Our family got our first television set when I was 6 or 7 years old. I clearly remember the first afternoon coming home from school; we watched cartoons.
Childhood memories stick with us because they touched something unique or special in our life. Other than cartoons, one of the earliest TV programs I remember watching was, of all things, Oral Roberts.
The Oklahoma evangelist had the gift of healing, and he paraded a string of people across the stage who confessed to being healed of various conditions. I remember sitting on the floor watching the healing exhibition and asking my mother why I couldn’t be healed. At that time in my life, I was either crawling on the floor or riding in a wheelchair because of the polio virus. I don’t remember how my mother answered my question, but I’m sure it was difficult for her.
My experience with prayers for healing
Healing, and praying for healing, have been an interest since that time. My parents were of the typical Christian school of thought that believes we should pray for the sick but don’t really expect God to heal anyone, at least not without using medicine. However, I frequently came into contact with those who believed God still heals like Jesus did walking the dusty roads of Galilee.
The primary reason I struggled with entering ministry was because of my physical disability. How could I be a pastor without climbing stairs or other things expected by the church? Some friends, seeking to encourage me, convinced me that if God was calling me to the task, it must mean God was going to heal me. It didn’t happen.
Along the way, I have encountered well-meaning people who wanted to pray, especially, for my healing. I must have been subtly communicating dissatisfaction with my physical condition somehow, but I wasn’t. Quite the opposite, my physical limitations turned out to be a remarkable teacher and reminder to trust God.
“Along the way, I have encountered well-meaning people who wanted to pray, especially, for my healing.”
I clearly remember a Saturday afternoon when Sharon and I drove to town for a day of shopping, a 75-mile trek to the mall. I had a conversation with a gentleman, and somehow it came up that I was a pastor. That excited him for a reason I did not understand at the time. Before we parted, he insisted that he wanted to come to my office and have prayer. Remember, it was 75 miles away, but he was not dissuaded. Sure enough, early in the week, he showed up at my office.
After casual greetings, he got down to business. His purpose was to pray for my healing. I explained that it wasn’t something I sought or even desired, but he insisted God had sent him to pray for me. He prayed, we shook hands, and I never heard from him again. From what I’ve learned from others who have a similar theology, my lack of faith nullified his prayer. I’m OK with that because I don’t believe it’s true.
What the Bible says
Although there are numerous healing stories throughout the Bible, I can only find one passage instructing us to pray for the sick. James 5:14-15 reads, “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.”
“Although there are numerous healing stories throughout the Bible, I can only find one passage instructing us to pray for the sick.”
Regardless of what Oral Roberts and his descendants teach, I’m confident miraculous, instantaneous healings are rare, if not unheard of. I certainly don’t believe in the legitimacy of an individual with a gift to cure a disease, repair a crippled body, or raise up someone sick, especially if they are using it to generate income.
On one side of the coin are those who believe God promised (at least desires) to heal everyone who believes. On the other side are those who believe we should pray for the sick but don’t expect God to do more than use medical skills and technology. How do we choose?
Praying for the unvaccinated who get COVID
I became distracted by this subject because of the abundance of people asking me to pray for them as they are suffering with the COVID virus. I’m especially bothered by those who rejected the vaccine and refused to wear a mask and practice social distancing because they were trusting God to keep them safe.
How do they explain what happened? You can’t say they weren’t trusting God enough, because they refused to do anything other than trust God. It seems to me they were trusting God completely. What happened?
You can’t question their faith. Every day, they willingly exposed themselves to a deadly virus that already has killed more than 1 million people. Without a second thought, they went about their daily activities without fear or hesitation. They did this because they believed God would protect them. Their faith was of the kind demonstrated by Daniel as he violated the king’s edict and continued to pray openly for all to see.
“Their problem was not a lack of faith; they had plenty of faith. The problem was the object of their faith.”
What went wrong? Why didn’t God protect them from the virus like God shut the mouths of the lions?
Their problem was not a lack of faith; they had plenty of faith. The problem was the object of their faith. They did what many of us frequently do when we confuse our desires with God’s plan. I mean that we often determine what we want and then presume God wants the same thing for us.
Is it a matter of trusting God?
It would have been easy for me. I wanted to walk like able-bodied people, and it certainly made sense that I would be better equipped to be a pastor. It seemed like a no-brainer to believe that’s what God wanted for me. It took some time and maturity to realize what I wanted was not God’s plan.
My father lost his right leg during World War II. I remember asking him if he wished he had his leg back. Without hesitation, he said, “No, it doesn’t matter.” I didn’t understand that as a kid, but as I got older, it made sense. He had learned that God had other things for him. He had learned not to replace God’s will with his desires.
I think that’s what has happened with these COVID-infected people who were trusting God. They were not trusting God. If so, God seems powerless. It appears that God didn’t want these people to live the way they were living and not get sick.
Stubbornness and pride
The situation is complicated for some of these folks because of stubbornness and pride. For some reason, they made an early decision not to get the vaccine or use a mask. As it became more and more obvious that both decisions were a mistake, they were too stubborn and proud to make a change. These are two demons we all battle.
“As it became more and more obvious that both decisions were a mistake, they were too stubborn and proud to make a change. These are two demons we all battle.”
I’m reminded of the old joke about the man who was on a roof and lost his footing. As he slid down the steep roof, fearing he was about to die, he cried out, “Please, God, help me!”
Just as he was sliding over the roof edge, his pants became hooked on a nail, and his fall was stopped. Not realizing (perhaps) what he was saying, he said, “Never mind God, I’m OK now!”
In his panic, this man failed to recognize that God had answered his prayer with something as simple as a roofing nail.
Blind faith in God can be a dangerous thing. By “blind faith,” I mean believing whatever we choose without knowing what God wants or already has done. Blind faith was me believing God would heal me before I could serve as pastor of a church. Blind faith is believing God will take care of our finances despite our reckless spending. Blind faith is believing God wants the same things we want.
Unvaccinated people struggling with COVID are operating with blind faith. Nowhere did God promise anyone they can live as they choose without suffering consequences. The consequence of being unvaccinated and living without a mask is that you are likely to get a serious case of COVID.
The good news is that God provided a roofing nail to keep you from falling to your death. Get a vaccine. Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. It’s an effective nail. Taking advantage is not a lack of faith. In fact, that’s the definition of faith.
Abraham and Isaac
When Abraham dragged his son Isaac to the mountain to offer the boy as a sacrifice to God, he trusted God to provide the necessary lamb. As he stood over the altar poised to plunge a knife into his son’s body, he heard a sheep bleating in the bushes. How foolish it would have been if he ignored God’s provision and killed his son. Instead, as a man of faith, he recognized God’s provision.
“Get vaccinated. Put on a mask. And, for God’s sake, stop leading others astray.”
If you are a Christian trusting in God to keep you safe from the deadly COVID virus, it’s time to listen to the sheep bleating. Get vaccinated. Put on a mask. And, for God’s sake, stop leading others astray.
So, how do I pray for friends suffering from the virus because they lived recklessly? The same way I would pray for them in any other situation. I pray that the medicine will work, the doctors make the right decisions, and the nurses provide comfort. God has provided magnificent resources for fighting sickness and disease.
It’s also important that I not judge them. At times, I’ve aimed my faith in the wrong direction, so I’m not casting the first stone. I also pray that those leading others in the wrong direction, and politicians making terrible decisions, will put aside their stubbornness and pride and make better choices.
Terry Austin says from his first day of life he was taught to love the church. He has lived out that passion in various ways as a pastor, church consultant, author and critic. He is currently a full-time writer and book publisher and actively engaged with house churches.
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