I think that the first question I need to address is, “Why would we want to pray for miraculous healing?” After all, we are modern people and we have excellent physicians. It’s true that many of the things we will wind up praying for will be things that a doctor could cure, so why pray? I have two answers to this.
First, it was always intended by Jesus to be a part of evangelizing the world. Before I go any further with that, I think it might be helpful if I explain how I understand evangelism. Back in the 1980’s the Episcopal church had this rather disastrous period we named the “decade of evangelism.” Church attendance had been declining rather markedly since about the ’60s and our leadership decided that we would devote ten years to increasing it. I’m not sure, but I think the goal was to see membership and attendance double. The project failed. Church attendance and membership continued to decline alongside all the other mainline churches.
I believe that this was in large part because we misunderstood “evangelism” to mean “getting bums in the pews.” Jesus never asked us to do that. He asked us to preach the Kingdom, to preach Good News. He didn’t even ask us to win converts to Christianity. He just said that our job was to tell others Good News, “Gospel.” Some will answer me here, “Yes, Jeff, but what about Matthew 28? Aren’t we told to make disciples of all nations?” It certainly appears that this is Jesus’ intention here, but if we read this “Great Commission” in the context of Matthew’s whole Gospel, we will realize that what Matthew and his largely Jewish congregation would have heard is not “Go and bring everyone into the Church,” but rather, “Go and preach the Gospel to all nations, even the Gentiles, making disciples from among all nations, not just Israel.”
Personally, I believe that Good News, well preached and accompanied by “signs and wonders” will lead many, even this day, to be baptized, to become believers and part of the ekklesia. But the moment we make their conversion our goal and not just the sharing of the Good News of God’s love for them, God’s sacrifice for them, we have lost the battle. There will always been an edge to what we say. People will always sense that we want something of them rather than for them, and our message will be tainted. So to sum it up, evangelism is not getting people into the church, it is getting the Gospel into the world.
As I pointed out in the last chapter, when Jesus sent His disciples into the surrounding villages to preach the Kingdom, He instructed them to heal. In chapter one I quoted the story where He sends out only the twelve directing them to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” (Matt. 10:8) The two things that He told them to do were inseparable. When He sends out the 72 in Luke, Jesus’ command sounds a little less daunting. But here in Luke the order in which things are to be done is significant. “Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Luke 10:9) At least we’re not commanded to “raise the dead.” But notice that the healing comes before the preaching of the Kingdom. It prepares the way. Only after the village has experienced the power of the presence of the Kingdom are the 72 told to explain that this is because “the Kingdom of God has come near to you.”
This reminds me of the way that one of my heroes of the faith has planted thousands upon thousands of churches in the “bush bush” of Mozambique. Her name is Heidi Baker. She and her husband Roland went to Mozambique many years ago now and in that time have taken in thousands of orphans while planting all these churches.
When Heidi would go upriver to find a new village in which to preach the Gospel, she and her helpers and translators would often be treated with hostility when they first set foot on the riverbank. They would endure the shouts and stones, and when they subsided Heidi would ask (through an interpreter), “Do you have anyone in the village who was born deaf?” It seems many of them did, and when this person was brought forward, Heidi would pray for them. She has always had a particularly strong gift for healing deafness. When the deaf person would begin to hear, the village chief would want to hear more about this Jesus in whose name the healing took place. Healing paves the way for preaching.
There is something of an example to us in the difference between Paul’s experiences in Athens and in Corinth. In Athens he preaches a brilliant sermon in the Areopagus but his results were meager. Acts 17 tells us that only “some men” joined him and believed. We hear nothing more of Athens, either in Acts or in any of his letters. Immediately after Athens Paul goes to Corinth and there he says of himself, “and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:4–5, ESV) The contrast in method and results is remarkable. Imagine what our evangelism would be like if our own preaching of the Kingdom were linked to demonstrations of its presence.
