The Difficult Side of Healing Ministry

Today I want to be very real, candid, and vulnerable with you.  I’ve been involved in healing ministry since August of 2009, and if there’s one thing I’ve discovered, it’s that the church’s typical “romantic” perspective of such ministry is a bit delusional.

What I mean is that the picture in many of our minds is that of a man or woman in nice clothes, floating around a stage — their mind and actions beautifully in union with the Holy Spirit — and every person they touch gets healed.  Every disease leaves, and every sickness disappears at the name of Jesus.  I don’t know about you, but I dreamed of being like Peter and having the sick brought out to the streets so that my shadow might touch and heal them.  Healing ministry seems like one of the most spectacular things we could ever practice, and I think it’s safe to say that every Christian who has heard the testimony of Jesus has at least considered how “cool” it would be to minister healing like Him.

But having been at this for the last three and a half years, I can tell you: The trenches are messy.

Not every person I lay hands on is healed.  On occasion, sickness returns to a person (in my experience, this is a demon, but that’s a teaching for another time).  In fact, I was recently rocked by the news of a man who was dramatically healed in one of the meetings I conducted; but months later, his condition returned with even worse symptoms and he committed suicide to escape the pain.

It broke my heart.

So much for all the fantasies and delusions of glory and grandeur.

And yet this news came right on the heels of a meeting where every person who asked for healing received it! Real healing ministry can be an emotional roller coaster.

To be a minister of healing, you find yourself making your heart vulnerable.  You find yourself allowing your heart to empathize with people so that compassion might move you to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment on behalf of the sick, injured, and diseased.  It’s not difficult to become overwhelmed with the sights and sounds of suffering that are suddenly noticed as you go throughout everyday life, unable to touch every single person you see.

Daniel Kolenda in the Movie Paid in FullThis month I interviewed Evangelist Daniel Kolenda of Christ for All Nations for a documentary I’m producing about ministering physical healing.  I asked him, “What is the most personally difficult aspect of healing ministry?”

I resonated with his answer. He said that the most personally difficult aspect is to stand on a stage, declare healing in Jesus’ name, witness hundreds of miracles, and then see people leaving who are still on crutches or being carried out on mats.

Difficult Healing Theology

The weightiness of these things is compounded when your theology of healing believes it’s always God’s will to heal. This is a stance I arrived at after searching the Scriptures and realizing that Jesus paid the price for every healing just as He paid the price for every person to be saved. (See 1 John 2:2.)  The fact that people will perish does not contradict the biblical fact that “God wills that none should perish.” (2 Peter 3:9.) And the fact that not everyone is healed does not contradict the biblical fact that “by His stripes, we were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24.)  This is the same stance held by the great healing ministers throughout history, and it’s the stance that propelled me into healing ministry back in August of 2009.

But with that theology comes some tough questions.

Last night, I had a brief conversation with a friend about the real-life questions that naturally arise in this sort of theology.  He asked, “Have you ever had a father whose child just died of a disease come up to you and ask, ‘Do you mean to tell me that if I’d had enough faith, my daughter would still be alive?'”

He was referring, of course, to the teaching I’ve heard from many healing ministers (and that I too teach) about the epileptic boy:

Matthew 17:14-20 — When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment.

Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (NIV)

These days, if Christians pray for a person and see no results, we tend to shift gears into a teaching about God’s sovereignty.  But the disciples didn’t look at the disappointed father and say, “Sorry, Pops. It didn’t work, so obviously it’s God’s will for your son to have epilepsy.  Maybe He’s using it to build character in you or in your son. Or perhaps this is the result of secret sin in your life. Or maybe God just has a mysterious higher purpose that we can’t see.  God is good, so simply trust that your son’s epilepsy is an expression of His goodness.”

No. The disciples had spent enough time following Jesus to know that He never made excuses like that.  While Jesus didn’t heal every sick person He saw, He did heal every sick person who came to Him or called out to Him. So rather than making excuses that they had never heard from Jesus, the disciples were confused and wondered why it didn’t work. Naturally, when the boy was brought to Jesus, the demon left, and the boy was healed.

What I teach, and what I practice, is that when healing ministry doesn’t produce visible results, I need to follow the example of the disciples and ask the Lord why I couldn’t do what He would have done if He had touched the person.  And as long as I don’t have an answer, I simply look the person in the eye and apologize: “I’m sorry. If Jesus had touched you, you would be healed right now; instead, I touched you. Unfortunately, I’m not perfectly like Jesus — I’m just a part of His Body.  But I believe someone is out there who can minister this measure of Jesus to you, so keep seeking healing and keep believing. The fact that I couldn’t do it is not evidence of God’s will.  The life of Jesus is evidence of God’s will, and He healed everyone who came to Him.”

