Does God heal?

Does God heal supernaturally? 

I believe he does.  In my view, there is incontrovertible evidence from scripture and our own day, showing that God can – and often does – act miraculously.

But what about the times when people cry out to God for healing and nothing happens?

That’s the case with Joni Eareckson Tada who sought divine healing after becoming a quadriplegic decades ago following a diving accident at the age of 16.

Tada is convinced that God heals today as he did when Jesus lived on earth 2000 years ago.  But she also believes that God does not always heal everyone in this life.

In her book A Place of Healing, Tada describes her own understanding of divine healing after unsuccessfully seeking God’s healing over many years.

She notes that she has attended healing crusades where leaders of healing ministries have insisted that if people have enough faith, they will certainly be healed.

Clearly, faith is a major factor in people being healed.  In a number of instances, Jesus said that faith was the reason the people he touched were healed.

But, is that faith in healing or faith in God, the healer?  Tada believes it is the latter.  So do I.

Tada takes this a step further.  Do we have faith that God has our best interests at heart? Do we believe that God has a plan to bring glory to his kingdom and that it involves us?

For her, the real question is not whether he heals.  She is certain he does.  But the issue is “whether or not God wills to heal all those who come to him in faith”.

“Is it a sure thing, a slam-dunk that miraculous healing is always his first and best option?”

Her response – her view – is that “God reserves the right to heal or not . . . as he sees fit”.

She has reached this conclusion after years of reflection and counselling people who are desperately ill and have been told that they are not being healed because of sin or lack of faith.

She points out that the apostle Peter told Christians that they are to follow the example of Christ who suffered for them (1 Peter 2:21).

“Christ and the manner in which he approached suffering is to be our focus, especially when the weight of the cross seems overwhelming.”

She refers to scripture passages where people were not healed – the apostle Paul’s friend Timothy, among others.

But a key for her is Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart.”

The desires of her heart have changed as she has learned to delight herself in the Lord.  His wishes are increasingly becoming her wishes.

“As many have said so eloquently, sometimes he delivers us from the storm, and at other times, he delivers us through the storm.”

In her case, she no longer thinks of physical healing in the way she did years ago.  Instead, she looks forward to be with God, free of pain and “racing with the angels”.

While Tada did not say this, God has used her greatly as a testimony of faith, endurance, hope and love to the world.

She has brought hope to people like her around the world.  Her foundation has provided wheel chairs to multitudes.

And her story has inspired millions.

I will yet praise God

If ever I suffer terribly, I hope I will emulate Joni Eareckson Tada in her devotion to God.

I have admired Tada ever since reading her first book Joni about her diving accident at the age of 16 which left her a quadriplegic for life.  That book is a testament of faith in God that has touched millions around the world and given hope to multitudes of disabled people.

I admire Tada even more now as I read her book A Place of Healing which, paradoxically, is about a new bed of suffering thrust upon her in recent years.

For several years now, she has been struggling with excruciating pain from a fracture in her sacrum, a large triangular bone at the base of her spine.

Amazingly, pain shoots through limbs which have been without feeling for decades from her swimming accident.  It is unrelenting pain – night and day.

Tada has been unable to care for herself without help since the fateful day she dove into Chesapeake Bay as a teenager.  She depends entirely on her husband Ken and a group of dedicated friends and fellow workers at the foundation she has founded to help the disabled.

Now, she fears she is wearing them out with her new affliction.

“Some days I do attempt to sit up for as long as I am able, trying to complete as much work as I possibly can before pain drives me back to bed,” she writes.

She asks herself – very honestly: “Is my life beginning to unravel?  Have I reached a limit in what I can endure?”

But she is a determined woman – tried through trials.

Like the apostle Paul in Ephesians 6, she believes that her greatest enemy is Satan who tries to distract her from following Christ.

“I believe he (Satan) views disabilities as his last great stronghold to defame the good character of God.”

So, she is turning to Jesus – the warrior Jesus – to fight her battle for her.  She is not looking for the children’s picture book Jesus, surrounded by fluffy sheep.

