Reflection


[In the last while I a number of people close to me or loved ones have died. So obviously I have been reflecting on death and funerals and what they should be. Helping plan my late Mom’s funeral last year and planning a short eulogy for it forced me to start thinking. Mom was absolutely ready to go and displayed no fear, but trust. So what do I think?]

When I’m dead, not gone,
Spare me the conventional euphemisms:
“He didn’t make it”: Make what?
“Eternal sleep”: What a nightmare!
No-one just “passes away” before a firing squad
Or on a cross.

When I’m dead, not gone,
Spare me those comforting inaccuracies:
I shall not become an angel:
They are created beings;
I shall not be a star in the heavens:
They are matter, governed by the laws of physics.

When I’m dead, not gone,
Spare me those invalid philosophies:
Endless eastern recycling;
Anglo-Saxon or atheist oblivion;
A materialist’s nothing.

When I’m dead, not gone,
Spare me tears: I won’t be needing them,
But shed them for my family and friends
Who’ve loved me and will be missing me.

When I’m dead, not gone,
Spare me pity: I won’t deserve it.
There’ll be no more suffering, pain, despondency or disease;
I’ll be like a little kid running into his Dad’s arms.

When I’m dead, not gone,
Spare me the eulogies that ”celebrate my life”,
Because they cannot face my death.
If my deeds have helped others, that’s great and I’m glad.
For me they’ll be irrelevant and valueless, not a passport;
And anyway, it’s not about me.

Focus rather on what matters:
A wooden cross and an empty tomb.

Rom. 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.“
To read this passage in context, click: http://biblehub.com/niv/romans/3.htm

Rom 5:6 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
To read this passage in context, click: http://biblehub.com/niv/romans/5.htm

Rom 6:8 “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.”
To read this passage in context, click: http://biblehub.com/niv/romans/6.htm

You may find the following essay very comforting:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2013/05/two-kinds-of-funerals

A list of topics relating to death by John Piper
http://www.desiringgod.org/all-resources/by-topic/death-dying

http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/by-topic/death-dying

Love is not butterflies in the tummy
When you see him across the room;
Or a quick cuddle, or something else,
Behind the school hall.

Love is a woman bending over him,
Soothing his forehead as he lies there,
While in hushed tones the nurses whisper.

 

[I wrote this after I had spent a little time with an ex-colleague who was terminally ill in hospital; but it’s not limited to this one incident, and is a tribute to those who love — with all its pain — the terminally ill.]

[This was written in the week leading up to Good Friday this year.]

From the Cross
a drop of blood falls,
spreads out, washes over
Jerusalem, Samaria, Asia Minor
Europe, Africa, the whole world.

Arms stretched out,
the Man, the Son, cries out
“Come and bathe; wash yourselves clean.”
The blood of the Lamb: in each drop
– an ocean of forgiveness and Life.

From Media and Elam
The sound of marching feet
Thousands march, close-ordered ranks –
There are no guns or tanks!
Where once there was unjust despair
Now voices rejoice and sing:
“Jesus! Jesus!” Persia marches for her King!

Banished fear! Gone despair!
Feel the joy that’s in the air!
The thousands march: to North, to West, to East,
Gone the serpent, gone the beast,
A new star rises in the East.
The bells to heaven ring:
“Jesus! Jesus! Persia marches for her King!

Acts 2:7 shows Medes, Elamites and Parthians were among those who heard the Gospel in Peter’s Pentecost sermon. These groups dwelt in the geographical area of Iran/Persia.
To read this in context click the following link: http://biblehub.com/niv/acts/2.htm

“Remember those in prison, as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Hebrews 13:3. To read this in context click the following link: http://biblehub.com/niv/hebrews/13.htm

An enduring TV image in my mind from the war between Iran and Iraq is the picture of thousands young Iranians marching off to war against Saddam Hussein. Thousands of these would have met their deaths in this war. Now I have a “vision” of a new Iran with millions of Christians “marching” for Jesus.

