The leaves of the tree: prayer for healing

On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22.2.

iowaswaziThe Globe Gazette of Mason City, North Iowa, has an encouraging feature article (30 July) about a healing service conducted on 21 July by Meshack Mabuza, bishop of the Anglican Church in Swaziland, and Alan Scarfe, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa, conducted the healing service July 21 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Mason City.

The North Iowa service, which lasted approximately six hours, was the seventh conducted by the bishops during a 10-day healing mission tour of the state.

Mabuza said he and his wife, Lucy, came to Iowa to pray for healing because “we all need healing irrespective of where we are and what our station in life. We live in a broken world.” Fear, violence, greed affects everyone, but God extends his hand to bring about healing, he said.

“We pray for more than physical healing,” Scarfe said. “(We) pray for healing of a country, of a people, anything that seems broken.”

. . . [T]hose attending the service sang during a Eucharistic service and then on into the night. . . . The bishops asked people to step out of their comfort zones during the service and to enter God’s time and God’s grace. “We don’t know what needs you brought to this service and what God desires to do,” Scarfe said. Those who wished to receive individual prayers came forward following Communion. There, the bishops and Lucy Mabuza layed hands on them and prayed.

“This is what we hoped for,” said Mike Stewart, a deacon at St. John’s, and chaplain of the St. John’s chapter of the International Order of St. Luke, a healing ministry. He estimated that about 150 people attended the service, including members of churches in Cedar Falls, Clermont, Fort Dodge, Iowa Falls and Waverly.

“I’m hoping there’s sort of a sense of revival that can come out of his visit for the Iowa churches,” Scarfe said of Mabuza. “I’m hoping for a real sense of renewal and revival, that people really do get healed and out of it we will really seek to imbed in the life of the parish the ministry of healing.”

Mabuza came to Iowa because the Episcopal/Anglican dioceses of Iowa and Swaziland, as well as of Brechin, Scotland, have what are called companion relationships, designed to strengthen each partner in ministry. Companion dioceses offer encouragement and prayer, as well as spiritual and material resources, according to a news release from the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa.

The article goes on to talk about the desperately difficult situation in Swaziland, especially because of HIV/AIDS, and the challenge to wealthy Christians to contribute from their abundance.

Last night, James and I were invited to St. George’s, our former Parish, where the assistant minister, Stephen Gunther gave an excellent talk about Jesus and the ministry of healing. He spoke from Matthew 14:34-36 where, shortly after the incident where Jesus had walked across the water to the disciples boat, they arrived at Gennesaret.

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. After the people of that place recognized him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

After the sermon I was asked to add a few words (below) from my experience in praying for the sick and receiving prayer myself. I then joined the St. George’s team to offer prayer for those who sought it.

The evening was a great joy. It was healing for James and me to give and receive ministry in our former parish. I was challenged to stir up whatever gifts God has placed within me. I pray that those who received prayer (including me) were truly touched by God.

Faith, mystery and healing

Jesus had the freedom to disregard the laws of nature and simply walk across the lake. Jesus walking on the water speaks of freedom. Jesus showed that the disciples’ destiny, and ours, doesn’t depend simply on circumstances like the wind and the waves.

After quite a number of miracles, described in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus was once again demonstrating that the natural world, its rules, and its deepest fears, could be changed though faith.

Such faith does not rely on the material, the earthly, the objective, or even the logical.

To feed thousands from one boy’s lunch is impossible, to walk on water is impossible, yet Jesus did these things.

Resurrection is impossible, eternal life is impossible, healing through prayer is impossible, yet it is the truth of the impossible in God that brings freedom.

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

We’re taught in Hebrews 11 that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. That is, our faith rests in spiritual things that cannot be seen physically. It relies on God’s own self, who is Spirit.

Peter was not a coward. He did step out of the boat onto the water, at night, in heavy weather, something more than most of us would dare to do. But he didn’t yet have the spiritual eyesight, and hence the faith, to rely on something he could not see, the power of the Spirit of God. “We walk by faith and not by sight.” That is why Jesus asked Peter, gently I suspect, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Like the disciples, we struggle to understand. We can’t escape from the fact that the Christian life is mystical and that there are mysteries. Paul described himself as a “servant of Christ and steward of God’s mysteries.” “We speak in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual”, he wrote in I Corinthians.

So I find it interesting that just after the wonder and mystery of a series of miracles,

just after Jesus had walked on water, no less and the strong wind had been stilled,

just after those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God,

they arrived in Gennesaret,

and when the people of that place recognized him,

the thing that the did immediately was to send word throughout the region and bring all who were sick to him,

to beg him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak.

And, Matthew says, “and all who touched it were healed.”

Such a humble approach; just to touch his cloak, like the woman with the hemorrhage

Yes, there is mystery and there are questions in healing ministry. There are no simple formulas.

But faith teaches us to humble ourselves, to rest in God, and trust God, despite our lack of understanding. Think now of the people in the Gospels who came to Jesus for healing. All of them were humble, relying on the mercy of God found in Jesus; sometimes beseechingly, sometimes with confidence, but always with humility.

We need to be able to accept a certain amount of mystery. Because of the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, we can often be certain of something in our hearts, our spirits, even though we don’t fully understand. Such certainty is faith.

Obedient healing

To offer and receive prayer for healing is a question of obedience. James 5.14-16 say

“Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”

That is a command, or at the very least a strong exhortation. It’s not just a polite suggestion. If any among you is sick they should call for the elders of the church, to pray and anoint with oil in the name of the Lord.

Of course some common sense is helpful. Wwe don’t need to call for the Bishop just because we have a sniffle in the nose. But it might be good to ask a partner, housemate or friend to make a simple prayer.

When praying for the sick

The Holy Spirit gives special gifts of healing, gifts of miracles, and gifts of a word of God’s knowledge or wisdom. These are described in 1 Corinthians 12, for example. An overall principle is that these gifts are to be used to strengthen the Body of Christ, encourage one another in faith, to express love and to build up.

However simply to pray, the person praying and the person receiving need no special qualifications, no more than they do to pray in any situation.

Keep it simple. Elaborate language is not required. “Dear Lord, please heal my sister. I ask in Jesus name. We trust you Lord. We thank you Lord. Amen.”

That might be all that is required.

Prayer for the sick is not a counseling session, even when the sickness is emotional, mental or spiritual. There is an important place for skilled counseling, but this isn’t it. For example, if someone asks for prayer because of fear or depression, just make a simple prayer asking for comfort and healing, and maybe gently ask if they would if it might be helpful talk to a pastors or another skilled person who might be able to help them.

Please don’t put things onto the other person, like, “You must believe” or, you “Must trust God and you will soon feel better.”

Similarly, if you are asking for prayer, understand that the job of the person praying for you is simply to pray, to be a friend, and to share God’s love with you.

The gift of Christ

The curse experienced by Adam and Eve in the garden, separated them from the tree of life, the tree whose leaves, it says in Revelation, are “for the healing of the nations”.

Jesus overcame that curse, through his death and resurrection.

With all my heart I believe that healing and restoration are part of what was achieved by Jesus through the cross.

“Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases . . . he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” (Isaiah)

Let us not neglect, therefore, a gift for which Jesus gave his very life.