At the risk of sounding sappy -- and oh, Bible Girl hates sounding sappy; must be a consequence of my crime reporter days -- let me tell you something that is going to sound kinda sappy. When I prayed for a friend’s physical healing a few weeks ago and saw significant improvement, my heart got all soft and squishy with compassion. Plus, my faith got a big boost.
All of a sudden I saw the realities, the possibilities: that God really does care for us down to the minute details of our lives, and that our first resort always should be prayer. And yes, that Jesus Christ still heals.
The same thoughts occurred to my friend "DD," who I wrote about last week. DD, a physician who is well-regarded in her field, got relief from a sickle cell disease pain crisis through prayer. Then the whole world opened up to her. Her compassion for people in pain -- the pain from a sickle cell attack is "beyond excruciating," DD says, so she knows what she's talking about -- will no longer allow her to turn her back on suffering.
That's why we found ourselves driving to Houston a few Saturdays ago to pray for an otherwise young and healthy friend of DD's who'd been experiencing disabling headaches for a month. Several other staff members of her ministry organization, which supports the underground churches in a certain Middle Eastern country, were experiencing similar symptoms. (I can't name the country because of the very real dangers of working in Christian ministry there.)
When DD heard about her friend's severe migraines -- for which doctors found no cause or palliative -- she wanted to go immediately and pray. She recalled Jesus' words from the gospel of Mark: "And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."
Hey, if Jesus would do it for me, she thought, he'd do it for her. Seems like the biggest obstacle to believing that Jesus will heal is wondering why he'd bother with a sorry person like me. With that out of the way, DD was good to go.
We weren't enveloped in some super-spiritual cloud-walk on the way down to Houston, though we'd been fasting for about 24 hours, unbeknownst to each other. We just talked about the usual stuff: husbands, kids, jobs, music (including my annoying habit of listening to Nigerian gospel music non-stop, even though I can't understand more than two words of the Igbo lyrics).
When we turned the corner to Jill's house in the suburbs -- Jill isn't her real name -- we pulled over, got serious and prayed. I anointed DD's hands with oil, something us crazy Pentecostals like to do, because it's biblical. Then the same weird thing happened as when I'd prayed for DD's sickle cell pain: Our hands got very hot and tingly.
We were both caught off guard. I think we’d just been having a conversation about Mexican food.
"Do you feel that?" I asked, momentarily shocked. This is far from an everyday experience for me. In fact, the first time was the previous week, when I'd prayed for DD's healing.
We weren't hallucinating. We both sensed the same thing. What was going on? Well, this is how I understood it: It was the healing "virtue" of the Holy Spirit, to borrow the King James Version phrase. It was God confirming that he was with us on our mission, that he was present and willing to work through us for whatever reason. I guess because his Word says he "forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases," and he's quite tickled to find folks who actually believe it. (Granted, I had been a coward most of my life when it came to healing prayer.)
We found Jill lying down on a sofa. Her doctors, groping for solutions, had withdrawn too much fluid during a spinal tap, leaving her with a second round of excruciating aches and pains. As long as she laid prone, the pain was bearable.
Like DD a week earlier, Jill was touched that we cared enough even to pray for her, let alone drive that far. She was cheered by our presence. So go ahead and figure that variable into your skeptic's analysis.
We got down to praying quickly. Why mess around? I did find out in a few minutes of conversation that Jill -- a Texas girl who'd married into a Middle Eastern family -- believed her affliction was spiritual in origin. As I mentioned, several of her colleagues in ministry were experiencing similar ailments. Why? Because they were subject to weird demonic attacks, plain and simple. Many people, particularly those in Christian ministry, know exactly what I'm talking about, and I guess the rest of y'all will just make fun of me for saying that.
DD held Jill's hand and I placed my hands on her shoulders and, later, above her heart, and we prayed in turn. We bound the demonic spirits that were attacking her: "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven," Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew, "and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
I found myself making a strange declaration. "I believe you're going to be healed today," I said. Nope, I'm not a revival-tent faith healer who mouths that by reflex. I've never said that to anyone in my entire life. I believe the Holy Spirit gave me the faith to speak those words, because it sure isn't the usual me.
Oddly enough, while we'd felt the heat and tingling sensation in the car, we didn't feel it to any noticeable degree while praying for Jill.
After we'd prayed for probably 20 or 30 minutes and read a few Scriptures, Jill said she wanted to try to sit up. She did, and while she felt OK for a little while, she had to lie down again fairly quickly when the pains returned.
We prayed some more.
At the end, Jill, who is a strong believer in healing prayer herself, stated her belief that she would no longer experience migraine headaches. She'd been debilitated by them for a month straight and had been hospitalized just a few days before our visit.
Jill was in excellent spirits when we left. Seeing her friend DD for the first time in eight years played a role in that, I'm sure. But on the way back, I noticed that DD was nearly in tears. The reason, as I found out: because her friend had not been completely and instantaneously healed.
Well, neither of us was accustomed to praying for healing. DD was full of compassion for her friend. The same impulse that caused Jesus to reach out to outcasts, and women, and Samaritans, and gentiles while he walked on this earth, in spite of the religious and social constraints of his time. Crowds followed Jesus everywhere he went, and even amidst exhaustion and persecution and the nattering of detractors, he was moved with compassion every time. He healed, because he recognized and understood the pain and hopelessness of man in his sinful condition.
I don't know what's made it so easy for us to stifle that compassion, which every follower of Jesus Christ is supposed to have. Part of it's doctrinal. Scholars parse the meaning of the phrase "…who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases," in some instances conflating "sins" and "diseases" so it sounds like a wholly spiritual pronouncement.
Andrew Murray, one of the important figures of Christianity in the late 19th century, wrote a brief book called Divine Healing that succinctly disposes of some of the Christian misconceptions about physical healing. He noted that, in the church of his time, people had little difficulty believing that Jesus could save them from sin. They had a much tougher time believing he would heal, even though much of his ministry on earth involved healings and exorcisms.
“With us,” Murray wrote, “sin belongs to the spiritual domain … Some go so far as to say that sickness is a proof of the love and grace of God.
“But neither the Scripture nor Jesus Christ Himself ever speaks of sickness in this light, nor do they ever present sickness as a blessing, as proof of God’s love which should be borne with patience. The Lord spoke to the disciples of divers sufferings which they should have to bear, but when He speaks of sickness, it is always an evil caused by sin and Satan from which we should be delivered. Very solemnly, He declared that every disciple of His would have to bear his cross (Matthew 16:24), but He never taught one sick person to resign himself to being sick. Everywhere, Jesus healed the sick; everywhere, He dealt with healing as one of the graces belonging to the kingdom of heaven. Sin in the soul and sickness in the body both bear witness to the power of Satan, and ‘the Son of God was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil’ (I John 3:8).”
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Medically speaking, DD saw Jill's condition as twofold: the migraine headaches, which had persisted for a month, and the aches and pains caused by the loss of spinal fluid. Over time -- say, a couple weeks -- the body would replace the spinal fluid. The migraines, however, were a mystery.
While DD was initially upset that her friend hadn't been fully healed, a few follow-up calls revealed that Jill had improved significantly. The pains from the loss of spinal fluid were just about gone within two weeks, as one would expect given the time elapsed, and Jill did suffer one more excruciating migraine -- but it lasted only half a day.
Only time will tell if her healing is complete.
We will continue believing. What have we got to lose? --Julie Lyons