My hands were folded over my throat as I sat in the chair, quietly praying, and waiting for the doctor to enter. I was scheduled to have surgery the next week, and this was my pre-procedure scope. As the scope descended into my larynx and the ENT and I watched the screen, neither of us was prepared for what we would see next.
[Listen To The Full Audio Sermon below]
An Unforeseen Honk
I’ve been working my voice hard for over 25 years. As a songwriter, speaker, worship leader, radio communicator, and voiceover artist, I’ve made a living from my voice for decades. However, the winter previous, I pushed my voice to its limits – and the result left me with a damaged voice.
A large cyst had formed on the left side of a my vocal cord, and a small node on the right.
Surgery was the only option.
An Unforeseen Healing
We decided to delay the surgery into the new year for insurance purposes, as I was told the cost of the procedure would be around $10K.
I had people praying for me everywhere. The doctor told me to speak as normal, but not to push my voice when singing. I kept doing what I do, knowing that that my vocal cords were pounding on each other every time I spoke or sang.
At one point, with another cold, my voice virtually disappeared during a weekend event I was hosting. I thought for sure I had done irreparable damage.
Then I noticed, in the week leading up to the scope and surgery, my voice beginning to rapidly feel stronger.
As I sat in the ENT’s office, with anesthetic spray numbing my nasal passages, I folded my hands over my throat.
“Lord,” I said in a whisper, “I’m ready for anything, you know that. But this voice is precious to me, and if You’re willing to heal it, I pray this scope would show Your work. But not my will; Yours be done.”
When my ENT walked in, we exchanged pleasantries and got ready to see the cyst and node again. But when the vocal cords came on to the screen, we both tilted our heads. “Those are MY vocal cords, right?” I said. “Yes,” he replied, “they are. But the cyst and the node are gone. There’s nothing here for me to do surgery on.”
I experienced a sign and a wonder, and that is the story I choose to tell, in my body this week. Yes, a rested voice can heal. But I’ve been speaking as much if not more than I ever have. From what I read, cysts rarely heal themselves, and here as I looked at the screen, there was nothing to do surgery on. That’s good. We could use that $10K other places.
If You Are Willing
In Mark 1:40-45, we read the following words about a man desperately in need of healing.
40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
41 Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
In this passage, a man with a skin condition (leprosy could refer to any of a variety of skin conditions) falls on his knees before Jesus. He was most probably relegated to a leper colony outside of the town limits, separated from his wife and children, condemned to a beggar’s life while his disease slowly disfigured his limbs, and possibly, his face. People would not come near him due to the highly contagious nature of his disease. Starved of human affection and familial support, he was one of many who knew the most severe forms of loneliness a person could know.
In the passage, we see him begging on his knees, speaking simple words of faith (“you can make me clean”) preceded by words of question and hesitation as he worked to align Jesus with the God who, according to his culture, may have visited sickness upon him due to someone else’s sin.
Jesus speaks to him sternly, then does what no one has done for the man in possibly decades. He touches him. “I am willing,” are his words, and centuries of misconceptions about who God is and the motivations of his heart toward us come crashing down.
The Willing God
Nowhere more does the goodness of God come into question than when we are faced with the problem of pain; ourselves or that of another. Many Christians have a well-thought out theology of victory, of triumph, of broken things becoming whole – but struggle with the tension of living in a world where all things are not yet made new.
Within the next 3 seconds, another child is sold into sex slavery. Within the next week, some of us will hear a prognosis from a doctor that will shake us to our core. Still others of us will face unemployment, disappointment, or the death of a loved one.
Pain is present in the world. “Are you willing?” we ask God, “to heal us?” And the answer comes, “Yes, but in my way and time.” We bristle; we demand God heal us according to the pace of our current culture, our current distress, and our current demand. But the climax of your stories and mine, to be explained to us one day, will not always be according to our clocks.
The Already and The Not Yet
Hear are some things I’ve come to believe about God and healing.
- God is willing to heal, but His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. I’ve personally prayed for, I’m sure, over 1000 people over the course of my faith journey, for healing. Only twice has it occurred, visibly, in the moment. Only once, for me personally, have I experienced what I would term to be a sign and a wonder in my own body – and that was this week.
- Honestly, I would have written the story differently. If I had the choice between my voice being healed, and one of our dear friends being healed of their greater challenge, I would choose them in a heartbeat. We as humans think economically; if there is a limited amount of healing to go around, we would direct the budget to places other than us. But there is no limit to the amount of healing that is available to us. When we see God as stingy, slow, and as my brother-in-law says, “A bit penny-pinching,” we lose our orientation point – namely that God is good, all the time. Our inheritance, according to the Apostle Paul, is a lavish experience of the Spirit.
- If you’re not comfortable with mystery, you’ll have to find another Kingdom to be a part of. Falling off both sides of the faith horse – God never heals, and God always heals (unless you lack faith), leaves us ripe for disillusionment. One side suggests that suffering is the major theme of the Scriptures, rather than resurrection joy, and the other side suggests they’ll empty out the oncology wards if everyone just has enough faith – they only highlight the major theme of new life, with little reference to the minor theme that plays out daily all around us.
