When did Christians start believing that God wants us to always be healthy, wealthy and free of adversity?
If asked directly, most believers would deny that’s what they think. But our actions say otherwise.
A Devastating Diagnosis
I started noticing this when I contracted a rare, degenerative autoimmune disease called systemic sclerosis (aka scleroderma). It took years to finally link my symptoms to a specific diagnosis, but when it came, it was devastating.
Although it initially hit me hard, it seemed to hit others even harder.
As family and friends learned of my condition, they often reacted with shock. Some simply deserted me – usually because they couldn’t deal with their own pain or awkwardness over my condition. Other times, they left because I couldn’t continue being the fount of money or financial security they had come to expect. I quickly learned who were my true friends, and my true family.
Praying At God
Among my remaining friends, many responded by asking to pray over me. Sometimes they’d say that God told them I’d be healed. Although God hadn’t told me that, I would be gracious, let them pray and listen to their assurances. I appreciated their concern, but what struck me most was how they were reacting more out of their own anxieties than anything else.
Because their theology couldn’t explain why God allowed this to happen to me, they needed to vigorously pray at God and at me in order to drown out their own uncertainties and insecurities. They knew that if this could happen to me, then it could happen to them or their loved ones. That’s not what they signed up for when they became Christians!
Rather than “hearing” from God about my situation, they were telling God what He needed to do or what they thought He should do. After all, if He’s God and all powerful, loving and just, then they couldn’t understand why bad things happen to good Christians.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate prayers! But prayers motivated by anxiety over God’s seeming failings, and by our own fears over sickness and adversities, quickly become tiring to the purported beneficiary.
I have one very close friend who’s an associate pastor. He has cancer and would duck out of church several minutes early to avoid all of the “words from God” and anxiety-filled prayers that otherwise descended on him at the end of each service. I could relate (although things have since cooled down for me, and, I understand, for him too).
Touching God’s Heart
When I was first diagnosed, maybe one out of twenty-five of my remaining friends and acquaintances, at most, would actually come and pray for me in the security of God’s sovereignty and could then truly touch God’s heart regarding my condition. And God’s heart was to simply say He was with me. By ministering from that place of peace which only comes from total surrender to God’s will – without presumption or expectation of outcome – their prayers were like cool drinks in a barren land.
Those ministering out of anxiety, however, couldn’t understand why God would let this happen. Implicit was the assumption that God owed me, and Christians in general, a free pass when it comes to the realities of our fallen world and imperfect mortal bodies.
But there’s no such promise in Scripture. Rather, God simply assures us that His grace is sufficient for all that may befall us.
Peace Despite an Uncertain Fate
I have several very close friends who also have faced a life threatening issue or other major crisis. Once they were able to accept God’s grace in their situations, and surrender to His will without precondition or expectation of outcome, a depth of fellowship and understanding developed that’s hard to describe. To a person, we would not trade that grace for anything – including health and healing.
I’m no saint, and I have my down days. I want to be a good steward and so I struggle at times with my future and with what, if any, plans and decisions I can make given my uncertain fate. But generally, the high price of admission has been worth the grace gained as God embraced my infirmities.
Unless you too have been there, I suspect this is hard to understand.
It’s not fatalism – far from it. It’s life from brokenness. It’s peace and calm from being able to finally surrender to God’s perfect will, even with no idea what His will may be, because you finally understand – both at the logical and also at the emotional level – that life only has significance and fulfillment in him. He created us, so who knows better what to do with our lives?
It’s not premised on any assumption of outcome, other than knowing that your life never belonged to you anyway and it’s God’s to do with as He pleases – even to the point of death.
Becoming Whole Despite Infirmities
I’m in God’s hands. If His will is to call me home, that’s OK. If His will is healing, that’s OK too. If it’s something in between, then there is peace in the promise of His grace for the journey.
It is, more than anything else, being with Jesus in the garden on the night He was betrayed. He was all too human as He cried out for deliverance from His impending cross. After getting past His initial deep, deep anguish, Jesus found assurance only when He could truly say to the Father “not my will, but thy will be done.” He could then endure the cross because of the resulting peace that comes from trust and obedience.
To my healthy friends, think about this. If everyone who made Jesus their Lord suddenly experienced perfect health, perfect wealth, and no adversity or pain, then who would come to Jesus for Jesus’ sake? No one, that’s who! We would all flock to him for what He can do for us, rather than for what He wants of us.
And what does He want? Simply everything, including our will and our very lives. He then uses our total commitment to redeem His creation, despite its fallenness …
… and to reconcile people to Himself, despite our brokenness.
In His wisdom, God normally doesn’t exempt us from our frailties or the consequences of a fallen world. Rather, He makes us complete in our weakness. Our lives then demonstrate that His grace is sufficient, despite the consequences of humanity’s rebellion, and that it is only through Him that we become whole, despite our infirmities.
I truly don’t know what God intends for me. I only know that I need to walk in His grace and abide in His will day-by-day as I trust my future to Him – without any presumption of outcome.
When He’s done with this life, He’ll take me home. Until then, my life is His and my imperfect desire is to serve Him with all I have, and all I am, as He gives me grace for the journey ahead.
(c) Copyright 2009, Fulcrum Ministries. All Rights Reserved.
Soon after writing this in early 2009, my systemic sclerosis began to slowly and miraculously retreat and by the end of 2009 had gone into low level remission – to the astonishment of my doctors. Needless to say, however, the experience of dealing with the implications and initial health effects from the disease changed me deeply.
In late 2011, my symptoms started re-surging, and in early 2012 a pulmonary function test indicated that the disease had entered my lungs, which is not good.
Although I don’t know what the future holds, I nonetheless remain eternally grateful to have found sufficient grace. Or, to put it more accurately, that Sufficient Grace found me.