The Rev. Canon Jim Holbeck, an Anglican minister, wrote as the leader of the Healing Ministry at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney, 1988-2006, where he succeeded Canon Jim Glennon who commenced the weekly Wednesday healing service in 1960.
when God’s answer comes
it will always be to his greater glory
and to our greater good.
Having entered into my early twenties with virtually no experience of church life, and thinking that religion was absolutely irrelevant, I have completely changed my mind. I am engaged in what I once thought absurd and far from reality.
That I should be writing such a chapter as this shows that changes and healing through God’s Spirit can take place in today’s world.
The change began with my conversion at the age of 23. I came to realise that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who had died for my sins on the cross and who was now alive. I had seen the change he made in members of my own family who had ‘accepted Christ as Saviour’ as they put it. Then a few people I knew asked Christ into their lives and I began to see change in them.
I was encouraged that Christ could change people radically. Surely the world would be completely changed as people heard the good news and responded to it! But no! I was soon to learn the sad fact that some people can hear the message that had excited me and transformed my life, and be totally unmoved by it.
The message of the possibility of healing by God’s Spirit in today’s world also excited me, and I hope it will not leave you unmoved. Here are some of the lessons the Holy Spirit is teaching me as I journey on the learning curve regarding healing.
Healing is accelerated through conversion
One of the first things I noticed with many of those who became Christians was their general improvement in health. Some would have carried a heavy burden of guilt. As they received forgiveness in Christ, the burden was lifted to a large degree. In fact, many people have come to me for counselling for some physical or emotional or relationship problem and have been introduced to Jesus and accepted him as the Lord of their lives. From that point, the healing they had been seeking in various ways became a reality in their lives.
It makes sense that the greatest healing of all is spiritual healing because it open up the body, mind and spirit to the Lord’s power. I believe that we should be aiming at presenting the gospel to every person who asks for healing. After all, what is the use of their gaining all the healing in the world if they are still going to lose their souls?
We are not always given the opportunity to present the gospel to individuals who seek healing, however. Some may allow us only a limited time to talk with them and pray for them. What should our response be to such people? Here’s another lesson I have learned.
God heals unbelievers
Sometimes God brings healing to those who aren’t committed Christians. We might like to argue theologically about whether he should or shouldn’t, but in the meantime he does anyway!
One of the results of unbelievers receiving healing is that they can realise that Christ is alive and well in his church, and in gratitude they give their lives to him. Not all do, though. I notice in the New Testament that of the ten lepers who received healing only one returned to thank Jesus. The others, nonetheless, were still healed.
There are many who come to our weekly Wednesday Healing Services in the Cathedral who are not believers, but whom the Lord heals. Many who come to receive healing meet the Healer, Jesus Christ himself. Their healing made them realise that God is alive, and that he loves and cares. So they responded to his love as they saw it revealed in the cross of Christ and as they experienced it personally through their healing.
God wants to heal the real problem
Often the Holy Spirit gives some insight into the real problem when we talk with people in a prayerful environment, having invoked the Spirit to do his work of revealing and giving wisdom. We are humbled to again realise that the Holy Spirit is indeed the real Counsellor who longs to set people free and who may reveal problem areas in people’s lives.
I was once confronted with a woman who was extremely agitated because her husband had been overlooked for a position she felt he should have gained. Not knowing how to get her to be quiet so that we could talk sensibly about it, I suggested we pray! As I prayed she gave a long sigh. When the prayer finished I looked up to see a completely different woman. She was, rather, the same woman with a completely different countenance. Where, a few moments before, there had been extreme agitation, there was now an incredible serenity. She said quietly, ‘God has shown me that my whole attitude is wrong. Thank you so much for your help.’
She left a transformed woman in an encounter that lasted no more than five minutes. During the following months she continued to be at peace. In my prayer, I was asking that God would be with us as we talked and that he would give us wisdom. Not one word of counsel did I offer her. God the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor, healed her as she opened up to him.
Many counsellors use the expression ‘the presenting problem’ to describe the situation that the counsellee presents as being their problem. But often they don’t know what their real problem is. Their presenting problem is only their own perception of their need. The Holy Spirit, however, knows exactly what the root cause is and is able to reveal causes, not just symptoms. I find that this sort of thing is happening more and more in the ministry of those involved in counselling.
Christians may have deep problems
As a brand new Christian I used to think that once we became Christians all personal problems would disappear. I was astounded to begin to associate with people who had been Christians for thirty years or more but had all sorts of personal hangups and were so unloving and critical.
On my first venture into an ecumenical training class to prepare for a Beach Mission, I found those relatively younger Christians very wary of me, an Anglican, at a time when few Anglicans were involved in such ministries. I thought we were ‘all one in Christ Jesus’ and that we would have wonderful fellowship together. I was taken aback at such suspicion. Thank God, that depth of suspicion has lessened over the years.
