Should I even ask?
There's a story in John Chapter 4 that makes me question how we think about prayer.
I've attended some prayer services and heard some responses to my chronic illness. "Have more faith, ask God to heal you, pray and fast for 24 hours, 48 hours, attend more prayer services, ask the elders of the church to lay hands on you and pray for you. Don't get off your knees in prayer until God grants you what you ask for! Your persistency will sway God's heart!"
But the message they're sending sounds more like, "the harder you work, the better chance at getting what you want. It's up to you to manipulate God's healing generosity!" That's not what I see in this story about Jesus.
Let's set the scene: Jesus has been in Samaria and gaining popularity. (See last week's blog "living water" for that story.) People are really beginning to believe that he is in fact the Messiah!
But, not being one to pursue fame, he leaves Samaria for Galilee, his home town. Normally, prophets were not respected in their home towns but as Jesus entered, he was welcomed. The "welcome", however, was tainted with a few issues.
John Piper describes these issues as: pride of attachment to someone special (a vicarious sense of importance, using him for their own ego) a sense of entitlement ("he's our home-town guy, we've got dibs on miracles") and over-familiarity with Jesus ("we watched him grow up here, we know his family, he's Joseph's kid"). Piper says that the first two, pride of attachment to someone special and a sense of entitlement minimize his grace and the over-familiarity with Jesus minimizes his power. (You can watch his video or read his article here.)
So, back to the story.
A royal official from the King's palace in another city comes to Cana where Jesus was and begs him, "Come and heal my son, he's dying!" Jesus' scolds him! He accuses this man of just wanting a magic show. But the man pleads, insisting that if Jesus doesn't heal his son, his son will die. Jesus sees this man's faith and says, "Go home, your son will live". It appears as if it takes the man more than two days to return to his home and before he arrives, his servants meet him part-way to tell him that his boy was healed. He asked them, "What time did this happen?" They said, "Yesterday, around 1pm!". The man realized this was the exact same time that Jesus had spoken the words. The man and his whole household believed in Jesus!
With one sentence, Jesus heals a child, long-distance, and instructs the man to go home. I tried to put myself in this man's sandals. I'd climb up into my chariot and sit down next to my servant and start the long journey home. It would be at least two days until I found out if this healing actually happened . . . but if it didn't . . . would my family wonder why I didn't bring Jesus, why I didn't get the healing in writing, why I didn't secure the healing somehow . . . did I do enough? What more could I have done?
The man who asked Jesus for help begged and pleaded, but it was Jesus' decision and Jesus' observation of this man's faith and Jesus' power that made it happen. It was Jesus.
So should we even ask? Should we beg God to heal our children, remove our pain, free the oppressed and help us? Yes! Scripture is full of stories of God's desire for close relationship with us and He invites us to speak with Him about our desires and needs. But, what we learn from this story is that we must see God as He is, with respect and awe and in humility. Our faith in God's ability to heal must remain regardless of whether or not God chooses to heal. That is His choice, not our responsibility to manipulate the outcome. If faith is what God desires from us, then we must believe that God is capable to do anything . . . and respect Him to choose what is best. We don't have to understand it. We must let God be God.
When I attended a prayer/healing service a few years ago, I went for a few reasons: my son suggested it and I wanted to honour his faith, I wanted to submit myself to the community of the church and allow God to work through his people and I wanted to be open and not afraid. It was a really neat experience, full and rich in many capacities. But the next day, I sat alone with the Lord and committed to him that I believed in His ability to heal me. I really did. But I also had a new sense of respect that wanted to stop asking. So I said to the Lord that unless He grabs me by the scruff of my neck and drags me to a healing/prayer service for my body, I am done asking. I accept the future of my body's state and trust that God knows best. For me, it was a step of faith. It has been 23 years with chronic pain and various illnesses and He doesn't appear to need to change that for some reason. So my faith decision was to accept it. He has given me peace, contentment and deep, deep joy.