I’m still astonished that there is so little emphasis on healing ministry in most of the churches that I know or have been involved in. Apart from the Passion itself or Jesus’ longer discourses like the Sermon on the Mount or the High Priestly Prayer, it’s difficult to read more than a few pages in the Gospels without running into one or more healing miracles. And while they’re not mentioned as frequently in the Acts of the Apostles, it’s clear that the miraculous wasn’t limited to the ministry of Jesus. Luke just lumps the healings and miracles together in his descriptions of Peter, or Stephen, or Philip. If we look through Christian history, we will also find that healing is “a persistent theme in the history of Christianity, threading its way through ritual practice and theological belief.” (Amanda Porterfield – Healing in the History of Christianity, Oxford Press)
I ask myself why, then, is it so little appreciated in our time? My answer to that question is that “healing is messy.” The church, as an institution, has steadily fenced in healing and other ministries of the Holy Spirit because they’re difficult to manage, because they can be subject to abuse, because they bring up difficult questions and cause a fair amount of disappointment. People who engage in Spirit led ministries like healing sometimes become too full of themselves and difficult to manage in a pastoral setting. Others use healing as a stepping stone to influence or power, sometimes faking the results of their prayer in order to gain more recognition. (I know personally of a man who was subject to this at the hands of Oral Roberts.) Some are healed, many are not. How do we deal with the disappointment and frustration this brings? How do we answer the question, “Why was she healed and I was not?”
For all these reasons the leadership of the larger church has, for the most part, relegated “healing” to “prayers,” and hoped for the best. We read long lists of names on Sunday mornings of people for whom prayer of one sort or another (we’re not even told what) has been requested, and told that this is “intercession.” Some get better, others do not, and we’re not even told what happens. There is no testimony of healing when someone is removed from the list because that would raise difficult questions about those who remain (or those who die). At best, there might be “thanksgivings” for the recovery of someone on the list, but little reference to the power and will of God for healing.
You and I know well that this is not how Jesus did it. It is not how He instructed His followers to do it. “These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” (Matthew 10:5-8a, ESV) The proclamation of the Kingdom was always intended to be accompanied by manifestations of its presence. Why do we not pray with greater expectation, greater authority?
There’s an answer to that question that I learned from Randy Clark, a man who ministers in healing all the time and whose school in Pennsylvania I attended. He says that being a part of healing ministry is, in the western world, as close to carrying the Cross of Jesus as we will ever get. He might be overstating it a bit, but he still hit the nail on the head. Healing ministry means living with disappointment all the time. We will see miracles, I know I have, but many, no, most of the people we pray for will not be healed. Randy has documented this. Even the greatest healers in the modern era only managed to heal about half the people they prayed for. (Though I wonder what John G. Lake’s results were. He is said to have emptied whole hospitals.) But for the average Christian there will be fewer than half. I haven’t counted the healings I’ve been a part of and figured our percentages, but my batting average wouldn’t get me into the majors, I’m sure.
So healing is hard to do. It’s hard to pray for someone with absolute confidence that God wants them healed, to pray with all the authority given to us by Jesus through His Crucifixion, and get no results. It’s even harder to pray for the next person with the very same faith and authority after you’ve been disappointed. I can tell you stories of the spells I’ve laid this prayer aside because it became too much. But that’s a discussion for later, when I get to the importance of surrounding yourself with other believers who will support you.
Then of course there are those who will argue that the gifts of the Spirit that I’m talking about, healing in particular, ended with the Apostles. This theology is known as “cessationism.” People argue that these gifts were intended only for that first generation of Christians, to establish the Church, and that after the Apostolic period God withdrew those gifts. God still heals from time to time, but the authority to heal given to the church ended with the Apostles. I won’t get into that argument here. I will only say that I have searched the Scriptures myself and find no biblical warrant for cessationism. Further, I have been witness to too many healings, under my hands or the hands of another, to be able to accept that God changed His mind about healing when the last Apostle died. I might question the thousands and thousands of reports of healing that have happened over the centuries as somehow false or mistaken, but I cannot question the evidence of my own eyes and ears.
