Healing 101 (10 Ways to Spiritually Recharge, Part VI)

I was taught that all those stories about healing in the Bible were just for that time, that miracles don’t  happen anymore. Then I went to a healing service and witnessed the bent back of someone I knew well, straighten visibly after one prayer. When your beliefs don’t match reality, it’s time to overhaul your theology.

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That was years ago. Since then I’ve been part of prayer groups that have witnessed the healing of headaches, backaches, depression, bulging discs, out of control eating, cystic fibrosis, a brain tumor…. lots of healing. I’m confident now that God wants to heal us and often will do it as soon as we ask. There are whole books on why healing doesn’t always happen, and how to pray for healing. In a short blog I can only focus on a first step.

Faith plays a key role. It’s like the current that connects us to God, and through which God’s power flows. Jesus said, “…Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.” So we want to train ourselves into faith, just was we’d train for anything else – a marathon, new software. People talk about faith enviously, as if it were something that you just have or don’t have, like long legs. It’s not. You train for it, you exercise it, you fight for it when it’s attacked.

Faith grows when we see God directly answer a prayer, especially when the outcome is hard to explain otherwise. So we should start praying for healing. Why not start with ourselves? Then when we feel better, it will also boost our faith. Double benefit.

Here are some commonly taught guidelines for how to pray for healing (My reading has included Agnes Sanford, Richard Foster, John Wimber, and Francis McNutt) :

  • Start by praying for something that is simple. Pray for sore throats before you tackle progressed cancer; a habit of worry before schizophrenia. Ask yourself if you believe the problem can be healed.
  • Ask God for guidance about how to pray for the problem, and pay attention to the thoughts that come. You may be about to pray for a stomach ache, then realize that the stomach ache worsens when you’re around someone who makes you mad. Obviously you need to pray for healing in that relationship, and probably help in forgiving.
  • Focus on the love and dependability of God. Jesus came to show us that, so a mental picture of Jesus doing one of the things recorded in the gospels, is a good thing to hold in mind. That’s who we’re connecting with – someone who loved us enough to come to us and die for us.
  • When we’ve centered ourselves on the goodness of God, and asked for guidance, then hold in your imagination what you believe you should be praying for. If your arm is in a cast, imagine the bone fused straight and strong, and you swinging your arm with no pain. Then ask God for it, boldly, hopefully.
  • Don’t weaken your faith with some “If it be your will…” qualifier. You’ve asked for guidance to pray for the right thing, so just ask.
  • Don’t be discouraged if nothing happens right away. Keep asking. Persistence is rewarded. (Read the story of the widow in Luke 18.)
  • Thank God for healing after it happens, and tell people about it. Often experiencing or witnessing healing helps people to draw closer to God, so don’t keep it to yourself.

Exercise, Eat Your Veggies and Go to Church (Why Even Go to Church Part V)

Think of it as free health care. Who would guess that church attendance is good for both mental and physical health? Not running around the perimeter of a church, not climbing its tower – just regularly going to worship services, has shown itself in a whole body of research, to be really good for us.

New York Times writImage result for running to churcher T. H. Luhrmann, an anthropologist, describes studies connecting church attendance with increased immune response and decreased blood pressure. Peter Haas, author of Pharisectomy, cites studies tying church attendance to lowered risk of depression, higher goal achievement, higher grades and completion of degrees, and longer life expectancy.

In one depression study, psychologists Rita Law and David Sbarra, studied the relationship between church attendance and mood disorders in older people, and found that church attendance protected this population from the development of depression. The study even corrected statistically for physical health and social support, since these are known to impact depression, and they still found significantly lower rates among the church attenders.

Going to church also correlated to lowered smoking and drinking rates, more physical exercise and more stable marriages, in a 30year study of 2,600 people. The study also demonstrated that religious groups did not just attract people who already behaved in healthy ways; they helped create these behaviors.

I didn’t need to know about any of these studies to know that attending my church, has been good for my own health and that of others. College Hill Presbyterian in Cincinnati has had a powerful healing ministry for decades, and prayer is offered both during and after services. We have seen partial blindness disappear (the lady could read again), cancer tumors disappear, and an eating disorder loosen its grip, just to name a few.

In longer sessions with volunteer counselors, I have been substantially (not completely, alas) healed of depression. Less dramatic but just as important, I have observed that spending year after year in a community where people love and respect me has empowered me to make steady improvements in everything from diet and exercise to the capacity to forgive.  (I guess you could argue that I’d figure stuff out as I got older anyway, but you would be underestimating my former enslavement to self-destructive people, negative thinking, and chocolate.)

Many behavior studies are correlative; we observe that church attendance leads to better health but we don’t necessarily find out why. Social scientists theorize that it is the social support in churches that improves health, or the peer encouragement away from addictive behaviors and towards responsible, faithful action that does the trick. That only makes sense, but I would also point to the promise in James 5:16  that if we pray for each other we will be healed, and in 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins, we will be forgiven, and in Isaiah 40:31 that those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.

Good church services give us the space and help we need to pray for one another’s healing, to confess our sins, to wait on God. I have observed over and over that during the week after I have had to skip church, I am more tired and emotionally discouraged by Thursday night than during weeks when I go. It’s not that God abandons me if I bag church, but I have missed out on the joy and centering and renewal that come from gathering with people who are seeking God. Going to church literally gives me strength for the week ahead. Apparently, it’s good for my health in many other ways too.