All of us are only a phone call away from our life changing forever. We will get sick. We will lose loved ones. Trials will come. And we don’t know when suffering will hit us.
For me, it was Thanksgiving morning in 2009. I walked into our living room at home to give my youngest, Norah, her bottle. I burped her. I took her back to her Johnny Jump Up. I turned. And then I woke up in the hospital. I’d had a brain seizure, and I was diagnosed with a primary brain tumor, facing immediate surgery, chemo, and radiation — and an estimate of a few years to live.
In that season, I found that my Christian friends tended to fall into one of two camps. The first camp was all about the will of God, and praying for the will of God. The second camp believed that if I had faith and believed that the Lord would heal me, then I would be healed.
Those two camps often do not play too well together, but I actually believe they can help one another more than they realize. One tells us how to pray for healing, and the other tells us how to respond when God doesn’t heal. We need both. We see that need played out in at least one familiar Old Testament story.
A Prayer for the Furnace
You may well remember the characters Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from felt boards in Sunday school, but this story has direct implications for how we think about healing and how we pray for healing.
To recap, king Nebuchadnezzar made a golden image and demanded that the people of God, who had been exiled to Babylon, worship it. Three of God’s servants, who had been put in a place of authority in Babylon — Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — refused. When the king threatened to throw them in a fiery furnace because of their disobedience, they responded by saying,
Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. (Daniel 3:17–18)
In other words, our God can save us, we believe that the Lord will save us, and even if he doesn’t, we will still praise the name of the Lord. This should be our default position, regardless of what we’re walking through, but especially when we’re walking through the valley of suffering.
THE LORD CAN HEAL
God is sovereign. “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6). He is the Creator of all things and the Sustainer of all things, and he has the power to do whatever he wills. Colossians 1:16–17 says of Christ, “By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Whatever suffering we are facing, we know that God has the power to intervene, and we know he has the power to redeem and heal whatever pain and brokenness we experience.
THE LORD WILL HEAL
God is not only all-powerful; he is also personal, and he will heal all our diseases. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:1–3). The question for his children is not if he will heal, but only when and how. One way or another, he will deliver us — from suffering, from sin, from death. God loves us and cares about us (1 Peter 5:6–7). He bends his ear to the cries of his people. Psalm 34:17 says, “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” God invites us to pray to him, and tells us that he will answer our prayers (Matthew 7:7–8).
IF HE DOESN’T HEAL NOW
God is good. We can see throughout the Scriptures, as he reveals who he is and what he is about, that God is a loving Father who knows what’s best and wants what’s best for his children. As Jesus pointed out, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11). We can trust that if God chooses not to heal us for now, he knows something we don’t know — and that one day he will end suffering and death once and for all.
How to Go About Praying
The Bible frees us up to pray boldly and courageously for healing — not to simply pray for God’s will — because we know that he can heal, that he will heal, and that ultimately his will will be done in every circumstance (Ephesians 1:11). We’re not setting low bars for God to step over. We cannot set a bar too high for him. We come to him believing that he will heal, and believing that if he does not, it will be because he has a better plan and a higher aim in mind.
The Bible calls us to pray and plead with the Lord, asking him to bring healing. I’m going to ask, believing that Jesus Christ is going to heal me and heal the people I’m praying for, but then I’m going to open my hands, entrusting myself and others to the will of my God. That’s the example Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego give to us, and that’s how we pray in our trials:
Lord, I know you can heal. Lord, I believe you will heal. And Lord, if you don’t heal now, bring glory to your name and keep my faith in you.
The Power of a Simple Prayer
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers.” Philippians 4:6 (TLB)
Want to see a father’s face ashen or hear a mother gasp? Then sit nearby as they discover three words on the box of a new toy: “Some assembly required.” What follows are several late night hours of squeezing “A” into “B,” bolting “D” into “F,” and hoping no one notices if steps 4, 5 and 6 are skipped altogether.
Parents want a gift for their child. What they get is a project – sometimes a project for life.
“Some assembly required.” It’s not the most welcome sentence, but it’s an honest one. Marriage licenses should include those words, in large print. Job contracts should state them in bold letters. Babies should exit the womb with a toe tag: “Some assembly required.”
