God's treasure chest of gifts." (Page 42). This viewpoint centers on the human will and ignores God's will. It assumes they can use the "tool" of faith to get whatever they desire, if they believe it hard enough.
Ken goes on to give the historical roots of this theology as well as to provide some pastoral problems it causes. Here is one example. Ken's aunt had cancer and gathered faith-filled believers to pray for her. "These prayer warriors tolerated no negative thinking regarding my aunt's healing. They 'confessed positively' and fearlessly spoke the 'word of faith.' Being fully persuaded that 'confession brings possession,' they 'named and claimed' her complete and immediate healing. Some even said she was already healed despite the symptoms. The group received numerous prophecies and visions which assured them that healing was inevitable. Shock and disbelief overtook this group of faithful intercessors when she finally died. They had genuinely and thoroughly believed they had fulfilled the conditions for healing. .. Some were left with guilt feelings, suspecting that they had not believed hard enough, while others knew better and were mad at God for betraying them." (Pp 43-44).
Faith is very important, and God blesses faith in Him and in His promises. However, we must not move from there to the fallacy that we can force God to give us whatever we want if we "meet the conditions of faith". Ken goes on to give examples of healings that have occurred when expectant faith was not present, to demonstrate that it is God who heals, not our faith in healing.
Then Ken addresses the problem of "guilt and blame" that accompanies the 'faith formula' thinking. The premise is that if you have enough faith, you will not be sick and bad things won't happen to you. So if a person is sick, then it is the individual's fault, or the fault of those around the sick person who should have faith for their healing. This view holds that the person is either in sin or does not have enough faith. It is a blame game; if you don't get your healing then something is wrong with you. This can do terrible things to a person who is sick, or to their relatives. Ken gives this example, "A man lost his five year old son to a blood disease. After the boy's death, the father suffered tremendous guilt because he had believed his faith had not been strong enough to heal his son. Eight months later, the man himself died of a stress-induced disease." (Pp 46,47).
The faith formula "teaching bares little resemblance to the God of the Bible. The god of the 'faith formula' thinking can heal sickness but awaits some specific quantity and quality of faith to be offered up to him before healing is released. This god's relationship with his people seems to be more contractual than covenantal. He requires a certain amount of human faith/work before releasing his blessings. If blessings are not released, it is because the work has not been done." (Page 47). Thus, the entire responsibility for healing falls on the individual, not on God.
Ken develops how the 'faith formula' reduces the role of faith to "getting results" (Page 49) instead of to walk in a deep and intimate relationship with the living God. Ken concludes with, "And in defense specifically of 'faith formula' teachers, let me say that while I believe they exaggerate what is fully available to us now, they are still closer to the truth than those who deny the availability of healing now." (Page 50).
The Secular World View
The Secular World View dominates Western thinking. It is the viewpoint of science, that explains all things through natural law, and leaves no room for the supernatural. This world view tries to discount God's influence and rationalize away divine intervention and the miraculous.
"'Secularism' is that system of thought that denies the existence or significance of anything religious. God is removed from the modern view of reality so the world is now understood to be a closed system, governed by the cause and effect of natural laws. These laws are discovered by scientifically observing the empirical world. .. We moderns tend to function mostly without reference to God. Thus we are orientated almost exclusively to the secular. [Miraculous power] is ruled out from the start by a secular world view. Unless we make a conscious effort to resist the view of reality that we are born into and conditioned by, there is little chance we will with any confidence pray for the sick and see them healed." (Page 54).
The secular world view did not exist until the last 500 years. Before then, all world views were "Theistic. The categories of thought in every known culture were rooted in the belief that God or the gods were real and somehow present and active in the world." (Page 55). This first began to change with Rene Descartes and mathematics. He was the first to promote the theory that cause and effect could be predicted mathematically. Descartes believed in God, but theoretically argued that it was mathematically possible for God not to exist. "Gradually the theological view of reality was replaced by a scientific, mechanistic view. Instead of thinking of the world and its history in relationship to God, people began to think of it as an autonomous machine. The agenda of science was no longer to 'think God's thoughts after him' but to discover the laws which govern the universe." (Page 55).
