we are seeing healings
The healing ministry of Jesus was always God-centred. Every life he touched he touched as an expression of worship, that is to say it honoured God. The Apostle John rarely referred to ‘miracles’, instead he used the term ‘sign’ as he recorded the ministry of Jesus. Whether it was a miracle over nature, or a life touched by healing, the purpose was the same, to glorify God. In the light of this, I believe we cannot underestimate the place of worship in the healing ministry.
The great twentieth century preacher, A. W. Tozer, is quoted as saying ‘worship acceptable To God is the missing crown jewel in evangelical Christianity’. I believe he is right. Worship is more than ritual. Worship is more than traditional liturgical patterns. Worship is experienced and it is as we experience God that our lives are touched – body and soul.
In our churches today there is growing evidence of the rediscovery of worship in its true sense – the experience of God through self giving. In my own parish at Ulverstone, Tasmania, the older folk are recovering the sense of revival that early Methodism had for them with all its ‘fire in the belly’ and praise from the heart. The younger folk are discovering for the first time some of the wonderful old hymns of the faith and realising the connection between Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts, Fanny Crosby and the likes of Jack Hayford, Graham Kendrick and Chris Bowater.
Music is freeing the soul. Emotions are being touched, and ‘hearts strangely warmed’, as John Wesley put it 250 years ago. At the same time lives are being touched in physical healings. Without doubt there is a connection, for within worship we are seeing healings occur.
When we gather to adore, worship, praise and thank our God, it is not just some liturgical exercise, not is it simply an academic process. At least it should not be. It is an experience of the presence of the living God. We come into God’s presence, the presence of the creator of heaven and earth, and offer ourselves to him. I strongly believe that to enter into such worship will be life changing.
Imagine the magnitude of creation. The universe stretched out for countless light years in the vastness of space. Balance that with the tiny flower on a patch of moss, nestled at the base of a towering Mountain Ash, itself nestled at the foot of a craggy peak soaring a thousand meters above. Look a the human body, warts and all! What a work of wonder! The hand that put all this together is the One we worship. Not a carved effigy. Not hero worship of a dead Galilean carpenter. Not philosophical debate, but the Creator’s presence! I fail to see how lives cannot be changed as we worship him. My experience is that those life changing episodes can, and often do, include healing – physical, emotional, spiritual.
A number of Jesus’ miracles occurred in formal synagogue worship, such as the account of the man with a withered hand (Mt. 12:10-13) and the demon possessed man (Mark 1:23-27). In these examples, the healing was also used as a demonstration of Jesus’ power and authority.
While most of Jesus’ miraculous ministry was done outside formal worship, I see much of it being worshipful. Worship is, after all, an attitude, not just an action.
When Jesus encountered ten leprous men who cried out for help respectfully at a distance because of their condition, Jesus sent them to the priests (Luke 17:11-19). As they left the cleansing occurred. One returned, praising God and falling down to worship Jesus, offering thanks. That is worship – worship in the dust of the roadside.
The leper has shown four key worship attitudes. He had praised, and had given thanks. He also worshipped/adored Jesus, and had paid homage, throwing himself at Jesus’ feet. He was regarded with the words, ‘Rise and go, your faith has made you well.’
I see five key elements in worship that play a part in the healing ministry. These are demonstration, encouragement, excitement, evangelism and emotion.
Our God is not a theory. Our God is not an empty idol. Our God is alive. when we worship, God responds. We see the reality of what we say we believe. God’s grace is demonstrated. God’s power is seen.
During July 1991 my wife and I had the privilege of attending Brighton ’91 in England, a world gathering of leaders in evangelism and renewal. Well known author and renewal leader Canon Michael Green made a challenging observation. My record of his words is this, ‘The western church stands condemned for the preaching of an incomplete Gospel. For too long the fact that signs and wonders accompanied the preaching of the word from the time Jesus walked this earth and throughout the early church, has been ignored. We must be open to the demonstration of God’s power in our worship.’