“You want mighty,” she says of people struggling like her.  “You want the strong arm and unshakable grip of God who will not let you go – no matter what.”

To build her spiritual strength, she considers the resurrection of Jesus, the greatest triumph over evil in history.

She tells of a gathering of Christian friends, including her pastor and elders, who came to anoint her with oil and pray over her.  Her darkness of spirit lifted as her pastor read Psalm 57:2-3 which declares that God “sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me”.

Tada declares: “I know that it (her pain) drives me to a nearer more intimate place of fellowship with Jesus, and so I take pain as though I were taking the left hand of God.”

“Yes, I pray that my pain might be removed, that it might cease,” she says. “But more so, I pray for the strength to bear it, the grace to benefit from it, and the devotion to offer it up to God as a sacrifice of praise.”

Yes, Joni is praising the Lord in the midst of her pain.

Wow!

Forget yourself!

Timothy Keller has some advice for Christians: “Forget yourself!”

Keller, author of The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, says that many Christians are putting too much emphasis on self-esteem.  Basically, we are often guilty of replacing God with self-esteem or pride.

That is the root of a great deal of harm in the world, in the church, and in our lives.

Keller, founder and senior leader of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, writes that the apostle Paul himself argued against this self-pride in 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7.

The apostle noted that men were boasting about their personal relationships with different Christian leaders – so much so, that there was conflict among believers. Pride was involved.

Paul was saying that believers already have everything in Christ.  They don’t need to assert themselves over others by claiming allegiance to Paul, or other leaders such as Apollos or Cephas.

He goes on to say that he is not perfect, but he doesn’t worry about the judgement of men: “It is the Lord who judges me.”

Keller points out that there is a widespread view today that “people misbehave today for lack of self-esteem and because they have too low a view of themselves”.  But he says psychologist Lauren Slater declares that “there is no evidence that low self-esteem is a big problem in society”.

Basically, the word Paul is using for “pride” means to be overinflated, swollen, distended beyond its proper size, says Keller.  That is the natural human ego.

In other words, our egos are “empty, painful, busy and fragile”, Keller writes.  Our spiritual pride tells us that we are competent to run our own lives and “find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God”.

But, we are easily hurt and upset if we don’t get the recognition we feel we deserve. “It is very hard to get through a whole day without feeling snubbed or ignored or feeling stupid or getting down on ourselves.”

 

“The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself; it is thinking of myself less.”

People feel themselves to be in a courtroom daily, worrying about how others judge them – and how they judge themselves.

But Paul says he is out of the courtroom “because the ultimate verdict is in”, writes Keller.  It is only God’s judgement that matters.

As believers, Christians have received “the verdict before the performance”.  The moment we believe, God says we are his sons and daughters because Christ has died for us.

As Paul says in Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

“Because he loves me and accepts me, I do not have to do things just to build up my resume,” says Keller.  “I can do things for the joy of doing them.  I can help people to help people – not so I can feel better about myself.”

What a concept!

Who are you?

Who are you?  For Christians, that’s a big question.

It’s more than your role in your family, workplace, school, or leisure activities.

It’s about your relationship to God.

Most believers would say that they have put their faith in Christ and know that, someday, they will be with God in heaven.  But, like me for many decades, they would believe they must live perfect lives to please God.

Although most would deny this, it’s almost as if we have to earn our way into heaven even though the scriptures say the only requirement for becoming a child of God is believing that Jesus paid for our sins and mistakes on the cross.

For most of us, this belief that, somehow, we have to work our way into God’s good graces can be discouraging and negatively affect our daily lives as followers of Jesus.

A friend in our church touched on this in a sermon last Sunday as he talked about our “identity in Christ”. He painted a much more positive picture of our relationship with God, noting that we are already “saints” in the eyes of the Lord.

His sermon happened to come at a time when I was renewing my resolve to regularly go over Neil Anderson’s list of scriptures under the title “Who I Am In Christ” in his book Victory Over The Darkness (pp. 38-39).

