I was asked recently to speak at a church on the subject “Power to heal”. I don’t know if they thought it would be particularly appropriate for a pentecostal minister to speak about healing or whether my visit just happened to be scheduled on the Sunday that healing was the subject matter. In truth, if I had been asked to pick the subject for myself, I would have chosen something different. That’s not because I don’t believe God heals today. I do. I have seen Him do it. In my own ministry I have seen people restored to health in a way that is best explained by the release of God’s healing power. In my family background there have been significant healings in years gone by.
So why would I not choose to speak on it? Firstly, it hasn’t been the main emphasis of my ministry. Although I am convinced that inside every pentecostal minister there is a healing evangelist screaming to get out, the youthful dreams of being a healing evangelist have had to be reshaped in the reality of my own gifting and ministry.
Secondly, preaching on healing in another church context different to your own, could almost be explained in terms of a theological kamikaze act. However sincere or biblical you think you are, you are likely to end up upsetting people; the healing talk becomes the hurting talk!
So anyway, I followed orders and duly delivered the talk. It was – surprisingly – well received. One conversation afterwards defined what, in my opinion, is one of the obstacles to the acceptance and practice of healing ministry in the wider church, namely, the desire to provide explanations for why people are not healed.
Let’s be honest, anyone who has ever prayed for people who are ill, has not seen everyone of those people restored to health. Our natural reaction is often to ask “Why?”
My very brief study for my talk left me with a couple of things to think about with respect to this question.
Firstly, even when there might have been an explanation for a person’s illness in terms of their moral choices, Jesus healed the person before he addressed any moral issue. “Stop sinning” (John 5.14) was a post healing comment rather than a pre-healing condition. I can’t find Jesus anywhere demanding repentance of sin before he healed the sick. Does that mean that lifestyle or diet or moral choices have no bearing on health? Of course not. Too much research and too much pastoral experience – and too many cakes and pizzas! -prove that they do.
Secondly, it follows that we should therefore turn to the scriptures in order to build an expectation of healing rather than to find an explanation for sickness.
Explanations, after all, are on the whole our own opinions – albeit pentecostal opinions. The difficulty with opinions is that they can easily degenerate into judgments and leave the person who needs God’s touch feeling too condemned to come to Him for what they need. How ironic! You might think that this is overstating the case, but believe me, I have seen this pattern play out in pastoral ministry over twenty years in different churches and in the context of different issues. Explanation is no sbstitute for intercession. Or supplication. Or petition. Or edfication. Or exhortation. Or encouragement.
When you are in trouble, health wise or otherwise, you need to hear something like this: Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up. Expect God to get here soon. Psalm 31.24 (The Message). It certainly beats an explanation.