Chapter Six – What Do We Do With Failure?

Not everyone we pray for will be immediately, miraculously healed. Not even half of them. I don’t keep count of my own success/failure ratio, but as I said in an earlier chapter, I don’t think my batting average would get me into the major leagues.

Randy Clark, the most important of my mentors/teachers in healing ministry, does regular conferences with Bill Johnson where they teach others to pray for healing. In those conferences he has a two-part teaching he calls “The Thrill of Victory, the Agony of Defeat.” (Yes, he credits the old show, the Wide World of Sports.) In “The Thrill of Victory” he tells stories about healings he’s seen that seem like they shouldn’t have happened. Someone was healed who had no faith for it. Someone was healed when Randy had no faith for it. Someone else was healed who was living in notorious sin, etc. He uses those examples to remind the listeners that we can’t make rules out of things that help or hinder. God will heal in spite of anything.

Then he goes on to teach “The Agony of Defeat.” He believes this message to be the most important he ever teaches. In it he recounts deeply painful stories of people with great faith, sometimes children, who were not healed. He uses his own failures to equip others to face theirs. It was in this context that I heard him say that he thinks healing ministry is the closest thing we have in the West to taking up Jesus’ Cross daily.

You and I, as people committed to healing prayer, will have to deal with a lot of failure. Even the greatest healers of all time had to deal with that. So it’s important for us to acknowledge that reality and deal with it. It isn’t only about us and the effect of our failure on us, either. We need to be prepared to deal with the disappointment of those who come to us and go away without seeing results.

Every time I pray for someone I want to go into it expecting that this will be the time we see a miracle. That’s difficult when most of the time I do not. But that doesn’t excuse me from summoning the faith to believe that the next person I pray for will see the miracle they need. I know that “failure” is a strong word, but I don’t want to whitewash it. That’s what it is. If I had the faith of Jesus, every person I prayed for would be healed. But I don’t and so they aren’t.

Too many people in healing ministry I’ve known (not that many, but one is too many) start to make excuses for failure that are both false and damaging. They blame it on the person prayed for, lack of faith, sin, anything to shift the responsibility. Sometimes they try to write it off to “God’s timing.” “It just isn’t the time for you to be healed today,” or “Perhaps God intends for someone else to do this healing instead of me.”

Blaming it on the person you’re praying for isn’t just inaccurate, it’s cruel. Jesus healed everyone He prayed for, regardless of their sin or lack of faith. Almost no one will come to you for prayer unburdened by at least a little of one or both. Healing in spite of these things is almost the point. God saves before we believe, in order that we might believe better.

Blaming it on “timing” makes God a monster. It is the same as saying that God wants the person in front of you to continue suffering to satisfy some other purpose. God may use my failure to accomplish something but doesn’t desire it. So don’t send the person you’re praying for away thinking that God is that callous.

When you don’t see results, take responsibility. It’s hard, but it’s the only truth. Instead of trying to explain it away, use your failures to make you more humble, to increase your reliance on God, to help you cry out with greater passion, “I can’t do this without You, God!” I have found that this stance before God opens me to greater levels of God’s love for the people I pray for, which increases my faith that this will be the time we see miracles. That is where my faith comes from, my conviction that God loves the person before me more than I can imagine. My failure becomes the gateway to greater faith.

Taking responsibility for your own failure in prayer isn’t just better theologically for you, it is also important for the person seeking prayer. It takes a good deal of courage for most folks to step forward and ask for prayer, even more to ask for it expecting results, allowing for disappointment. When they don’t see immediate healing, they will look for reasons that will lighten that disappointment. Even if they don’t give voice to them, they will likely go away thinking there was something wrong with them that led to the lack of results.

When I pray for someone and they aren’t healed, I almost always say something afterwards like, “I’m sorry I couldn’t bring the healing you needed.” Usually, at that point they will say something like, “Oh, it’s okay, it wasn’t you, but thanks for trying.” It is at that moment that I think it’s very important to add, “Oh, of course it was me. If I had the faith that Jesus had, everyone I prayed for would be healed, but I don’t. I know that.” This statement carries a great deal of meaning beyond the mere words. It says, “God wants you healed, I just wasn’t an adequate instrument today.” It says, “This isn’t about anything wrong with you.” It says, “I love you and I love God enough to risk embarrassing myself for the sake of your healing.” Those are all good thoughts to send away with the person who doesn’t receive healing.

In one meeting I attended, Larry Randolph was teaching about the gift of the Spirit called prophecy, and how he understands it. (Larry, a prophet from Arkansas and one of the humblest men I have ever met, had once prophesied powerfully over me in a smaller meeting years earlier.) He recognized how much an accurate prophecy could change the course of a person’s life when they realize that God does see and know and love them deeply, and that God wants to release a dream over their life to empower it, to create a future and a hope. And Larry said this, “I don’t always get it right. And it’s painful and embarrassing when I get it wrong. But I’ll tell you this. The times that I get it right make all the times I get it wrong worth it. And knowing that I have the ability to help people that way, I don’t think I have permission not to try.” Even when I fail at healing I don’t think I have permission not to try, either.

I remember a time that my parish and I put up a tent in the local flea market, offering healing prayer. We didn’t have a lot of people coming to the tent for prayer, so I started looking around for people to invite in. I saw a man walking with his wife. He had an elastic brace on his knee. I worked up the courage to go and let him know what we were doing, that we believed in healing and that God wanted that healing for everyone, and asked if we might pray for him. He agreed, though not too enthusiastically. We prayed for him and got no real results. I think we tried twice more before he grew discouraged and asked that we stop. I told him I was sorry we hadn’t been able to bring him relief from his pain. He said, “I am too. But maybe you could pray for my wife.”

Now, my threshold of faith at that moment was not high. Hers was non-existent. She’d seen us try time and again with no results and was sure it was a waste of time, but her husband persisted. She’d fallen down some stairs earlier in the week and her ankle was giving her fits. She finally relented and sat in the “prayer chair” and I knelt and (with her permission) put my hands on her ankle. With my partners putting hands on my shoulders I prayed and bam. Heat in my hands, she felt tingling, and when I asked her to test it, the pain was gone. Completely gone. We celebrated and gave thanks for the healing and they went on their way.

I am convinced that if we had not taken responsibility for the husband’s disappointment, she never would have allowed us to pray. Without our humility, I don’t think he’d even have suggested that she should allow us to pray. Humility changes everything.

You and I will fail like we did with the husband. But if we stay humble and persistent, every once in a while, we’ll see an ankle healed or a stroke ravaged limb restored or bone cancer pain vanish, and it will make all the failures worth it. It will also raise the question, “If I can do this even one time in ten, how do I not try?”

Go on to Chapter Seven – Staying On the Rails

Or, go to other chapters:

Chapter One – What Happened to Healing
Chapter Two – Why Do We Do Healing?
Chapter Three – Some Introductory Questions
Chapter Four – Things That Help and Things That Hinder
Chapter Five – The Five Step Method
Chapter Six – What Do We Do With Failure?
Chapter Seven – Staying On the Rails.

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