Sometimes, God takes your hand and walks you into a new, life-changing understanding.
If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you may remember that I’ve suffered chronic pain for most of my life. The first migraine I can remember was when I was in elementary school. It ebbs and flows – like most pain sufferers, I have good days and bad, but there have been some seasons when the bad-pain days were the majority.
Over and over, I’ve had people in my life who prayed for healing. And of course, I’ve prayed for healing countless times, yet here I am still suffering pain (or the threat and fear of impending pain) after decades of these prayers.
I have taken comfort in many passages in the Bible. I know Paul suffered a “thorn in his flesh,” which is a euphemism for prolonged physical anguish. In 2 Corinthians, Paul said:
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.2 Corinthians 12:8-10, ESV
I thought, “OK, if Paul prayed and God said ‘no’ to removing his ‘thorn,’ I can follow his example, continuing to pray but also resting in the understanding that God’s grace is sufficient for me too.” Of course, hearing “no” or “not yet” from God is often a hard pill to swallow, and self-doubt sometimes plagued me. I thought that maybe my faith wasn’t strong enough, or that I’m not “good enough” for God to heal me like He had so many others. In those times, I took comfort in the story of a man whose son had an unclean spirit. He said to Jesus:
“…. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”Mark 9:22b-29, ESV
I read and re-read Mark 9, looking for the “prayer” of which Jesus was speaking. The only thing I could find was the desperate man crying out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” After years of praying without receiving the healing I begged for, I felt much like that father. If you hear, “not yet” often enough, there will be days when belief in the possibility of “yes” is shaky at best.
While the passages above, and some others, were comforting to me, there was one I still found sticky. The book of James has always been one of my favorites, and I’ve studied it extensively, but I used to always want to skip this passage from James 1:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.James 1:5-8, ESV
One Sunday morning after a particularly hard week, I waited after the sermon to talk with the pastor of my church. I needed the perspective of someone with much more Biblical training than I. I shared with him about my chronic pain and how often I’ve prayed. I told him that this passage from James was really hard for me, and how I didn’t feel like it fit with God’s grace and mercy in the face of our human tendency to doubt.
The pastor said, “Oh, I understand. Go back and re-read what James said. He said, ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, [he should] … ask in faith, with no doubting.’ We know that God answers some prayers for healing with, ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ – we have that example from Paul. But God’s answer to our prayers for wisdom will always be, ‘yes,’ because wisdom is always good for us.”
From that day to this, I haven’t stopped praying for healing. And indeed, through His guidance to the right doctors and treatments, He has brought me a great deal of healing. In my case, the healing has been incremental. I won’t lie – sometimes I want to stomp my foot and say, “Please, just heal me now or take me to heaven.” But alongside my prayers for healing, I also pray for wisdom. To that prayer, His answer has always been, “Yes.” He’s granted me the wisdom I need to wait through (and wade through) the incremental process of healing, leaning on Him and trusting Him even though He didn’t give me the “insta-healing” I’d wished for. He’s also given me the wisdom to see how my perseverance through pain has helped others see that suffering can strengthen one’s faith rather than diminishing it.
Take a moment to think about prayer. Our current series at 5twelve is called, “Dear God, it’s Me…, Unlocking the Power of Prayer.” I hope you will join us as we study prayer, and I challenge you to add one request to your daily prayers – ask Him for wisdom; you won’t be disappointed.
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