Beginning in Healing Ministry

~ from email ~

There are many ways to minister and receive healing. As long as it is not against biblical principles, any method is acceptable. Anointing with oil is one approach, but it is not necessary. Even here, James says that it is the prayer of faith that heals the sick, and it is the Lord who raises him up (James 5:15). People have different preferences, and although there is only one God, there are different operations (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). In every aspect of ministry, I minimize the use of means, tools, and rituals, so whenever it is up to me, I do not use oil.

When I first started, I would almost always lay hands on the sick. Jesus appeared to prefer this method as well (Luke 4:40). Both Jesus and Paul probably considered it the most reliable approach (Mark 6:5, Acts 28:8). However, when people started to receive healing in their seats while I speak, and when they started to receive healing while standing close to me as I interviewed them about their conditions before laying hands on them (Acts 5:15), I stopped touching them as often. If the healing begins as I talk to them, then I either stand back and tell the people that God is healing, or I rebuke the sickness and command the body to be healed. This is more common in public gatherings. When praying for the sick in private, my main method would still be to lay hands on them.

God can heal in unusual ways. Elisha told Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan (2 Kings 5:10). Later, a dead man was revived when he was thrown into Elisha’s tomb and touched the prophet’s bones (2 Kings 13:21). Paul could send out fabric that had touched his body, and the sick were healed (Acts 19:11-12). Jesus used spit on the sick, and they would be healed (Mark 7:33, Mark 8:23, John 9:6), but he did not do that all the time.

The Bible includes these examples, but God can heal in so many ways. A man with stomach cancer, accompanied by his doctor, was taken on a stretcher to an evangelist. The preacher punched him in the stomach so hard that the man bounced off the bed a little. The doctor thought the man had died, but a minute later, he was healed, standing up and praising God. The same evangelist threw a crippled child off a stage and the child landed on his feet, healed and walked by himself. People sometimes come with parts of their bodies bent in abnormal ways, unable to move or straighten them (Luke 13:11), perhaps due to arthritis, or injury, or something else. In some cases, we would just grab the limbs and bend them back to the proper positions, and they would be healed. This is in fact not rare, and I have done it myself.

Nevertheless, some methods are standard, and there is no need to run after the dramatic. Unless there is special direction for a specific case, select one that the Bible teaches as a standard approach (laying on of hands, anointing with oil, a prayer of petition, speaking to the sickness and the body), and that is the most consistent with your personality and level of faith. If the sick person specifies a method, then use that method unless there is a reason to refuse. For example, I might avoid touching a woman or a child when there are no witnesses, even if asked to do it. Although I prefer to pray without means, if the sick person asks me to anoint him with oil on the basis of James 5, then I would do it.

This follows Jesus’ pattern. When the sick asked him to lay hands on them, he did (Mark 5:23, Mark 7:32). When they asked him to come to their homes, he did (Mark 5:23-24). When they told him not to come to their homes, but only speak the word, he did (Matthew 8:5-13). On the way, when a woman decided that she would receive healing by touching his clothes, she went ahead and did it. She took healing from him without asking (Mark 5:25-29). She did not need permission — faith is permission (Hebrews 11:1). By the time Jesus realized what happened, she was already healed, and he looked around to find her (Mark 5:30-34). When a woman asked him to heal her daughter, and he said he was not sent to people like her, she said do it anyway, and he did (Matthew 15:22-28).

God is sovereign — this is a non-negotiable assumption in our theological reflection. However, although the Bible teaches a doctrine of divine transcendence, and this is the metaphysical context for everything else, it usually speaks in the language of divine immanence when it refers to God’s dealings with people — he interacts and even responds to us in time and history — and thus we should also usually speak on this level. Of course the divine nature forms the basis of our reflection, and it is always assumed, but it would be awkward and unnecessary to always attempt to speak in the language or from the perspective of eternity and timelessness. God condescends to interact with us in time and history where we live.

So I pray, and he answers. I act, and he responds. Abraham, Moses, Hezekiah, and others negotiated with him. There is nothing wrong with this. The Bible is not all eternal decree, all the time, as if it was written for God himself to read. Once certain truths are assumed, we can talk freely as creatures living in time and history without compromising those truths. For example, although nothing happens apart from God’s will and power, it is not wrong to say that sickness comes from the devil, and that we should fight it by faith and prayer (Acts 10:38). In fact, the Bible would require us to think and speak this way.

God is sovereign, but Jesus did not attribute healing to God’s sovereign will. He made a point of crediting people’s faith (Matthew 9:22 and 29, Mark 5:34 and 10:52, Luke 8:48, 17:19, 18:42). The same is true with Luke, Paul, and James (Acts 14:9, Galatians 3:5, James 5:15). And on many occasions, he was practically dictated by what the people’s faith wanted him to do. This is the opposite of what many people believe. I refer to those who are unlearned in spiritual operations (1 Corinthians 12:1). If they believe healing happens at all, they tend to attribute all of it to God’s sovereignty, and rarely to faith. This is the opposite of how the Bible represents the situation.

God is sovereign, and there are so many people who exploit the doctrine to excuse their unbelief and to justify a victim mentality. Since God is sovereign, they think it means that we never know what he will do, or what terrible tragedy he will send upon us next — for his glory and pleasure, of course, and for some reason he seems to derive so much glory and pleasure from our suffering. On the other hand, the Bible uses the doctrine of divine sovereignty to assure us that God’s purposes will always come true and that he will always fulfill his promises, not only when it comes to the grand scheme of things, but also our individual lives. God’s sovereignty is the basis for knowing what he will do and believing that we will receive good things from him.

Once God promises to do something, he does not “sovereignly” do something else. If he was going to do something else, he would have sovereignly said something else. However, it seems that most people who embrace the doctrine of divine sovereignty believe that, in effect, God sovereignly breaks his promises, and that he does it regularly. The doctrine excuses his capriciousness, and excuses our faithlessness. If this is how a person applies the doctrine, then it would be better for him not to have learned it in the first place. God will do exactly what he said he will do. Since he is sovereign, no one forced him to say it. And since he is sovereign, no one can stop him from doing what he said.

The Bible teaches us to take responsibility for our faith and our lives. This is true of holiness. James says, when you are tempted, do not say that God is tempting you, but consider your lusts (James 1:13-15). He also says, submit yourselves to God, but then resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7). Resist him. You do it, not God. And Satan will flee from you, not God. The Bible takes the same stance when it comes to healing. Do not throw God’s sovereignty back in his face and pretend that it is humility. Many people surrender to circumstances, thinking that by this they are submitting to God’s will. But the Bible tells us to fight! And because God is sovereign, we will win.