by Robert Brow
In our reading we have the healing of Peter's mother in law, a crowd of sick people who came to the door of the house, and a group of possessed persons who were freed from their diseases. Notice how the word dis-ease suggests any situation in which our body is ill at ease. Jesus taught his disciples to engage in the same ministry of healing, and we wonder how we are to continue in that work of spiritual healing?
First of all we should be beware of people who say that if we had enough faith and prayed hard enough we would be healed. That is one of Satan's lies. He is then able to suggest that if some are not healed, our ministry of spiritual healing must be a fraud. The plain fact is that Peter and James and John and all that generation of early disciples all died, and no doubt there was much faith and prayer for their healing. God invented death as a way of moving from this life to the life of heaven. Which means that the death of a loved one is a terrible bereavement for the family, but it is never a tragedy for the person who has already passed into the perfect joy of the love of God.
Paul the apostle, through whom many others were healed, tells us that he had a terrible thorn in the flesh. It could have been recurring malaria, or dysentery from polluted water, or an eye condition such as glaucoma. This is what he wrote: '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 my 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' (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
He carefully does not tell us what the thorn was. That allows us to put into that verse our own kind of thorn, that particular dis-ease that bothers most of us. I doubt if there is anyone here who does not have a thorn in the flesh of one kind or another. And obviously it wasn't Paul's lack of faith or of earnest prayer that prevented his healing. He tells us that the Lord gave him just the right amount of healing for his work of planting churches all over the Mediterranean.
But the fact of our eventual death, or the thorn in the flesh that for some reason is not healed, is not a reason to reject the opportunity to look to the Lord for healing in all the hundreds of other situations that bother us. What would we say of someone who refused to go to the family doctor because his patients all died eventually? I have seen again and again that although prayer for healing may not instantly give us a cure, many wonderful things happen as we put ourselves in the hands of our loving God. And sometimes healing is as dramatic as it was in Jesus' day.
Secondly we should remember that our body mostly heals itself. When you cut yourself and cover it with a band aid, or a doctor puts in some stitches, the body does all that is needed to repair the wound. Every day our body is invaded by millions of germs and viruses, and God has designed our immune system to zap them. It is usually when we are tired and run down that our defenses are breached and we get the flu or pneumonia.
Some dis-eases like AIDS can be given to us by the carelessness of others. And some dis-eases are self-inflicted. This is particularly true of the damage to our system when we are filled with hatred. Paul tells us it is OK to be angry, but we should not let the sun go down upon our wrath (Ephesians 4:26). If we let the anger fester in our heart it will come out in one form or another as heart disease, blood pressure, ulcers, cancer, or some other kind of disease. In one of his parables Jesus said that the refusal to forgive results in our being handed over to torture until we pay the debt (Matthew 18:34-35). The cure is easy. We ask the Holy Spirit to change our anger, or our refusal to forgive, and fill us with love. Often the dis-ease begins to heal immediately..
The inability to accept God's forgiveness is another terrible cause of dis-ease, and that can also be healed immediately. Again and again Jesus said to people in trouble "Your sins are forgiven." But it is sad when good Christian people are unsure about being forgiven. In one parish where I served everybody was very concerned about a woman who had terrible psychological problems and a slew of other dis-eases. It was destroying her family, and she was about to get divorced. Finally someone persuaded her to come to me for prayer. I asked her if there was any guilt that was bothering her? After two or three minutes of embarrassed silence she said she had an abortion and she felt that she had murdered that child. So I asked her if she believed that God could forgive murderers, and she said "Oh, yes, I believe that." So I suggested that if God could forgive murderers, surely He could forgive her. Immediately she knelt down, and accepted God's forgiveness. The whole interview just took a few minutes. As she was going home, healing had begun and she was soon healed from the psychological problems that had bothered her, and the physical problems also disappeared. If a word from an ordinary human can heal such dis-ease, how much more should you expect when the Lord Messiah says "You are forgiven." .
Thirdly let me remind you of the power of faith. The church's ministry of spiritual healing is very simple. Our task is to help people put their faith in Jesus the Healer. Many studies have proved that faith is extremely important in ordinary medicine. If you have faith in your doctor you are many times more likely to be healed than if you are suspicious. The old doctors used to give a bread pill or a distilled water injection, and people were healed because they believed it would do them good. Doctors would not dare do that these days in case people viewed them as frauds. But even the best doctors can make mistakes, and medications may not work. Having seen Jesus at work in the Gospels we can be sure He does not make mistakes. Already in the Old Testament Jesus was called Jehovah Rapha, the Lord heals. In Isaiah we read that He heals our dis-eases (Isaiah 53:4). So if we put our trust in Him for healing, then both our family doctor and the medicines that are prescribed will have their proper effect.
Incidentally it is very important not to neglect what doctors and the treatment that modern medicine provides. They are also means of healing given to us by God. The point is that faith in Jesus our Healer makes them many times more effective. And doctors are more and more recognizing that fact.
If the purpose of spiritual healing helps us to put our faith in Jesus, that does not deny the possibility of having faith for healing on our own. Any of us has the right to approach Him directly. . But often when we are worried about a serious condition that bothers us it is a great help being able to go to those who can support us in prayer. At some services we have a prayer station, and if you feel the need for prayer, you will be asked "What are you praying for?" It could be for yourself or someone else. The person may not have any special healing gift, but he or she will take your concern and ask Jesus Himself to come near with His healing power. And I keep meeting people who tell me they were helped in that way.
In the next chapter of Mark there is an example of how the prayers of others can help us. There was a man who was totally paralyzed, and unable to leave his bed or even have faith for healing. But four friends carried him on his mat up on to the roof of the verandah where crowds were gathered around Jesus. They took off a few tiles and lowered the paralyzed man in front of him. Then we read these amazing words. 'When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven . . . take up your mat and go to your home." And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were amazed and glorified God' (Mark 2:3-12). Notice that it was their faith that worked for the paralyzed man.
When we pray for the sick in our services, I don't like rhyming off a whole list of people as if we were turning a Buddhist prayer wheel. I suggest we look down the list and think of one or two persons we know. Then as soon as four people are focusing in prayer for someone who is dis-eased, I believe the healing power of Jesus begins to work in wonderful ways. A few weeks later someone is back in church, and nobody remembers how the prayer of faith helped that person back into wholeness.
Jesus engaged in the ministry of healing, and taught his disciples to
go out and pray for the sick. We are certainly called to continue that
ministry of healing in our community.