Here’s some background:

Religious and political persecution are rife in Iran, a “theocratic” state, with the real power in the hands of the Guardian Council (6 Islamic legal experts).Most Iranians are Shiites. The Armenian Christian church is tolerated: its services are not in the main Iranian language, Farsi. Recently many Farsi language churches have been closed down; so the majority of Iranians cannot access the Gospel. House churches are banned. “Threats to Iran’s security” is the usual “crime” Christians are charged with.
There have been several high profile cases of persecution (many more!):

June 9, 2013 Mohammad-Hadi (Mostafa) Bordbar, a Christian convert resident of Rasht, was tried by Judge Pir-Abbasi on the morning of in branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. Mr. Bordbar had been arrested during Christmas holidays on December 27, 2012. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison for membership in a so-called “anti-security organization” [i.e. Christian church/housechurch] and an additional 5 years for gathering with intent to commit crimes against Iranian national security.
2013: Pastor Saeed Abedini  Sentenced to 8 years in Prison in Jan. 2013; born in Iran;  dual US/Iranian citizenship (US citizenship not recognised by Iran); married to Naghmeh, an Iranian-born US citizen; with 2 children; arrested while working on a government-approved orphanage; in Teheran’s notorious Evin prison, section 350; beaten severely; internal bleeding; denied medical treatment. Naghmeh has addressed UNO on his imprisonment. At least 30 people in Evin prison have since become Christians!
2012 October : Pastor Behnam Irani and 7 members of Church of Shiraz arrested.
2012: Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani released,  (initially sentenced to death; given 3 years for converting Muslims) after much international campaigning.
2012 January: a number of evangelical Christians arrested.
2011 December: Alireza Seyyedian -a follower of Jesus since 2006, arrested and sentenced to six years in December 2011. He is kept in the section 350 of Evin Prison.
2011 & 2010: 130+ Iranian Christians arrested just before Christmas. The Governor of Tehran  vowed to arrest more evangelical Christians.
2011: Rev. Leonard Keshishian, the pastor of the Assemblies of God, Isfahan, arrested
2010: Mehdi “Petros” Foroutan, a 27-year-old pastor in Iran, arrested and charged with crimes against national security and blasphemy against Islam (“standard” charges).
2010 December 26: Farshid Fathi arrested in a wave of arrests of believers in Tehran and other areas; sentenced to six years of imprisonment. Also in Evin Prison.

Useful links:

http://www.mohabatnews.com/ (especially Iran)

International Christian Concern (Website): http://www.persecution.org

International Christian Concern (Facebook Page): https://www.facebook.com/persecuted

Voice of the Martyrs: http://www.persecution.com/

Jihad Watch: http://www.jihadwatch.org/

Pastor Saeed Abedini (Iran) (Facebook Page): https://www.facebook.com/PrayForPastorSaeedAbedini AND https://www.facebook.com/StandingTogetherForHumanRightsInIran

http://www.familysecuritymatters.org/publications/detail/angela-merkel-calls-christianity-the-worlds-most-persecuted-faith 

Iran (a very comprehensive listing): http://www.farsinet.com/persecuted/

Prisoner Alert (a list of several Christians in various countries): http://www.prisoneralert.com

Gatestone Institute International Policy Council (World overview of persecution) http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org

A mainstream press which has reported on persecution: http://www.washingtontimes.com   /news/2013/may/5/more-900-christians-killed-nigeria-last-year/

OneNewsNow  (AFN – a Christian news service): http://www.onenewsnow.com /persecution/2013/05/31/deadliest-place-to-be-a-christian-nigeria

http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews
/world/2013/April/Tanzania-Islamic-Persecutors-Target-Christian-Pastors/

Christian Solidarity Worldwide: http://dynamic.csw.org.uk/article.asp?t=press&id=1560

WHAT CAN WE DO?
Aquaint     ourselves with what’s going on
Come         before God in prayer
Tell         others (e.g. “Share” on Facebook, etc.)
Support –     in any other way possible (Prisoner Alert facilitates your writing letters to those in prison. NB Do NOT criticise their governments in your letter!). You can post your prayers on Praye for Pastor Abedini’s Facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/PrayForPastorSaeedAbedini).

This is the text of the sermon delivered at my Mom’s Memorial Service on 28 June 2013. It was delivered by my son, Marcus, a Theology student. It was also the first “real” sermon he preached!It summarises our salvation.

You can look up the Biblical references by clicking on them.

 
The Battle Won: Standing by grace in the holy place

 
Reading from Psalm 24. http://biblehub.com/niv/psalms/24.htm
New Testament reading from Hebrews 12:18-29. http://biblehub.com/niv/hebrews/12.htm

 
[Prayer before sermon]
Father of mercies and God of all comfort, help us today to comprehend that we have a strong and certain hope in the midst of grief.  Lord, you have the words of eternal life [Jn 6:68]; where else shall we go?  We ask that your Holy Spirit who inspired these words of Scripture would give us understanding, that according to your great mercy we might know the living hope kept in heaven: imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.  In the name of Jesus, who is the Resurrection and the Life, Amen.

