I’ve been a “Charismatic” my entire life. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly. I’ve seen the awe-inspiring and the cringe-worthy. I’ve seen the real and the fake.
Today, I’m trying to sum up some of my observations, because I believe a healthy approach to supernatural healing is profoundly important for the future of the Church.
Let me open with a big fat clarification that many of my observations are cumulative generalizations based on a wide range of experiences. I am not attempting to judge the heart of specific individuals or ministries, and no, I am not subtly referring to ________ who you personally dislike.
With that said, let’s get started.
1. I have zero doubt supernatural healing is real.
If you haven’t witnessed this firsthand, it can be hard to believe. If you haven’t had a doctor look at you and say, “I have no clue how this happened,” it can be hard not to ignore such accounts.
My father had a golf-ball sized tumor in his neck simply disappear after it was prayed for. I’ve been a part of communities where cancer getting healed, backed up with medical verification, was a fairly common occurrence. While it’s not an everyday or even every-year occurrence, I have seen enough black-and-white, indisputable healings to remove any question from my mind that it’s possible.
Supernatural healing does happen, and it’s probably not as rare as you think.
Since this article isn’t particularly positive towards the “healing movement”, I would like to offer a quick defense of the existence of legitimate healing. The common question that comes up is, “Well if people were really getting healed, wouldn’t these occurrences be world famous?” There a number of reasons this isn’t the case:
- When doctors see stuff they can’t explain, their first impulse isn’t to write a dissertation on miracles. For most to even bat an eye, they would need to see the exact same inexplicable event occur many times.
- When you hear a bunch of other people claiming they’ve been healed, your first impulse isn’t to report on it. If you believe healing is possible, you might mention it. But if you don’t, you will immediately write off whatever you’ve heard, and the same goes for everyone else in the world.
- Even if a reporter was to witness supernatural healing first hand, it would be career suicide to report on it. No one else is going to believe it was legitimate, and honestly, even after directly witnessing healing, you probably wouldn’t be convinced it was real.
- In an age where Criss Angel can “fly”, recording something on video offers no more evidence than showing someone a video of Bigfoot.
Apologetics for legitimate healing aside, let’s now look at why a lot of healing testimonies AREN’T legitimate.
2. Most healing “testimonies” are pure speculation.
Unfortunately, many Charismatic communities give skeptics all the ammunition they need, and this is true even in places were legitimate healing is taking place.
I spent 3 years at a fairly popular ministry school, and about 95% of the testimonies told by students sounded something like this:
“So I went up to this stranger and asked if he had pain in his body. He said, “Yes, I have pain in my ____.” So I prayed for him and the pain left, and I’m just so excited about God completely healing him.” *clap, clap, clap
Now, I have zero problem with praying for pain to leave someone’s body. I do it all the time and will even share a pain-relief testimony later in this article.
But here are a few of the issues:
- What was the underlying condition? Did that get healed?
- Did the pain stay gone or was it just temporary relief?
- Why is it ALWAYS a stranger, giving no opportunity for accountability or follow up?
- Why, in 3 years of ministry, was pain relief 100% of all student-given testimonies?
Having someone tell you, “Pain left a part of my body,” and then reporting that as “he was completely healed” is pure speculation… at best.
After 3 years of this, I find myself far more skeptical of healing testimonies leaving the school than I was when I entered, and this is coming from someone who fully believes in the legitimacy of supernatural healing.
And what’s worse…
3. Those praying often don’t truly care about the people they’re praying for.
At first glance, this may seem harsh, but let’s just stop and be real. Let’s ask our testimony-sharers to answer these questions:
- Who is the person you just prayed for?
- What is the most pressing issue on their heart?
- How did God want to minister to them?
In many cases, the testimony-sharer can’t answer a single one of these questions? In many cases, they really don’t want to know, because the answers wouldn’t make for a great “testimony”.
All too often, when the gifts are involved, there seems to be a template-approach to ministry, coupled with a complete indifference towards those being ministered to. Sure, people will make an emotional show of it, but at the end of the day, if you can’t answer the most basic question about a person, did you really “minister” to them?
4. Healing anointings have nothing to do with holiness.
I bought into this lie pretty hardcore. It was how I was taught. “Your holiness qualifies you to be used of God.”
I spent years doing all the right things and wondering why I wasn’t seeing manifestations of supernatural power in my life.
