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.
Jim I totally understand. I don’t have a life threatening disease but I do have health issues that have been passed on genetically. The name it claim it crew just don’t get it. They think they can order God around and tell him what to do. Like you, I’ve come to the place where I only let people pray for me that I trust.
Do they pray for healing and believe in God’s promises for me, you bet ya. They will hold on to that belief until there is an answer from the throne room of grace. Some I’m still waiting for an answer and some the Lord has graciously healed me from.
Like you, I have come to the place where I know that God will do what’s best for me, even if I don’t understand. All I know is that Jesus said that good will come out of all circumstances. I’m content.
I wrote a long response to this thread last night and even had Patty edit it for me so I could impress the great professor. Alas, it never made it. Anyway, good word Jim. All I would add(breifly) is that the Word and the Spirit encourage us to contend for Gods fullness. I simply call it, having an expectant heart without expectation(putting demands on God).
I feel his fullness! In fact, I feel more fullness than ever — and I mean that with as much transparency as I can muster!
The thing that surprises me is that I have no real anqst over my health, so I’ve not been too motivated to seek “fullness”. But I understand what you’re saying, and agree fully. We are to make our “petitions” made to God, while trusting in his sovereignty and the sufficiency of his grace. It’s just, for some reason, this hasn’t emerged as one of my petitions — although I do have some others!
BTW, when I say I’m not feeling angst or a strong need to seek healing, I’m not saying I’m better than anyone or that there’s anything wrong with being human and praying earnestly for healing.
Right now, I’m on medication that does a fairly good — but not perfect — job of controling the pain and the other symptoms. But if things continue to degenerate and the medicine isn’t able to keep things reasonably manageable, maybe I’ll be crying out to God! The main issue to date has been the fatigue, some chronic pain, and most of all uncertainty. For now, I’m generally at peace with those issues.
“For it is better for them to find you (O God) and leave the question unanswered than to find the answer without finding you.”
– St. Augustine
I think too many of us get anxious and overwhelmed by life’s circumstances which can be a tremendous block in our spriritual formation. In Christ, we can live above our circumstances, troubling as they may sometimes be. In Christ, we are like eagles who don’t seek shelter from the storm, but spread their wings and ride it out. Jesus doesn’t promise there will not be storms; in fact He guarantees that there will be. But, He is always with us and nothing can get to us; not sickness, not financial concerns, not failing marriages, nothing, that has not gone through Him first.
Bravo, Jim! I appreciate nothing more than reading the truth. Rather than quote men, albeit great ones, I prefer to quote God’s own words to the Apostle Paul, when he had asked repeatedly to have a thorn removed from him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor. 12:9 (NIV).
Thanks everyone for your comments. As a quick update, I underwent a Pulmonary Function Test. The initial feedback was not good, which surprised me because I had been doing so great. When I met with my immunologist she said the initial read was erroneous and I was not experiencing any lung impact. In fact, she said that my recovery has been astounding over the last year, and she was very optimistic about my future and the permanence of the near-total recovery I’ve been enjoying since the first of the year.
If the initial read had been correct, that essentially would have been a death sentence. Although I was at peace with that, I nonetheless feel like God’s given me a new lease on life. He been using the disease to strip away a lot of the crap in my life and the false relationships that had accumulated over many years, and has given me a fantastic new start! It’s been painful, but also glorious. That may seem like a contradiction, but it’s not!
jim, this is good stuff. i appreciate the things you have to say and its good also coming from someone who’s been through it. i’m sure it took time to face all that and come to a realization enough to put it into words. i’ve seen people have a hard time with the death of a friend or relative when they had been praying so hard for a healing. i can’t even begin to say that i understand what Dad’s going through, i’ve never been through anything like this either so it’s a huge learning curve. in situations like this i’m always concerned about praying the Lord’s will, knowing what that is, is the hard part. When this got serious i took a three day fast to figure out what to do and what to pray. first of all that wasn’t me. i never fast, i love food too much. at the end of this fast, God threw me a bone. for some reason he gave me some faith, it was just a little, less than a mustard seed but more faith than i’d ever had in my life. the kind of faith that told me, i was to pray through this, whether it meant dad was getting better or that God just wanted to deepen his relationship with me, i don’t know, all i knew was i needed to do something with all this hope and faith and love and that was prayer. your right about it being hard to pray like jesus, “not my will but your will.” i want to believe that i know the will of God in this situation with Dad but the fact is, i’m only human and God hasn’t spoken anything audibly to me. i’ve just been given a burden to pray and then tried to let others carry it with me. Dad and mom and i’m pretty sure many others, are really worried about me, that i’m going to be devastated if something bad happens, but the truth is i trust God will take me through it if that’s how it all goes, and that God had some purpose in it all. Whether it’s my emotions or divine promptings i don’t know. i do want to do what ever i can to make this easier on Dad, if he wants me to face the facts and give up praying for his healing, i’m cool with that, i would understand, it would be hard but i’m ready to do it, i was ready for that at the beginning, but if dad needs hope and faith and encouragement he’s gonna get as much as he can from me.
