It is easy for God to perform miracles. Out of nothing, he brought forth billions upon billions of galaxies, each filled with hundreds of millions of stars, each star blazing with inconceivable energy. God’s power clearly is infinite, and his love for us surpasses understanding. So, why don’t we see more miracles, especially healings? I don’t have an easy answer, but I trust God desires to give us understanding—as always, through his Word.
Let me begin with a brief testimony. Several years ago, my wife, Debby, began suffering abdominal cramps nearly every time she ate. Over many months, the cramping became worse and worse. Being under treatment for cancer at the time, she had plenty of medical attention, including various abdominal scans and ultrasound. She asked the specialists involved with her care to diagnose and treat the cramping. They managed the cancer very well, thank God, but could not determine what caused the cramping, or what to do about it. They were certain there was no connection between her cancer and the pain.
Debby learned to deal with the problem by eating very little during her workdays, and having a fuller meal in the evening. It was easier for her to deal with the cramping at home than at work. One evening, about half an hour after supper, the cramping started up again, but worse than usual. Debby sat in tears on the sofa, doubled over in excruciating pain. I felt great compassion for her, along with complete helplessness. There was nothing I, or the best doctors in our community, could do to ease the torment.
Debby and I had prayed a number of times about this problem, and so had our church. It hadn’t helped. Seeing her there in tears, groaning, I decided to “press in” wholeheartedly, and immediately began three days of fasting and prayer, seeking the Lord for relief of this terrible pain. I went down to the basement and began to call upon the Lord. An hour or two later, I came upstairs to find Debby at ease, the pain relieved. The next day, I continued with the fast. Debby had supper with our daughter while I prayed in the basement, and when I came upstairs later she was fine. No pain. The next day, the same thing. No pain after eating. That was three years ago, and to this day there has been no more pain. Debby eats what she wants, when she wants, with no cramping or spasms whatsoever.
What we experienced was either a very unlikely coincidence of timing, with Debby’s pain somehow naturally resolving itself the very hour I began to pray for her; or it was a gracious healing miracle of God in response to effectual, fervent prayer. We believe the latter is what happened, and we give glory and thanks to God for it.
I do believe in miraculous healing, in the present day, in response to prayer. When we or someone we love needs healing, we should seek healing in prayer. But—to get to the thrust of this post—we should not let our need or zeal for healing blind us to other weighty needs in the Church, and to even greater blessings than healings which prayer can obtain. Physical healings are not the main course at God’s table of blessing. And without the main course, believers will be spiritually undernourished and weak—and may well see fewer healings.
We who are eager to see miracles and the hand of God at work would do well to recognize that the inner transformation and spiritual maturing of a person through the sanctifying power of the Word and the Holy Spirit is a far greater miracle than any physical healing could ever be. It is a simple thing for God to rearrange biological matter and make it whole. He commands it and it is done. It is a much more wondrous and glorious exercise of divine grace when he quickens and transforms a human spirit. He does not simply command that it be done, forcing change or obedience, but works with great patience and infinite wisdom to bring forth the precious, eternal fruit he seeks.
While physical healing has its place in Scripture and in the plan of God, it is not the Lord’s foremost priority. Therefore, it should not be our foremost priority, either. Read through the record of the prayers of Paul here, and compare how many times he prays for physical healing for believers with how much he seeks for them the knowledge of God, spiritual growth, maturity and mutual love. As far as I’ve been able to tell, physical healing is not even mentioned in his numerous prayers, although he certainly does not exclude it. He does encourage us, in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, to present our requests to God (Phil. 4:6). “Everything” of course includes such things as physical infirmity. Indeed, Paul performed mighty healing miracles (or, rather, the Lord performed them through him). But the focus of Paul’s life and teaching, including his prayer life and prayer teaching, was to preach the gospel and to prepare for eternity those whom God called. There was a race for them to run, a lifelong process of sanctification and maturing to undergo, and the will of God to fulfill. Those things, or their fruit, will last forever.
Every physical healing, on the other hand, is temporary. Even the most dramatic, glorious healing cannot prevent the eventual day of death which we all must face. Take, for example, Lazarus, whom Jesus raised to life after several days in the grave. The raising of the decomposing Lazarus was a stupendous miracle. It must have electrified the community of Bethany, and probably Jerusalem as well. But Lazarus is no longer with us. Some time after that miracle, he died again, for keeps. Our bodies, while very important, are appointed to return to dust to await resurrection to their permanent and unspeakably glorious state.
Keeping these things in mind, I believe our prayers for healing and for extension of life are most acceptable and powerful when offered, not only for the sake of physical wholeness, but for the glory of God—of course—and so that the afflicted person may have time and strength to fulfill God’s will and to be prepared for eternity. Underlying all the prayers I have prayed for Debby in her battles with cancer is the desire that God will not take her until she is completely ready to meet him. I pray the same way for myself. I do not fear dying as much as I fear dying and not hearing the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
That said, it is evident that some people have brought more glory to God and have had more fruitful lives, being physically afflicted, than they ever could or would have done had they been healthy and whole. It bears repeating that our physical soundness is not God’s first priority, and we must trust his wisdom.
One more thing to consider is that we may well see more healings and other wonders as we set ourselves to seek, not wonders, but God’s will for his Body. Great grace was not upon the early church because of the multitude of healings and miracles. Surely, rather, healings and miracles abounded because great grace was upon them all (Acts 4:33). They were one in heart, continuing in the apostles’ doctrine and deep mutual love, and there the Lord commanded the blessing.
Jesus, speaking of temporal or physical needs, said, Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matt 6:33). This is a profound imperative with great promise. May the Lord help us to obey it with our whole hearts. May our deepest longing and our most urgent prayer always be, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
If you or someone you love needs a healing, by all means ask the Lord for healing. Ask fervently and expectantly. But at the same time, do not fail to ask, and to keep asking—following the examples of Jesus himself and Paul—for God to fortify, sanctify, edify and unify the people of God for his glory.
We have it on the authority of Jesus that as we seek first the Kingdom and his righteousness, the temporary but needful things will be granted to us as well. Lord, give us the grace, desire and strength to seek first what belongs first.