Anderson has used these scriptures in his years as a Christian counsellor, dealing with people who have fears or struggles with sin.  And his clients have found them freeing and motivating to become more like Jesus.

“As believers, we are not trying to become saints,” says Anderson. “We are saints who are becoming like Christ.”

That does not deny that Christians sin.  But it does change how we view God and the resources he has given us to live for him.

My natural tendency is to focus on what I have done wrong.  I am easily tempted to feel God is especially displeased with me.

Anderson’s list brings my focus back to God and his great love for me. It makes me glad and inspires me to worship him.

His list is too long to go through in a blog post.  So, I will simply share a few, listing Anderson’s brief summary “Who I Am In Christ” with the scripture in brackets:

  • “I am God’s child” (John 1:12);
  • “I am united with the Lord and I am one spirit with him” (1 Corinthians 6:7);
  • “I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins” (Colossians 1:14)
  • “I have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18)
  • “I am free from condemnation” (Romans 8:1,2)
  • “I am assured that all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28)
  • “I am confident that the good work that God has begun in me will be perfected” (Philippians 1:6)
  • “I am a citizen of heaven” (Philippians 3:20)
  • “I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7)
  • “I am the salt and the light of the earth” (Matthew 5:13-14)
  • “I am a branch of the true vine, a channel of his life” (John 15:1,5)
  • “I am God’s co-worker” (2 Corinthians 6:1)

The apostle Paul calls us to meditate on what is good, lovely and true (Philippians 4:8).

I can think of no better way to meditate than on what God has given us through Jesus.

Goals

I have a growing appreciation of the apostle Paul: He set a goal and went all-out to achieve it.

Our Wednesday morning men’s group has been going through the Book of Acts for some months.  It’s helped us get to know Paul better – his undying commitment to Christ and his willingness to risk his life just to tell others about how wonderful Jesus is.

Our group agrees that, as a person, Paul must have been a bit intimidating.  He was somewhat “in-your-face”.

But flocks of people became believers because of his passion for the Lord.  And those close to him gave up everything to accompany him on his travels.

He loved Jesus with all his heart and his letters drip with love for those who gave their lives to Christ.

In his second letter to his young helper Timothy, Paul writes: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

He could say that truthfully – not everyone can.

What race was Paul running?  He was running to please Jesus and ultimately to receive his reward in heaven.

But he knew he would not succeed in running that race without self-discipline as he says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.  We are to “run to win”, Paul says, and then he adds:

“All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.”

He goes on to say that he runs “with purpose in every step”, disciplining himself as he goes.

This may seem discouraging for us as believers.  How could anyone be so single-minded?

Like most people, I am easily distracted by things going on around me and the many technical toys available to me.  So, how should I get on the right track?  How can I run the race that Christ has set before me?

I need to remember that the process of becoming like Christ doesn’t happen overnight.  The apostles Peter and Paul talk about growing in Christ – it’s a step-by-step process as we rely more and more on the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

But I do need to constantly keep the goal of pleasing Jesus and becoming more like him in view.  If I am not aiming for this goal, I will stumble.

A conference speaker I heard a couple of years ago said something helpful.  He advised against trying wholesale change all at once.  Instead, he suggested establishing one goal and working toward that until it is a habit and a natural part of my life before moving on to something else.

I need to remember that I am helpless without Jesus.  I can’t do it on my own.

But with him, I can run with purpose – just like Paul.

In charge

God’s in charge – even when we can’t see him at work.

Or is he?  What about terrible wars and famines? What about rampant crime?

A friend read Psalm 97 at a gathering this week – a psalm which triumphantly declares:

“The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice.”

How can I reconcile this joyous declaration with the war in Syria, the refugees pouring into Europe, terrorism, and sabre-rattling by the great powers of the earth?

I need to look at things through the eyes of God.

Human beings brought trouble on themselves when Adam and Eve disobeyed God at the very beginning of time.  They gave themselves into Satan’s hands.

In John 14:30, Jesus describes Satan as the “prince of this world”.  He is actively trying to destroy the works of God.

