Praying for healing.
Oh, this is a complicated topic for me. I am almost reluctant to write about it, except that there is someone who needs to read this, hear this, believe this.
Let me start by saying that I believe in the God of the Bible. He is Jehovah Rapha, the LORD who heals. “Jehovah-Rapha has the power to heal physically (2 Kings 5:10), emotionally (Psalm 34:18), mentally (Daniel 4:34), and spiritually (Psalm 103:2–3). [see gotquestions.com article https://www.gotquestions.org/Jehovah-Rapha.html] Healing is part of the very nature of God.
I believe that healing is part of God’s plan for all of us. I also believe in the power of prayer. God hears us and responds to us. Every single time.
If you get the sense that a “But” is coming, you are right. Here’s the thing. What we consider to be healing may not be the same as what God has in store for us. Hear me out.
God himself says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” in Isaiah 55:8 ESV. I cannot begin to fathom the depths of His knowledge. He’s Sovereign – the only one who has the whole picture. He is The Alpha and Omega, The Beginning and the End. He knows my story. All of it. Before I was formed in the womb, He knew me. (Jeremiah 1:5). He is all-knowing and all-powerful.
Typically, when we receive the news of any troublesome diagnosis, our first response is to pray for healing. We post the praying hands emoji and send healing thoughts. Our hearts cry out, “This is wrong! Fix it, God! This is not the way it’s supposed to be!” and we are indignant that such injustice exists. We are desperate. We don’t want pain or suffering. We implore our Creator for a resolution. We are sincere in hoping for better things, and happier times. We want what is broken to be repaired. We want wholeness restored. We want the hardship removed and the trial overcome. We want to celebrate jubilant victory over the named evil. We want deliverance. And none of that is wrong.
I am certain that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego of the Old Testament prayed for God to remove their suffering. I love the account of their story in the book of Daniel, chapter 3. The three men had rebelled against the king and had refused to kneel in worship before his golden statue. For their punishment, they were to be thrown into a fiery furnace. I can’t even imagine the agony of being burned alive. I would be praying for deliverance, too! Wouldn’t you?
What gets me is their response to the king when they are given one last chance before being tossed to their deaths. They say, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18 ESV) Read that again. It’s powerful.
They are certain of the power for God. “Our God is able to deliver us!” they declare. They speak with bold confidence. They acknowledge God’s might. They stand before the king, knowing that their God is the one who delivered the Israelites from Egypt. They have been recounting the stories of Israel’s deliverance since they first learned to speak. The tales of the Torah would have been their bedtime stories. The truth of God’s protection and provision was second nature to them. They had absolutely no doubt.
“He will deliver us!” Their words are sure. They know their deliverer, their Jehovah Nissi. They believe in His power. They trust in His strength.
Did you catch what they say next, though? They have just declared their trust in God’s ability to deliver them. They speak their confidence in God’s deliverance. “He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.” And then they say three crazy words. “But if not.”
Now that’s true surrender, right there. What they are speaking here takes absolute trust in an absolutely able God. They are declaring that EVEN IF things don’t go the way they want them to, God will still be delivering them. They know that God could choose to deliver them FROM the fiery furnace. That’s what we all want, isn’t it? To avoid the trial all together?! To remove the suffering so we don’t have do go through it at all. And we know that God is able. We’ve read countless stories of how He has delivered FROM. We pray and we believe for it. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But can we also pray the “But if not” prayer? The “Thy Will be done” prayer? Can we really trust the “even if” God? What if, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, God does not deliver us FROM the fire? Can we still trust Him even if we get thrown in?
The tale continues as the king is so irate at the defiance of the three men, he orders the furnace to be turned up seven times hotter than normal. It’s so hot that it kills the men tending it. Shadrach Meshach and Abednego fall into the furnace, bound in their tunics, as the king watches for their demise. What happens next is astonishing. The king cannot believe his eyes. He cries out, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:25 ESV). Shadrach Meshach and Abednego are not delivered FROM the fire at all. God himself meets them in the middle of it and delivers them THROUGH the fire.
We read on, “Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. The king answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.” (Daniel 3:26-28 ESV)
Acknowledging God’s sovereignty takes surrender. For me to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord, I have to step aside. I have to admit that I’m not in charge. My desires, my plans, my agenda – I have to surrender all of it and simply say “Thy Will be done.” And that’s not simple at all. When Jesus prayed those words in the garden of Gethsemane, the surrender took so much out of him that his sweat turned to blood. That’s Next Level surrender right there.
When we pray for healing, we want deliverance FROM the pain. We want to escape the suffering and avoid the trial. Even Jesus prayed, “Take this cup of suffering from me We all want that! Sometimes, though, God’s plan involves delivering us THROUGH the fire – like those three guys – so that we will truly experience His presence and so that others will be drawn to Him, just like the king.
Graciously, sometimes God does deliver us FROM. Sometimes, though, He delivers us THROUGH. And then, sometimes, we are delivered BY the fire directly into the arms of our Savior. Sometimes the fire is so great that it brings the end of our journey on this Earth. Is God still sovereign? Yes. Absolutely. Is He still delivering? Yes. Powerfully. Is He still healing? Yes. Magnificently.
Our healing, our deliverance, may look very different from the way we want things to go, but His will is greater than ours.
On the day that my daughter, Emily, was diagnosed with a terminal disease, I prayed hard for healing. With all my heart, I pleaded for God to remove the suffering. I begged for deliverance FROM. I surrounded myself with people who believed in Jehovah Rapha, Jehovah Nissi. We prayed hard. Days turned into months, and I watched as Emily’s condition worsened. Months turned into years, and Emily needed more and more assistance just to survive. Did I stop praying? No. Did I stop believing that God is able? No.
But did my prayers change? Yes.
At some point, I surrendered. I set aside my picture of what Emily’s healing was supposed to look like. I handed over my agenda of when it was supposed to happen. I thanked God for His healing every single day of her life – the healing that allowed her to take another breath. The healing that allowed my sweet girl to trust in God’s deliverance, even when she could no longer move a muscle to praise Him. The healing that brought a smile to her face as she sang, “Thy Will be done.”
Ultimately, Emily was healed. Not in the way I would have preferred. But in a way in which I truly experienced God’s presence. Today, she is dancing in the arms of her Deliverer. And God himself met me in the middle of it all. His peace – the kind that passes understanding – is real. His presence in the fire? Oh, that’s real! My deliverance? Oh, my friend, that is certain.
The next time we pray for healing, may we pray boldly. Let us pray for deliverance FROM. But pray also for deliverance THROUGH. Pray for the EVEN IF moments. Pray for the “But if not” situations. Pray for God’s presence to be real, tangible. Pray for “Thy Will be done”. Because He will deliver. That is certain.