7 Roadblocks to healing

Anyone who has ever read the Bible could hardly deny that God is presented as a healer. And if you have even glanced at the gospels, you could hardly deny that Jesus healed people, many people. Turn over a few pages to Acts and the story is similar. Healings, exorcisms, the dead being raised, extraordinary miracles – they are all there.

And throughout the world today we have similar stories of God’s healing power at work.

But the nagging question for many is why, given that God is able and willing to heal, are so many unhealed?

I realise that any attempt to tackle this question is like walking into a theological and pastoral minefield. Upsetting just about everyone who reads the article is a real possibility. People get upset if they think the stress on faith and God’s willingness to always heal is not strong enough. People can get upset if you suggest that there are reasons why some are not healed other than the theological reason that God has not chosen to heal because He is sovereign.

You might be thinking “Why bother?”

And the answer is that what we believe about healing ultimately affects people and affects the way we see God. The intent of this post is to help us find a way to enable people to receive healing that is faithful to God’s word and treats people with respect. Unfortunately, many have sought healing only to find themselves on the receiving end of condemnation and criticism for a perceived lack of faith or been told that they must have unconfessed sin in their lives.

Below I set out what I have called “seven roadblocks to healing”. You might be able to add to the list. Or you might disagree with what is on the list.

Let me say by way of qualification that this isn’t a checklist to use when praying for the sick! It is simply an attempt to provide some perspective on a sometimes complicated subject. And hopefully that perspective will build faith and release compassion.

So what are the roadblocks?

Delay

Sometimes healing hasn’t happened yet. Paul explained to Timothy about Trophimus’ illness:

“Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus ill in Miletus.” 2 Timothy 4.20

Epaphroditus was ill and almost died.  But, says Paul, God had mercy on him (Philippians 2.25-27)

Sometimes healing doesn’t take place immediately. But because it has not happened yet, doesn’t mean it is not going to happen. Sometimes we give up too easily.

Dysfunctional attitudes

It is unfair to people to say that because they are sick must mean that they have unconfessed sin in their lives. That kind of pronouncement is so damaging. Especially when the person is already weak. Jesus never required anyone to repent of their confessed sin before He healed them. He did however talk about sin in the context of healing. On one occasion He instructed a man He had healed not to continue sinning (John 5.14). On another occasion He rejected a link between a man’s blindness and sin (John 9.1-5).

However, there are some sins that are a major blockage to healing.

Sins that would be described today as negative emotions – like unforgiveness, anger or bitterness – have the power to make us ill.

In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus links our experience of God’s forgiveness to our willingness to forgive others. And in Matthew 18 he tells a story about someone who would not forgive, implying that those who do not forgive open up their lives to pain.

And it’s not just Jesus that makes the link. A Johns Hopkins report makes a similar connection.

Bitterness not only blocks healing, it causes illness. And I am sure you can add to the list of sinful attitudes that are a block to healing.

Why is that? I think it is partly (i) because it is hard to have faith and hear God when you harbour anger or unforgiveness or bitterness; (ii) the negative emotions that result affect not only your emotional wellbeing, but can potentially impact on your body as well. The links between negative emotions and physical disease are well established. Just google unforgiveness / bitterness / anger and physical illness.

Depending on grace

Sometimes an unhealed area of our lives can cause us to rely on grace.

When you read Paul’s testimony in 2 Corinthians 12 you find that his pain caused him to rely on God’s grace:

 Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12.7-10

Notice a number of things:

  • Paul was in pain
  • The pain came from Satan
  • He expected God to remove his pain
  • But God gave him grace instead

This may or may not refer to physical need. The point is that one area of Paul’s life was unhealed and it made him depend on God’s grace.

Those areas of our lives where healing has not yet come are opportunities for us to lean into grace.

Deficit of love

Loneliness is a major problem in our society. “Skin hunger” as some psychologists call it, has consequences for our emotional health.

Two major studies on loneliness and isolation revealed that there was around a 30% higher risk of stroke and heart disease for those isolated or lonely. And isolation and loneliness often contribute to early death.

I have no doubt that it is one of the reasons the Bible emphasises fellowship again and again. A spiritually and emotionally healthy Christian is strongly connected in fellowship. A spiritually and emotionally healthy church is hot on fellowship.

Here’s what Paul says in Ephesians 4.15:

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Being in a small group might do far more for you than seeing a counsellor!

Diet

If you want to be healthy and set yourself up for healing, watch your diet!

I suppose I don’t need to talk about junk food, but here’s a reminder:

(i) It damages your physical health

For example, junk food can cause heart disease, diabetes and arthritis, amongst other conditions.

One study of health in the UK has indicated that 10.8% of poor health is caused by diet – that’s more than smoking!

(ii) It damages your mental health

World Health reported that “Changes in diet over the past 50 years appear to be an important factor behind a significant rise in mental ill health in the UK, say two reports published today.

The Mental Health Foundation says scientific studies have clearly linked attention deficit disorder, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia to junk food and the absence of essential fats, vitamins and minerals in industrialised diets.”

Give your body the respect it deserves:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6.19-20)

Your body is a temple, so treat it with respect!

Desire

Although perhaps not often the case, but certainly sometimes the case, healing does not happen because there is a lack of sincere desire to get well.