But the contest is not equal.  Jesus won the victory when he died on the cross for the sins of men and rose to life, defeating Satan’s ultimate hold on human beings.  Now, God offers us entry into his kingdom if we give ourselves to him.

However, the earth remains a battleground as Satan fights a rearguard action, trying to stave off the inevitable reckoning when Jesus returns.

But Satan is not in control – God is.

A great illustration – one I have used before – is Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, boasting about his power as he surveys his capital city one day: “By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendour.” (Daniel 4)

But the Lord replies that Nebuchadnezzar will no longer rule his kingdom and will be driven from human society, living in the fields as he is stricken with insanity.  This fulfills a prophecy of his Hebrew servant Daniel which he had ignored.

As Daniel prophesied, Nebuchadnezzar regains the throne after he acknowledges God’s sovereignty.  He declares openly to his people that “I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honour the King of heaven”.

He notes that God “does as he pleases among the angels of heaven and among the people of the earth”.

It is a lesson that many great men and women of history have failed to learn.  Unfortunately, some leaders today still repeat Nebuchadnezzar’s mistake, thinking they are all-powerful.

No, God is in charge.

Great memories

Great memories help us fuel a thankful heart.

I noticed this week how my friend’s eyes lit up as he recalled the joy of long-distance bicycling.  For a moment, it took his mind away from the constant pain he has been dealing with for more than eight years from a mysterious illness.

As a Christian, I am called to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  Remembering the blessings of God in the past – often family events – can spur gratitude when things are hectic or gloomy.

I believe the key is recognizing that all good gifts come from God (James 1:17).  They are the Lord’s way of giving us pleasure and showing his love for us.  They are a reminder that God is good.

These pleasures can be very simple.

In her book One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp tells of her world-travelling aunt’s reaction to Voskamp’s little daughter’s ecstasy as they rolled a ball back and forth.

Weeks later, Voskamp’s aunt – an airline steward – sent her a note: “I will never forget your daughter’s wild joy in that ball – a happiness like I have never seen in all my travels through all these years.”

I recall a number of seemingly small moments in my life that shine in my mind many years later.  Somehow, I believe God has embedded them in my thoughts.

Of course, great events in our lives – and in the lives of others – can feed gratitude, too.

For example, Psalm 104 outlines God’s actions in Israel’s past as a means of offering thanks.

The writer says: “Remember the wonders he (God) has done, his miracles and the judgements he pronounced, O descendants of Abraham his servant, O sons of Jacob, his chosen ones.”

Sad memories can often cloud my view of God.

Happy and inspiring memories are the antidote.

They remind me that God loves me – and is always giving me good things.

Not of this world

In a sense, I do not belong here.

I am a proud Canadian, but I belong to God first.

So far, that is not an issue for me or my country.  But, it is for many Christians around the world.

We live in a world where people often demand allegiance to the group above all, sometimes to the point of death.  This is the fuel for war.

Patriotism – willingness to sacrifice myself for the good of my country – is a noble idea.  But it depends heavily on what my leaders think and demand of me.

Are they asking me to renounce my faith?  Are they asking me to do something that is contrary to what God wants as laid out in scripture?

In many countries, that is the issue facing believers today.

I believe these pressures are growing and spreading – and the democratic West may not be immune.

I like the approach the apostle Peter takes in 1 Peter 2: 11-14.  For me, it balances our allegiance to God and our duties as citizens of the country we live in.

Peter says that we are “temporary residents and foreigners” in this world.  As Christians, we already have one foot in heaven.  Our ultimate citizenship is in heaven, not earth.

Yet, for our time on earth, we are to “submit [ourselves] for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men”.  He then points out that our governors are sent by God to “punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right”.

But the Bible also makes clear that when our earthly rulers oppose God, we are to stand up for what we are to believe.  The stories of the prophets show that this often means believers suffer imprisonment and even death.

As a Christian, though, I am not to react with the weapons of this world.  Peter says in 1 Peter 2:15 that it is God’s will that “by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men”.

Love is always God’s greatest weapon.