And why shouldn’t I have bought into this idea? The guy telling it to me was one of the most supernatural ministers I’ve ever seen. We are talking crazy stuff… dude-seeing-through-an-eyeball-less-socket crazy… 13 year cancer-free zone crazy.
But as anyone who has been very long in Charismania can tell you, the annual “famous supernatural pastor falls” event makes it pretty clear that holiness is NOT the standard by which God doles out anointing, and even just having this perspective leads to dysfunction.
Can you imagine the pressure of telling everyone they need to be holy to be used, and then finding yourself face-to-face with your own issues. Where do you turn? When everyone expects you to be holy – when you’ve convinced yourself that is what qualifies you – where do you go when you realize it wasn’t true?
Vulnerability is the key to sustainability. It’s the key to wholeness and community and joy.
You don’t need to wait to reach some holiness standard to be used of God. Our God is a God of the journey, not the destination.
5. Healing anointings have nothing to do with theological accuracy.
On a similar note, I’d like to point out that just as one’s healing anointing doesn’t confirm his or her personal “holiness”, it also doesn’t confirm theological accuracy.
Again, I bought into this one, because when two guys are arguing and only one is doing miracles, siding with miracle dude seems like the natural choice.
If only discovering theological truth was as easy as finding the craziest miracles…
Needless to say, when you have hundreds of healing evangelists all disagreeing on the nature of God, it becomes readily apparent that the anointing has little to do with theological accuracy.
6. That said, healing anointings are real… and powerful.
Despite everything I’ve just said, Paul wasn’t kidding when he said God’s gifts and callings are irrevocable. There are some people who are simply called and gifted.
I’ve encountered these people. I’ve served with them. What would constitute the craziest moment of my life is an average Thursday for them. My intro to healing prayer was praying for a few headaches. Their’s was healing an entire deaf/mute school (that’s a real example). In all honesty, these people didn’t do anything to earn this special anointing. It just is what it is.
Some steward it well. Others don’t. I can tell you that Jesus wasn’t joking when He said to whom much is given, much is required. There is much required from these individuals as well, and I’ve come to appreciate, at times, that I don’t have the same weight on my own shoulders.
7. Supernatural healing is not limited to the “anointed”.
While anointings, giftings, and callings are real, I want to be clear that no one is restricted from being used by God to bring healing.
1 Cor 12:31 tells us to “eagerly desire the greater gifts.” I’ve seen people who didn’t even know God ask Him to heal their friend’s arm and then watch in amazement as it happened. I’ve completely failed at trying to give a word of knowledge for healing and then seen God show up and heal the person anyway.
There are no restrictions. God is not limited to our giftings. He really likes demonstrating His love to people, and anyone interested in partnering with Him in loving people can see healing take place.
Furthermore, God is bringing the Church into a new paradigm that replaces “the man of God” with “the people of God”. The Kingdom of Heaven was never be designed to be carried by a handful. It’s time for the Church as a whole to understand the Kingdom and bring the world into abundant life.
And this is precisely why I believe a healthy perspective towards healing is needed. The problem is…
8. No one seems to actually understand healing.
The Evangelical Church and its Charismatic offshoots are rather famous for claiming to have the final word on virtually everything. And yet, within this assurance of total certainty, there seems to be a uniform acceptance that supernatural healing is beyond our understanding.
In Evangelical circles, divine healing is typically viewed as the sovereign act of God, if it’s believed in at all. God moves according to His will, and we have little-to-no influence in how He chooses to interact with humanity. We can pray, but God’s decision to heal or not to heal doesn’t have much to do with our participation.
In many Charismatic circles, the opposite could be said. We are commissioned to bring the power of God to the world. God always wants to use us to heal, and when it doesn’t happen, it’s because there are shortcomings on our end. These shortcomings might involve our level of faith, level of holiness, level of passion, level of perseverance, etc. – no one really knows – but as we grow in these undefined areas, we will see more healing take place through our ministry.
In either paradigm, healing is regarded with uncertainty. And unlike virtually any other area of theology, uncertainty towards healing is vigorously defended.
9. And apparently, you shouldn’t try to understand it either.
I remember at one point a famous teacher told me that trying to understand God was the same as trying to control God. This comment was made with a particular emphasis towards the supernatural.
