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The first time I preached was also the first time I prayed for the sick. I was sixteen, a high school student. Someone was able to secure the basement of a bank for me to preach to a group of adults every Sunday. Most of the people were middle-aged, probably older than I am now. If any of them looked down on me because of my age, they no longer did after the first night.
In the message, I declared that God still performed miracles and that he commanded all believers to heal the sick. After I finished, I invited anyone who was sick to come forward, and I would pray for healing in front of everybody. Before that time, although I had heard about it, I had never prayed for the sick, never seen anyone pray for the sick, and never seen any miracle of healing. I went ahead by faith, because God told me to pray for the sick in the Bible.
Only one person came up, although after she was healed, others streamed forward. She had an abnormal curvature of the spine for some years, and was frequently in pain. I asked her to name her condition, if she had been to the doctor, and to tell us what the doctor said about it. I asked her to describe what had to be changed physically in order for her to be healed. And I confirmed that she was in pain at that moment.
Then I placed my hand on her back and was going to command her spine to become straight in the name of Jesus. I hardly went further than “In the name of Gee…” when I felt a blast come down through the ceiling (Isaiah 65:24, Matthew 6:8). I say that I could “feel” it, but it was not the same as a sensation on the body. A sensation on the body occurs when something interacts with our body, so that something that occurs beyond the space that our body occupies would not produce such a sensation. But I could feel this definitely. It was so much like a physical sensation that I would have mistaken it as one if not for the fact that it started very far from my body, even from the level above us. The Bible might be referring to something similar when it says, “At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him” (Mark 5:30).
This blast of power or energy took the shape of a sphere, about four to five feet in diameter. It crashed down through the ceiling at an angle, struck the woman on the head, and went down her spine to my hand. She fell to the floor. When we picked her up, she no longer had any pain, and she could bend down to touch her toes, something that she could not do before.
When it happened, although the whole place gasped, I was not surprised, because I really believed. I told the people to thank God, and asked if there were other sick people present, and waved them forward. Now, I am just telling you what happened, but special sensations are in fact unnecessary for healing, and more powerful cases have occurred when I did not feel anything.
So I had success the first time I prayed for the sick. On the other hand, there was one person who prayed for over a hundred people before the first healing happened. He continued, because the Bible told him to pray for the sick. Then, once the miracles started, they never stopped. He had a worldwide ministry of healing for decades. Another person prayed for many people over a year and a half before the first healing happened, and he has been a strong proponent of the healing ministry ever since on an international scale. I cannot speculate on why it happened this way for them, especially since I did not know them personally, although I might be able to offer some theories if I know more about their personalities and circumstances.
My point is that you should pray for the sick because the Bible teaches it, and do not give up if people do not receive healing right away. Even if you are not successful the first time, or the first fifty times, it does not mean that you will never have a ministry of healing. It does not happen the same way with everybody. Do not think that you do not have the “gift” of healing. Forget about the gifts – relatively speaking, the Bible almost never talks about spiritual operations in such terms. All you need is faith in God and compassion toward the people. God has all the gifts.
One evangelist said, “Don’t put the pressure on me just because someone pushed a wheelchair through the door.” He was making the point that God is the one who heals, so it does not matter when someone brings a seemingly difficult case into the meeting. In himself, he could not heal anybody, regardless of the kind of sickness a person had. He said, “If I am the one who heals, then I better get the credit for it. But if God is the one who heals, then he can get the credit for it!” He was exactly right. Don’t let people put the pressure on you, because God is the one who heals. And don’t put pressure on yourself, as if you can do anything in yourself. Put your faith in God.
If you are having difficulties with faith, resort to a prayer of petition. You do not have to be commanding things to happen all the time. There is nothing wrong with asking God to perform the healing. Just don’t make it weak like, “God, help this person to remain patient in this terrible disease that you have inflicted upon him,” or “God, if it is your will, heal him, but if not, then let him suffer and die a horrible death and decay into a stinking mess for your glory.” This is rubbish. Say, “God, heal this man and remove the cancer.” If it does not happen, the man has lost nothing. And there is no need for this to be the end of it. You can pray for him again, or let someone else pray.