In the end, the kingdom of God is strongest when it is under attack.  The rapid growth of the Christian church in a hostile Roman empire is ample proof.

As a Christian, I know that my eternal destiny is with God – a god of love and peace and joy.

There is nothing better than that.

Warming God’s heart

For most of us, it warms our hearts to see our gifts delighting loved ones.

Is it so for God as well?  I believe it is.

He loves to give us good gifts in life.  And he loves it when we are thankful.

Remember the story in Luke 17 of the 10 lepers Jesus healed?

They pleaded for Jesus to heal them and he asked them to go show themselves to the priests.  They were healed as they obeyed his instructions.

Only one – a despised Samaritan – returned to Jesus and sank to the ground, praising God with a loud voice.  The others did not.

Jesus asked: “Didn’t I heal 10 men? Where are the other nine?  Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”

This may sound like a complaint by Jesus.  I don’t think it is.  He wanted to teach his listeners the importance of giving thanks to God.

Why?  Because it shows that we realize that God is pouring out blessings every minute of every day.  It shows us what our true relationship is with God.  We are dependent upon him even for being able to breathe.

Gratitude actually transforms us as many believers have found.  It is something I frequently forget.  But when I do give thanks to God it usually changes my outlook on life and brings peace and even joy.

I need to make this a daily practice in my life as Ann Voskamp has.

The author of One Thousand Gifts says she took up a friend’s challenge to write down one thousand gifts she received from God in the coming months.

She did and her life was changed.  As she noticed the little things we so often ignore in life, she  felt the joy of God growing in her.  And her friends and family observed her transformation, too.

But what about the terrible things that happen?

She mentions the death of a neighbour child – a time when she cried out to God: “Why?”

Like everyone else, she came up with no easy answers.  But she trusted God’s perspective on life was better than hers.

And as she worked her way through her questions, she recalled the words of G.K. Chesterton: “Here dies another day, during which I have had eyes, ears, hands and the great world around me.  And with tomorrow begins another.  Why am I allowed two?”

While we may not understand life’s tragedies, we can find God’s grace in the gift of life itself and the good things we receive every day.

God loves us deeply even when we ignore him.

But he is pleased when we delight in him and his gifts.

Grateful living

The bombing stopped, the sirens sounded the “all clear”, and David Steindl-Rast crawled out from under a church pew, stepped over shattered glass and debris and into the street in wartime Austria.

Outside, buildings, which had stood there just before he ran into the church for protection, were now reduced to smoking rubble.

But what he remembers most today is the few feet of gloriously green grass glowing in the sunshine.  It was life.  It was surprise in the midst of ruin.

“Surprise is no more than a beginning of that fullness that we call gratefulness,” writes Steindl-Rast in his book Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer.  “But a beginning it is.”

His book is a call to make gratefulness our basic attitude to life.

He takes delight watching a cardinal swoop down on a rock for the corn that Steindl-Rast has scattered for birds in winter.  He has come to expect the bird and yet is surprised at the same time.

Steindl-Rast calls these moments gifts from God.  These simple gifts are all around us.

In essence, he says, we need to wake up to the world.  The more aware – or wakeful – we are, the more we see and enjoy the little gifts of life.

Henri Nouwen, the great Catholic writer and priest, says in his introduction to Steindl-Rast’s book:

“In the midst of a world in which fear, apprehension and suspicion make us live stingy, small and narrow lives, Brother David stretches out his arms, smiles and says: ‘Love wholeheartedly, be surprised, give thanks and praise – then you will discover the fullness of your life.'”

Steindl-Rast says it takes practice to grow in gratefulness.  We need to engage our minds and hearts and spirits.

The apostle Paul was one who learned to be grateful.

In Philippians 4, he writes: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry,whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

And in the same chapter, he says: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Repeatedly, Paul urges his readers to rejoice in God and be thankful.

This was a man who was beaten often, stoned and left for dead, imprisoned for long periods, and shipwrecked – all for the privilege and honour of sharing Christ with people who did not know Jesus.

Steindl-Rast and Paul have a lot to say to people like me who take blessings for granted and complain about little things.