- Some traditions talk about the minor theme of suffering as if it’s the major theme of the Christian life, and other traditions talk about the major theme of resurrection life as if there is no minor theme of unresolved pain in the world. Here’s the tension. This week I experienced a sign and a wonder in my body. At the same time, some of our dearest friends are battling far more serious chronic illnesses, and across the world and in America, in the last 3 seconds,a child was sold into slavery. We can live in denial both ways, but if we are unwilling to live in the tension between God’s loving miracles and this world’s aching losses as we live out our faith, we will lose a holy awareness of God’s work in the mystery of life.
- I’m in the Vineyard because we have a theology of miracles and a theology of suffering. We embrace the tension, the mystery, of living in a world where the Kingdom is here and now, and we welcome God to break in and do signs and wonders in our hearts, and our minds and bodies. We also welcome God to work out His larger story in our lives and the lives of others, knowing, as Aslan said the small boy, that no one’s story but our own will be revealed to us one day.
When we pit suffering and resurrection life against each other, rather than having a theology for the Now and the Not Yet, we rail against mystery. God may answer our prayers, but we will interpret those answers wrongly, because His love for us in joy or sorrow wI’ll not sit at the center of our interpretation of the events.
Do You Have A Willing God, Or A Withholding God?
Do you have a a Willing God or a Withholding God? If you have a Withholding God, I’ll see you on the other side, because I won’t look to you in a time of need or crisis. If you believe God is holding back His power because you aren’t worthy of receiving it, you need to lose your faith in that old God.
But if you have a Willing God, know this, He is willing because He loves you, not because you’ve measured up or gotten enough people to pray for you. He is willing to heal you today – not because you have enough faith (though he does reward faith), but because He loves you. However, though I pray passionately for healing, speaking in the language of command as The Lord’s Prayer invites us, He doesn’t always choose to answer our prayers as we intend.
But He always leaves us with a deposit of love in our heart, and that is my aim every time I pray for the sick.
I love faith movements – they inspire me, and in the Vineyard we’ve seen thousands healed all over the world through the years. But when someone speaks, and spends 99% of their teaching telling you how God heals and why you should be healed, and rarely if at all focuses on the Not Yet of the Kingdom validating that not everyone in the room or in the world is reveling in victory, I personally believe they are being dangerous. They are crushing hope with the very breath they are using to build it.
If God heals you this morning, He loves you. If God doesn’t heal you in the way you hope this morning, He loves you.
People hit the Wall in life, as we all do many times on our faith journey, and they either trust in the goodness of God or they become what are called “Dones.” They check out of anything they feel is organized faith, and while they don’t lose their faith, but they don’t believe in a Willing God anymore.
The Wall And Transformed Faith
Instead of seeing the wall as a necessary part of their spiritual formation, as a critical stage of transformation, as a new chrysalis for them to enter into to come out a new person on the other side of the challenge, as a necessary rite of passage for their faith to mature and overflow the banks of old paradigms of God, they check out before the wall’s work is complete. They say, “I’m done, thank you very much.”
C.S. Lewis said that this is like a chick, forming in an egg, that never leaves it. Never spreads it’s wings. There is some life in there, sure. But it’s not abundant. It’s not God’s dream for any of us.
That chick never learns how to fly and to see the world from a radically new perspective.
The truth is we always want the climax of our smaller stories, and our larger stories, on this side of the veil. I’ve prayed at the bedside of people who were full of an overwhelming awareness of the Love of God, who were not healed. The climax will always be on the other side of the veil.
If you want to say that God always heals (and if we don’t receive it we lack faith), then you’re in one Kingdom. If you want to say that God never heals (and our prayers for healing are at best expressions of good will toward another), you’re in another.
But if you want to live in this Kingdom, then you have to embrace the fact that the Kingdom Jesus preached is dense with mystery. And that wall must be gone through, like a holy veil, to taste a deeper love from God than you or I have ever known.
Learning to be loved is the curriculum of life. Many people who perpetuate the healing vision of God’s heart must amplify their teaching to pivot not primarily around God’s power and your faith, but around God’s Love and you’re acceptance of that Love. That will always be the focus of the Gospel I read, one that starts with Love in Genesis, and ends with Love in Revelation.
When we’re younger, power impresses. When we’re older, love impresses us more. I would suggest that while the universe may have been created by God’s power; it was created from His love.
I would also offer that people who crave the drama of healing and miracles (I crave the sign and the wonder that evidences His love, for sure), yet overlay our culture’s need for the instant over the slow Kingdom coming (Phil Strout), will miss the long slow work of God in their lives.
The song of hope that rises from the suffering sounds different than the song of hope that rises from the well.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ
Excerpted from Hearts On Fire
I choose to believe in a willing God, who invites us to pray for, and believe for, miracles, signs, and wonders.
I choose to live in the mystery of an already and not yet Kingdom, that breaks in to our current reality, and also is delayed until the consummation of all things in God’s new creation.
I choose to believe that love is what motivates the Father to give good gifts to His children, and that our stories, while bewildering now, are securely held, like our future, in the arms of a God who would give anything – and did give everything – for you and I.
Today, we serve and worship a Willing God, who is, through our suffering and through our joy, making all things new.