by John Vlanic
I was taking a pastoral student intern with me on some initial visits in our Hospital. As we came onto one of the floors, the nursing staff told us we had a new patient with one of the progressive neuromuscular diseases (e.g. Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, Huntington's and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease). This person seemed to be suffering a great deal – not physical pain, but spiritual suffering. The family had told the staff that the woman’s faith was very important to her. But now she could barely communicate. The best she could do was one-syllable gasps.
The student and I went in and tried to make Jesus “present” in every way we could. After explaining who we were and doing other things to “connect” I asked if we could read a psalm with her and pray with her. She responded with what was clearly a “yes.”
As I closed my Bible after reading a Psalm of trust, the woman, with great intensity, blurted out something that sounded like “Fie!” I told her I wasn’t getting it and asked her to repeat. Again, “Fie!” I said that she must be very frustrated with being no longer able to speak clearly. All we got was “Fie.” The student and I tried several possibilities, but all were clearly bad guesses. All we got, again and again, was a passionate “Fie!” We didn’t have a clue.
Suddenly I heard myself asking the patient, “Do you mean James 5?” There was a sound that was clearly an enthusiastic “yes!” I asked, “Are you wanting us to anoint you with oil in the name of the Lord Jesus and pray over you – as mentioned in James 5” She clearly did.
I told her we would be glad to do that, and excused myself to ask the nurses for some oil.
When I came back to the room I took time to assure the patient that I did believe that the Lord Jesus was going to heal her. I assured her that God is greater than we are, and so too are his healing ways.
Then it occurred to me to mention that in the Bible we see references to several kinds of healings.
Some are of the “James 5” type, where there is a clear physical reversal of the sickness. I agreed with her that this was the type I would long for if I were her, and that we joined her in wanting it for her. So I read from James 5:
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up.
We let those words soak in. Then I explained that in the New Testament we also see what I call a “2 Corinthians 12” kind of healing. And I read:
A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
I explained how, though we do not prefer this way of being healed, we do know that suffering – even deprivation – has long been an important tool for building Christ-like character, for healing our inner lives, and for finding deep joy of the sort most people never come to know. There are many scriptures that speak of this.
Then I mentioned a third kind of healing, the “Revelation 21” kind. We read:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
I told her that she could stake her life on that promise! Then we prayed and anointed her in Jesus’ name, sure that he would indeed heal her – in one or more of those ways or another that flows from his great love for her.
Before we left, I used “scaling” with her – to give us some kind of base line for our next visit. If 0 represents “I feel totally abandoned by God; I’m in utter despair” and if 10 represents, “I feel God’s presence with me so much that it’s almost heaven,” where was she on the scale from 0 to 10? We heard (and verified) that it was 6. We talked very briefly about that and assured her we would be back in a few days, and would continue to pray for her on our own.
A few days later we went into this patient’s room. She was clearly as ill physically as before. If anything she seemed a bit weaker. We talked with this dear woman with whom we had cried out to God for healing. Soon I referred back to our time of prayer a few days earlier. I mentioned the fact that we had been praying for her in the meantime.
I also spoke of the humbling fact that we know neither the full details of God’s ways nor God’s timing in all these things. Eventually we shared a Psalm of trust, and expressed our confidence in the fact that Jesus was indeed healing her.
Before we left, I did the scaling again, hoping that with no visible positive change since we had anointed her and prayed, the 6 would not have turned into a 1 or a 0! We were a bit afraid about what we might learn.
But the patient blurted out something that sounded like a 10! I asked if she was saying “10” and she verified that she was. I inquired, “Are you telling me that you sense the presence of Jesus with you so powerfully, and that you have such peace in him that a 6 is nowhere near good enough to describe how Jesus has touched you?”
Again the response was an enthusiastic “Yes! Ten!”
So we prayed with her again, thanking God for his faithfulness in already healing her in a powerful way, and looking forward to the Day of final healing, and any other way he’d be pleased to heal her in the meantime!
Back in the office afterward, the seminary student and I tried to unpack some of what we had experienced. I said that I guessed that this woman had so read and re-read the Bible over her life that even though she (and we) wanted “James 5,” she knew with peace and certainty that “2 Corinthians 12” can happen if “James 5” doesn’t, and that “Revelation 21” surely will one day!
It was clear to both of us that a 2 Corinthians 12 healing had indeed taken place in this woman’s life. It was clear that now, in her weakness, this woman was strong!!
The student and I speculated about what might have been the case if this woman had not been a biblically informed Christian. She might well have believed EITHER:
● “healing is not for me; Jesus only did that back in Bible days” [which is FALSE; he does heal today]
● “if I just have enough faith, and the right minister anoints me, God will always give me a miraculous, bodily, visible healing; if he doesn’t, it’s either because I don’t have enough faith or I haven’t gone to the right pastor” [which is also FALSE – even the Apostle Paul didn’t get the healing he wanted – though God did heal him; and I can point you to faith healers who wear glasses or contacts.
One of the key things this woman taught me is that when we find ourselves broken, it will make a world of difference whether we have read and actually internalized big chunks of scripture. It might mean the difference between an existence that is almost hellish, or one almost heavenly! We’ve already speculated about the result for this woman if she had not formed a biblical mindset.
Of course, the healing she received was the work of the Spirit. But I am sure that a life-time of reading the scriptures helped her to know to ask, and ask boldly, AND to know that the fact that God didn’t take away the “problem” in the way she had asked did NOT mean that he was not powerfully at work in her!
I saw the follower of Jesus in her room many more times. I myself was strengthened by the marvelous healing Jesus had done in her, was doing in her and would finally complete on that Day!
Her body wasn’t “fixed” in this world. But what amazing “good health” God gave her in her final days here!
Here’s the bottom line from all of this. Our God is a healing God! He has more ways of working his healing grace in our lives than you can shake a stick at! I assure you, he’s doing it, and he wants to do more of it! He does it in the three ways outlined above and many more.
Think of how our bodies work (auto-immune system, antibodies, etc.), or medicine & medical science, healing fruits and herbs from God’s creation.
And think of Prevenient grace (the grace that “goes before” we commit to Christ and awakens our hunger for God) and Regeneration (newness of life when we are “born again”). Think of the miraculous healing of lives as people grow in Christ-likeness! Think of the miracles of forgiveness and reconciliation (with God and with people).
Think of the Lord’s Supper, through which God keeps touching us and strengthening us. Think of Scripture and worship. There’s much, much more.
So ask him for what you think you need.
And be assured that he will give you what you do need (note that we did not say “want”).
And, if you can only “see” as my patient did, I predict that you will eventually recognize that, to allude to Ephesians 3, what he gives you is “abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”
So: Thank him!
Our God is a healing God!