Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.
–Booker T. Washington
My friend made an interesting comment the other day. She said that she felt that a lot of Christians no longer believe that God heals people in this day and age. You know, as sad as this is, I think she is right.
I think this is partly because people aren’t LOOKING for God to heal these days. I was talking with my colleagues about the 55 million dollar lottery a few weeks ago and joked that I guessed that I would have to actually BUY a ticket if I wanted to win. Then I asked them where one would buy a ticket. They laughed at me because apparently there are places to buy tickets all over the place–but I hadn’t seen them because I wasn’t looking for them. This is what must be happening in today’s world with North American Christians–they aren’t looking for God to heal so they don’t see it.
How can I say this so confidently? In my church in just the last year God has miraculously healed at least 2 people (that we know of) from imminently fatal illnesses. I’m not used to seeing His healing this up close and personal, but I must say it was quite obviously His work.
So now the questions come–why do we who are God’s people have illnesses in the first place? If I pray and ask for healing, will God not heal me from all of my illnesses? And so why hasn’t He?
This next comment will NOT make me beloved of the masses, but here goes.
I do not think that God heals every illness of every Christian every time.
And it’s not because we are not ‘prayerful’ enough or ‘obedient’ enough or ‘Christian’ enough. No, it’s because God wants what’s best for us, not what’s comfortable for us. I’m sure that if we were different creatures and He had any other way to do things He would. But we aren’t and there isn’t and He still wants what’s best for us.
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2 – 4 NIV
If you look at the early Christians you will see quickly that their lives were not easy or without challenges. Most of the first Christians were persecuted and murdered–think of Stephen…
55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Acts 7:55 – 58a NIV
We are not promised an easy life as Christians. We are promised that because of Christ we WILL have trouble and persecutions.
22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Matthew 10:22, 23a NIV
Note that this verse does not say you ‘may’ be hated or that you ‘may’ be persecuted–it says the you WILL be hated and WHEN you are persecuted. Life will be hard as a Christian.
But now that I’ve totally depressed you, there is GOOD news!
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you
will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 ESV
Aha! That beautiful word ‘overcome’. My friend reminded me as we talked about these issues that, praise God, we are overcomers through Christ! What exactly does ‘overcome’ mean?
- Succeed in dealing with (a problem or difficulty).
- Defeat (an opponent); prevail: “they overcame the guards”; “we shall overcome”.
Synonyms: overpower – vanquish – conquer – defeat – surmount – beat
(thanks to Google and Miriam Webster Dictionary)
To overcome does not mean that the obstacle was removed. Think of this: you are a military trainee and you have to make it through an obstacle course in a certain amount of time to pass the physical requirements. Of course (!) one of the obstacles is The Wall–you have to make your way over the 3.7 m (12 foot) wall to continue on through the course and eventually finish. It will be tough. But would you get credit for this obstacle if you just ran around it and continued? Or if you had your friends pull the wall out of the way so you could just run straight through that area? Obviously not! You don’t overcome things by having them taken away. The benefit to you and me is to, with God’s help, climb over our obstacles and continue. To OVER-come.
Paul realized the meaning of ‘overcome’.
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7b – 10 NIV
He knew that to walk through difficulty and hardships still praising God DESPITE these obstacles would reveal God more clearly to the world.
I think Satan uses our obstacles, our illnesses, our trials to distract us. While our eyes are on this impediment we do not have our eyes on Christ and so we are stuck, so to speak. We can’t move on or do anything for Christ when we are like this so we are no threat to Satan (just the way he likes us).
I’ve often heard it said that bravery is not defined by one who is not afraid to do something, but rather as one who does something scary or dangerous DESPITE being afraid. I think we can consider our illnesses and trials in the same way. One who overcomes is not someone who proceeds successfully through life WITHOUT obstacles, but one who does so DESPITE obstacles.
Christ exalts us to take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). Perhaps this means to take up those things that may hinder us (illness, disapointments, losses) and follow Him, just as He took up His cross for us.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16 – 18 NIV
Does this mean that God doesn’t heal anymore and that we should not bother to pray for healing for our friends, colleagues, neighbours and even ourselves? Absolutely not! What this means is that we may pray a bit differently–for God to heal physically if it is His will, but if not (*****see Daniel 3:16 – 18), that He will comfort his child and strengthen them and carry them through their circumstances, according to His will.
And you must pray to Him, believing and expecting, for His will to be done. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:14, 15 NIV
God wants us to grow, to be strong, to be like Christ. He doesn’t want us comfortable, He wants us ready.
Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.