Sickness and the Ministry of Christ: Why don’t we do it?

The one of the things, several years ago, that concerned me about the Emerging Church Conversation was that for all its concern for the body (exhibited in holistic medicine, organic food, and even body prayer), I saw a gaping exclusion of, dare I say, the literal ministry of healing prayer (not of just emotional healing) but of the actual body.  Sickness often seems to be the crucible that the American Dream breaks up against, and as much as the Emerging/Missional Church rails against the American Dream we are often ill prepared for ministering to people in this place of utter need.

At the same time as this I was beginning my journey into my current church ministry at Life on the Vine (about 9 years ago) which is part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.  One of the commitments of the C&MA is that Jesus is the healer of the body.  From Is. 53.5 (“By his wounds we have been healed…”), to Mark 2 (“The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…I tell you get up and go home”), to Acts 3.6-9 (“Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!”), and James 5.14-17 (“The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.”) we see the healing ministry of Christ, and its extension to the Apostles (Acts 3) and then to the Church (James 5).

I think one of the main things keeping us from this ministry is a simple failure of nerve, or faith, or both (“If I tell people that I actual believe Jesus can heal people physically, not just emotionally, they might think I’m wierd…”).  Another reason I have noticed is theological.  Certain theological systems tend toward fatalism regarding the body by either having such a high view of God’s sovereignty that faith is merely the coming to terms of what God has done (which means just believe that something good will come of the sickness if we can just embrace it).  While in some circumstances this is the right posture, often this just drains the ability to pray that God would heal someone (maybe even a miraculous healing).

But I think a main reason for the lack of healing ministry might be just a simple lack of know how.  And I want to address this right now.

These are the principles we aim at here at Life on the Vine when it comes to a situation of sickness.

  1. Bring the presence of Christ into the situation.
    • We must realize that we, by ourselves, cannot change people or heal the sickness.  If people are not open then they are not open, and no amount of arguing, urging, or convincing will help.  We can not attempt to grasp control of the situation.
    • But we can bring the presence of Christ in and see what happens.  We bring ourselves, hopefully filled with the Spirit, testing and responding to what the Spirit is doing in this person and situation.
    • This is basically our trusting in the Lordship of Christ in all things, being open to and joining what He is doing, knowing that His desire is to overcome suffering and sickness.
  2. Focus on Spiritual Formation, not Supernatural Manifestation.

    • If we focus on the supernatural for its own sake we will run into immediate problem as we minister, and tempt those we are ministering to in think that God is here to meet their needs.  While we need to fervently believe that God can do the miraculous, that supernatural events happen (the lack of which is often the reason we don’t pray for healing and just pray for acceptance of God’s will), this isn’t the goal.
    • The goal is the sanctification and healing of the whole person, body/soul/mind/spirit.  As we minister the “presence of Christ” and his Lordship we must listen and discern how the Lord in the Spirit is seeking to form/transform the sick person.  In regarding to healing ministry Scripture links the issue of healing physical sickness to the healing of sin sickness (see Is. 53, Mark 2, and James 5).  This is the link between confessing your sins and praying for healing (James 5:16, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and prayer for each other, so that you may be healed.”) [Of course I’m not saying that all sickness is cause by sin, but I’m not going to nuance that right now].  So the goal is holistic spiritual formation, not mere manifestation.

    This leads to the next point.

  3. Discern the place of Sin and the state of Faith.

    • Have those seeking to be healed confessed/acknowledged sin? And do they believe that Jesus is at work to heal them?  These questions ask if the sick person is open to the healing work of Jesus.  Of course not every person is, and you can’t force them to be (see point 1 again!).
    • While the above texts are good places to turn in a particular situation, Matthew 9 is convenient because it contains both the story of the healing of the paralytic concerning sin (parallel to Mark 2), and the healing of the centurion’s servant concerning faith.  So you just need to remember one passage for both.
    • The goal in seeking out sin and testing faith is not to merely condemn and convict the person in need, but to remove obstacles blocking the flow of grace from Christ.

This then, in brief, is the theory and posture behind our practice.

But what, then, is our practice, roughly?  Glad you asked!

Healing Liturgy (for a hospital/home vistit)

  1. Enter Situation listening to person (seeking their heart in the situation).
  2. At appropriate time, open with Scripture (typically Ps. 103 [at least vs.1-5, if not entire Psalm]).
  3. If through continuing conversation the person is not overly open to the healing ministry of Christ, then close with a prayer over them (use wise discernment).
  4. If through continuing conversation the sick person is open to healing ministry, turn to Matt. 9 and James 5 to discuss the link between Christ’s ministry of forgiveness of sins and healing of the body (also Is. 53 is good for this).
  5. After confession of sin (if needed) and affirmation of faith (always needed), anoint with oil and pray.
    • Bless/Consecrate/Set Apart (make holy) the oil.  Something as simple as, “Lord Jesus, set apart this oil to be a sign of your healing presence and power among us now.” Or consult your prayer book.
      • Regarding oil: you can buys vials for this purpose.  But you can use veggie/olive oil in any useful container in a pinch.
    • Anoint the sick person by placing oil on your thumb or index finger, and then apply the oil to the forehead in the sign of the cross, and in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
    • Pray over/against the sickness for as long/short as needed as led.
  6. Close with a blessing/benediction.
  7. Leave (no need to linger or overstay your welcome.  Better to leave early than late, as appropriate).

I would love to hear how you all have journeyed into the spaces of Jesus’ healing ministry and how you go about it.

Anything you would add?

4 Replies to “Sickness and the Ministry of Christ: Why don’t we do it?”

  1. Thanks, Geoff, this liturgy and approach makes this so much more accessible. I loved how you tied the holistic concern with the body with our need for this practice. Peace brother.

  2. The only thing I would add is rabidly speaking in tongues until the sick person twitches uncontrollably. Reverting to my pentecostal/charismatic days growing up and attending Christ for the Nations Institute.

    Seriously, though, this is a much needed article to help me reconstruct a healthy practice of healing ministry. Thank you.

  3. Geoff,

    As I always do, this is REALLY good stuff here. I appreciated you comment: “Focus on Spiritual Formation, not Supernatural Manifestation”. I’ve always struggled with the notion that is often purported that Christ is basically a vending-machine God. In fact, as I read it (i.e. John 6), Jesus rejected these claims that he was only good for a bag of lunch or a healing.

    You are right on man. We must focus, in the ministry towards the sick, on formation over manifestation.

    How can we pray for the sick and disciple at the same time?


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