 
Dear friends and family, thank you for this opportunity to remember my grandmother with you and to take encouragement with you in a few precious truths from the Scriptures.  It is the paradox of a Christian’s death that ours is a joyful grief; for, as the Apostle Paul says, though we do grieve, we do not grieve as those who have no hope [1Thes 4:13].

 
The passage we read from the letter to the Hebrews speaks vividly of our great hope and comfort: Lilian Collins, my Gran, has come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the assembly of all who are enrolled in heaven.  Her name, together with the names of all who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, has been written there for all eternity.  She stands now, together with a great cloud of witnesses [Heb 12:1], in the very presence of the Father, God Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth and judge of all; and her standing place there has been secured by the blood of the victorious Lord Jesus Christ, who endured the scorn of the cross [Heb 12:2] to redeem all who would trust wholly in him, to the praise of his glorious grace.  That is why I have titled this message “The battle won: Standing by grace in the holy place.”  Yes, friends, the battle has been won, and she stands by grace in the holy place.

 
My Gran desired that Psalm 24 be the text for her memorial, and I invite you to turn there with me, while keeping in mind this magnificent picture in Hebrews 12 of true worship of the true and living God.  Psalm 24 asks us two very direct questions.   This morning we will consider primarily the first question, which is at the heart of this psalm: “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?  Who shall stand in his holy place?” [Psa 24:3]  I pray that we will receive further hope, comfort, and encouragement from the Lord as we understand the basis for our confidence that, more alive now than ever before, my Gran now experiences unending and unhindered joy in the very presence of God.  As the English minister and poet John Donne said, “No man ever saw God and lived.  And yet, I shall not live till I see God; and when I have seen him, I shall never die.”[John Donne, sermon XCV, on Job 19:26.]

 
Now, to give you just a little background, Psalm 24 is a song composed by King David, who was king of Israel around 3000 years ago.  It is a triumphant song which David wrote to commemorate the arrival of the Ark of the Covenant at Mount Zion in Jerusalem.[2 Sam 6]  This Ark of the Covenant (or promise) was a gold-plated wooden box, a little over a metre long, containing the Ten Commandments and other reminders of God’s just and providential care and guidance of his people, the Israelites.  Most importantly, it symbolised God himself dwelling among his people, his glory resting with them – even as in the Exodus God had rescued his people from Egypt and his presence and protection were symbolised by the pillar of cloud and of fire.  And when Israel went into battle, the Ark went before them, a picture that God himself was leading them and winning the victory for them.  So the arrival of the Ark at Mount Zion in Jerusalem was a momentous occasion – one of the highlights of the Old Testament – for it symbolised the very presence of God with his people, and his faithfulness to the promises he had made to them.

 
Psalm 24 begins by recognising God as the sovereign creator, ruler, and sustainer of all the universe, and especially of us, the people dwelling therein, whom he has created as distinct from the rest of creation to be in special relationship with him.  Therefore he alone is worthy of worship, worthy of praise and glory and honour.  It is the question of how we ought to worship God, of how we may enjoy his presence, which concerns us in this Psalm; and answering that question will give us confidence in our comfort today.

 
David asks, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?  Who shall stand in his holy place?”  To ascend and stand before the Lord is to be in his holy, pure, perfect presence, to enjoy the fellowship with God for which we were created – that fellowship which Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden before they rebelled [Gen 3] against God’s good and just rule and sought to usurp his perfect moral authority; that fellowship which was broken because of their rebellion.  To be in God’s holy presence, worshipping him, is the highest privilege and the deepest joy of all, and the fulfilment of our most ardent longings.  As David exclaimed in another Psalm, “In your presence is fullness of joy”[Psa 16:11; cf. Psa 21:6.].  And we learn elsewhere that it was on this occasion commemorated in Psalm 24 that David danced before the Lord with all his might [2 Sam 6:14.], so great was his rejoicing at the prospect of being in the presence of the Lord.  That is the same joy we see in the celebration of Hebrews 12.  And that, dear friends, is the fullness of joy which my Gran now experiences, and this gives us comfort in the midst of our grief.

