I don’t usually do very long posts, but I think this is important enough to share. I gave a talk this week from my own experience about how to cope when God doesn’t heal you. I’m sure a lot of people are in the same position, so I’m posting it in full. I really hope it helps:
I don’t know if you’ve all heard of Joni Eareckson Tada. She broke her neck at 15, and has spent over 40 years as a quadriplegic. She’s written many books, especially about her relationship with God through her suffering. It took her a long time to come to terms with her disability and find any point in living. She now has a whole organisation, Joni and Friends, that counsels other disabled people, provides wheelchairs for the poor in many countries, organises Joni’s speaking tours, and sells her books and paintings.
I’ve been reading her recent book A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty. It’s tremendously helpful. Here is a book written, not by some well-meaning person, but by somebody intimately acquainted with suffering. Joni is now suffering intense pain as well, which the doctors have been unable to treat. This has made her re-examine all the scriptures about suffering and look deeper into them, and press in even closer to God. She asks, if we believe God can heal and does heal, how do we cope when He doesn’t?
Of course, there are people who will tell you that healing was for New Testament times and not for today, but there are many testimonies of those who have been healed in this day and age. And there are many people out there who insist that God wants to heal you, and if you’re not healed, it’s your fault. They can’t cope with the idea that God would not heal some people. And they have not searched the scriptures to reason it out. Jesus performed many miracles and healed many people when he was on earth. But he didn’t heal everyone. For example in Mark 1:32-38:
“That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed, “”Everyone is looking for you!”
Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come.””
The disciples told him there were more people looking for him, waiting for him to heal them too. But Jesus went somewhere else to preach the Good News. The Gospel was more important to him than healing.
People will say that if you’re not healed it’s because you don’t have enough faith. You remember the story of the paralysed man whose friends let him down through the roof so Jesus could heal him. It’s found in Luke 5:17-25:
“One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
“Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins…” He said to the paralysed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.”
Jesus began by forgiving his sins and then, to show he had the authority to forgive sins, he healed him. He didn’t mention his faith at all. In fact, in verse 20 it says, “When Jesus saw their faith…” It was the faith of his friends that motivated them to go to such extreme lengths to get him to Jesus. Based on that story, if you’re not healed the fault is with the faith of those praying!
I’ve spoken about suffering before, and some of the wonderful things God has done in my life through my stroke, but I’m not healed. There was a moment a few months ago when I faced the fact that my recovery had stopped. I’m still losing weight and getting stronger, but I’m not getting any more use back in my body. One of the reasons I was able to stay so positive after my stroke was the continual progress, however slow, and the hope that one day I would be restored. So the realisation that I am stuck like this permanently unless God intervenes was hard.
I try to count my blessings. I can speak clearly, do many things one-handed, and walk quite a long way with a stick. But there is still some paralysis in my face and throat, my balance is precarious, my right leg doesn’t work properly, and my right arm doesn’t work at all. I was really down for a while, but God is great, He loves me, and He still includes me in His plans, so I pulled myself together and got on with life. Opportunities to serve have come my way, and I feel truly blessed that I am still able to contribute even with my limitations.
““Whatever You want, Lord,” I pray. “If it would give You more glory and advance Your gospel more quickly, I’m all for it!” Always and always I want to be in submission to the Father and obedient to the Word of Jesus – knowing full well that if I had everything else in life and lacked that, I would have nothing at all.
“Because isn’t that the bottom line? That Jesus gets the glory, whether I jump out of my wheelchair pain free and tell people that my healing is genuine evidence of God’s awesome power … or whether I continue smiling in my chair, not in spite of my pain but because of it, knowing I’ve got lessons to learn, a character to be honed, other wounded people to identify with, a hurting world to reach with the gospel, and a suffering Saviour with whom I can enjoy greater intimacy. And every bit of it genuine evidence of God’s love and grace.”
