I celebrated my 50th birthday earlier this year, and that day marked about the same amount of time that I've been a faithful participant in a local Bible-believing church. I still am, by the way, and gratefully so!
During my childhood years, my dad served well as a respected trustee. My musically gifted mom was our church organist for as long as I can remember. My siblings and I have grown up in youth groups, singing hymns and serving and memorizing scripture and doing all the sacred things. I have to count on fingers and toes the number of ordained pastors in our extended family. My faith heritage is one of the greatest blessings and assurances in my life, and always will be. But even so...
I'm wondering now if we've gotten it right when we pray for the sick.
I've listened to and been a part of a few fervent prayers for the sick over the decades, and I'm not here to undermine or criticize the act. Rather, I'm here to challenge us to take our prayers to a different level. A level that exposes our frailty, humbles us, requires more of us, and draws us closer to our Creator all at the same time.
I feel like our tendency is to put a lot of the responsibility for our healing on God, and not much at all on ourselves. Granted, He is the only true source of healing that exists, and yet - we are also clearly called to partner with Him and respond faithfully and obediently when he calls us to turn from destructive ways and pivot back to his perfect plan for us.
First, let me clarify that I am not referring to accidents like car crashes, house fires, and other tragic events and acute injuries that happen suddenly and unexpectedly.
What I am talking about here are the kinds of modern sicknesses and diseases that surface slowly and steadily, dragging on for years and even decades - the ones that have only become common in the last few generations. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, even severe depression and anxiety. I don't know that we have an exact biblical model to follow when praying for these types of situations, as people living back then didn't have the same kind of modern roadblocks to good health that we do now.
But I think specifically of the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda who was asked pointedly by Jesus, "Do you want to be made well?" And I wonder if we all would benefit by spending some time with that humanity-exposing question. Are we willing to take responsibility for our part, and do the hard work to heal? Are we going to wrap ourselves up in blame and shame, or simply breathe deeply, take responsibility for what is, and move forward with intention and with the power of God's Spirit in us?
Here is an imaginary, yet very realistic, example of what I think is missing from our prayers for the sick:
God, we are so thankful for modern medicine and procedures, and we realize these are literally saving his life right now as skilled doctors get things under control and stabilize his condition. We are thankful that things look good, despite how he's currently feeling. But Lord, when the time is right, we ask that you clearly show him and us what has brought him to such a low point in his health. It hasn't happened overnight - we know this. And just because his condition is common doesn't mean it's normal.
We dare to ask, Could it have been avoided all together? Give us the courage to listen for your answer. We know he is not suffering from a pharmaceutical deficiency, and we believe there are concrete reasons why his body has deteriorated to this present condition. If there is something we can do to prevent this, or worse, from happening again - in this family or another, or even our own - Lord, we humbly ask that you make it known to us. Bring these specifics to our minds now.
Are there foods he is eating routinely that are disrupting the way you've designed his body to function? Is he dealing with a food addiction? As a church, are we joking about, promoting, and enabling those poor eating behaviors, or are we consistently modeling proper care and nourishment of our bodies, as You would desire us to do?
Is he lacking discipline or balance in how he's moving (or not moving) his body? Is he exercising way too hard much too frequently, or is he possibly not doing much of anything at all?
Can we support him in developing healthy boundaries at work, so he has more down time to spend with his family in the evenings and on weekends?
Does he need to say NO to some good things so he can say YES to the best and most important things?
Is he getting enough sleep?
Is he struggling with unresolved trauma from his past?
Are there unidentified stressors or toxins in his home or work environment that could be contributing to his condition? Smoke? Mold? Chemical exposure? Alcohol? Overuse of medications? Mean-spirited, selfish, and manipulative people?
As we think of and list aloud these potential triggers, each one of us realizes that we could easily be him in that hospital bed on a different day. Let that sober us, Lord, and prompt us to responsible action - both individually and corporately. We know the enemy will use any and every means to destroy us - body, mind, and spirit. Help us to recognize those schemes and fight against them diligently. Equip us with discernment and self control.
Father, there is a lot to overcome here - generational patterns, behaviors, well-worn routines and stubborn beliefs - and we realize it will only be by your grace, mercy, and power that he and we can be restored to full health. We are trusting you to do what only you can do. At the same time, help each of us to walk in obedience to what you've called us to do going forward.
We desire healthy bodies and sound minds so we can represent and serve you better.
Above all, remind us that we are victors, not victims, because of who you are and what you've done for us in Jesus. Thank you that you know us, love us, and care about every detail of our lives, and that you alone have the power to overcome and heal. We pray all of this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.