When I mentioned on Facebook that I was writing an article along these lines, the most “liked” comment I received stated the following:
I don’t think there is any one avenue in which healing is delivered. It comes from many different places. The only theology a person should have regarding healing, is that God still heals today. As to why or how or when? It’s never up to us. I have prayed for a deaf man to be healed, and though I can honestly say I wasn’t sure if God would heal him, he still got healed. I’ve also had complete faith God would heal another man I prayed with whom a heart murmur and he was healed. I’ve also been healed during a service when no one was praying for my specific ailment. I’ve prayed for many other healings, and also seen nothing happen. Since healing is in his presence, it seems to occur at His prerogative. Knowing when healing is going to happen comes then, when you know his heart.
In many ways, this is a fairly healthy perspective. But what is most interesting to me is the actively expressed view that “the ONLY theology a person should have regarding healing, is that God still heals today.”
Just like the teacher I mentioned before, this individual was expressing a belief that one SHOULD NOT seek to understand healing.
Why is that? We don’t typically have this stance toward other areas of our theology. Why healing?
10. Prayer for healing doesn’t seem to have a predictable result.
For the free-thinking Christian, discovering theological truth looks a lot like the scientific process. It involves a number of steps:
- Observe and encounter God as He works in your life and the lives of others.
- Look to Scripture to help you interpret your observations and experiences.
- Refine your conclusions through feedback from friends, fathers & mothers, and the Holy Spirit.
- Continue to observe, interpret, and refine.
And just like the scientific process, we end up with working theories – conclusions about who God is and how He responds to the situations we encounter.
Many of our conclusions are not practically testable. For example, when we conclude that “God is forgiving”, we measure the practical accuracy of this by the peace in our spirits when we ask God for forgiveness. This is hardly a legitimate test, but like so many aspects of religion, it aligns with our belief system, our personal reality confirms it, the similar realities of others affirm it… and at the end of the day, it works for us.
The difference with healing is that it IS practically testable.
We pray for someone, and they are either healed or they aren’t healed. Unlike most religious activities, this provides us with immediate feedback to factor into our belief system, and we aren’t used to dealing with that.
To make matters even more complicated, prayer for healing doesn’t seem to yield predictable or consistent results.
We pray a certain way for a certain condition, in a certain frame of mind, and that condition is healed. We repeat the process with similar parameters and nothing happens. We never know what will happen the next time we pray for someone, and as a result, most have concluded that the nature of healing can’t by understood.
Furthermore, trying to isolate a more specific understanding could destroy our mainstream approach to evangelism.
11. Our approach to evangelism requires we remain ignorant towards healing.
In both Evangelical and Charismatic circles, evangelism often looks remarkably like business sales.
- Establish a need – “You are headed straight for eternal, fiery torment. You need help”
- Pitch the main benefit – “By accepting Jesus, you can avoid eternal, fiery torment.”
- Sweeten the deal – “But wait, there’s more. God answers prayer (for healing, finances, relationships) so you will have a better life.”
- Always be closing – “Would you like to pray this prayer and avoid fiery damnation?”
- Don’t waste too much time on any one pitch – there are too many souls that need saving.
In this context, healing ministry tends to be part of the salvation sales pitch. It tends to be less personal and more “how can we reach the most people”.
There are upsides and downsides to this perspective, but regardless of one’s opinion on the matter, it makes sense to have an “I don’t know” theology on healing when our goal is maximum reach and “results aren’t guaranteed”. It makes sense to keep our expectations of healing vague when we can’t predict the outcome and salvation is the primary objective.
12. Uncertainty is needed to sustain healing ministries.
For “healing ministries” specifically, uncertainty is a MUST.
Think about it. These people are praying for thousands at a time. It’s simply not sustainable to worry about any one individual. There is no time to focus on why some are healed and some aren’t. If you have to worry about those who don’t get healed, you will burn out quickly.
For those in this style of ministry, the best option is to simply continue praying and trust God with the results. Some of the most powerful, legitimate healing ministries I’ve encountered use this approach.
On the one hand, it makes sense. I get it. And while I would never speak ill of these ministries, at the same time, this perspective of uncertainty doesn’t seem to be what we see when we look in scripture.
13. The Bible suggests that healing faith is related to understanding authority.
As a research-prone sort of chap with a longstanding fascination of physical healing, I’ve paid particular attention to discussions on healing within the Bible. The most profound account, in my opinion, is that of Jesus’ with the centurion in Luke 7.