Life is a gift, albeit disassembled. It comes in pieces and sometimes falls to pieces. Part A doesn’t always fit Part B. The struggle seems large and inevitably, something is missing.
It’s such a common problem. Who among us doesn’t have an area of life that isn’t working? How do you respond when the pieces don’t fit? In frustration? In anger? In prayer?
I’d like to say I always respond in prayer. The truth? I am a recovering prayer wimp. I doze off when I pray. My thoughts zig, then zag, then zig again. If attention deficit disorder applies to prayer, then I am afflicted.
But I also know there’s power in prayer, even simple prayers. Mary, the mother of Jesus, knew this too.
Maybe you’ve heard the story. A couple thousand years ago there was a common wedding in Cana. The bride wasn’t the daughter of an emperor. The groom wasn’t a prince. Apart from one detail, the event would’ve been lost in time. But we remember it because Jesus was on the guest list.
While Jesus was there, the wedding party ran out of wine. Enter Mary, mother of Jesus. For my nickel, she appears too seldom in Scripture. After all, who knew Jesus better than she did? So, on the rare occasion she speaks, we perk up. “The mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine'” (John 2:3b, NKJV).
Consider this prayer of Mary. The pieces didn’t fit, so she took the problem to Jesus. Mary wasn’t bossy. She didn’t say: “Jesus, they are out of wine. So, here is what I need. Go down to the grove at the corner. Accelerate the growth of some Bordeaux grapes. Turn them into wine.” She didn’t try to fix the problem.
Nor was she critical. “If only they had planned better, Jesus. People just don’t think ahead. What is society coming to?”
Nor did she blame Jesus. “What kind of Messiah are you? If you truly were in control, this never would have happened!”
She didn’t blame herself. “It’s all my fault, Jesus. Punish me. I failed as a friend. Now, the wedding is ruined. The marriage will collapse. I am to blame.”
None of this. Mary didn’t whine about the wine. She just stated the problem.
Then, “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does your concern have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever he says to you, do it'” (John 2:4-5, NKJV).
Apparently Jesus had no intention of saving the wedding banquet. This wasn’t the time nor the place He had planned to reveal his power. But then Mary entered the story: Mary, someone He loved, with a genuine need.
So what did He do? Jesus told the servants to fill the water pots with water, and that water became wine the entire party enjoyed.
Problem presented. Prayer answered. Crisis avoided. All because Mary entrusted the problem to Jesus. Her simple request prompted a divine response!
Like me, you might think if you take your problems to Jesus every time you have one, you’ll talk to Jesus all day long. I think that’s the point. After all, the writer of Philippians reminds us in our key verse, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers” (Philippians 4:6).
When life doesn’t fit, it’s easy to worry or be critical or try to fix it. But let’s let Mary be our model. She took her problem to Jesus and she left it there. She stated her problem simply, presented it faithfully and trusted Him humbly.
Father, You are good. I need help to lay my problems at Your feet. Help my friends to do the same. Thank You for hearing my cries for help and being faithful to respond in love. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Streams in the Desert
By: L.B. Cowman
Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?” (S. of Sol. 8:5).
Some one gained a good lesson from a Southern prayer meeting. A brother asked the Lord for various blessings–as you and I do, and thanked the Lord for many already received–as you and I do; but he closed with this unusual petition: “And, O Lord, support us! Yes support us Lord on every leanin’ side!”
Have you any leaning sides? This humble man’s prayer pictures them in a new way and shows the Great Supporter in a new light also. He is always walking by the Christian, ready to extend His mighty arm and steady the weak one on “every leanin’ side.”
“Child of My love, lean hard,
And let Me feel the pressure of thy care;
I know thy burden, child. I shaped it;
Poised it in Mine Own hand; made no proportion
In its weight to thine unaided strength,
For even as I laid it on, I said,
‘I shall be near, and while she leans on Me,
This burden shall be Mine, not hers;
So shall I keep My child within the circling arms
Of My Own love.’
Here lay it down, nor fear
To impose it on a shoulder which upholds the government of worlds.
Yet closer come: Thou art not near enough.
I would embrace thy care;
So I might feel My child reposing on My breast.
Thou lovest Me? I knew it.
Doubt not then;
But Loving Me, lean hard.”