The real problem with praying to God for healing: he has an agenda

We might not like the medicine

You probably know the old joke about a person who fell off a cliff but managed to grab hold of a branch halfway down. As he swung, he called into the mists below him, ‘Is there anybody there? Can you help me?’

A voice came from the mist. ‘Trust me, and let go the branch.’

The person thought about it and then said, ‘Noted. Is there anybody else down there?’

Involving God in our healing exposes us to the risk that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways.

We may come to him with the hope of a quick fix to a medical problem. But in coming, we open ourselves to the fact that God may have a view on what is really wrong with us and what needs to be put right.  

We may point out the mote in God’s eye (he let me suffer toothache!), he points out the plank in ours. We bring our agenda to him; he brings his agenda to us. It is like when you have to speak to your wife about something.  It’s unpredictable. You don’t know what avalanche will be unleashed as you remove the first boulder. 

Unfortunately I know of no way round this. Once we bring our problems to God we are in the same position as the king with an army of 10,000 discovering that the opposing king has an army of 20,000.  By the end of the day there will only be one king left standing. One agenda will survive the meetup. And it won’t be ours.

Our options at this point are limited. We could take the ‘Henry V’ option (‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…’) Or, since it is God we are now facing, God and his agenda for us, we could take our army to one side and say, ‘Lads, it’s like this. We either face certain death in battle or we surrender and hope for the best.’ We come to him: we submit to him. We want his touch; the only thing offered is his outstretched arms, his deep embrace. It’s all or nothing, all of him or nothing.

Our only way out of this dilemma is to take our medicine as soon as possible. We want healing if possible please; if so, we first need to surrender ourselves, body, mind and schedule, heart and soul and hopes, to the Healer.

 

A business leader ponders commitment to Christ 

Is 51% control enough for God?

‘… It was if my life had shares and God wanted 100 percent control of it. A divine tug-of-war ensued. Why would God want all of me? Could there be a joint venture? Could I carve out a special deal to suit me? What about a partnership? Was 50/50 not a good arrangement. It became clear that true freedom was to be found in full surrender to the love of God. It did not come to me easily, nor at once. I got there in stages. I recall praying that God would take 51 percent of my life–control but not whole ownership. I remember the churning an d the heated deliberation within myself as this plan did not seem to achieve the desired objective. I saw then, and recognize now more fully, the arrogance of negotiating with God and the foolishness in believing I had anything to offer God. I recall praying: “Lord have all of me. Only don’t abandon me.” In that moment, I realized that the God who loved the entire world also loved mean and would stay faithful to me, even when I was not faithful to him, as has sadly often been the case.

‘What struck me at once was the immediate change in every area of my life…’

Ken Costa, banker, in his helpful book God at Work.

Wonderful immigration (with working link this time -sorry)

Crowd
The Church around the country is leading the fight against mean and small-minded immigration policy.

I am relying on anecdote here. It’s just that so many of my Christian friends, when they aren’t staffing the food bank rota, are helping Iranians and Syrians and Afghans fill out forms, make appeals and try to start a new life in the UK. They also inviting them to their homes, teaching them English and being their friends.

Where are the politicians? Crowding into the cellar. Where are the newspapers? Foaming at the mouth for the most part. I don’t see too many opinion-formers  telling us that the inward flow of young, keen, hardworking people is a great gift to us, a resource better than discovering a reservoir of shale oil under the entire North of England.

These good people are going to pay my pension and keep the health service running for me.  Of course we have to observe the lifeboat principle – if you try too much, too fast, you sink.

But that can’t be that hard given the fact we are entirely surrounded by an impassable watery border, we have coped even with 300,000 new people a year, and our population would be shrinking and ageing if we didn’t open our doors. We have a big lifeboat and it isn’t full. In the year 2000 the foreign-born population of the UK was 4%. By 2010 it was 8%.Well done us.

China rising

A prophecy comes true

China
Around 1985, when I was a young missions researcher, an old missions researcher named Leslie Brierley, born 1911, was helping me write a book.

I had described how the opportunities for Christian missions in China had closed down around 1949 with the communist takeover.

1985 was less than ten years after the death of Mao, and less than 20 years after the peak of the cultural revolution in 1969 when not a single Christian church met publicly in the whole country. Few glimmers of news had emerged since.

