Sunday, August 6, 2017

Contending in Healing Ministry

by Vincent Cheung

Here are some of the assumptions, principles, and practices that I implement in the healing ministry. These come to mind due to our context, but there are others. For example, I could also say something about demons and insanity, the relation of prophecy and healing, healing and evangelism, the sin of competition in ministry, apprenticeship, teamwork, and the use of extended prayer.
I have not been one who takes a long time to pray for a sick person, but there are some who regularly engage in protracted prayer over the sick — hours, days, and weeks — and they see remarkable results. This type of ministry has its own guidelines. Once you have been involved in praying for the sick, you will learn more about the kind of ministry you should have, and develop your own way of doing things.
Some are biblical principles and must be enforced, but some are only practical guidelines. The practical ones should not complicate the ministry, and cannot be imposed on the conscience, but they are implemented to ensure transparency, protection, and sustained growth. In the end, if there is one iron rule that I insist everyone follows, it is to have faith toward God and compassion toward people.

Let us first cover the most unpleasant item. Some of our guidelines are necessary especially because of this aspect of the healing ministry.
Many of those who call themselves Christians are ungrateful and dishonest people. So it is a sad reality, but you must protect yourself from the people you help. The biblical basis for the healing ministry is considerably larger than the biblical basis for several of the historically accepted doctrines combined, such as baptism and communion, but somehow it is often considered strange or even heretical. One reason is that the healing ministry demands genuine faith to produce evident success, whereas counterfeit faith in some of the other doctrines and practices is harder to detect.
Christians whose faith cannot rise above the level of confession and ceremony – they might be pretending even when it comes to these – therefore refuse to practice the healing ministry and attempt to destroy it. If you can’t fake it, kill it. Like the Pharisees, who slandered and murdered Jesus, instead of using the Sabbath to show faith and mercy, and to pray for the sick, these Christians continue to use the Sabbath to attack Jesus’ healing ministry (Mark 3:4, Luke 13:16), which he has never ceased to perform (Acts 9:34).
These Christians honor the Sabbath with their lips and persecute those who disagree with them about the Sabbath, but they never really practice the Sabbath. Otherwise, they would offer the people the rest that belongs to them in Christ, received by faith. And healing is one of the benefits of the Sabbath rest: “Then should not this woman…be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (Luke 13:16). Christ has secured continuous rest for his people. They should heal the sick every day, but when they meet on the Sabbath to attack his healing ministry instead of to receive and promote it, then they condemn themselves. They are anti-Christ and anti-Sabbath.
They might also come to your meetings to criticize, spread dissension, or set up traps for you. This is their way. If they cannot find something to use against you, they will make up something. Let your conduct be above reproach. Watch the things you say, the claims you make, and who, when, and where you touch. Sometimes it is better to let the people declare that a miracle has occurred instead of making the claim yourself. Perform ministry with witnesses present. Keep records if possible. Do not claim to be a doctor or a healer. Present the situation as one where people come together to look to God alone for healing. Avoid laying your hands on a person if you perceive that there might be a problem with him. You can always pray without touching. Respect the parents or spouses and ask for explicit permission when deciding how to minister to a person. For example, if a woman wants you to lay hands on her, but the husband has a displeased expression on his face, take a step back and do not touch her.
If “Christians” will lie and set up traps for you just because they disagree on a relatively nuanced point on theology or philosophy, they will not spare you when it is said that miracles happen in your meetings. Some people would even pretend to be sick in order to set a trap for you. However, you cannot be faulted if you make no other claim than that you are praying for God to help the people.
One reporter pretended to be a cripple and limped up the stage on a crutch. His plan was that he would receive prayer, pretend to be healed and throw off his crutch, and then he would expose the healing as a hoax. A trap like this is occasionally used by “Christians” and reporters. The preacher hesitated and stepped back for a moment, then said, “According to your faith be it unto you,” and the man’s leg detached from its socket (Acts 5:4-5 and 9, Acts 13:9-11). When he repented, the preacher prayed for him and he was healed.
There are reasonable ways to expose a fraud, but this method makes no sense. Even if the audience thought that the reporter received healing when he was only pretending to be a cripple, it would not mean that no one was healed. This case would have no direct relation to any other case. Indeed, it might draw attention to the need for investigation before making dramatic claims. But an incident like this can show only that the “Christian” or the reporter is a fraud, not the preacher. Here the reporter was the only one who lied. The tactic to discredit the healing ministry would impress only gullible people, and sadly, this means that it has been highly effective at times, especially among those who wish to justify their unbelief.
It is likely that most of the underhanded attacks and slanders will come from the “Christians” — the religious establishment, the watchers of the cults, the defenders of the faith. Some of them have established whole empires that receive donations and sell products in order to criticize those who receive donations and sell products. You see, if you cannot capture the stupid charismatic market, you capture the stupid cessationist market. If you cannot defraud those who are not very smart, you defraud those who think that they are very smart. As long as you are dealing with stupid people, you get paid either way.
Apologetics can be a pretty lucrative industry if your conscience can take it. However, bogus heresy hunting might cost you much more in the end. Do you think that you would escape judgment if you say to the Lord, “Lord, Lord, have we not gone undercover? Have we not shut down healing ministries in your name? Have we not persecuted and entrapped them like the Pharisees did to you? Have we not discredited them by any means necessary?” But you fall under the same condemnation as the others: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” The Lord told you to have faith, and pray for the sick. If you do not like how other people are doing it, you do it. If you are not doing it, then you are at least as bad as the people you criticize.
“Christians” have always been the most hostile and devious enemies of Christ and of his healing ministry, but others will also interfere on occasions. You should have this in mind and develop measures to keep everything transparent and everyone safe. Do not be so ready to believe gossip and slander against a ministry. It might be someone’s way to cover his own tracks.

