WHEN my twin brother and I were five years old he was run over by a car with faulty brakes, and as a result suffered a very severe fractured skull and was unconscious for several days. Because the doctor held out little hope for him, my parents, who had grown up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church but were not practicing their religion, called the ministers to pray for his healing. The boy was healed, and even the doctor attributed this healing to divine power. This miracle led directly to our be coming Seventh-day Advendsts.
My first pastorate was in the Brookings- Gold Beach district in Oregon, where Roy and Rose Slaybaugh were living soon after Brother Slaybaugh's miraculous healing as recorded in Rose's book Escape From Death. Most of the members of the Gold Beach church at that time were so because of the impact of this miracle. Since that time I have often been called on to pray for the sick and to anoint them, in company with fellow ministers. These prayers have not always been answered by immediate and spectacular recoveries, but some have. Particularly memorable was the healing of a boy in Tokyo whom Elder Tom Blincoe and I prayed for. And more recently, the healing of an uncle of mine in a Santa Rosa, California, hospital.
Although in modern times the Lord has performed many miracles of healing among Seventh-day Adventists, many of our people seem disappointed that we do not today see such specific miracles as were exhibited by Peter and Paul in the early Christian period. Many ministers also believe that something is lacking. Is there a missing ingredient in our ministry, and if so, what is it?
Divine healing is not limited to certain cults or religious fanatics. After all, is there any healing other than divine healing? When the surgeon removes an offending organ has he healed the patient or has he merely made it more likely that healing will occur? The physician may set a broken bone, but can he make it grow together again? Obviously, the hand of the Creator is still at work in the healing and restoration of our bodies. He has established a plan for us to follow. The plan is not only for the fully committed but also is a way by which others may learn to know and trust Him.
When Christ ordained the twelve disciples and sent them out to minister "He gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease" (Matt. 10:1). Luke adds that "they departed, and went through the towns, preaching the gospel, and healing every where" (Luke 9:6). When a little later He sent out the seventy, Jesus demonstrated that the work of teaching and healing was not to be limited to ordained ministers when He commissioned them, "Into whatsoever city ye enter, . . . heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you" (Luke 10:8, 9).
That this was His plan for the church throughout the ages is made plain in the Great Commission, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. . . . And these signs shall follow them that believe; . . . they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover" (Mark 16: 15-18).
God's modern prophet emphasized Christ's intention that we continue this type of ministry today when she said:
Christ feels the woes of every sufferer. . . . And He is just as willing to heal the sick now as when He was personally on earth. Christ's servants are His representatives, the channels for His working. He desires through them to exercise His healing power. --The Desire of Ages, pp. 823, 824.
Christ is the same compassionate physician now that He was during His earthly ministry. In Him there is healing balm for every disease, restoring power for every infirmity. His disciples in this time are to pray for the sick as verily as the disciples of old prayed. And recoveries will follow; for "the prayer of faith shall save the sick." We have the Holy Spirit's power, the calm assurance of faith, that can claim God's promises. The Lord's promise, "They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover" (Mark 16:18), is just as trustworthy now as in the days of the apostles. It presents the privilege of God's children, and our faith should lay hold of all that it embraces. Christ's servants are the channel of His working, and through them He desires to exercise His healing power. It is our work to present the sick and suffering to God in the arms of our faith. We should teach them to believe in the Great Healer. --The Ministry of Healing, p. 226.
Mrs. White specifically warns against going to extremes and fanaticism in this type of ministry and suggests that it be done quietly and on a house-to-house basis.
Those who engage in house-to-house labor will find opportunities for ministry in many lines. They should pray for the sick and should do all in their power to relieve them from suffering. . . . Many can be reached only through acts of disinterested kindness. Their physical wants must first be relieved. As they see evidence of our unselfish love, it will be easier for them to believe in the love of Christ. --Welfare Ministry, p. 81.
Who Is Qualified for This Type of Ministry?
It is not education or even ordination that prepares us for the Christ-ordained mission of healing the sick, but instead a close, confident, trusting experience with Him. Most of all, we must be filled with the love of Christ:
The power of love was in all Christ's healing, and only by partaking of that love, through faith, can we be instruments for His work. If we neglect to link ourselves in divine connection with Christ, the current of life-giving energy cannot flow in rich streams from us to the people. --The Desire of Ages, p. 825.
The minister should understand by experience that the soothing power of the grace of Christ brings health and peace and fulness of joy. He should know Christ as the One who has invited the weary and heavy-laden to come to Him and find rest. . . .
Then to those who call upon him for help he can impart the health-giving power of God's truth. He can talk of the works of healing wrought by Christ, and direct the minds of the sick to Him as the great Physician, who is light and life, as well as comfort and peace. --Gospel Workers, p. 214.
When thinking of these qualifications, we realize that the issue is sometimes confused by the fact that ministers who later were proved to have been leading unworthy lives have sometimes had their prayers for the sick answered. The following experience, found in volume 2 of Selected Messages, page 347, may help us understand how God can answer prayer for divine healing under such circumstances:
A case was held up before me of ______, a minister; eighty miles he was sent for, to pray for a sick sister who sent for him in compliance with the teaching of James. He went and prayed in earnest, and she prayed; she believed the minister to be a man of God, a man of faith. Physicians had given her up to die of consumption. She was healed immediately. She arose and prepared supper, a thing she had not done for ten years. Now the minister was vile, his life was corrupt, and yet here was a great work. He took the glory all to himself.
