Helplessness and Its Spiritual Temptations

Given the events our extended family is going through at the moment, I’ve been thinking a little about prayer and healing.

Not questions like why God will heal some and not others.  I don’t know all details of what God is doing, and I am comfortable with that because I know God is in charge and is wise and just.

The things I’ve been thinking about are the mechanics of praying for healing.  Because when things I do don’t get results, I start thinking about doing things differently so I get results.

And so I now have a new perspective on how and why some people resort to eccentric ideas regarding prayer and healing.  We’ve had offers of healing ministries, the laying on of hands and a few other things.

As a result of our helplessness in the situation, I’ve been tempted to think that maybe I just need to jump in the car and drive into hospital and lay hands on her and pray for healing.  As if my prayers have been somehow deficient or ineffective through a lack of proximity or correct technique.  This in turn leads to me wondering about how exactly the laying-on of hands should be conducted – a dramatic pose, a loud command, a silent plea, a bold declaration, a confident manner, a casual touch, a long or short explanation.  Should my niece be awake, asleep, aware, participating?

You can see what kinds of tracks my mind can go down as soon as I start to wonder about mechanics (undoubtedly informed more by dramatic movies of all types than by anything biblical and theological).  Maybe yours does (or would do) the same.  Maybe it wouldn’t.  I have no idea if these questions or ideas would even occur to a non-Christian, and so I don’t have any feel for how much all of this is actually shaped by the different Christian cultures I have been exposed to over the years.

But for me, it does illustrate the truth that helplessness can work to undermine our faith in Jesus.

Jesus never needed proximity to heal, although he certainly touched some people when he healed them.  Jesus is recorded as undertaking a range of different actions when he healed on some occasions, and no action at all at other times.  A cursory reading of the miracles described in the gospels gives a pointed reminder that the mechanics and techniques of praying for and delivering healing have no bearing on their effectiveness.

We either trust God to heal (and to decide when and who to heal in response to our prayers) or we don’t.  Do we think he is able, or do we think we somehow need to do something more to get his attention?

For myself, it’s knowing and trusting God as the all-knowing, all-good and all-powerful God who revealed himself and his love through Jesus, which allows me to resist the temptation to think that I need to do something to make him work for me.

God loves me, listens to my prayers, and he grants my requests or denies them based on the plans he is working out, not based on my ‘performance’.  I can trust him in that.

And that doesn’t mean I only need to ask once, and not keep asking if what I am asking for is a good thing and in God’s will – as healing is.  Just think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying for hours and hours on the night he was betrayed.

We can take our concerns, our helplessness and our distress to God over and over, just as Jesus did, because Jesus intercedes for us, when we ask for something that is good in itself, even if it doesn’t end up being part of God’s plans.

And it’s that return to the cross which reassures me – Jesus knew what God’s plan was for his arrest and execution.  And yet he was still able to pray for hours that God would remove that burden from him if it was possible, and entrust himself to God’s plans and care.  Looking to Jesus actually gives me the ability to follow Jesus and his example.

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