The sad part is that every one of us is a product of our culture and environment, so Western Christians have this thinking deeply ingrained into them before they are even old enough to analyze it. "This is not to say that none of us believe in God anymore, but rather that he has become nonessential in the way we live our lives. We Western Christians may be theists in our heads, but we tend to act like secularists in our daily activities." (Page 56) For instance, when someone is sick, most Western Christians will first seek help from a doctor and only turn to God for assistance when (and if) medicine fails.
[Ken did not say this in his book, but a quote by John Wimber, founder of the Association of Vineyard Churches, fits so keenly into this discussion. John once spoke at a seminary class I was in and he said, regarding healing, "I believe in God and I believe in medicine. When I get a headache, I pray and I take some aspirin. Which ever one works first is fine with me!" God heals supernaturally and He heals through medicine, and we must not discount either.]
Ken shares the story of Liz, who suffered from epileptic seizures and severe migraines for years and medical science was unable to control it. She was healed through prayer and deliverance. She went back to the doctors after the healing and they could find no evidence of the disease. The gradually weaned her off of her medication and can offer no explanation for her recovery. "They refuse the accept her testimony that God healed her through prayer." (Page 57).
Ken shares another story of a woman named Brenda. She had just been diagnosed with cancer and was scheduled for a hysterectomy. Brenda received prayer and "we all sensed that the power of God to heal was with us. Brenda believed something had happened to her and so decided to ask the doctors for additional tests to check for improvement. If she could avoid the surgery, she definitely wished to. Because of the life-threatening nature of her disease and because divine healing was not considered a possibility, her doctors pressed her to not get more tests but to have the operation as scheduled. She consented and underwent surgery. After her uterus was removed, it was examined by the doctors who performed the operation. To the surprise of everyone, no trace of cancer was found except some scaring. The uterus which had been full of cancer five days prior was now clean and had been unnecessarily removed." (Page 58).
Ken does not advocate that we reject medical science. Rather he advocates that we don't reject God and depend solely on medicine and science. Ken shares that he believes we should use a combination of loving prayer and sound medical science. He mentions how neither his wife nor fourth son would be alive today if it were not for a skilled surgeon.
"The real tension is not between church and science, but between a secular world view and a view of reality which allows for the activity of the living God." (page 59). "Christian communities in other parts of the world that do not share our world view do not share our powerlessness either. Churches in Africa, Asia and South America, where Western thinking does not predominate, experience the reality of Paul's words to the Corinthians that 'the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.' (1 Cor 4:20)".
God Can And Does Heal Today
The first third of the book dealt with exposing and addressing wrong mindsets and thinking patterns that keep us from moving with God in His healing power. The next section of Ken's book helps us develop a strong and healthy theology of why God can and does heal, as well as understanding the forces of spiritual warfare that surround many sicknesses and diseases.
Finally, Ken concludes the book with some models of healing prayer and some practical hints on how to get started. The key is to stop looking at praying for the sick as a theory and to actually go start doing it! Ken shares some stories of what happened when various folks he knew actually went and started praying for the sick. Here is one of my favorites:
As I was completing this book, a friend of mine phoned to report that in the course of his work as an appliance repairman, he called on a woman who was seriously sick in bed. Despite his embarrassment and the apparent inappropriateness of the occasion, he offered to pray for her. She cautiously accepted his offer. After he prayed for her, she got out of bed, surprised and relieved to be feeling better. By the time he finished repairing her dishwasher, she had completely recovered. Then he told her about her need of salvation through Jesus Christ, who, as he explained, had just healed her. Needless to say, she was interested. (Page 160).I am reminded of the verse that says "Go thou and do likewise..."