When I was leading a mission team on an international trip in an area of the world much hotter than our own, I came down with a severe cold (oddly enough) that moved into my chest and became severe bronchitis (someone told me that he thought I may have actually contracted pneumonia, but we weren’t near any doctors to verify it either way). At any rate, whatever it was proved debilitating for a few days and I was unable to accompany my team on two afternoons. At the end of the second day, a Christian named Zacharias dropped by to chat and pray (he wasn’t a part of our team but was there working on another project). He noted my difficulty breathing and asked me if I would like him to pray for me. Of course I said yes. After all, I am a believer in God’s ability to bring healing to those who are sick or are otherwise afflicted (and I was finding the act of breathing to be very painful and difficult).
Zacharias stood up, walked over to me, placed his hand on my shoulder and began to pray. He prayed in English at first and then switched to Arabic (he was from Egypt originally). Not only did I gratefully accept his offer to pray, but as he prayed I agreed with him fully confident in the fact that God could heal me if He so chose to do so. He prayed for a minute or two calling on God to end my affliction (and I placed myself as fully in God’s hand as I knew how).
When Zacharias was done, he concluded with an “amen” and then looked at me intently. “Do you feel better?” he asked me.
I paused before I answered as I weighed how to answer. Did I feel better? My lungs still felt as though they were being crushed and I still struggled to draw in my breath. I answered honestly. “No, I don’t.” And I was content in believing that God would bring healing in His own way and His own time.
However, Zacharias was not content. He scowled slightly and said crisply, “You must have faith.” He began to pray again and began tapping me sharply on my chest. Trying to be as open-minded (and open-hearted) to God as I could, I again agreed (more-or-less) with Zacharias’ appeal to God for healing. But I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of angst in regard to where this might be going.
When he finished with his amen this time, he gazed at me fiercely and asked, “Did you feel anything this time? A heat or rushing feeling?”
I thought about his question and then answered simply, “No, I didn’t.” Zacharias sighed and shook his head sadly and murmured, “You do not have enough faith.”
I considered his statement for a few seconds and then responded – wheezing and gasping all the while. “Now wait a minute, Zacharias. What actually requires more faith? Demanding that God do what I want or trusting Him when He doesn’t do what I want when I want it?”
He looked at me as if he did not know how to answer. I continued with, “I know God can heal me and I’m not afraid to ask Him. He can heal me and I believe He will… in His time and in His way. I deeply appreciate your praying for me and as God answers that prayer – one way or another – I will give Him glory for doing it.”
For the record, Diane (my wife) and I had experienced God’s healing in our lives in very tangible ways! It was only a couple of years before this encounter that a doctor at a local hospital informed us that our second oldest son probably had leukemia, setting in motion a couple of years of much intensive medical work, first at Columbus and then in Cleveland. The summed-up version of what happened is that after much prayer and trust in God, the signs and symptoms of leukemia disappeared. Then, as they tried to understand what was happening with the vestiges of certain symptoms still stubbornly lingering, the doctors watched for lupus. Time passed, prayers continue to be offered up, and we still trusted God. Finally, our son was declared free from all signs of disease and was released (it took years for this to completely unfold).
As Diane and I sought to immerse ourselves in the comfort and guidance of God’s Word, the Bible, we learned to understand that experience (and others like it) as the venues through which our faith is tried and purified. If our heavenly Father had not healed our son, our God was no less good, we were no less loved, and His glory any less manifested. On the contrary, sometimes loss and suffering are the very means by which we most clearly discover that our consolation is in God Himself and not just in what He does for us. But often it does please Him most and is most advantageous to us for Him to quickly and clearly answer our requests.
Faith is not a magic wand to make God do our bidding. It is simply trusting God’s love, power, and holiness to work in us and through us mighty things. When Jesus tells the blind beggar of Luke 18 that is faith had made him well, the Lord was declaring that the man’s trust in Him was what positioned him to experience God’s best for him. The same is true of you and me.
“You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions…. Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 4:2b-3 ESV).
Beloved, look to God for help and healing. Ask your Christian brethren to pray for you and even allow them to anoint you with oil in Jesus’ name. And then, as you trust God and manifest that trust in obedience, let God work out His will for you in His way and in His time as He does the high and holy work of preparing you for an eternity with Him.