Yes, I actually do that.  I take the responsibility — not in the sense that I feel guilty for it not working, and not in the sense that I take personal glory when healing does happen.  On the contrary, if someone is healed, I know it’s because they touched Jesus in me; and if someone is not healed, I know it’s because I’m not perfectly representing Jesus.  And I’m not talking about being holy enough or godly enough. I’m simply talking about faith, which is exactly what Jesus said was the issue when the disciples couldn’t cast out the demon. My faith isn’t perfect, and I’m okay admitting that.

But I have had people — even good friends — become upset with me because I was implying that something was wrong with their faith if they couldn’t minister healing.  They assume that I’m challenging their salvation or passing judgment on their love for Jesus. On the contrary, I’m simply agreeing with Jesus, who made the same statement to His own disciples; and I’m agreeing with Paul, who taught that the proportion of our faith influences how we minister. (See Romans 12:6.)

Many of us would rather blame God than take responsibility.  It’s more comfortable.  If God doesn’t want to heal, then I don’t need to change when healing doesn’t happen.  But if God does want to heal, then I need to realize I’m not perfectly like Jesus whenever it doesn’t work.  That’s uncomfortable.  And it becomes even more uncomfortable when we realize how many dear friends and loved ones have died that would have been healed if someone (like me) had simply had the faith to do something about it.

CPRI was thinking this morning: If God’s will is always done, then why do so many Christians take CPR lessons?  Generally, when we learn CPR, we’re convinced that “if I know this, I can save someone’s life.” But if God wants a person to die, then your performance of CPR will either fail or it will contradict God’s will.  And if God’s will is for a person to live, then you don’t need to know CPR. The person will live some other way.

Of course, I don’t actually believe that.  I have taken CPR certification courses because I believe death is an enemy of God. (See 1 Corinthians 15:26.) And I believe God’s will is not always done (remember, “God wills that none should perish,” and yet people perish).  And I diligently study the Word of God regarding healing ministry because I believe Jesus paid a very high price to conquer the effects of sin.  If people only ever died in God’s timing, then why did Jesus raise the dead?

For that matter, why would Jesus command His disciples, “Heal the sick who are there,” (Luke 10:9) or, “Raise the dead,” (Matthew 10:8) without also giving instructions about the times when it won’t work?  Was Jesus setting His disciples up for failure? Or was He commanding them to do what He had the authority to command?

So let’s return to the hypothetical father who just lost his daughter to disease. Am I saying that this sweet little girl might have lived if someone (like her father) had been a better representative of Jesus through faith?  That’s a difficult question to answer — not because the answer is complicated, but because of the emotions tied to the answer.  So let me pose a different question: If my dear, sweet grandmother — who loved everyone — refused to believe in Jesus, would she be in hell right now? And if she is in hell, could I have possibly prevented that if I had been more effective in communicating the Gospel?

You see, Christianity is full of tough questions. For some reason, we tend to be more comfortable with questions of eternal life and death than we are with questions of physical life and death.  We can be downright dogmatic about heaven and hell for the unbelieving grandma and our responsibility to evangelize; but if a “dear sweet Christian” dies of a disease, we would rather call it God’s will than take responsibility.

I find it interesting that when we fail to represent Jesus in character, we gladly go to the Lord and ask Him to help us change — to strengthen us in weakness and give us the grace we need to live transformed. And yet when we fail to represent Jesus in power, we respond as though we’re perfect and God said, “No.”

If your theology is based on disappointing earthly experiences, it’s bad theology.  And if your theology is based on the avoidance of tough questions, then it’s bad theology.  The only right theology is that which is consistent with the life of Jesus.

Jesus healed everyone who came to Him.

Coming to Terms with Difficulties in Healing Ministry

“I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation [Greek: sozo – complete wholeness of body, soul, and spirit] of everyone who believes.”  I will not compromise this message in response to disappointment or missed opportunities.

To the hypothetical father whose daughter just died, I would encourage you: The fact of what happened does not change who God is.  He loves you and your daughter immeasurably. He understands our weaknesses and is not angry with you or anything like that. Nevertheless, His desire would be that this tragedy would stir you to discover His heart and motivate you to be strengthened in your faith so that the next person you encounter with this disease doesn’t have to die.  You’re not guilty for missing it with your daughter, but you do have a choice in front of you: You can decide that it was simply God’s will, or you can decide to devote yourself to accomplishing God’s will in the future.  You can turn inward and focus on what you did or didn’t do, or you can look upward and ask the Lord where to go from here.

Healing ministry isn’t easy.  Those who think healing ministers are arrogant or out of touch with reality simply don’t understand the emotional struggles we go through on a regular basis.  I believe if we will be real about the inner battles (as I have been in this article), it will help others step into healing ministry.  And that is my goal: Every Christian ministering the healing power of Jesus.

Don’t be afraid of the tough questions.

Minister the Gospel without compromise.

God bless,
–Art