God is pleased only when we have faith in him, believing that he is a rewarder of those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Yes, he wants you to see him as a rewarder of faith. He is pleased when you have the faith to “get stuff” from him. The faith that pleases God receives not only “spiritual” blessings and persecution, although it includes these, but all kinds of material blessings – deliverance, territory, children, entire kingdoms, miracles of healing, miracles of nature, miracles of resurrection, miracles of military conquest – and this is only Hebrews 11.
A person who thinks that he is too pious to receive “stuff” from God by faith is not spiritual, but a high-minded religious phony. Stupidly saying “for the glory of God” all the time means nothing. If you think that you are too good to receive from God, then you are the worst believer ever, if you are a believer at all. Why don’t you step down from that religious pedestal, humble yourself, and ask for your daily bread?
You are so high on the glory of God that you have become delirious and you cannot even stick to English — Soli Deo Gloria! But you know nothing about God’s glory. You keep thinking that giving him glory has to do with how much you do for him, how much you sacrifice for him, how much you suffer for him. Jesus knew all about you. You are the prodigal son’s obnoxious brother (Luke 15:25-32).
You think you are some Christian elite, some theological expert, but you are nothing more than self-righteous garbage. You pray, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – Arminians, Pentecostals. I come to church every Sunday (but not every day like the charismatics) – I don’t even go to the grocery store or touch a newspaper on the Sabbath! And I baptize my babies right.” (Luke 18:11-12). You are just spiritual landfill. Even the prodigal son, whose only talent is to take and take and take from the father, is better than you by far. At least in all his taking, he displays the father’s generosity and forgiveness.
You have it all wrong. Your whole religion has been upside down. God’s glory is not in how much you do for him, but in how much he has done for us in Christ, not in how much you sacrifice for him, but in how much he has sacrificed for us in Christ, not in how much you suffer for him, but in how much he has suffered for us in Christ. Indeed, God is glorified when we suffer persecution – something that you know a lot about, since you persecute so many believers – but even when that happens, it seems we get more out of it than he does (Matthew 5:10-12, Acts 5:41, Hebrews 10:34, 1 Peter 4:14).
God’s glory is in healing (John 11:4). He glorifies himself by giving to us, not by receiving from us. You do not glorify God by showing how good you are to him, but he glorifies himself by showing how good he is to you. God pays his own bills. In fact, his glory is that he pays for everyone at the table. He doesn’t need you to pay your share. He doesn’t need you at all – like, not even a little bit (Acts 17:25).
Why don’t you receive from God as a child? But no, you are better than that. You want to be a pompous ass (donkey) “for the glory of God.” And no smart aleck with a Bible is going to stop you from rubbing it in, around, and everywhere “before the face of God” – Coram Deo!

Jesus devoted so much time to the ministry of healing, sometimes performed in public to reach as many people as possible, sometimes performed in secret and not done to prove anything. He could have spent more time teaching the people, or even writing books, or doing some other kind of ministry, or performing other kinds of miracles. But he healed the sick, and healed the sick, and healed the sick. Then he healed the sick, and healed the sick, and healed the sick. Healing time is not wasted time. He had compassion on the people, “healing all that were oppressed of the devil” (Acts 10:38).
Recall a time when you were sick, perhaps with a fever or injury. Then imagine that some people feel like that, or much worse, all the time, year after year, with no end in sight. Have compassion on the people. Follow the way of love. Love can heal anything. Rather than obsessing about spiritual gifts or some special anointing, direct your attention to relieve the people’s suffering and to showing God’s concern for them. Do not worry about having this or that spiritual gift. God has all the gifts. Teach people to have faith in him, not in you.