My 23-year-old apprentice self ventured some pessimism about the gospel in China. My 74-year-old  mentor begged to differ:

“I feel that we are in for some surprises with regard to the Church in China, for in the 21st century (I shan’t live to see it but you can tell me when you arrive in Glory) the Chinese will be one of the greatest waves of missionary outreach in the world.”

Estimates of 100m Christians in China are contested but mainstream today.

I look forward to telling Leslie.

How to shorten your life

Slow healing (part 9)

If you really want to cut short your time with the rest of us here on earth, here’s how — borrowing from two sources, just as we did for the blog on how to live longer.

The statistician

David Speigenhalter has some research-led findings on what to do if you really want to lop some years off your span. Here’s how different behaviours can get you into the world of the below-average.

  • Smoke 14-24 ciggies per day: take off seven years from your expected lifespan.1
  • Be obese: take off 2.5 years
  • Eat one portion of red meat per day: take off one year
  • Every alcoholic drink after the first each day: take off 0.7 years.
  • Watch TV for two hours per day: take off 0.7 years.2
Jewish wisdom

The Bible too has a some surprising views on unhealthy lifestyle–though not all of them are things you can do much about:

  • Having a wife of dubious character (Proverbs 12:4) (fortunately I’m OK on that score)
  • Hope deferred (Proverbs 13:12)
  • Envy (Proverbs 14:30)
  • A crushed spirit (17:22 and 18:14)

The beautiful joy of criticism

It separates wheat from dross, and cuts rough diamonds

Ufology sign
By ‘criticism’, I don’t mean saying bad things about people, of which I think we do way too much.

I mean holding something up, looking at it in a fresh light, considering an alternative view, listening to the opposite argument, assessing and weighing the evidence. 

Sceptical skills do not come naturally to us and I think we should practice them. Argue with yourself against some deeply-held opinions for a few minutes each day, perhaps. 1

I think we should cultivate the friendship of the smart, good people who despite being smart and good, believe all the wrong things.

We should celebrate when we change our mind or arrive at a fresh perspective. These are moments that don’t come round so often. It’s much more common, apparently, only to really latch on to the fresh information that digs us deeper into the rut we have already chosen.

And finally we should train our sceptical gunsights on those who who are on our side, who are bravely fighting our corner. It isn’t wrong. It’s breathing clean air.

Ways to live longer

Slow healing (part 8)

Two different sources suggest ways to lengthen your life. My ‘theology’ embraces both.

The statistician

David Speigenhalter, a statistician here in Cambridge, has calculated what fitness tips can do to your expected lifespan. Here are some of them:

  • Five fruit and veg every day: add four years
  • Twenty minutes light/moderate exercise per day: add two years
  • Two cups of coffee: add one year
  • One small alcoholic drink: add one year.

Or

  • smoke 14-24 ciggies: take off seven years
  • be obese: take off 2.5 years
  • eat one portion of red meat: take off one year
  • every daily alcoholic drink after the first: take off 0.7 years.
  • watch TV for two hours: take off 0.7 years.1
Jewish wisdom

The Bible has a few tips too, time honoured if not actually peer-reviewed:

  • Fearing God (Deuteronomy 6:2)
  • A longing fulfilled (Proverbs 13:12)
  • Wise living (Proverbs 9:11, 13:14, 16:22)
  • A heart at peace (Proverbs 14:30)
  • Gracious speech or the ‘soothing tongue’ (Proverbs 15:4, 16:24)
  • Good news (Proverbs 15:30)
  • Walking in the way of justice (Proverbs 16:31)
  • A cheerful heart (Proverbs 17:22)
  • Pursuing righteousness and love (Proverbs 21:21)

Unhealthy ones:

  • Having a wife of non-noble character (Proverbs 12:4) (I’m not making this up)
  • Hope deferred (Proverbs 13:12)
  • Envy (Proverbs 14:30)
  • A crushed spirit (17:22 and 18:14)

 

The Norm Chronicles: Stories and numbers about danger

by David Spiegelhalter [Profile Books Ltd]
Price: £8.99 - - EUR 10,19

Is evangelism biblical?