Then again the scene mentioned above passed be fore me. I saw that the woman was a true disciple of Christ; her faith was that she should be healed. I saw their prayers: One was misty, dark, fell down ward; the other prayer was mixed with light or specks which looked to me like diamonds, and arose upward to Jesus and He sent it up to His Father like sweet incense, and a beam of light was immediately sent to the afflicted one and she revived and strengthened under its influence. Said the angel, God will gather every particle of true, sincere faith; like diamonds shall they be gathered up and will surely bring a return or answer; and God will sep arate the precious from the vile. Although He bears long with the hypocrite and sinner, yet he will be searched out. Though he may flourish with the honest a while like the green bay tree, yet the time will come when his folly will be made manifest, and he be brought to confusion.
That the church as a whole has a responsibility is evidenced in the following:
In order to be purified and to remain pure, Seventh-day Adventists must have the Holy Spirit in their hearts and in their homes. The Lord has given me light that when the Israel of today humble themselves before Him, and cleanse the soul-temple from all defilement, He will hear their prayers in behalf of the sick and will bless in the use of His remedies for disease. --Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 164.
Conditions for Answers to Prayer for Healing
In the Word of God we have instruction relative to special prayer for the recovery of the sick. But the offering of such prayer is a most solemn act, and should not be entered upon without careful consideration. In many cases of prayer for the healing of the sick, that which is called faith is nothing less than presumption.
Many persons bring disease upon themselves by their self-indulgence. They have not lived in accordance with natural law or the principles of strict purity. Others have disregarded the laws of health in their habits of eating and drinking, dressing, or working. Often some form of vice is the cause of feebleness of mind or body. Should these persons gain the blessing of health, many of them would continue to pursue the same course of heedless transgression of God's natural and spiritual laws, reasoning that if God heals them in answer to prayer, they are at liberty to continue their unhealthful practices and to indulge perverted appetite without restraint. If God were to work a miracle in restoring these persons to health, He would be encouraging sin.
It is labor lost to teach people to look to God as a healer of their infirmities, unless they are taught also to lay aside unhealthful practices. --The Ministry of Heating, p. 227.
Additional conditions for healing found in the Spirit of Prophecy writings include:
1. Close self-examination. Confession and forsaking of sins Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 146.
2. Calm faith and courageous trust in God's unfailing love. --The Ministry of Healing, p. 229.
3. Entire surrender of self --Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 166.
4. Education in healthful practices that leads to reform--The Desire of Ages, p. 824.
How should these be presented to the person asking for prayer for healing? We have been given specific directions:
Sin has brought many of them where they are to a state of feebleness of mind and debility of body. Shall prayer be offered to the God of heaven for His healing to come upon them then and there, without specifying any condition? I say, No, decidedly no. What, then, shall be done? Present their cases be fore Him who knows every individual by name.
Present these thoughts to the persons who come asking for your prayers: We are human; we cannot read the heart, or know the secrets of your life. These are known only to yourself and God. If you now repent of your sin, if any of you can see that in any instance you have walked contrary to the light given you of God, . . . but by wrong habits have degraded the body which is Christ's property, make confession of these things to God. Unless you are wrought upon by the Holy Spirit in special manner to confess your sins of private nature to man, do not breathe them to any soul.
Christ is your Redeemer; He will take no ad vantage of your humiliating confessions. If you have sin of a private character, confess it to Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man. --Counsels on Health, pp. 373, 374.
How to Pray for the Sick
The scriptural plan for praying for the sick is found in the familiar words of James 5:14, 15. In addition to this, much detailed instruction is given in the Spirit of Prophecy writings: In volume 2 of the Testimonies, page 147, it is stated that "the case should be committed to the Lord in calm faith, not with a storm of excitement." This apparently rules out the faith-healer type of showmanship that we see today. We also are told plainly that "our petitions must not take the form of a command, but of intercession." Page 149. In the early days Mrs. White and her associates did not fully understand this. (See Testimonies, vol. 2, pp. 148, 149, for the experience that came to them. Also see The Ministry of Healing, pp. 229, 230 for further instruction as to how to present our prayers in such a way as to express quiet confidence and submissiveness to the will of God.)
What to Expect and Do After Praying
Probably the most awkward moment for the minister in the prayer service for the sick comes in knowing what to say and to advise after prayer has been offered. The Lord has given us helpful instruction on this matter. A careful study of the following references will enable us to give wise counsel to those for whom we have prayed and also to their relatives.
1. We must realize that it is not always God's will that the sick be healed.--The Ministry of Healing, pp. 230, 231.
2. We are to take advantage of rational remedies. --Selected Messages, book 2, p. 356.
3. We are to persevere in prayer. --Counsels on Health, pp. 380, 381.
4. A preparation for death is not a denial of faith. --Ibid., p. 376.
5. We are to be educated in healthful living. --Ibid., pp. 469, 470.
6. Health is gained through service for others. --The Ministry of Healing, p. 256.
Expanding Our Ministry for the Sick
In the light of the instruction given it is evident that Seventh-day Adventists should pay greater heed to Christ's commission to pray for and heal the sick. This is not to be done in mass healing sessions that smack of showmanship and sensationalism, but in quiet, calm visits from house to house as part of an over-all medical missionary pro gram. Our effectiveness will depend on our humbling ourselves before Christ and cleansing the soul temple from every defilement.
This experience is to be combined with a ministry that uses the simple remedies God has given and educate our neighbors to bring their lives into conformity with both natural and moral law. Those for whom we pray are to be led to trust quietly and confidently in God and pray with us that His will be done. After prayer they are to cooperate with Him in His plan for their lives and especially to share with those more needy than themselves the blessings they have gained.
Although this is but one of the branches of medical missionary work, it needs to be implemented much more than is presently done. As ministers we must thoroughly study the instruction the Lord has given us and then share it with our members. The church must be led to see its great responsibility for self-examination and the laying aside of sin that this work be not hindered. Then, as channels of Christ's working we "shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover" (Mark 16:18).