Many years ago in my very early twenties I went to help out a small church plant by offerng to lead their time of worship and praise along with some of my other Christian friends. The leader of the plant was a colleague whom I worked with at the office and he had talked to me about the plant and particularly their lacking of musicians for their time of worship and praise. I don’t quite remember how I got myself involved but I did and one night I had agreed to bring some friends to help them out at one of their midweek meetings.
The plant met in a classroom in some school somewhere and although it wasn’t a huge crowd, we had a good time. There was lots of singing, praying, testimony and ministry of God’s word. But then at the end something happened that neither I, nor my friends, were expecting or prepared for. The church split into small groups for the purpose of praying for healing and the Holy Spirit outpouring of tongues. This was new for me and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. But I remember that part of the evening vividly. In a small way it was a little uncomfortable for me but I’ve always felt that when the Apostle Paul wrote “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3) He was reminding us that the church – the Body of Christ – is diverse and that there should be times and will be times when the experience of it’s diversity will challenge us, perhaps even make us feel a wee bit out of our comfort zones; but in response we ought to make every possible effort to celebrate, demonstrate and perpetuate our unity in Jesus Christ, the head of the church.
On that night I recall one elderly sister who came in to the meeting hobbling. She shared in the small group that she would like healing of a pain she had for some time in her lower leg. And so, accordingly the small group set to prayer accompanied with some others speaking in tongues. We laid hands on the lady as prayers were lifted. At the last “Amen” there was a natural period of silence, pregnant with expectancy and all eyes were on the lady and her leg. It seemed clear to everyone but me that the lady had been healed. She put weight on the leg and claimed that she had been healed, to which folks in the small group celebrated but all that I saw was a lady that continued to hobble out of the meeting the same way that she hobbled in. I even recall seeing her wince as she walked out.
In spite of that time which was also filled with much blessing, I am thankful to God that I did not hobble out with a ‘jerked knee’. What I witnessed did not create within me any ‘Knee Jerk Theology’. What I mean by that is that I didn’t allow that event to mis-shape my views on the subject of Divine healing.
So often it seems – in the church and outside the church – folks allow a bad example to shape a bad attitude within them and a terrible excuse for not thinking or not thinking biblically. For example, there’s a story in the news today of an Argentinian catholic bishop who has quit following some pictures that emerged of him hugging a woman in a bikini; and for some people that story will create and/or cement a knee-jerk reaction towards God, the bible, born again Christians, the church and all of church history! A bit like another former colleague of mine who refused a small Christmas gift from me in one breath: “The church is the cause of all wars and just wants all your money!”
Whether this stuff is happening inside or outside the church, the better reaction is always to turn to the bible first. In the case of healing, I absolutely believe that God has the power to heal today. I also observe from the New Testament eyewitness accounts that when Jesus – or the Apostles – performed healing miracles one thing was evident: nobody doubted that the recipient was healed.
When Jesus healed the paralysed man who was lowered before Him on a mat by the man’s four friends (Mark 2) Jesus didn’t call on the assistance of those four guys to give their buddy a helping hand once He was healed. In fact, Jesus had the audacious authority to tell the healed man “Now go home and take that mat with you!” – just as well after all the mess that had been made by destroying the roof to get the man to Jesus’ feet! Then on a later occasion, Peter and John encounter a lame beggar at the temple gate (Acts 3) and by the authority and power of Jesus, they heal the man. We read at first they helped the man to his feet; not surprising really because this guy had never even learned to walk before since we are told that he was lame from birth! But then the account goes on:
‘…and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.’ – Acts 3:7-8
You see that? There was absolutely no doubt that this guy was healed. The Apostle Paul could silence skeptics and doubters with words but this man did it with a holy hopscotch!
Each day Annie and I pray for two things. We pray for the physical healing that would be clear, evident and would cause jaws to drop for God’s glory. Where we are right now with Annie’s cancer is beyond medical resources. The illness is terminal because it is beyond the resources, skill and knowledge of the doctors, oncologists, nurses and surgeons. We’ve not heard a single word from the oncologist since September 2011 when she told us that Annie had a sixth month life expectancy; cancer effects everybody in that respect – it even robs oncologists of words and renders them professionally paralysed. If God was to truly, physically heal Annie; if He was to cause the healthy cells in Annie’s body to some how overwhelm and conquer the cancerous cells, leaving her muscles, nerves, lungs and bones refreshed and restored, and ready to continue Annie’s three score years and ten – unless Jesus returns first! – then I think our doctors, nurses, surgeons and oncologists would be making appointments with us! And we would have absolutely no problem attributing the healing entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ.
But Annie and I also daily ask God in prayer that He might draw us nearer and nearer to Himself – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – so that we might endure each moment of time with cancer, with the supernatural joy, peace and hope that transcends all understanding and continue to give Him the glory as we hope we are doing right now. In that respect, may jaws continue to drop as people witness God at work in the valley of cancer without healing.