Here’s a different take on the importance of healing ministry as a part of evangelism. It’s also powerful when we don’t see healing. When we are willing to risk disappointment, looking foolish, being ridiculed for the sake of the love that holds the one in front of us, that speaks. If it is perceived as an act done in order to elicit a given response (conversion) it loses that power, but for as long as we act out of the love God has for the other that dwells in us, those we pray for will know it. There were a few aphorisms that Randy Clark left with me when I was at his school in Pennsylvania. One of them that really sticks with me is, “You will not see every person you pray for healed, but if you’re going to be affiliated with this ministry (Global Awakening) then every person you pray for will go away knowing they are loved.”
I see it this way. Jesus called us to be “light” in a dark world. Living as those who know the Kingdom’s presence means drawing more of the future Kingdom into the present. We become vessels of the “light” of the “Day of the Lord” that will one day dawn on all creation, manifesting it in the here and now. Our faith, our belief that illness and suffering are not a part of God’s will for any of His children, and our willingness to try to manifest that Kingdom reality for the sake of one of God’s beloved shine like a beacon. Whether we see the cancer cured or the broken bone immediately mended, our belief that this is God’s will for the person in front of us preaches Good News in a way our words never will.
There’s a second reason that I believe we do healing. It’s the result of living with the heart of Jesus. This manifests itself in two ways that I can find in the Scriptures, compassion and anger. Yes, anger, but I’ll get to that in a moment. The Gospels tell us that frequently Jesus healed because he was “moved with compassion” or “had compassion.” In Matthew 14:14 we read, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” In Mark 9:22 Jesus is implored to “have compassion” on the boy with the unclean spirit. In Luke 7:13 Jesus encounters the woman whose son has died and while not technically a healing, He raises that son from the dead out of the same compassion.
When we walk in the Spirit, when we view the world through the eyes of Jesus, we also feel what He feels for those we encounter. We may have compassion of our own, but God’s is greater, and it compels us to do something we hadn’t planned. The healing encounters I mentioned previously were not accompanied by preaching. These are not evangelical moments, though they are certainly thin places where the Kingdom breaks through. They were simple acts that resulted from “suffering with” (com-passion) the other in a way that exceeds our own capacity, that we can only know by having God’s heart.
Anger is another emotion that leads Jesus to heal. It isn’t well known, but in Mark 1, when the leper asks Jesus to heal him, saying, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Most of our translations then read, “Moved with compassion, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’” Some of our more honest translations have a little footnote where it says “moved with compassion.” These will tell you that there is good manuscript evidence that reads, “moved with anger.”
Biblical scholars will tell you that when there are two manuscript traditions from which translators must choose, the “more difficult” reading is usually the more original one. It is far easier to imagine a copyist seeing “moved with anger” and thinking, “Oh, that must be wrong” and changing it to “moved with compassion” than the other way around. Still, our translators stick with the less reliable text. Perhaps it’s because “anger” raises so many more questions than “compassion.” No matter their reasoning, there is good evidence that what moves Jesus to touch and heal this leper is His anger.
What is it that makes Him angry? Could it be that He is angered that His will could be questioned? That there is any question at all that He might actually want the man to be made whole? Perhaps, though this error in thought is not the leper’s error. It is one he would have been taught. He’d have been taught that he deserved what befell him, whether for his own sin or perhaps that of his parents. Could He be angered by the social isolation that the leprosy has brought on the man? I think this is a strong possibility, marked by Jesus’ decision to touch him rather than simply tell him that he’s healed. Could it be that Jesus is simply angered that people suffer the way that they do? Could He be angry with the enemy who brings so much pain and suffering? I think that’s possible too.
In the end, I would suggest that it is some combination of all three. The point is that the Father and the Son are both offended by the suffering of their children. If we carry in us the heart of Jesus, we will be similarly offended from time to time, and that will also move us to try to bring healing without regard for its connection to evangelism.
Coming full circle to evangelism, I look out at a world full of people who are in desperate need of the knowledge that they are deeply and unshakably loved. Even most Christians have not experienced that love in a way that frees them from the need to control their environments, to set up fences or walls to keep themselves safe. The miraculous in-breaking of the Kingdom can be the pebble on the windshield whose tiny chip spiders into a million cracks and finally sets them free from their self-constructed prisons. To quote Bill Johnson, God is so much better than we think. The encounter with the miraculous can open the hearts of the world to that truth.