Only evangelicals believe this.

Breaking bread, juice, dinner party, Broadview townhouse, Seattle, Washington, USAHere’s a question.

Is evangelism something you should ‘do’? Is this how we should think?

  1. I am a Christian
  2. The world needs to know the gospel
  3. Led by God, I must go and tell it/them.

I’ve believed this is the right thing to do for decades but never much liked the idea, and not been too good at it either.

There’s an alternative:

  1. The Kingdom is coming
  2. Turn to the King and follow him

I like this much better. Why are these two ideas different?

The first seems to be fatally flawed in that it casts me as the good guy and the expert and the world as the needy thing to which I am sent like a spiritual paramedic. I am broken, as truly broken as the world is, we all know this, I want to communicate this. We evangelicals like to talk about ‘one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread’: good so far. But having the wrong starting point really doesn’t help this communication effort. When I climb into the spiritual ambulance, put the blue lights on, and race helpfully towards you I am obscuring the message of our mutual need.

The second approach starts with broken me and sets as my duty ‘following Jesus’ rather than ‘evangelizing’. Go where he leads; do what he wants me to do; become what he wants me to become; and strive to form disciples en route.

The first feels like a marketing campaign, the second feels more like a pilgrimage – and also more natural, normal and slow.

There’s some Biblical heft behind the second idea (as well as personal preference). It’s what Jesus himself said and did, right from the start on the Galilee lakeside: the Kingdom is coming: embrace it.

It’s what he sent out his apostles to preach and demonstrate.

Even the Great Commission in Matthew, the final peak of Christ’s teaching, is not (as is often taught and I myself have taught) ‘go and make disciples’. It is best translated, ‘in your going’; ‘as you go’; or (I paraphrase) ‘on your way through life’, ‘make disciples of all the nations.’

I don’t think all the evidence is in my favour and I am deliberately overstating things. Just a few days ago I heard of more than 50 students making a profession of faith after what looked a lot like an evangelistic campaign in their university. Paul and other apostles clearly strategized, preached, believed they had the answers and set out to teach the world. They behaved like good evangelicals. But they were gifted evangelists. And they were only a part of the Church’s response to Christ; they had their limitations too. And perhaps campus evangelistic missions are more like the exception in church growth, not the rule.

We are not all evangelists. Teaching us all to behave like evangelists is an evangelical weakness, a weakness that’s obvious to everyone (except ourselves). We thereby seem to love to instruct people in the right way to live–not an attractive quality–rather than admitting the truth, which is that we are all hippos together in the glorious mud–but Christ has come among us.

When the clouds return after the rain

Slow healing – 7

Injured Teddy Bear
A couple who struggle to have children conceive a baby. A person suffering flashbacks of a traffic accident is bothered by them no more. The latest scan reveals no sign of cancer. Some things submit to the quick, instant fix.

I’d love to hear from a GP on this but I have the feeling that many, perhaps most, medical conditions don’t fit this model. Perhaps some people are just wearing out. Others keep seeking appointments really because they are lonely and sad. (Just the other day I heard of a survey at one GP practice that found its most frequent frequent-flyers were not the eighty-year-olds but women in early middle age.)

Lots of people have multiple things wrong with them, so if instant healing was being offered, they’d have to keep rejoining the queue. This is in fact quite a good picture of how the NHS is currently structures.

Yet in the gospels people meet Jesus and all who even touch the edge of his cloak are healed.

What does that mean for those with multiple, long-term chronic conditions or who are sad and lonely or who are just wearing out? I guess doctors struggle with this stuff all the time.

Surely it means that healing is finding a way to thrive in any and every circumstance. This may be lit up on the way by some wonderful moments of physical or mental deliverance, thanks to doctors or prayer or both or more, but true healing is a wide, deep, slow turning over of the soil of our lives so that it produces a good harvest of joy and peace. It’s a transforming encounter, and an ongoing discipline and experience.

The neat thing is, I suspect such an inner transformation will itself be an ally in our fight against everything else. ‘All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast’ (Proverbs 15:15). We start to see ourselves as givers, not takers, receivers of grace not unfortunate victims, our lives defined by the goodness of God, not by our ailments. This isn’t easy or inevitable; but it isn’t impossible either.