I really believe that cessationism grew up as a theology to explain why we see so many fewer healings since the early days of the church. People aren’t getting healed any more. There must be a reason. It cannot be that our faith has waned, so it must be that God doesn’t want it to happen any more. This is the kind of logical fallacy we call an “argument from silence.” We just can’t argue that God doesn’t want us to heal from the absence of results. I’m reminded of a scene from The Santa Clause in which Neil, the ultra-rationalist, is trying to convince Charlie, Scott Calvin’s son, that there is no Santa Claus. He asks Charlie if he’s ever seen Santa and he replies that he has. Then Neil says, “Well, I haven’t.” Charlie asks, “Have you ever seen a million dollars?” Neil says, “No” and Charlie drops the hammer with, “Just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” What we have done with healing is let our theology be shaped by what we have not seen. (Thank you to Bill Johnson for that insight.)
There is another contributor to our reluctance of many to take up serious healing ministry. We have either been told, or just assumed that “healing is only for special people.” Certain gifts, especially the more spectacular ones like miraculous healing are reserved for those with special gifts or those who have the greatest faith. That certainly doesn’t include “little ol’ me.” (Randy Clark’s favorite phrase.) Paul even seems to support the idea that most of us aren’t given the gift of healing.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:4–11, ESV) But nowhere in Paul’s letters do I see him limit healing the the “stars” of the faith. Neither does he say that anyone who has one of these gifts might not walk in others. His purpose in this section of First Corinthians was not to limit the expression of spiritual gifts, but to prevent some from lording their gifts over others.
Jesus, on the other hand, when He sent out the seventy-two in Luke 10, commanded all of them to “heal the sick” in the towns they came to. He wanted all of them to heal, not just some. There is a grain of truth in the idea that some are more gifted than others, of course. Few of us will see as many miracles as Kathryn Kuhlman or William Branham. But just because some excel in the expression of a given gift doesn’t mean that all of us cannot expect to see it. The church at large is more deeply indebted to John Wimber than it may ever realize. Through him God moved the ministry of healing from the platform to the floor. He pointed out time and again that the same Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus at His baptism and empowered all of His miracles was given to you and to me at our baptisms. As a result John taught that we can all “do the stuff” that Jesus did. My favorite phrase of his is, “Everyone gets to play.”
We all get to play, and I have found that keeping the image of play in mind has been a good antidote to the disappointments I often experience in healing ministry. That is, the ultimate outcome is not in question. I am invited to be a part of God’s redemption of Creation by acting as His agent, but I am not responsible for the final result. That is in God’s hands, and I can rest in that. I am offered the chance to join in the fun of tearing down the strongholds of the enemy, but God’s victory is never in doubt. It’s more like play than work.
I’ll mention one last possible source of our reluctance to enter into healing ministry. We may feel unqualified, not holy enough, but that is just the enemy talking. It’s also a subject that I’ll get into later when I can give it enough space. For the moment let me suggest that feeling unqualified is perhaps one of the greatest qualifications I can think of. You’re right. You aren’t. Not in yourself. But that’s no reason not to do it!
Finally, I want to mention why I’m writing this. I wanted to write a book on healing for “the rest of us.” By that I mean that healing and the other gifts of the Spirit are not meant just for those with conservative theologies. Some conservatives subscribe wholeheartedly to the theology of cessationism that I named above. But those denominations or movements within the larger Church that are best known for healing tend to hold very conservative ideas. I cannot think of one that doesn’t. (I hope I’m wrong.) I believe, in the depths of my heart, that God wants those of us who are more inclusive and compassionate to take up our own gifts. There is nothing that says that we can’t believe in healing and also evolution. There is nothing that says that science and psychology are enemies of the miraculous. One of the great gifts of science since the mid 20th century is the gift of uncertainty. The absolutism of the enlightenment has yielded to the humility of quantum realities. Just because we don’t understand why something happens doesn’t mean that it can’t any more.
I believe that the world needs more healers, people who demonstrate the Goodness of God in ways that defy explanation apart from God’s unstoppable love for us. And it needs healers among those of us who aren’t busy putting up fences to mark who’s “out” and who’s “in.” The witness of Christianity to the world is deeply wounded by this truth: We who preach a Gospel that includes even those who don’t confess it do not move in the gifts of the Spirit. It is time that we did. It’s scary. It can be very disappointing and painful. It can bring ridicule. But it is also exhilarating and even fun. And Jesus did ask that we take up His Cross daily and follow Him. The rest of us need to “do the stuff,” too.