Always speak in faith, but in general, do not guarantee that healing will come to a particular person, or that it will come at a particular time. This is not due to the fact that God is sovereign, as if this means you can never know what would happen. As one preacher said, “I always know what God is going to do. He will do what he said. It’s people I can’t figure out.”
You usually do not know the sick person’s condition. He might have been conned by the master heresy of cessationism, or received some other false teaching. Perhaps he has experienced many disappointments, and now he is filled with doubt and cynicism that might take some time to dismantle. Even if you are confident that he would be healed, you might not know how it would happen. It might be a gradual healing, and he might be healed as soon as the next morning when he wakes up, so that a guarantee of immediate healing might needlessly lead to doubt and discouragement.
Nevertheless, there are times when you can declare that a person would be healed right then and there. And there are times when you can declare that a person has been healed, even when nothing has changed in terms of appearance. This is foolish when it comes from presumption or a desire to impress the audience, but there are genuine instances of such faith. When you know it, you know it.

Praying for healing again and again can come from faith or from doubt. It depends on why you keep asking. Elijah prayed again and again, but he prayed in faith, and James refers to his example in the context of praying for healing (James 5:15-18). Repeat if you expect a breakthrough. Do not repeat if you do not really think that anything will change. Let another person pray, or talk things over with the sick person to see if you can discover the hindrance. The need for repetition in itself does not signal error or weakness in the ministry.
Jesus made two attempts on a blind man before the healing was complete (Mark 8:22-26). Some people are puzzled by this, because they have a defective understanding of Christ and of spiritual operations. Jesus said that he worked miracles by the Spirit of God (Matthew 12:28). If he worked miracles solely as the Son of God, then he would not have needed the anointing of the Spirit in the first place. He ministered under the same Spirit by which we receive power to work miracles (Acts 1:8). He was fully God and fully man the whole time, but as he functioned in the office of the Messiah, he ministered by the Spirit of God.
Spiritual operations on this level has much to do with faith (Galatians 3:5), among other things. Jesus did not work many miracles when there was much unbelief (Matthew 13:58). Perhaps sometimes for this reason, when a place was filled with skeptics, he removed them before he performed the miracle (Matthew 9:25), and perhaps sometimes also for this reason, he removed the person from the crowd before he ministered healing to him. A number of variables are involved in this kind of ministry, and these could result in the need for repeated attempts, counseling, and so on, before the healing is complete (1 Kings 17:21, 2 Kings 4:34).
God’s sovereignty is indeed a factor, but not in the way many people think. He often sovereignly overrides unbelief and performs miracles either upon the skeptics or before the skeptics, even those extremely hostile to the gospel and to the healing ministry. After all, one of the purposes of miracles is indeed to confirm his revelation, most often not his new revelation, but his old revelation. In other words, God’s sovereignty ensures that there are many more miracles than what our measure of faith might permit us to expect (Ephesians 3:20). Instead of exploiting this precious doctrine of divine sovereignty as an excuse for failure, it becomes the basis for an assurance of success.

When someone is not healed, it has been said that we should never blame it on unbelief, because it brings a sense of shame and helplessness, when the true explanation is the sovereignty of God. Then, some claim that if we must blame it on unbelief, we must point only to the unbelief of the ministers, and never the unbelief of the people. There are also those who declare that if a person has the “gift,” then it will work no matter what, because that’s how it was with the apostles. Every one of these points is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. The Bible attributes failure to lack of faith in either or both the ministers and the people when healing does not happen, and not to the sovereignty of God. And it did not “just work” for the apostles.
In one case, the disciples that Jesus had directly authorized could not cast out a demon from a boy who was sick. Jesus lamented, “O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” He was not worried that this would bring a sense of shame and helplessness. Then the disciples asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith” (Matthew 17:14-20). Those who ministered healing and those who came for help did not appear especially hard-hearted, but Jesus still told them that the failure was due to their lack of faith. Sometimes the Bible blames only the people for their unbelief, and not the ministers, as in the case of Jesus (Matthew 13:58, Mark 6:5-6).
This does not mean that unbelief is always the explanation, but it is wrong to dismiss it completely as some people do. If there is unbelief in you, then work on the problem by prayer, the word of God, and other means. If it is clear that a case of failure is due to unbelief in the sick person, and it is often obvious, then encourage faith in him by teaching him what the Bible says, and by showing him examples of those who have received healing. Never lie and say that any failure has nothing to do with his unbelief, but exercise patience if he is teachable. However, if he is hostile and hard-hearted, then there is no reason to hold back. Rebuke him with all authority. Regardless of his suffering, unbelief is a sin.
Another false teaching is that we must never suggest that a person’s sickness has something to do with his sin. This is wrong (1 Corinthians 11:29-30). And another false teaching is that when healing comes from God, it will be always instant, always complete, and always permanent. All three assumptions are wrong (Luke 17:14, Mark 8:24, John 5:14).

