I received an email last week from someone who had been recently diagnosed with a debilitating disease. He told me what he was trying with some alternative treatments and with learning to pray in a way that supposedly can command healing. I don’t think he had read any of my blog, helping Alan and his wife deal with terminal cancer. If you missed it too, you can read it here.
I know what a scary thing it is to receive a diagnosis like ALS, Parkinson’s Disease, or Alzheimer’s, or multiple sclerosis. I’ve had people close to me deal with all of these, and each of them was looking for the secret that would unlock their healing, be it medical, quasi-medical, nutrition, or faith. At times I’ve seen God miraculously heal some of these and know that he has the power to do so. However, that has not always mostly been the case, no matter how hard people tried to get him to do so. He wasn’t sure why he wrote to me, but I wrote him back to share some of my perspective on this. It may be a good summary of my lengthy exchange with Alan as to what people might do when they face something like this and what might James have been referring to when he wrote about “the prayer of faith” in his epistle.
Here was my response:
I’m so sorry to hear you’re dealing with this condition. I’m touched that you wanted to share this with me and I will be praying for the unfolding of God’s grace and glory in your life. My heart broke as I read this, but I do know that God is greater still, and that all of your life is in his hands and he will be gracious to you as the days ahead unfold. I’m not sure why you wrote to me either, but my brother had multiple sclerosis, and my father-in-law had Parkinson’s disease, so your email strikes close to home. I get at least a bit of what you’re facing. I don’t know if you want my feedback here, but given what you shared I’d feel remiss in not offering some thoughts.
When someone has a debilitating condition like yours, it is easy for desperation to set in and to seek any solution possible, even if it might have less than a 1% hope of healing you or improving your life. Many unscrupulous people (and some well-intentioned ones) will prey on that desperation, with overseas clinics and teaching seminars or books that will try to profit by giving you hope, even if it is a false hope. Both my brother and my father-in-law went to great extremes on the promise of some new cure often at a great personal cost both financially and in pain and discomfort. Other than what appeared to be a small placebo effect that lasted only briefly, none of those attempts panned out. They both tirelessly sought healing at every revival, faith healer, or new healing technique they heard about, again to no effect. They spent most of those years in the frustrating pursuit of a healing that never came, and the disappointment that somehow God didn’t deem them worthy of the miracle they sought. Only toward the end of their lives did they come to rest and trust in the Father’s provision for them.
I do not say any of this to discourage you, so please hear me out. I believe in a God who heals. I’ve seen him heal incredible things and rejoice whenever he does. However, that healing is not in our hands; it’s in his. I don’t know why some are healed in this life and others are refined through their trying circumstances. I am convinced of this, though: we do not have the power to “believe enough” or to “command healing” in any way that will guarantee the outcome we seek. If so, then, in the end, our trust would only be in our own ability to work God enough to get him to give us what we want. I find that characterization of God now to be well beneath him. What kind of Father is that?
I have a Father now that I can trust with anything. The “prayer of faith” doesn’t arise from desperation, but from our growing security in the Father’s affection for us, with or without the disease. Otherwise, the disease over time will become the test of love. I’ve seen it happen to too many people I care about. “If he heals me, I know I’m loved; if not, I am left to question whether he really does.”
I’d rather see you put your trust in him and find your hope there. It’s a process, and he can show you how. He has a way through this for you. It may include healing it completely; it may be working through it to let his glory shine out of your weakness. I have no idea, but if I were you, I’d rather wake up every morning and put my whole life in his hands, asking him to teach me to trust him and to show me whatever his plans might be for me. Then I can watch to see how he works in my life as each day unfolds. Then there will be grace enough to endure what comes and to celebrate his life, however he makes himself known. By all means, do the medical things that are clear to do, but don’t get caught up in the lie that there is a certain process you need, a specific prayer to be prayed, a level of belief you have to reach that will turn the tide and finally get God to heal you. So many people waste their lives on such pursuits and miss what God is doing right in front of them today—the people he gives you to love, the wisdom he wants you to share with another, or the way he’s expressing his love to you.
If there is something he wants you to learn or a way to pray that will make a difference, trust him to show you and to guide you to it. You will best see that out of growing trust, not the desperation of “I have to do something, even if there’s a small chance it will work.” Or, the fear that if I don’t try something, it may have been the key that I needed. These are fear-based and will have you chasing the false hope of a mirage on the horizon.
He loves you. That you can trust. You can learn to rest in that reality and trust him to lead you however he most desires your path to unfold, and in that space, you’ll be able to see more clearly how he is with you in this.
The prayer of faith arises from growing trust in God’s ability, in his plans even if I can’t see them, and in his care for me whether it be in healing or endurance. I’ve seen people powerfully transformed by both. That’s what trust does, instead of us having to find the key to make God do what we desire, we find the freedom to ride the current with him to whatever end best serves his purpose on the earth.
I used to say, “I trust you, God, to heal this or change that.” I don’t anymore. If I’m trusting God for an outcome, I’m not really trusting him. I can trust him without even knowing the outcome and live in the grace and leading he gives me day by day. I’m praying you do, too.