Then as I began to read more of the New Testament I saw that even Christian leaders sometimes don’t act Christianly. Paul in his letter to the Philippians had to rebuke two fine servants of Christ, Euodia and Syntyche, and tell them to be reconciled. On another occasion he had to correct the apostle Peter for conduct that was not helpful for the Christian cause in Galatia. It showed me that we are always going to be human no matter how Christlike we become. There will always be within us the potential for sin or insensitivity or error.
More recently I have realised we are the product of so many influences including the things said or done to us during our lifetime. Sometimes we may be aware of some of those factors. Often we are not. Some of us as Christians may be as totally committed to Christ as we are able to be, yet there may still be problem areas.
Praise God, the Lord is interested in healing even the damage we have suffered in the past, to enable us to reach more potential in him. Admitting we have some problems is not a sign of weakness or spiritual illhealth. Rather, it may be a sign that greater healing is in progress. The person who has seemingly got it all together, who is dependent upon no one, who never seems to be affected by the difficulties around them, may be the one who needs the greater healing.
Healing is a lifelong process
In Romans 12:12 Paul writes about the transformation that God brings to us as our minds are renewed. Sometimes we don’t realise how the world has squeezed us into its mould, even in terms of our thinking and worldview. That has been so for many of us regarding healing and spiritual gifts. If we have a worldview that dictates that God doesn’t heal today, then that becomes a tremendous barrier to receiving healing. If we believe that God can bring healing to damaged emotions, but not healing of bodies, there is little motivation to reach out for such physical healing.
Our understanding of all the ‘unsearchable riches’ we have in Christ is meant to grow as we continue to know him. Some of us have experienced some degree of physical healing through prayer. This has increased our capacity to believe that God can do more. The testimony of people I respected as mature Christians who had been healed of lifethreatening illnesses through the healing ministry at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney made me look more deeply into the whole area of healing.
I came to see that the Lord is interested in healing us not only spiritually so that we can live in heaven, but that he also wants to heal us emotionally and physically to equip us to live for him on this earth. The ‘unsearchable riches’ are always more than I am able to comprehend or appropriate. Part of maturing as Christians may involve appropriating more of those ‘unsearchable riches’ which are ours in him. That will take more than our lifetime.
Healing comes through cooperating with God
I recently preached about being doers of the word as well as hearers. For example, if God commands us to forgive others, then we must act upon that word and do so. As one woman in the congregation heard those words she prayed, ‘Lord, do I need to forgive someone?’ Immediately a person came to her mind. She was aware of the hurt this person had caused her years ago. She prayed a prayer thanking God for bringing this to her mind, and before God she forgave that person. She then asked God to forgive her for holding resentment against that person for so long. Just then she was filled with an incredible warmth which lasted for hours. When she phoned to share this with us some days later, she was able to say how free she felt knowing that these deep wounds had been healed. She cooperated with God as he brought her this insight and received a great healing as a result. One wonders how many people could know greater healing if they cooperated with God’s nudges rather than ignoring them.
Psalm 139 has meant a great deal to Christians for generations. Recently we have discovered its significance for the healing of memories, or for healing of past hurts. The Psalm reminds us in a powerful way of God’s omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence. David states that God knows all things, and then turns that truth into a prayer. He asks God who searches all things to search him, to know him, to test his anxious thoughts, to see if there is any offensive way in him, and to lead him in the everlasting way.
David wants God to share that knowledge with him, so that he might act upon that insight. Because God knows the root cause, as well as the present symptoms, he knows the real areas that need healing. In many counselling situations these days, this fact is recognised with a prayerful reliance on the Spirit of God to bring any revelation necessary for a person’s healing.
Healing comes in the Lord’s way and in his time
Paul wrote in Colossians 4:2, ‘Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.’ He knew we need to keep our spiritual eyes open, to see how God answers our prayers. If we’re really honest, we have to admit that so often in our prayers we’ve got it all worked out as to how best God might answer them. It will be in this way, and at this time. We often pray, expecting that God will answer in the way we think best. But his way may be quite different from what we imagined. His timetable may be much slower than ours. As Isaiah wrote so long ago, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are his ways our ways. We might add, neither is his timetable our timetable.
This is especially so in healing. Often we have people come to our services for physical healing and through his word God shows them their need for salvation. They are saved, and then much later find the healing. Others miss the answer to their prayers because they are impatient. When it hasn’t come according to their timetable they get resentful and hinder the healing that was coming to them in the days ahead. We may be sure that when God’s answer comes it will always be to his greater glory and to our greater good.
Unfortunately, or should I say fortunately, there is no conclusion! Being on the learning curve with the Spirit of God means that we have to be open to new insights the Spirit brings.
When those who have studied healing for decades say that ultimately healing is a mystery, it’s not because there are no truths that can be learned. Rather it’s a statement that comes from the humility of learning that no matter what we think we know regarding healing, there are more lessons to be learned. I’m grateful for these lessons I’ve learned over the years, but I’m looking forward immensely to those that the Spirit of God will teach us in the days ahead.
© Renewal Journal 4: Healing (1994, 2011)
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