For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…(Ephesians 2:8)
As I wrote several weeks ago, when I learned that at least two cancerous lesions had been detected in my lungs, I turned to the Lord for direction in how to pray about this attack on my life. I sensed him saying, “Press in for your healing.” Since “press in” is not a phrase I’ve used before, I was not sure what it meant, but I soon reached the conclusion that I was to seek with conviction the Lord’s healing.
I felt assured God would bring about my healing – and that I need not worry my healing would depend upon whether I was diligent enough in “pressing in.” Paul’s words to the Ephesians, above, which are never far from my mind, serve as a continual reminder that my salvation – and restoration to health – do not depend upon my efforts. Instead, I sensed that I was to ask for prayer from friends and family far and wide and especially seek out the “laying on of hands” from whomever God leads me to.
Hands are laid upon a person who is sick in a tradition that goes back to Jesus and his disciples. Touch is an important component in this kind of prayer, as it is was in the prayers that were said over me when I was ordained twenty-four years ago. One possible reason that touch is important is that God is conveying his power to heal through the person praying and into the person receiving prayer. The person who prays acts as a conduit – and the hands of some people who pray in this way get very hot, like some materials do when conducting electricity. Although my hands do not get hot when I place them on a person’s head or shoulders when I pray for healing, I know of a number of people whose hands do. (I’ll write more about the laying on of hands in a future post.)
Within two weeks of being notified by my doctor about the new lesions, hands had been laid on me by individuals and by small groups of Christians almost two dozen times. While in attendance at a conference for lay persons and clergy in Asheville, many of my friends and colleagues prayed for me in this way upon learning of my health concern. Back in Raleigh, each member of the healing team to which I belong also laid hands upon me and prayed. As I look back on these experiences I realize I was not simply receiving healing prayer; I was also learning about the practical components of prayers for healing. Healing prayer, both for the inner-healing of the mind and heart and for the physical healing of the body, is a ministry I feel called by the Lord to do in his name (and I now think every ordained person is so called). So, as I received, I was also learning.
When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. (Luke 9:1-2)
I have discovered that one’s openness to receiving God’s healing is important. Just as it is not possible to pour a liquid into a closed or full bottle, it is not likely that the healing power of God will enter a person who is not receptive toward it. Over the course of several decades of ministry, I have encountered people who say they want to be healed, but who want to dictate to God the terms and conditions of their healing. However, our relationship with our Creator does not work this way. The prophet Isaiah makes this point in his twenty-ninth chapter: You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”? Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”? (v. 16; see also 45:9) Healing is always about transformation and we must come to the Lord in humility when seeking healing – willing to repent of anything that is in God’s way, willing to let him have his way in our life. If our mind and heart are “closed” we cannot receive what God has for us.
A passage from Luke’s gospel also speaks to the attitude we should have when asking the Lord for healing. Jesus said to his disciples, who were discouraging children from coming to him so he could place his hands on them for a blessing, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”(Luke 18:17) Since healing is a sign of God’s kingdom in our midst (Luke 10:9), having the receptivity of a child seems mightily important. Unlike some adults who can be critical of a gift they are given, or disappointed with it, most children, who are not spoiled or jaded, are eager to receive gifts. Such children tend to receive without analyzing the motives of the giver and are grateful for what they receive.
So, as people have prayed for me over the months, I have learned to receive whatever God gives me through their prayers with an open and grateful heart. And, I don’t say to myself, “I wish they would have prayed in this or that way.” I just close my eyes and hold out the hands of my heart. And I feel no need to contort my feelings or thoughts in a misguided attempt to make the healing more “effective”; in fact I don’t think about what is being said over me at all. Instead, I imagine something like the love of God being poured into my heart (Romans 5:5). So, I receive healing as I have learned to receive grace; it is not my own doing, it is the gift of God.
Next time: How to “stand firm”