Such activity is emerging at a phenomenal rate in many areas of the world at this time. Miracles on street corners in Romania, Hungary, and other Eastern Bloc countries. In Argentina miracles occur at most services of worship, reports Dr Omar Cabrera. On one special day dozens were healed of a myriad of disorders as the offering plate passed by. As the people gave to God, God gave to them! Hundreds of such stories emerge and, praise God, we in Australia are beginning to see it as we shake off spiritual lethargy.
People are encouraged in their faith when they see God at work in their midst, and it’s catching! I have been part of many major rally type events, and there seems to go with them a heightened expectancy within the people. Faith adds to faith, strength adds to strength, as the people pray and wait on God.
That is not to say that God needs a crowd to act. He doesn’t. But when people gather, the encouragement they give each other has been, in my experience, significant in healing.
I remember standing with a lady at a conference in Canberra. She asked for prayer for a lump in the hollow of her neck. Two or three of us prayed. Nothing happened, or so it seemed, except a couple of us had a similar vision, that of a sponge drying up and turning to dust. We confidently told the woman, ‘God will destroy the lump!’.
When we turned to sit down she said, ‘Oh, one more thing. I have cataracts. Will you pray for my eyes, for I’m going blind.’
My heart went ‘Ooh!’
Did I have faith for eyesight? Did my colleagues gathered around her have faith? We looked at each other, and at her, then at the Lord. I was encouraged by the atmosphere of the event, and by their prayers. We prayed, hands over her eyes.
We stood back and she cried, ‘Praise God! I can read the signs at the back of the auditorium.’
There was some ‘fuzziness’, but we prayed again and she went away rejoicing.
Faith linked with faith. The encouragement of being with others when we pray. But it doesn’t stop there, for each of us who prayed were encouraged to pray again when he need arose, or when it will arise again. I will never forget that day, for it remains an encouragement.
The feeling that followed that healing stays with me. Yet, that kind of feeling flows to others also. In my parish recently, a member came seeking prayer. ‘Joan” was suffering deep arthritic pain in her hands, elbows and her shoulders. She had come to church that night almost unable to hold her handbag, and unable to lift her arms very far above waist height.
‘Joan’ is a shy person, and asked for prayer for the first time ever, so I believe. God touched her. The pain left, and she was able to raise her arms high in the air, and still can. Her excitement was contagious! She testified in church the following week, and is not backward in acknowledging Jesus as her healer.
The testimony she gave added to the excitement of those who were there when we prayed. It encouraged others to spread the word to friends both in the parish and beyond. It led directly to a small group going to pray for a non Christian who was suffering from a painful spinal condition. As we offered prayer, there was an immediate release from pain in that person too. More excitement! There was immediate praise and thanksgiving to God. Worship flows from healing.
Time after time the pages of Scripture leap out at us with the evidence of growth in the church as a result of the demonstration, the encouragement, and the excitement of healing. It leads to conversion. It leads to salvation. It leads to more people becoming aware of the truth of God’s love as expressed through Jesus. Thus, evangelism is aided by healing.
I see evangelism as an act of worship. The offering of lives as living sacrifices to our God is a most wonderful thing, and the lives made whole by God’s grace are even more wonderful.
At the Brighton ’91 conference, we heard stories of miracles on street corners as the word was preached. This led to thousands of people coming to hear and see the word within the following days as football stadiums, halls and meeting rooms overflowed with people seeking God after years of communist rule. The word of God was preached in word and action. God was worshipped. Lives were changed. Healing of body and soul occurred in the presence of the living God.
In our western mind set, worship services rarely take on such proportions. We seem locked into traditional patterns. Anything outside the ‘norm’ is judged improper or untidy or uncomfortable, and so we fail to see what the world around us is seeing. But more than that, our churches are emptying as a church of words, words, and more words, fails to lead a searching people any nearer To God.
I believe that our churches would see dramatic increases in numbers of people and signs of the Spirit of God if we would open our hearts and really worship. This would also return the church’s healing ministry to its biblical pattern of being a ‘normal’ part of the life and witness of the church.
A criticism of some Pentecostal expression and ministry is that it is too emotional, or it is emotionalism rather than a true and whole expression of emotion. I interpret emotionalism as being ‘manufactured’ hype that has been generated by particular preaching styles or music presentations. That is very different from allowing our emotions to be involved in our worship.
