This is the text that Father Paul Cowan gave me for a sermon he did on healing on 16th October at St Johns church in Newbury. I found the content helpful:
2 Timothy 3.14-4.5 All scripture ‘inspired’, continue, persist, teach in favourable and unfavourable times
Luke 18.1-8 Pray always and never lose heart, parable of persistence with dishonourable judge
I’m probably trying to cover too many bases this morning, but I want to talk about prayer and I’d like to talk specifically about prayers to God for healing.
The issue of faith and miraculous physical healing has been, for me, a vexing and intriguing one over the years.
I have more than my fair share of stories to tell. So, let me tell you a few stories.
Story number 1.
As a child, I suffered with quite serious asthma attacks. At about the age of 13, I was prayed for at a church healing service, and I have never had an asthma attack since that day!
Although I did continue to pretend to have asthma problems when we were due to do cross country at school, but mysteriously never had a problem when rugby was on the day’s agenda!
Story number 2.
One that I’m a little embarrassed about. Through my teenage years I’d been part of what would be labelled a charismatic church that was very in to praying for and expecting miraculous things to happen.
I began working with people who were street homeless when I was 19 years old. I was a fervent young man full of enthusiasm to serve God and to make a difference. One day I was chatting to a homeless disabled guy at Temple Gardens in London.
We had a good chat and I’d told him about Jesus. Feeling inspired to do so, I prayed that Jesus would heal this man. I held out my hand, he held mine, And I lifted him to his feet….He let out a gasp and collapsed back into his chair! It was all very embarrassing. It didn’t stop me from praying for people in the future, but maybe not in such forthright and theatrical style.
Story number 3.
This comes from a doctor friend of mine. He is someone who has seen hundreds of fractured bones in his time. He was manning a first aid tent at a big outdoor event. A child was brought to him that had just been knocked over by a van. The diagnosis was straight forward.
The boy was in a lot of pain and there were obvious signs that his leg was fractured. An ambulance was called. Whilst waiting for the ambulance the doctor decided to pray for the boy. When he finished his prayer, the boy jumped off the bed and asked if he could now go out and play.
At this the doctor burst into tears as he did again when recounting the story to me.
Story number 4.
In my later teens, my best friend’s Dad was terminally ill and was prayed for, for healing. There was no healing, and those who prayed, decided that Malcolm wasn’t healed because he lacked faith.
The judgement caused great pain and distress to Malcolm and to his family, before and after his death.
Story number 5.
This story is a personal one that comes on the back of the experiences I just shared. At the age of 52, three weeks before my wedding day, my Mum was diagnosed terminally ill with cancer. Mum did have Christian friends who came and prayed that she would be healed. That was not my prayer. I was by then quite sure of what felt right to pray.
My continual prayer was simply this: ‘Lord God, not my will, but your will be done’. I was also aware of a deep gratitude for the mother I had had for 26 years.
I was also very grateful to God for the peace that Mum experienced in her final hours amongst the physical pain. Mum died just 12 weeks after her first diagnosis.
Story number 6.
I haven’t got the time now to tell you the details, but story 6 is about the recurrent nightmares I had after Mum’s death, picturing her bruised and swollen body.
It’s a story of being prayed for, finding peace and the nightmares stopping.
Story number 7.
This is a story of the fall out with a close friend after Mum’s death. It’s a story about pain, hurt feelings and the hard uphill struggle to a place of forgiveness and reconciliation.
It’s also an unfinished story about relationships that continue to require hard work with a lot of heartfelt prayer, nothing miraculous and a lot of conscientious effort on both sides.
The gospels are full of wonderful stories of Jesus’ ministry and miraculous healings. It’s all exciting and inspiring stuff. I do believe wholeheartedly in these stories of Jesus’ power to heal. I do believe the accounts through the centuries, across the world of occasional miraculous healing.
I cannot deny my own experiences. But God alone knows, the whys and wherefores. I am sceptical and cynical of those people and religious groups who make prayer for healing and the thirst for the miraculous the centre of their life and worship.
Jesus did go around healing people, but it is vital to note that it was not the centre or focus of his ministry. A closer reading of the gospels highlights that he was more interested in faith, lives transformed and sins forgiven much more than physical healing.
It was deep faith in ordinary people that, as it were, turned him on. I do believe that Jesus gets excited when he sees faith. Our faith brings healing to our lives and to those we share our love, his love with.
Jesus was forever encouraging the crowds, many of whom came just to see a show of miracles, to turn around, change direction, open or find their spiritual eyes and to see that the kingdom of God was and still is close at hand, nearby, tangible, touchable.
Close enough to transform who we are. But it involves a turn around, the walking of a new path. And that has remained at the heart of the message of Christianity for two millennia.
To those of you who have a regular habit of prayer, may I encourage you to sustain it, in times favourable and unfavourable as 2 Timothy puts it.
To those of you who don’t have a regular routine of prayer, may I encourage you to consider putting aside just 5 mins at the beginning of your day to pray.
Prayer counts! I encourage you to commit yourself to prayer. But more than that persist in it, pester even, like the widow who won’t give the judge any peace.
In Jesus’ own words from our gospel today, ‘Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?’
Ask, seek, knock on the door as Jesus says elsewhere. Wrestle as Jacob did.
But a word of warning. This is not a magic formula which will ensure that all your prayers will be answered, or that they will be answered in the way that you want them to be.
Pray and pester, but also with the wisdom and humility that accepts unanswered questions and accepts dark valleys as part of the journey.
I would say that I have a broader and holistic understanding of healing today. I have been talking about miraculous physical healing, but also in our modern world can thank God for the healing we have available through the medical, psychiatric and psychotherapeutic professions.
I also want to stress that, as those who have chosen to follow the steps of Jesus, we each are on a journey of healing. There is a subtler miracle at work in you and me. Our journey of faith is at the same time a journey of healing.
You are not the person you were. A spiritual healing has been occurring in your life over the years. It has affected your thoughts, motivations and desires.
Yet still, Story number 8 would be for me all the questions why. Why, the occasional exceptional healing of a few, but for most not? Why are lives cut short and children left parentless?
I have spent a decade with men whose lives have been destroyed by drink and drugs. I’ve walked with them through the hard grinding uphill journey of recovery. Some have recovered, many relapsed and a few have died because of their addictions.
They’re questions that only God has the answer to, and since even before my Mum’s death I’ve learnt to accept that situation.
There, but for the grace of God, go I. It is absolutely good and right that we pray for those we know and love who are suffering.
And so as I pray, I hold a tension, ‘Lord I beg that you come with your healing touch, this suffering seems cruel and unfair, yet, I trust in your love and providence, and so I also pray, not my will, but your will be done.
A most important thing that I wish to assert is this, whether you be in times of joy and peace or heartache and suffering, God walks with us, knows us intimately, seeks to support us on our life’s journey.
I’ll end with a brief prayer,
Lord God, whether we find ourselves presently to be in green pastures or dark valleys, may we know and experience your love, healing and presence always with us.
16th October 2016