John, in a recent post about Christ the Great Physician, reflecting on Matthew 4:23, you asked us to think about why Jesus' followers today call less upon God's power to heal the ill, disabled, and dying than He and His disciples did.
Here’s my answer as a Stage 4 terminal cancer survivor, someone who about two years ago was pronounced cured – much to my surprise. When my doctor said that to me, you have no idea the numbing and stunning joy I felt.
I get terribly frustrated when Christians give credit for my healing to things other than the miraculous healing power of Jesus. They say maybe the reason I did so well is I was younger when diagnosed. To which I reply, “No, it's because Jesus let me touch His robe." Really; I had a vision to that effect right before I found out the cancer was gone.
Then they’ll quickly and nervously agree, "Oh yes, your healing was from God. That's for sure." So why didn't they say that first? How it must cloud our relationship with the Lord when we credit man's efforts for enabling what was obviously His miraculous healing.
Another one I hear quite often is, “You had brilliant doctors and access to world-class cancer treatments." That is true, and I absolutely loved my doctors and nurses and their wonderful loving care of me. I even had the privilege of leading my primary oncologist to the Lord in his office.
But who provided the people, medicine, and fabulous technology, including an adult stem cell transplant, at just the right time, in the right place, with exactly those specialized talents? Who else but God?
Throughout my recovery journey, the Lord made it clear to me that the healing He entrusted to me was not just His kindness and care to me but also a clear recognition that it was He who did it – for which He wants credit, and which I am to use in building and proclaiming His everlasting kingdom.
The purpose was not to build the doctors’ and nurses’ perishing kingdom. It was to let everyone know that He is the great I AM, and He alone has the power to heal, utilizing whatever means are best suited to the need.
Where Credit is Due
My specific response to the question about modern-day believers relying less on our Great Physician is this. As the secular side of our self-worshipping culture has continued to creep into church leadership and laity, the church has more and more yielded to the enemy’s temptation to give man credit for what Jesus, and only Jesus, can do – just as Satan would have it.
So the church's all too common theological response to illness, especially grave illness, is to prescribe some brief prayer on Sunday morning for healing – not that this is bad; it’s just not nearly enough in my opinion to move Him to great action – and then devote many hours of great trust and effort to working with competent medical staff that specialize in the particular illness.
See where the emphasis is? I think this is offensive to Him. Shouldn’t it instead be nights at the church dedicated to passionate and prolonged prayer over those who are sick, church leaders anointing them with oil, encouraging confession and repentance (“See if there be any wicked way in me,” Psalm 139), declaring praise (“Though you slay me, yet I will trust in you,” Job 13), and then adding passionate and prolonged prayer to their hearts, mind, body and soul, by people in the church that have the gift of healing. And keep repeating all this until He heals!
I believe that sometimes the Lord gets grieved with many of us in the church because we have so much more faith in 21st century medicine than in His ability to heal – even terminal Stage 4 cancer. To the point, perhaps, that he leaves them to their own devices and thus many people never recover when they might have. Maybe either because of personal sin that goes unrepented, or because of that patient’s greater trust in man to heal them than in the true divine Healer. Coupled with church body’s greater trust in the same, rather than passionately applying the biblical prescription for healing.
One or Both
Yes, the latter requires much more involvement and intentionality from the leadership and the congregation, on behalf of the wounded member of the flock. But I’ll insist that if we do it His way, the outcomes are much better and more consistent – and much more miraculous, to the glory of His name.
I was fortunate to be surrounded by a group of godly people that passionately prayed for my healing day in and day out and followed the biblical prescription for healing, which included believers specifically blessed with the gift of healing. And I was surrounded at the same time by phenomenally gifted medical staff.
I believe that our Lord Jesus, not always, but most times wants both involved in the healing process. Notice that Luke “the dear and glorious physician,” companion of Paul and an author of Holy Scripture, had an honored place in the early church. However, I think sometimes Jesus wants to heal without any medical staff involved.
Not Just in Remission
Related to that, I learned our Lord does not like the word “remission.” After my scans came back cancer free for the first time (which my doctor was doubtful that they would) I was medically described as being in remission. But I found that saying this felt awkward in my soul, like throwing a bucket of water on a fire. It seemed to take healing glory and credit due, away from the Lord.
You know that dull ache you get in your heart when you have sinned and grieved the Lord, and he tells you how it makes him feel? It was as though I were saying something that hurt him, taking away the joy of how those phenomenally accurate scans (which He invented) showed no cancer in my body.
My oncologist said to me, “Rick, even if the scans show no cancer, with the type you have, we have to assume it is still there.” You can imagine how that quelled the joy God gave me when I heard about the clean scans. Of course Satan always takes every opportunity to steal away the joy the Lord wants us to have.
So one day after my treatments were all done, about two months post-transplant, when a Christian friend asked me how I was doing, I said I was done with treatments and that my scans were cancer free. He replied “Oh, you’re in remission, right?” Reluctantly I said yes. But I felt that sick thud in my heart again, as though I was saying something that was not true and that would again steal my precious joy.
Then I clearly heard the Lord say to me, authoritatively and with disgust, “Rick, I do not know that word ‘remission.’ I only know ‘sick’ and ‘healed’ – and you are healed. Don’t ever use that word again, and start telling everyone that you are not just in remission, but that I have healed you.”
Trust and Proclaim Him
Naturally my doctors warned me against talking and thinking like that. But that is what I started to tell people, even though many of them – sadly, even Christians – gave me that look as if to say, poor guy, so hopeful but so much in denial. Why? Because the church has been duped into trusting man more than God when it comes to healing.
In most of life’s situations, sad to say, the church is so often led by the flesh and tends to hang on every word of man instead of every Word of God and His great promises of care to His children. “With God, all things are possible (Matt 19:26).” With man alone nothing is possible.
So I personally know deep in my heart that the passionate and intentional prayer on my behalf, and the intentional application by believers of the biblical prescription for healing, as I’ve described, moved the Lord more to heal/cure me, more than any of the $350,000 worth of medical care did. Though, to repeat, I am deeply grateful for both.
But most importantly, I am absolutely convinced of who He wants the credit to go to, always – namely, the One Great Physician, not any number of great MD’s – and how He wants Christians to use anything that we refer to as a miracle – namely, to proclaim and protect His kingdom, not man’s.
All this has made me much more intentional than ever before about sharing Christ in relationship. Just this Christmas, for example I had the privilege of leading a tow truck driver to Christ in our kitchen – a man who had come to help us when we had car trouble.
I am more intentional not just because of the loving rebuke God gave me during my cancer journey, to get serious about doing the work of the evangelist that we are all called to do – but also because I am so madly grateful for His forgiveness and the radical healing that He has so graciously and mercifully entrusted me with.
My prayer is that all who read this will take seriously His call to win people to Him today – not tomorrow, for which there is no promise – and that they will do it before He has to allow difficulty and great pain into their lives to get their attention, as was His way with me.
© 2018 Rick Bolonchuk, M.A., N.C.C.