Can you imagine Moses meeting with God and not being emotionally affected? Can you imagine the woman who had bled for years not feeling emotion when she touched Jesus’ garment and was healed? Emotion is part of our human nature and it is right that, when we come into the presence of the Lord, our whole being is involved. Emotion, as I see it, has a lot to do with the healing process, for so much of our human frailty and weakness, so much illness and infirmity, is centred in our emotions. If we can be freed from that which binds us emotionally, we can be free indeed.
Repentance involves emotional release; guilt floods away as we are forgiven. Anger is an emotional disease; peace comes and we feel the blessed release wash over us. Hate is an emotion; but with God’s help we learn to forgive and to love, and inner turmoil ceases. All of this is made easier, the process is enhanced, when we are at worship.
The Apostle Paul, both in Romans 12:1-8 and 2 Corinthians 3:7-18, writes of the transforming presence of God as we offer ourselves as a ‘living sacrifice’ (Romans), and the freedom experienced as we step into God’s presence ‘with unveiled faces’ (Corinthians). We open ourselves to the experience. As Graham Kendrick puts it, ‘to worship is to be changed’. I believe part of the healing process, whether rapid or more lengthy, is enhanced in the emotion-charged encounter with God. We encounter God as we worship.
Does this worship need to be corporate, or can it be a private devotion? No, it does not need to be corporate worship, and yes, it can be more private. But the Body of Christ coming together brings great benefits. Here, as the church gathers, praise rises to our God. We find a sense of oneness with each other and with Jesus our risen Lord, and the power of the Spirit flows more freely. Even in the midst of our corporate worship, one can commune at the private level with God, yet still be aided by the surrounding atmosphere of praise and adoration.
Corporate worship makes a public statement of faith. This honours God. The people publicly declare their love, and God rejoices in the love offered to him. The worship act builds up the Body, and in corporate worship the gifts of the Spirit will be more likely to be evident. As Paul so clearly wrote to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 12-14), the gifts are to edify the whole body, each bringing their gifts to join with others. Thus the gift of healing may need discernment, knowledge, or wisdom to direct it. Corporate worship allows this to happen.
In addition, the healing ministry, both its benefit and its witness, is shared widely and thus again the Body is enhanced. Scripture is clear that Jesus’ ministry was a testimony to God. From the beginning of his ministry ‘news about him spread throughout the whole countryside’ (Luke 4:14). Jesus’ ministry was, with a few minor examples, a public ministry. This is a key we must learn from. God is glorified when his grace is seen and acknowledged. Public, corporate worship is such an acknowledgment.
Anointing and Eucharist
Within the worship environment, two rites hold a special place in regard to the healing ministry. These are anointing and the Eucharist (thanksgiving – communion). Whilst neither need be a part of the healing ministry in worship, both can be.
The writer of James directs us, ‘Is anyone of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven’ (James 5:14-15, NIV). Obviously this allows for the elders to go to the sick, but it also allows for the rite of anointing to be administered by appropriate people within worship.
Recently in our own parish, such an event occurred. ‘David’ spoke to me during the serving of communion. He was an elder assisting. Indicating a personal need, persistent and distressing asthma, he asked for prayer ‘whenever I felt it appropriate in the service’. We completed communion and then I had ‘David’ take a seat in view of the people. I explained the teaching of James, and then asked two other elders to join me. We anointed ‘David’s’ brow and prayed for his healing. He spent the next two weeks helping in a house construction project with all the dust and dirt associated with that and was totally free of any asthma trouble, to which he later testified. This was, as detailed above, a demonstration of God’s love which encouraged the whole congregation. It was exciting to hear the testimony and see the raised level of anticipation in the people.
I am becoming more aware of the power of the Eucharist in healing, especially in the areas of emotional spiritual healing. The Table of the Lord is a meeting place of grace. The symbols of his broken body and shed blood take on new meaning when you approach them in pain. As the old hymn goes, ‘There is power … wonder working power in the blood of the Lamb’.