Thanks Ben. It was the prayers of those who had perfect peace in God’s sovereignty that meant the most to me when I was struggling with my own deteriorating health and likely death. The rest — the prayers rooted in anxiety and fear — were just more stress for me to deal with because I felt their anxiety and wanted to help them when it was me who was needing help. It is good and proper to make our petitions known to the Lord — with earnestness and persistence and with the understanding that we might actually change God’s mind — but there is much grace and peace when those petitions are offered within the framework of nonetheless wanting most of all God’s will and surrendering totally to his sovereignty because ultimately he alone knows what’s best according to his purposes. In my experience, it seems that those who come to understand this always have to go through the valley of the shadow of death before they can get to the place where they finally know no evil, and then ultimately arrive at the place of knowing — fully knowing to the core of their being — the comfort of the Lord. And when you get there, death truly doesn’t matter anymore because if death is the price of admission, it’s worth it. I’m looking forward to visiting with Ken tomorrow and blessing him.
Ahhhhh… Thank you very much for directing me to this.
I had an interesting experience last night before I went to my weekly worship/prayer meeting called Dwelling that I think you’ll understand yet surprised me. Father told me to stir up the gift within me (which I rarely hear Him say), and so as I was driving to the meeting, I was praying in my prayer language as He asked me to do. The Holy Spirit then showed me a vision of a woman who has been praying for me, but the Lord wanted me to ask Father to cleanse any word curses spoken over me with the Blood of Jesus that came from her prayers! She is my dear sister in the Lord! I was very surprised! …but in obedience, I did as I was Inspired to do, and I had such a Peace and Rest come over me! That experience changed my life. The more I ponder it, the more I’m like, “Wow.” *warm smile* My Father was guiding me and protecting me. As your friends do, my friend has good intentions, but…
We are all Learning, aren’t we? May we continue to Learn to walk in His ways, in the name of Jesus, amen. God bless you!
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Thanks so much for your encouragement in your testimony of your experience Jim. I too have a chronic condition – Fibromyalgia/CFS with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity syndrome. Had similar experience to you with the anxious prayers and been taught how to do those myself. Had one of my worst and longest relapses just over a year ago and finally back on the way out of it. I reached many of the same conclusions you did too. Another thing God has shown me was that my seeking and chasing after healing was becoming an idolatry in itself. I am convinced that God has led me to the Organic Church Movement group’s people for so many good reasons – this blogspace is a bonus for me. I will continue to pray that God will work His will in you in the way He sees fit. I have also found that much of the healing I have needed was emotional and spiritual – the physical pain is still very real, yet not so much at the forefront 24/7 when I have more peace with Jesus and who He intended me to be. Bless you Jim
The only thing I am certain about God’s healing is that I will never totally understand His ways in this life! – sinco
Dear Brother Jim:
You have weighed heavy on my heart since our private email. I have been in your shoes as not long ago I battled Cancer. While bed stricken from the affects of Chemotherapy I cried tears of joy as I had loved, experienced love and fathered two children. Even during tragic and stressful times there is always something to give thanks for. I thanked the good Lord for giving me these wonderful treasures in life. Life is not defined solely by longevity but by the character of the man/person.
I am currently in remission but suffer from some side effects and the chemo drugs also can create secondary cancers. Perhaps being a cancer survivor in some ways softened my heart to depths beyond so I now absorb and comprehend true heart felt desires and pains of others. Perhaps you can relate to this.
I am proud and extremely grateful that the Lord has brought us together. A gesture, smile for simple hello can make a life long impression. Thanks for making such a passionate and life long impression in my life and heart! My prayers will continue to be said on your behalf and I am forever grateful to call you Brother!
Be blessed and know you are loved……
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Words from Heaven!
Thanks so much for your candor!
sharing this with a facebook prayer group – required reading!!
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