No, we didn’t roll down the aisles or hang by the chandeliers. We didn’t drink poison or handle snakes. We didn’t see demons behind every tree and bush.
We did clap and raise our hands in worship. We cheered the minister on with hearty “Amens!” and “Preach it, brother!” We spoke in tongues. We gathered around the altar after services to “tarry” and wait upon the Lord.
And we believed in divine healing.
We believed that the God who made the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers clean, and the dead live again did not change. What he did over 2,000 years ago he still does today. Many times we had prayer for the sick and they got better.
This is the faith which was passed on to me for which I am deeply grateful.
What was lacking in my heritage, however, was a theology of suffering. Too often we would pray the same prayer over all who were sick. Didn’t matter the situation. We had a “one-size-fits-all” approach: “God, we ask you to heal so-and-so in the name of Jesus.”
We were sincere. We were earnest. We were hopeful.
But we were misguided.
People suffer from illnesses. Some are genetically borne; others result simply from the air we breathe. People get the flu. They get shingles. They get cancer. They get acne, arthritis, asthma.
Brains hemorrhage. Kidneys malfunction. Bones deteriorate. Arteries clog. Hearts fail.
And people die. Everyone. No exceptions. We live in a broken world.
Yes, God can and does intervene. Sometimes he reverses natural laws. People are healed. Most, however, are not. The illness may abate for a season, but sooner or later some sickness will have the final word.
Jesus prayed an interesting prayer on the eve of his betrayal and crucifixion: “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:27-28)
As much as Jesus wanted to escape the horrors looming before him, he did not ask for God’s deliverance. There was something greater than temporary relief for which Christ yearned.
He wanted to see the glory of God. To witness the breathtaking magnificence of his Father. To behold the beauty and majesty of God’s excellence. Thus he prayed, “Father, glorify your name.” Bring to light and make manifest your loveliness and excellence.
Suffering is often the platform required for viewing God’s greatness.
“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace,
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.”
(William Cowper, 1731-1800)
At Life Challenge Ministries, we want to arm our men and women with a proper attitude toward suffering. We want them to know that there is a God who cares. A God who hears the cries of his children. A God who heals broken bodies and mends troubled minds. A God who fixes, cures, renews, and makes well.
At the same time, this God in his infinite wisdom uses pain and sickness—among other things—to reveal himself to us. To show something more of his worth. And nothing could be kinder. Seeing God’s glory brings joy, peace, and strength like nothing else. Beholding his loveliness is the deepest and most lasting cure to the pains that ail the human soul. While we may plead for immediate relief, God knows that our greatest need is to see him more clearly.
It is not wrong to pray for healing. We are not masochists. James instructs us with these words, “ Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord” (5:14).
But realize, my friend, that God may want to do something more fantastic and more wonderful than heal you. And to accomplish this, he may have to use affliction. God’s mercies may be “hard mercies,” but they are always good. Always.
So as you seek the Lord for his favor, remember that the most loving thing God can do for you is not necessarily to rescue you or spare you trouble and distress, but to give you a clearer glimpse of his awesomeness.
And that just might require suffering.
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)