Sometimes God’s power comes upon people and they fall to the floor (1 Kings 8:11, John 18:6). Some preachers have developed the habit of pushing the people down to make it appear that God’s power is at work. And the people have developed the habit of leaning and falling backward to make it appear that they are receptive.
This is grotesque. Do not push. Do not allow the people to pretend. Do not make it easy for people to think that God is at work when he is not. If you are going to do anything, make it harder for God, not easier. When Elijah asked God to send fire on his sacrifice, he did not first add gasoline to it, but he poured twelve jars of water on the sacrifice before he prayed. The wood was all wet, and the trench was filled. Then God sent fire and burned up everything (1 Kings 18:30-40). If you make it harder for misunderstanding to arise, God will increase the power, and there will be no mistake when he answers.
There is no need for someone to fall down to receive healing. When someone deliberately leans back and begins to fall, I would grab him and make him stand. When God is the one doing it, the person is struck down. There is no drifting or floating, or looking back to see if anyone is catching. If the person keeps leaning back, I would put him in a chair, and would usually not touch him when I pray. If God wants him on the floor for some reason, he can throw him off the chair. He can hit hard and break the chair if he wants. He does not need me to make it easy for him.

Operate within existing laws. Do not offer medical advice. Do not make any medical diagnosis, or prescribe any medical substance or procedure. Do not take it upon yourself to remove any medical apparatus, such as a neck brace.
If it is not dangerous, suggest that a person do something that he could not do before. For example, a person who has been crippled can leave his wheelchair and walk, but watch him closely. There might be nothing wrong with your faith or ministry, but if the sick person doubts, he could sink like Peter (Matthew 14:28-31). Do not insist on a course of action if the sick person refuses to cooperate.
If my advice appears too safe, it is in part because we are focusing on someone who is beginning in the healing ministry. One would see plenty of results even if he adheres to these practical guidelines. God can override them whenever he wishes, but he will back it up with divine power. When it happens, there will be no guesswork, and there will be certain success.
Do not tell someone to stop taking his medication. Peter said to a crippled man, “What I have I give you” (Acts 3:6). You do not get a person healed by taking away something. You get him healed by giving him something. With some conditions, one might have an adverse reaction to his medication when he keeps taking it after he has been healed. When a person comes with such a case, tell him to watch out for this possibility. If he thinks he has been healed, he should let his doctor examine him, so that the doctor can take him off his medication.

Do not let people associate giving money with receiving healing. Do not ask for money in exchange for or in connection with prayer for healing. When people can see that God is at work, if you ask for money, they will give — do not ask. Do not take advantage of the people or exploit them. Do not buy and sell when healing ministry is occurring. Do not open the book table or conduct business. If you must offer products during healing ministry, give them away. Do not allow the people to form a false impression of how this works, as if it has to do with anything other than the grace of God and faith in the name of Jesus.
When people see that the sick have received healing or when they have received healing for themselves, some of them would come up to me and stuff cash into my pocket while I am talking to others. Some people would reach out to shake my hand, and when I take my hand back there would be a wad of cash in it. Others would throw money into my bags and containers while I am not looking, or they would hide money in places for me to find later. At first I did not realize people would do that, so I did not know to anticipate it or regulate it. This would happen even if you only preach, but it tends to happen more when there is also healing.
It is fine to receive financial support for a ministry (1 Corinthians 9:14), but do it in a context and in a manner that will not allow people to perceive it as an exchange. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). As much as possible, encourage the people to give when they are not emotional, or taken up with the shock of witnessing the healing miracles. Set up a system for people to give to the ministry, but disassociate it with the immediate environment of receiving prayer for healing. This is especially important when there are unbelievers or immature believers in the crowd (2 Kings 5:15-16, 26), who lack understanding in “the matter of giving and receiving” (Philippians 4:15).

Our topic is the healing ministry in the form of praying for the sick, but an essential aspect of the healing ministry is to teach the people to pray for themselves and receive healing that way. God would heal a non-Christian when a believer prays for him, but all Christians have full access to God. They can enter the throne of grace directly, without any mediator other than Jesus Christ, and receive healing by faith. However, they either need someone to teach them the word of God about healing, or study the topic for themselves (Romans 10:17, Galatians 3:5).
Although it is less immediate and glamorous, this is an essential work in the healing ministry, because it offers the people permanent access to healing, and also opens the door to their own ministry to pray for the sick. They will learn that healing comes from God through faith, and they will not have to look to you as someone special (Acts 3:12, 16). The word of God will enable them to pray for themselves, to pray for others, and to teach others how to receive healing.