Annie’s current wave of better health is going from (and I have thought carefully about this phrase) strength to strength. In fact, if Jesus were to return tomorrow, Annie has been so well recently, we might enter heaven believing that Annie had been healed for our last weeks on earth! Yes, her appetite continues to function like that of a lumberjack; she has noticeably more mental energy. But that’s not all. The horrible raspy rattling that I often hear on her breathing as she sleeps is barely noticeable and on most nights, I’d say it’s not there at all. The small lumps in her neck are less apparent, she’s not struggling with the blurriness of vision she had recently been struggling with when she read and although she hasn’t placed a foot on the weighing scales in months, she’s definitely putting on weight. I know this because I carry her upstairs so often that either my legs are getting weaker or she’s getting heavier because I’m shorter of breath when I reach the top! For the record, she stood on the scales on Monday morning just for a benchmark and weighed in at a mere 6.5 stones (91 pounds).
In one sense you might explain all these things away. Perhaps the cocktail of medication has struck a perfect balance and is now finally working in unison to assist Annie’s body with the secondary effects of the cancer (namely nausea, fatigue and pain) that she has been suffering so long. Now that the nausea is stemmed she is naturally eating more and hence the increased weight; and perhaps those bumps in the neck are not disappearing but less noticeable as her neck muscle starts to fill out a bit. And as for the blurry vision, perhaps her body was lacking so much nutrition before that these were simply the effects of mal-nourishment and nothing to do with the cancer at all.
This isn’t to mention that there are still some new ailments. Annie’s feet and legs continue to fluctuate to and from slightly swollen to very swollen and bring her small amounts of pain. And she is still so very tender in her ribs which would be the closest part of her body to the cancer’s HQ. This morning I twitched in bed and accidentally triggered an agonising rude awakening for Annie as I knocked her ribs. One nurse recently explained that the swelling legs could be due to a severe lack of protein but like most things going on in Annie’s body right now, we just don’t know!
Is this simply a brief lull as the cancer gathers up momentum for a great – even final – assault? We don’t know and we try to continue to obey Jesus by not worrying about the future. You might say “Time will tell.” Time will tell whether this is a miracle in the making or a calm before the storm. But we will continue to tell of the goodness of the Lord and use all that He gives us for His glory.
The last few days have given both Annie and I the luxury of ‘normal’ life! It’s comparable to a heavenly honeymoon! A honeymoon away from cancer! And a heavenly one because it’s released us to serve others together which is just a real joy for us both and the number one reason we ask that God might physically heal Annie.
On Sunday evening, Annie was able to join in on our youth discipleship bible study which was followed by a full house that stayed (and arrived) to watch the England football team leave the Euro 2012 tournament (otherwise known as the England-Italy ‘match’!) We were able to invite Jakob, one of the Czech farm workers we have recently met and started to get to know. He came to watch the game and also to use Skype to talk to his family (something he hasn’t been able to do since he arrived a month ago). Jakob brought with him a surprise in the form of a Czech girl named Natalie, whom we got to know very well during the farm mission last year. Natalie lived with us for a month along with Anna and that was really the last ministry that Annie and I were able to physically serve God together in before the cancer returned.
On Monday evening, just before our church plant get together, I was able to take Annie out to one of our favourite restaurants – something we have not been to do in over a year now. Then on the same night, we had a visit from our Czech friend, Anna who stayed with us until Tuesday evening. Prior to this visit, Anna has visited us five times since last October and each time observed a gradually weaker Annie. Anna was joyfully stunned at seeing a different kind of Annie at this stage.
Last night, we enjoyed having more farm workers over for a meal, this time meeting a new girl, Hana. During the night I was just taking a mental polaroid for my spiritual journal. You see, although Annie was diagnosed last September, the mission to the Czech farm workers last June really marks the beginning of the return of cancer. While we were serving in that ministry with our brothers and sisters at Manor Park, Annie was already struggling with the cancer – we just didn’t know it. In May 2011 she started to develop throat problems which then developed into occasional coughing spells through June and July and then vomiting and coughing in August. She was sent away by doctors with throat sprays and anti-biotics but in retrospect, this was no doubt the escalation of the secondary cancer in the lungs. I guess we’re both glad we didn’t know at the time because perhaps we’d not have been as energised to commit ourselves to the farm outreach; or maybe appointments and hospital visits would have kept us from being available.
It was through that outreach last year that we met three young Czech people, Anna, Alex and Natalie. And when Anna went back home to Leeds yesterday evening she told us that she’d think about sharing her testimony at one of the outreach events in a couple of weeks’ time. You see, we had the privilege of leading Anna to Jesus last year; or rather, Jesus was pleased to use our home and circumstances as the place and time where He would meet with Anna.
So, whether or not Annie will be healed or is even healed or being healed right now, not knowing is not hindering us. Not knowing that stuff doesn’t paralyse us. We just know that Jesus is our Lord, Saviour and Shepherd.
This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. – Psalm 118:24