That’s hard, to take the focus off yourself and concentrate on giving glory to Jesus. Joni is living proof it can be done, but she’s a very special woman. But a woman nonetheless, and an example we can all try to follow, whether we’re sick or well, disabled or fit. And remember, God is working in our heart and soul by His Spirit every day.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
In verse 7 Paul talks about ‘treasure in jars of clay’. The jars of clay are our bodies, and remind me of the verses in Paul’s letter to the Romans about the potter:
But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” (Rom.9:20-21)
This is a good reminder. We need to submit to God and say, “Your will be done,” and trust that He has a plan and it will all be clear one day. In the end, it is a mystery why God heals some and not others.
But what is this ‘treasure’ in our clay jars? Verse 6 tells us that God… made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. What a treasure! I think I’d be glad of a few chips and cracks in a clay vessel that had such a light inside, so the light could shine out and be seen. It’s good to remember that our clay vessels, and indeed, this world, is not all there is. There’s a wider reality which encompasses the spiritual, the emotional & the psychological, which we can’t see. And a reality that includes what God is doing, even though we are not aware of it.
Joni tells a story of being asked by a man in a wheelchair how she coped with God not healing her. She told him she found the answer in a simple scripture: Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. The man looked at her wheelchair and didn’t understand. She explained that she spent a long time just delighting in the Lord and not asking him for anything, except to show her His heart and reveal himself. The way she put it, she says she ate up God.
Then her heart came into line with God’s heart. Her desires became God’s desires. And then God gave her the desires of her heart.
“The thing was, because I had delighted myself in God, He miraculously replaced my little private lists of wants and wishes with a list of His own. His desires became mine. And what are His desires? That the gospel go forth, that the kingdom be advanced, that the earth be reclaimed as rightfully His, that the lost get saved, that His glories be made known. That’s when it hit me. My wheelchair was the key to seeing all this happen – especially since God’s power always shows up best in weakness. So here I sit … glad that I have not been healed on the outside, but glad that I have been healed on the inside. Healed from my own self-centred wants and wishes.”
Many of the scriptures about asking & receiving, seeking & finding, seem so hard to understand. We don’t often get what we ask for. But they depend on us asking what God wants, seeking what’s on God’s heart. Then God will give, because it was what He wanted to do all along. I’m preaching to myself here too. I’m coming to realise these things, but I’ve not succeeded in putting them into practice yet.
God knows what’s best for us, but sometimes we can’t see it. But with His help, we can get a different perspective and still be victorious. Paul said,
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Cor.4:8)
Especially we are not abandoned. God may be healing you, but on the inside. He is using your troubles, your sickness, to change you, and maybe to change others too. You can be strong, not crushed; joyful, not in despair; hopeful, not abandoned; determined, not destroyed.
I know in my case, when I add up what I’ve lost and I add up what I’ve gained, I think I’ve come out ahead.
But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.
Bishop John Austin Baker of Salisbury wrote in 1993:
“Jesus did not undergo every type of suffering; no individual person can. But the very fact that here was God not just sympathising or even empathising with us in our agonies from outside, but sharing what it can be like for us, revolutionises our whole attitude to him. It does not solve the problem of pain and evil, but it does help us to trust where we cannot understand. And of all the gods on offer in the world the crucified Christ is the only one of whom this is true.”
In the old hymn O Love that wilt not let me go, the third verse begins O Joy that seekest me through pain. There is a joy that God will give us, even in the midst of pain. It’s like the peace that passes understanding. The world can’t understand how we can know peace in the midst of turmoil. Through pain we can find not only ‘a’ joy but ‘the’ Joy. The Joy that is Jesus. The Joy that seeks us out in the midst of suffering.
The verse goes on to say I trace the rainbow through the rain. The world says there is a silver lining on every rain-cloud, but it can be hard to find. If you press close to God it will be much easier to find. Ask God to show you the rainbow, the silver lining on the cloud.
Tell God you want to understand the work He’s doing in you. Ask Him to show you what you can do, even within your present situation, to bless others and further the work of His kingdom. And maybe one day, you’ll be able to thank Him for knowing best and healing the most important thing first. And in the end we will all be healed, when we meet Him with our new bodies which He’s promised us.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.