A leading RCA pastor tells why churches ought to become involved.
Healing services and a healing ministry are subjects that make many Reformed Christians skeptical or uneasy. We've heard countless stories of the trickery and fraud of superstar "faith healers" who've gathered millions of dollars as they've led their healing rallies around the country, and they've left a bad taste in our mouth. We've also been taught that John Calvin believed that the gifts of the Spirit ceased with the apostolic age. That philosophy has been reflected in the practice of our own congregations, most of which have never witnessed the anointing and laying on of hands that are part of a healing service.
But in recent years many Christians have taken a closer look at what the Scripture teaches about the power of healing and have become convinced that we have been failing to use the power Christ has given us to heal in his name. RCA pastor Robert L. Wise has helped his congregation, Our Lord's Community Church, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, discover the power of prayer in healing. On the following pages Wise outlines the principles that undergird a healing ministry and challenges other Reformed Christians to become healers in Christ's name.
How can a Reformed pastor who takes the sovereignty of God seriously practice a healing ministry today? The answer to that question lies not in tradition but in Scripture.
The Bible consistently teaches that God has given people dominion over the world and that he empowers them to do his work. In the Old Testament that dominion and work seem to involve mostly the physical world, the world God created and entrusted to Adam. But the New
Testament makes it clear that our sphere of influence includes the spiritual realm as well. On the day of Pentecost the Christians discovered that they were endowed by the Holy Spirit to continue the same work of healing and wholeness that Jesus practiced. As a matter of historical fact, this ministry never stopped: the power to pray for healing has been present in every century since Pentecost.
When a local church sets out to really do its homework on this subject and then opens itself up to the power of the Holy Spirit, great deeds will follow. Our congregation now finds that it is common practice to have people touched emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually through prayer. As the Creator waited on our research to produce a vaccine for polio, so, in many instances, he is watching for our partnership in prayer. One of the greatest needs of the contemporary church is not only to learn to pray as Jesus did but also to minister as he taught.
Principles of Partnership
How can you and your congregation practice this approach to ministry with integrity and anticipation? The following five insights have helped shape our ministry at Our Lord's Community Church. These "Principles of Partnership" are consistent with a Reformed theological heritage and express the faith and practice of the New Testament Church.
Not Sending Up—But Going In
When we pray for healing, we are not merely presenting problems to the Father. Rather, we are conveying the Holy Spirit's power to a point of need. Our real task is to allow the Spirit to move through us as electricity moves through a wire. Each of us is "spiritually constructed" with the capacity to be a conduit of God's energy.
Prayer, then, is not so much a matter of "sending up" as a process of "going in." In other words, as we go deep within ourselves to the place where our intuitions and thoughts arise, we will find the point where the Spirit's movement is most keenly realized. Our task in praying for healing is to allow God's grace to flow through that place within us to the needs of those around us.
If we think we can change the mind of God, we naturally will conclude that we should bombard him with our innumerable and sincere pleas—and the more people we can get to plead our case, the better our chances for success. Unfortunately, this type of thinking only leads to anguished hand-wringing from emotionally ravaged people.
We need to enter into the fellowship that our relationship with Christ offers us. Rather than pleading, we should seek to open our minds and spirit to his presence. Something marvelous and astonishing always happens when we settle into the presence of the heavenly Father and allow his love to envelope us.
Instead of talking so much, we need to learn how to listen, or meditate. Regrettably, many evangelical Christians have little knowledge of the insights Christians from past ages have provided on this subject. Members of our congregation studied articles and books about meditation by Orthodox and Roman Catholic-writers. Since then, time and again in our meditations, we have found ourselves completely recasting the petitions of our hearts. The practice of meditation can, in itself, help us to develop a new dimension of spiritual sensitivity.
Not Once—But Continually
A common false assumption about praying for healing is that we should pray for a condition only once—and if results don't come immediately, we should dismiss the problem as beyond the potential for healing. This simply is not true. Most conditions and needs must be prayed for repeatedly. Far from a sign of lack of faith, continual prayer is essential to the healing ministry.
In fact, a good rule of thumb is that the longer it takes for medical means to effect a cure, the longer it probably will take for prayer to have noticeable effects. While praying for a headache is a relatively easy assignment, for example, making an impact on can-cer through prayer is a more difficult task. The headache may dissolve after a few minutes of prayer, but cancer will require rigorous attention.
Our prayers, then, might be compared to the use of a heating pad or to taking a medication over an extended period of time. Francis MacNutt calls this type of petition "soaking prayer." Many people come to our church's healing and worship services for this very reason. They repeatedly bring the same condition or problem to the service so that it can be bathed in prayer. Their persistence is in itself a sign of faith.
Not Technique—But Totality
One of the subtle dangers in the healing ministry is the assumption that if one learns a certain number of techniques, he or she will become a real "healer." This impression must be addressed.
Those who truly seek to have a powerful prayer life must do more than acquire techniques— they must enter into a complete relationship with God. Far from a fad, prayer must be pursued until the continual experience of God is as vital to our existence as the air we breathe.
The conclusion is simple. If we're looking for a new twist or a spiritual diversion, we should forget this entire subject. Powerful praying is like the treasure hidden in a held. We have to sell all in order to buy it.
Not Lone Rangers— But Soldiers
Because results in the healing ministry can be dramatic, people who have prayed successfully for healing sometimes drift into believing that they are spiritual superstars. Needless to say, such a personal opinion is deadly.
Recognizing that I am only a part of God's vast army helps keep my feet on the ground. I am only part of the church. No question about it. I have been called to be on the team—not to be the Lone Ranger.
There is a power within a group of believers that exceeds the strength of any one individual, a power guaranteed in the promise "Where two or three are gathered, there will I be." That power is released in the atmosphere of worship.
Beginning a Healing Ministry
How can a congregation move from studying about a healing ministry istry to participating in one? As is true in all aspects of Christian life, the best starting point is simply to practice biblical guidelines.
In this case, either laying on of hands or anointing with oil is a good specific practice to start with. Also note that James 5: 13—15 specifically speaks of calling for the elders of the church to pray and anoint, suggesting a team approach.
I usually begin the healing segment of the service by making sure that the person we are praying for is completely aware of what we are doing and has expressed both his faith and a desire for healing. As we begin to pray, I place my hands on the person's head or shoulders; the elders put their hands on mine and each others'. If I anoint the person with oil, I make the sign of the cross on his forehead while acknowledging his ownership in Christ and Christ's sovereign control over his life.
As we pray, I never conclude with the words, "if it be thy will," which seem to imply negative expectations. Instead I pray "according to your will."
At some time during the prayer I become silent, inwardly waiting for any special guidance and direction in the intercession. When such leading comes, I begin to pray in that direction.
As we continue praying, I may periodically pause and ask the person what she is experiencing. In many instances she mentions warmth, internal motion, or a similar awareness of spiritual activity. The person is usually encouraged by her increased awareness of what is occurring.
As the promises of Scripture are being confirmed, the congregation experiences new excitement and anticipation. Together we are seeing the grace of the risen Christ touch personal need. That's an experience all congregations should share—regularly.