The potential disadvantage of a prayer of petition is that it can sound less definite, and so it might be used to mask doubt. However, it is a legitimate form of prayer (Genesis 20:17, Numbers 12:13), and there is no disadvantage when it is offered in faith, so that you really expect God to act, and you really expect something to happen. One advantage of a prayer of petition is that it is more easily integrated with a case of gradual healing, in which the healing does not happen immediately, or it is not completed right away. Healing is sometimes gradual, but if a case of blindness or terminal cancer is healed over the course of a week or so, we should hardly disdain it as a second-rate miracle. Using a prayer of petition, it is also easier to show the people that God is the one who heals, since you mention and address him explicitly. That said, I do not wish to oversell this approach. When the faith is there and it comes naturally, it is right to command the healing to happen (Matthew 21:21-22, Mark 11:22-24). God is pleased when his people move forward with faith and authority in the name of Jesus (Exodus 14:15).
I was in a church in Hong Kong, and the usual guitarist could not play because his hands were injured. The church had heard about some of the things that were happening in my meetings in the United States, so after the pastor finished his sermon, he asked me to pray for the guitarist. Those Christians knew how to do it themselves, but he wanted me to do it. When the guitarist stood in front of me, his upper body began to tremble. So I asked him if the pain was leaving, and he said it was. I realized that God had already started, so instead of touching him I pointed to his hands and said loudly, “You have to be healed. You don’t have a choice!” And he was healed.
My preferred method was the laying on of hands. When people started to receive healing before I could touch them or pray for them, I adjusted my approach. I reduced physical contact, so that I could take advantage of this phenomenon by telling the people that God is the one who heals, that he is healing without me, before I could start praying, or even before I realize that it is happening.
It is interesting how this began. I was very young, probably not even eighteen. Someone in Hong Kong who heard about the things that God was doing in my meetings prophesied to me and said that I was not giving God the glory. Looking back, I could see that he was wrong, and he said it out of jealousy. It was a false prophecy. I actually knew enough about these things to see through him, but I tried to be “humble” and forced myself to listen. Thus what he said bothered me for days. I was thinking about it all the time. I thought I was doing everything I could to give God the glory. I told the people that God was the one who healed, and that they could do the same thing that I was doing. And I meant it. I did not claim to have some special gift, but pointed them to the Scripture. I told them to have faith in God, not in me. I could not figure out what I was doing wrong, or what else I could have done.
What man intended for evil, God intended for good. I asked God to teach me, and to help me give him the credit for the healing miracles. When I returned to the United States, some people started to receive healing in their seats and when they came close to me. The first time it happened, a woman testified that an abnormal growth on her shoulder disappeared while I was preaching, and I was not even speaking on healing. So I seized on that and told the people, “See! See! This person was healed and I didn’t even know it. This other person was healed, and I wasn’t even done asking him about his sickness. I wasn’t even ready. God is the one who heals, not me.” This does not happen with everybody, but it happens often enough for me to use as indications that I am not the one running things.
This was one of the episodes in my walk with God that taught me, that if my heart is right toward God, then when I have a problem, even if I was doing something wrong or not doing something well enough, he would give me something to address it, and not take away something from me (Luke 19:26). And what he gives me, stays with me (Romans 11:29). Thus this has become a permanent aspect of my ministry. When I asked God to receive all the glory, instead of taking away the healing power, he increased it to the point that it became easier to show that I was not the one healing the people. He is a God of grace. “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble'” (James 4:6).