2 And a centurion’s slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some [b]Jewish elders asking Him to come and [c]save the life of his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this to him; 5 for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue.”
6 Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “[d]Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; 7 for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just [e]say the word, and my [f]servant will be healed. 8 For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”
9 Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
Jesus marvels at the centurion’s faith, but what we see in the centurion is not the “blind belief” many Christians think of as faith, but rather, a deep-seated understanding of authority.
The centurion is not saying, “Jesus, I believe in you, and I believe you can heal.” He is literally saying, “I understand how authority works, and I recognize that you have authority over my servant’s physical well-being.”
14. This revelation of authority led to me seeing more healing.
The more I dwelt on this account of the centurion, the more I came to believe that there was power to heal in a revelation of Christ’s authority. As I began to meditate on this, it began to take root in me and affect the way I did ministry.
The most notable incident involved a longtime missionary I was working with named Denny. He and his wife Danette had spent decades on the mission field and were the epitome of servant-leaders. However, for the last 4 years, Denny had been experiencing sharp, constant back pain as the result of a minor back injury. The underlying injury had healed on a functional level, but there was still lingering pain, as is so often the case with back injuries, that the doctor’s couldn’t really do anything about.
When the call for healing prayer went out one Sunday night, Denny stood and I walked over to pray for him, aware of his back pain from previous discussions. People around the room prayed for those standing for around 2-3 minutes, and then the service continued onward.
The moment I laid my hands on Denny’s back, however, something clicked in my spirit. I don’t know quite how to describe it, but I had a profound conviction that this back pain was unacceptable and had zero authority to be there. From our previous conversations, I knew Denny had always enjoyed being an athlete, but had been unable to engage in his favorite activities because of this pain. I was angry about this, and I was aware that I had the authority to command this pain to leave. It wasn’t in question. I knew this pain was going to leave.
Accordingly, when the rest of the service moved on and nothing had changed in Denny’s back, I kept praying, because I knew he was about to be healed of this pain. Denny and the others praying for him were willing to keep it going, so we went outside and continued praying. Around 20 minutes later, Denny was running laps around the church with no pain. And even more importantly, as of the last time I checked with Denny, the pain has never returned and he has resumed his enjoyment of athletic pursuits.
Why am I telling you this? Because I am convinced there is a connection between healing and authority, and I want to continue pursuing that understanding with your help.
But going back to our discussion of healing ministries…
15. Jesus would make a terrible Charismatic healing evangelist.
In more “progressive” Charismatic circles, there is this idea that Jesus is our model for the Christian life – that Jesus was the example of what is possible when a man or woman is in right relationship with the Father and Holy Spirit.
Jesus had a 100% healing rate. He didn’t try to heal people. He healed them. But what did he do with this profound ability?
He went about His Father’s business.
In Charismania, if you have a noticeable healing rate (let’s say 50%), you’re next step is to proclaim yourself a healing evangelist and spend the rest of your life visiting churches and praying for thousands of people. Imagine what would happen if someone had a 100% healing gift.
I can guarantee you “going about the Father’s business” would be the LAST thing on their mind.
I don’t say that as a judgement of character. The motivations might be 100% pure. But in the Charismatic community, we’ve re-defined “the Lord’s work” as “the use of spiritual gifts”. If you have a gift, it needs to be used for massive outreaches, television appearances, and conferences.
Jesus would be terrible at filling this role. Today’s leaders would lament his “wasted talent” and “unused giftings”. I mean think about it – a man with a 100% healing rate who didn’t spend a large percentage of his time healing people.
And this makes me think…
16. We need to re-evaluate our definition of “successful ministry”.
A sold-out conference. A bestselling book. A megachurch.
These are what we call “success” in American Christianity. But what do any of these things actually accomplish? What is the ROI of these events? What is the meaningful impact? What is the lasting benefit?
Every year, Christian leaders bemoan the supposed disintegration of the world’s moral fiber. They decry the lack of impact the Church is making, and then they continue speaking at the same conferences, running the same TV programs, and collecting the same paychecks they have for the last 20 years.
“Ministry” is from the Greek word diakoneo, meaning “to serve” or douleuo, meaning “to serve as a slave.”
Why is being a sought-after itinerant, best-selling author, and conference keynote speaker the pinnacle of a career allegedly devoted to “serving”.
Is this really “the Father’s business”? Or are we simply slapping the Father’s name on our own businesses?