The greatest need in many people today is freedom from guilt – the need for forgiveness. The nature of God is to love, to accept, to forgive. The Table of the Lord states that more clearly than a thousand words. Here before us are simple elements that speak of a most profound truth – a powerful truth. They speak of healing.
When is it most appropriate to pray for healing during the communion service? That depends on the situation. Some people feel unable to take such a holy step feeling dirty or unclean from their past. If this is the case, pray for the healing before they receive the elements. Thus the Table for them becomes a seal on the healing grace. For others, the very act of coming to the Table will convict them of the need for prayer, and so healing prayer following the taking of the elements in quite in order. It gives a final blessing.
Another alternative is during the serving. If, as is usually the case, a minister is being assisted by lay helpers, the prayer can be offered after receiving the bread and before taking the cup. In early church history and following the pattern of the Passover meal, there was often a break between bread and wine. The cup came later in the meal. The cup used by Jesus was the Passover ‘Cup of Blessing’, and so to receive the bread as a symbol of the forgiving grace of God, then to receive prayer for healing and finally to take the Cup of Blessing is often very appropriate. Local needs will, of course, dictate the use and place of such prayer.
The relationship between Eucharist and emotional and spiritual healing is clear. Recently a young woman came to our church for the first time. The invitation for communion was given and, as is our practice, the people came forward to receive the elements. She came with the first group, but quickly dissolved into tears, and moved to one side. I directed an elder to assist her. After a few moments outside, she was able to join the last group around the Table. I met with her later for more prayer, and then accompanied her to her nearby home where we prayed. She had experienced an occult or supernatural phenomenon the night before. It had frightened her. When she first came forward, something seemed to try and wrench her away from the Table. The prayers both during and after communion as well as at her home brought peace, and there has been no recurrence of this episode. The young lady said that she just knew she had to come for communion after the event. It was needed for cleansing power.
To some church people, the anointing with oil or prayer for healing during the Eucharist may seem strange or an intrusion on the usual way things are done. With appropriate teaching, they can be quickly put at ease.
The famous Smith Wigglesworth has a thought provoking comment on anointing and it place in worship. He says, ‘I believe that we can all see that the church cannot play with this business. If any turn away from these clear instructions (James 5:15), they are in a place of tremendous danger. Those who refuse to obey do so at their unspeakable loss.’
Dynamic of the Holy Spirit
Within worship the dynamic of the Holy Spirit is most prevalent. Our own insignificance and feeble faith are supported, picked up, and strengthened by those around us.
Just as an individual stick can be bent or broken when taken on its own and snapped over a knee, so the more sticks held together the harder it is to break even the weakest in the bundle. The more Christians who gather, the stronger the faith level seems to be. The more people praying, the stronger the prayers seem to be. The more spiritual gifts that surround us, the more confident the weak seem to become.
The worship environment assists greatly in taking us out of the influence and distraction of the world and bringing us into the holy and therapeutic realm of the Spirit. The hymns of praise, the songs of adoration and worship, the prayers and the Word of God read and preached, focus our thoughts on him whom we call Lord. We leave the world behind. We enter the Holy Place, and await the touch of God upon our broken, damaged and imperfect lives, and the transformation begins.
The more we grow in our understanding of the power, the beauty, the richness of true spiritual worship, the more we will understand the healing ministry. The power of God to heal is undoubted. Even in my limited experience I have sen too much evidence to believe otherwise. That the presence of God is touching the lives of very significant numbers of church people across the nation is new and rich ways is also undeniable.
The renewal movement has added a new dimension to worship, and while much can be said about the various expressions of worship available across the spectrum of churches in Australia, I believe that those places of worship, irrespective of denominational label, which allow the Spirit the freedom to move in music, song, prayer and giftings are also the churches where healing ministries are growing as part of worship.
The link is there. Worship and healing – the Spirit of the risen Christ touching body and soul, to the glory of God.
Reproduced with permission from Healing in the Now, edited by John Blacker (1995), Australian Renewal Ministries, 1 Maxwell Court, Blackburn South, Victoria3130.
© Renewal Journal 6: Worship, 1995, 2nd edition 2011
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