There are some who think that I lack grace in dealing with people, but they do not realize that I am harsh mostly against those who are faithless, hard-hearted, and cruel. If they feel the hostility, it is likely because they are one of them. They believe in a grace that speaks a soft word in a kind tone. But I believe in a grace that cures cancer and heals cripples. I believe in a grace that, by an act of violent divine power, drags people out of the depth of decapitating terror and depression. I believe in a grace that delivers people from all kinds of addictions, sometimes in an instant. I believe in a grace that restores marriages and rescues orphans. And I believe in a grace that stands up to religious hypocrites and oppressive leaders.
What you call love sweetens your conversations, so that even your foes marvel at your discretion. Excellent. But what I call love raises the dead. Your approach makes people want to talk to you. My approach makes people want to talk to God. When have I broken a bruised reed? When have I snuffed out a smoldering wick? You were the ones who bruised the reed in the first place, and you were the ones who nearly snuffed out the wick (Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 12:20). Let me drop the poetry — hypocrites, you are the ones breaking the people’s backs with the burden of your unbelief and tradition.
How dare you accuse me of anything? They come to me, so that I can tell them about Jesus, and he liberates them from people like you (Matthew 11:28-30, 12:20, 23:23-24). Am I deficient in grace, or love, or humility, and am I really such a big problem, or are you just trying to distract your own conscience? Grace? Love? Come on, you don’t know anything about that. I doubt you even care. What you have is nothing more than etiquette. You are a whitewashed tomb. If you have so much love, your people would not be half dead when they come to me, begging to be delivered from your oppression. “I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed Baalim” (1 Kings 18:18). I have been fixing the damage you caused.
But God gives more grace. Once that started to happen in healing, it also started to happen in preaching. I had a friend whose sister attended my high school. She introduced me to one of the two faculty advisors of her Christian group. After speaking with him, I was invited to preach at my high school for the first time. I was under a lot of pressure because I had always operated outside of the school. Prior to this I had preached only to adults probably two to four times my age. Now I had to preach to people my own age, and they were students that I would see every day. On top of that, there were some internal politics happening with the faculty advisors. The one I talked to said that he was taking a risk by inviting me, since it could have aggravated the situation. I also knew that I would be saying some things that would offend the other faculty advisor and some of the student leaders.
But God gives more grace. The moment I opened my mouth, I felt the same power that came when I first prayed for the sick. This time it filled the entire room. The atmosphere became thick. As I paced the platform, it felt like I was walking through a cloud. There was a Wiccan girl in the audience who had been attending their meetings for a while, even singing their songs about Jesus. Apparently, their seeker-friendly approach meant that she never felt threatened or contradicted. This ended that night. As I was speaking, she felt a foreign power come upon her. It took hold of her and physically shook her. This continued throughout the night until the morning. She was terrified. When she went to the faculty advisor and told him about this, he was able to seize the opportunity to give her a more serious explanation on Jesus Christ. I did not know any of this until he told me the next time I saw him.
God can convict someone of sin with healing and prosperity as easily as he can with suffering and condemnation. As appropriate as it is to preach repentance, and some people need to do much more of it, the missing ingredient is often not that, but it is the Spirit of God. The problem is not only in the message, but it is often in the preacher, who is so filled with tradition that he has no room for faith. When Jesus gave the fishermen a great catch of fish, so that it filled two boats and they began to sink, Peter did not scream “Jackpot!” and suddenly started to see God as a money machine. He was convicted of his sin and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).
What kind of people would be ruined — ruined! — by healing and prosperity that come from God, instead of moved to a life of service? People who suggest this are not making a correct theological claim, but a covert autobiographical confession. When the preaching comes in the power of the Spirit, a message of healing, or ten thousand messages on healing, will not make the people forget about God. They will be convicted of their sins, how they have fallen short of his grace, and they will become engrossed with the goodness of God and redemption in Jesus Christ. Among other things, I told the students about the reality of creation, the truth of Scripture, and the ministry of miracles. It was not a message of condemnation but a message of faith, but they were filled with a sense of reverence, because God is real and God is good, and the heathen was shaken to the core.