Both Tony Robbins and Henry Cloud have been credited with the quote, “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

I wonder if Jesus was looking for a statement of desire when He asked Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10.51)

There is no single explanation for a lack of desire for healing. Research indicates that there are numerous reasons why people sometimes want to stick with their illness rather than get well.

Some people, for all sorts of reasons, just don’t want to get well. Sad but true.

Conclusion

I hope this article has provided some fresh perspective on why healing is either slow to come or doesn’t appear to arrive at all. It is not intended as a diagnostic tool for ministry! Healing ministry should be fuelled by compassion, not a desire for explanation!

Nor is it proposed as a way to explain why your friend has not got well. It is simply intended to expand our thinking on what is often a very sensitive and complicated subject.

Explanation versus Expectation

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.

 

Breakthroughs and Benchmarks

As I was travelling into church on Sunday morning I heard what I thought was a fascinating piece on the radio. To celebrate forty years of the mobile phone, listeners had been asked to phone in on their mobiles and share something interesting.

One lady phoned in to tell how she had been born five months before Sri Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had climbed Everest. She related how excited and proud her father had been about the achievement of Hillary and Norgay. And then she finished her story in an unexpected way. She said she had just shaken hands with her new neighbour who had climbed Everest – twice. What Hillary had received a knighthood for was now possible for the boy next door.

Matthew 15.21-28 records a well known but rather unusual story of Jesus healing the daughter of a Syro-Phoenician woman.

Jesus and his disciples have entered the region of Tyre to spend some time away from the crowds and rest for a while. The woman somehow finds out about Jesus and goes to Him in search of healing.

The story is unusual in that Jesus seems reluctant to respond to her request. Initially her pleas are met with silence.The disciples urge Jesus to send her away. She is both a gentile and a nuisance. Then Jesus seems to want to block her request by talking about His mission and how the bread (His healing and deliverance ministry) is only for the children (Jews) and not for little dogs (gentiles).

The woman keeps pressing in. She cries for mercy. She falls down in worship. She even reasons with Jesus on the basis of His own argument – even the dogs get the scraps that fall from the table.

And then Jesus commends her for her great faith and pronounces her daughter healed!

Why did Jesus react this way to this woman? I think part of the answer is that He wanted her to press through her understanding of God and the Jewish understanding of God to a place of faith.

To attain spiritual breakthroughs we have to work through an understanding of God that is sometimes faulty. Faith kicks in when we come to that place where we are totally convinced that God is for us and wants to act on our behalf. We reach a point of breakthrough.

In only a few years healing and deliverance amongst people like this woman would be common place. It would be more benchmark than breakthrough.

You might be looking for a breakthrough in a particular area. You might feel God is silent. You might have been damaged by the impatience of the church. You might have ideas of God which in themselves are a real barrier to breakthrough.

But keep going. Your breakthrough, when you get it, might just become a new benchmark for your family and the people around you.

Don’t reach for the black bags too soon!

A cleaner was doing her rounds at an art gallery the morning after a party launching an exhibition. She came across an assembly of empty bottles, full ash trays, paint tins and cigarette boxes. Being a diligent cleaner, she immediately reached for her black bin bags and cleared the whole lot away. What she didn’t realise was that the “mess” was actually a piece of art put together on the spur of the moment the night before by Damien Hirst.

For those of us who don’t appreciate the work of the man who famously pickled a sheep in formaldehyde, the cleaner’s reaction to this latest piece by Hirst was entirely reasonable, “As soon as I clapped eyes on it I sighed because there was so much mess.”

So much mess. That is how many people would sum up their lives. If you get involved at any level in Christian ministry, especially outreach ministry, you will at times feel confronted by so much mess. So much complication. So many damaged relationships. And that’s before we try to unravel some of the spiritual knots that tie up our own souls! If the thief came to steal, kill and destroy, it seems he is doing a very effective job.

The instinct most of us have with “the mess” is to reach for whatever the spiritual equivalent of a black bin bag is. We simply want to discard it. That’s understandable. Why would we want to hold on to our pain? Mercifully, Jesus is the great physician. He deals with our pain. Sometimes, however, He redeems – or wants to redeem – our pain rather than simply relieving it.

Before Peter had his spiritual car crash of denying the Lord three times, Jesus assured him that He had prayed that his faith would not fail. He also directed him once he had worked through his failure to strengthen his brothers (Luke 22.31-32). His pain was not to be wasted. It might have looked like a mess, but the prayers of Jesus were turning it into a work of art.

Psalm 84.5-7 says:

Blessed are those whose strength is in you
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.[b]
7 They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.

The Psalmist talks about passing through the Valley of Baca. The Valley of Baca is the Valley of lamentation or weeping. Somehow those who find or have found strength in God and have set their hearts on pilgrimage, are enabled to turn their tears into something that refreshes both them and others – “they make it a place of springs”.

What turns weeping into refreshing is finding strength in the Lord and having our hearts set on pilgrimage. If we see Baca – or the place of weeping – as our destination, that’s all it will ever be. And there is every chance we’ll end up stuck in Baca.

However, if our hearts are set on pilgrimage, if we are on a journey, if we’re pressing on in our pilgrimage with Jesus, Baca becomes nothing more than a place we pass through on the way.

It might look like a mess to us, but if we let the Great Physician, who’s also a Great Artist, get to work, we’ll think twice before we write off the Baca times as rubbish that threatens to clutter up our lives.