So my mom is battling the aggressive enemy of ovarian cancer. I’m praying many Gospel prayers, prayers for healing, prayers offered in earnest faith to the God of the Universe, my Dad, who loves me, loves my mom … and despises cancer. And I’m think a lot about these things and have had good wrestlings about the subject I write about this morning. Perhaps my wrestling will come clearer as I write it out … and may be of some benefit to you.
James 5 teaches us to pray for those who are suffering (5:13), to have the elders pray over one who is sick (5:14), to offer prayers of faith for healing (5:15), and to confess sin and pray for one another (5:16). Then we are directed to the ministry of Elijah who prayed prayers of faith to God and he was heard, and God answered as Elijah requested (5:17-18). I have long admired the ministry of George Mueller who prayed for clear evidences that you could trust God in his ministry to orphans so people would believe in his prayer-answering God. There is no doubt about it, the Bible links faith and prayer. Our faith in the power and promises of God fuels our prayers, and a praying life fuels our faith. We have a God who is near to us in our suffering, and whose arm is not too short to save. Though the Fall has reversed Paradise and Satan seeks to devour, God still has rule and authority over His creation as the architect and sustainer of all things. He has healed, will heal, and does heal today! And so Jesus-loving, Bible-trusting, Spirit-led, Father-adoring people will live lives where prayer is as central as breathing. And at times our prayers are in alignment with the sovereign will of the Father, and He answers … not simply because He does whatever He wants and our prayers happened to land on His number, But in some strange and gracious way through the earnest prayers of faith of His children. And at other times we pray, with the limited vision of finite people, and the Spirit intercedes on our behalf for what He knows we most need, and the answer is something far greater (though different) than what we have asked for. [I find it interesting that Mary and Martha in John 11 both were convinced of Jesus’ power to heal the sick and were sad when Jesus didn’t show up in time to heal their brother Lazarus. All the while, He was coming to do something far greater … He came to demonstrate His power not only over sickness, but over death itself.]
Now come to Gospel thinking with me. We trust the completed work of Christ as the all-sufficient sacrifice for sin, the rescue of fallen man, and victory over the power and penalty of sin and death. We believe that those called by God and adopted into the family are already redeemed, cleansed, and healed. Jesus conquered sin and death on the cross, and Satan is a defeated foe. Therefore, my mom, as a beloved daughter of God, is whole. She has been redeemed from her sin, is constantly being refined, and her glorification is spoken of as something that she is already in possession of (Romans 8:30). Does it not take great faith to believe this? Absolutely! To put your trust in a God you cannot see, embracing the historicity of calvary that you were not there for, holding fast to the infinite ramifications of this message that have been settled in eternity. Great faith! So when we pray for physical healing we have, in some sense, competing components of faith. On one hand, the faith that says all is well with my soul no matter what calamity, sickness, or suffering comes my way. And on the other hand, the faith that seeks God for comfort, healing, and deliverance from our present troubles. Thus, the rub …
Are you familiar with the teaching that says if you are not being healed it is because you don’t have enough faith? The proponents of this of course mean well (I’m giving the benefit of the doubt here). They seek to stir up greater faith to see greater works to receive greater gifts. But does not that call to faith, or “prayer of faith” undermine our faith that the Gospel has done it all? That indeed ‘It Is Finished’? That the work of Jesus has already healed our greatest disease? That the present suffering is not worthy to be compared with our future glory? You see, when our righteous (James 5) prayers of faith are offered and we don’t get the physical healing answer our finite minds long for, to give the reason that you don’t have enough faith is actually showing that you don’t have enough faith in the Gospel. Those prayers of faith are actually no longer about faith. They end up being more about what you want done then what Christ has already done for you.
Friends, trusting the work of the Gospel does not undermine praying great prayers of faith (ala Elijah and Mueller), but praying superstitious “prayers of faith” shows little faith in the truly greater things of the works of God. I thank God that my mom is already healed. She has been delivered from sin, death is defeated, and glory is hers. I embrace that by faith! And I pray earnestly for her physical deliverance. I’m not ready to be parent-less, and she’s far too young to not get to play with her grandkids anymore or see her daughter get married. So I pray in faith, with faith in the Gospel, to my Sovereign God who always knows best and accomplishes His purposes for His glory!