17. I don’t think physical healing is always God’s priority.
So what does it look like to be about our Father’s business? And how does this apply to healing?
While I would tend to agree with the perspective that it’s always God’s heart to heal, I’ve come to realize that physical healing is not always His priority.
I believe that Jesus came to give us abundant life. He came to rewrite mankind’s paradigm of God by introducing us to the Father. Physical health and wholeness is an important part of living life abundantly, but it’s not the only part, and I would even go as far as saying it’s not the most important part.
This is where “the Father’s business” comes into play. Too often, we enter a ministry scenario with an agenda. We are there to minister in the way we want to minister or the way we feel best equipped to minister.
But this isn’t the model we see from Jesus. Jesus did what He saw the Father doing. Jesus partnered with the Holy Spirit in prioritizing what the Father was prioritizing, rather than simply following a ministry template. And just like Jesus, we should approach ministry and life in general looking for the Father’s priorities.
NOT looking for a step by step path that we are supposedly supposed to follow but simply looking to partner with what God is doing in people’s lives, rather than trying to dictate what WE want God to do in their lives.
18. Physical healing is often a quick-fix rather than a permanent solution.
I’ve seen people get supernaturally healed of cancer – complete with medical verification – and then relapse and die. I’ve seen God supernaturally restore relationships and then watched them implode a few years later. I’ve seen drug addicts supernaturally delivered without a single withdrawal only to fall back into addiction down the road.
Healing and deliverance are rarely long-term solutions. They are gifts. They are often quick-fixes that give us the freedom to address deeper problems. And they are meant to facilitate a more complete wholeness.
In the charismatic world, we often make supernatural gifts the point. We have elevated these momentary touches of God into our basis for ministry. Meanwhile, our kids grow up disillusioned, our marriages fail, our pastors fall, and we have virtually zero lasting impact in the communities our plentiful testimonies come from.
We need to shift our focus.
19. We need to create environments that support lasting wholeness.
If you treat your body like crap, it will break down and develop problems. God can step in and heal you of one or more of those problems, but if the way you treat your body doesn’t change, you will simply develop new problems.
You can be a lousy husband and destroy your marriage. God can step in and supernaturally turn you and your wife’s hearts towards each other, but if nothing changes in how you go about being a husband, it won’t be long before you once again destroy your marriage.
You can have a negative belief system that leads you to hate yourself. God can step in and give you a revelation of your worth, but if you don’t change your internal and external environments – the beliefs you have about yourself, the way to talk about yourself, the way the people around you talk about you – you will drift back into hating yourself.
We need environments that support wholeness. We need environments that support physical well-being – environments that don’t view our bodies as just something to shed on our way to “heaven”. We need environments that support emotional intelligence and healthy relationships. We need environments that support healthy belief systems – that teach us to view ourselves as sons & daughters made for joy rather than miserable sinners made for submission to a control freak.
I’d much rather live in an environment where people didn’t get sick then one where they continuously cycled through sickness and healing.
2o. We can’t be afraid to love.
“Desire earnestly the best gifts, and yet I will show you a more excellent way…”
We all know where this is heading. It really is all about love. And love looks like something.
We can’t be afraid to love. When you are looking at the boy in the wheelchair, love looks like something. It might look like being bold enough to pray for healing. It might look like simply talking with him, discovering his heart and passions. It might look like hearing God’s heart for him and declaring that over him.
As you grow in relationship with Holy Spirit, you will get better at discerning which of those is best in the moment, but honestly, you really can’t go wrong if you are there to love.
We can’t be afraid to love. We can’t be afraid to engage. It’s really easy to not engage. I know. I’ve been there. After spending 3 years constantly engaged, I’m very much enjoying a season of rest and allowing myself to be be ministered to.
But I can’t stay here forever. Not because I’m obligated to accomplish something for God. Not because souls need to be saved from a fiery doom.
I need to engage because love looks like something, and I was made to love.
I’m not the only one with observations on healing.
Well… that’s 4,500 words of my perceptive, but I’m not the only one with something to say on this topic. It’s your turn! Let me know what you think in the comments below.
What do you agree with? What do you disagree with?
Do you think we need to do a better job of verifying healing claims? Consider supporting this Kickstarter project by our friend Elijah Stephens. He’s looking to find if legitimate evidence exists to support the idea of physical healing.
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