 
But the question, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?  Who shall stand in his holy place?” is no matter of mere formality.  This is not a simple question of etiquette, about how to approach a state president or the Queen, of what to wear, what to say, when to bow or curtsey.  This is far more weighty, as the passage in Hebrews reminds us: “Our God is a consuming fire.”  And we will find unshakeable confidence for our comfort as we answer the question, “Who shall stand in his holy place?”

 
David answers this question, “He who has clean hands and a pure heart.”  But think for a moment of the implications of this.  The great King David himself committed adultery with Bathsheba, tried to cover up the resulting pregnancy, and finally had Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, murdered.  He is hardly the kind of person of whom we might say, “He had clean hands.”  But to take it further, the Lord Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew [Mat 5:27-30; 21-22.] taught that adultery and murder were not simply matters committed by the hand.  Jesus said, if you’ll pardon the paraphrase, that adultery was not jumping into bed with the wrong woman: that was the result of adultery, which we have already committed in our hearts in every lustful glance.  Likewise, murder was not taking a stick and bashing someone over the head: that was the result of murder, which we have already committed in our hearts in every malicious thought.  Jesus’ teaching revealed that we are all at heart adulterers and murderers.  Not one of us has a pure heart, even if we might claim to have clean hands.  Who, then, shall ascend the hill of the Lord?  Who shall stand in his holy place?  Psalm 24 anticipates the answer that not one of us can qualify by virtue of our own righteousness, yet it holds out hope to all who acknowledge they have dirty hands and defiled hearts.

 
You have heard how my Gran did not want a eulogy at her memorial.  She did not presume to come to the table of our merciful Lord – nor, finally, to his throne in glory – trusting in her own righteousness, but in his manifold and great mercies.  Righteousness – that is, the ability to stand in the presence of the holy, holy, holy God without fear of judgement and condemnation – this righteousness is not earned, but rather received.  There are no good deeds we could ever do to merit the favour of God and so restore fellowship with him, because at the end of the day all our attempts at self-righteousness are like filthy rags [Isa 64:6.] before the holiness, the moral perfection, of God.  No, friends, the righteousness that saves is, as verse 5 says, “righteousness from the God of [our] salvation”.  It is righteousness not of our own doing, but of God’s gracious giving.

 
This is why we can be confident in this great comfort, friends, which we can have today that my Gran is in the joyous presence of the Lord.  We must not ask, “Was she enough of a saint to enter heaven and stand before God, the holy God of all the world?” – for she appears before the throne of God not clothed in her own good works, but in the righteousness that God has given to all who put their trust wholly in what Christ Jesus has done.

 
In the New Testament letter of James, which was one of my Gran’s favourites, James writes that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”[Jam 4:6.]  The proud are those who trust in their own resources for their salvation (their good works, rituals, a legacy, etc.), rather than trusting in God; they will be opposed and condemned by God as rebels against his just and perfect rule.  But the humble are those who realise that the project of self-salvation is futile. They acknowledge that they are indeed rebels against God and deserve his judgement, and they humbly cast themselves on his mercy, trusting wholly in what Christ has done.  God gives grace to the humble.

 
Think again of that Ark of the Covenant, whose arrival at Mount Zion in Jerusalem marked the occasion for this Psalm.  On top of the Ark was fashioned what was called the “mercy seat” or “atonement cover”, and it was there that God had said he would meet with Moses, Aaron, and the high priests [Exo 25:21-22].  They could come into the presence of God only if he were merciful to them, and only if their sins were atoned for, that is, paid for; otherwise, their own sinfulness would render them liable to his just judgement.  They could not approach trusting in their own righteousness, but only trusting in his faithfulness and mercy.  They did have to come in perfect righteousness – but that righteousness was not of themselves.  Instead, it was a righteousness given to them by God, by virtue of their trust in his promises, rather than their merits, and on the basis of the blood of a sacrifice sprinkled on the mercy seat to signify that another had died in their place, to atone for their sin [Lev16; Heb 9:5.].
Friends, in the letter to the Hebrews, from which we read earlier, we are also told that the Ark of the Covenant, all the temple furnishings, its sacrificial system, and its high priests, were a picture pointing prophetically forward to the coming Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He indeed manifested the presence of God, as the Gospel of John tells us: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”[Joh 1:14.]  He alone came with clean hands and a pure heart, not only to Mount Zion, but also to the Mount of Golgotha, to Calvary, to the cross.  There he was crucified as a perfect sacrifice in the place of all those who would trust in him.  By his death he paid the penalty for their sins, and by his resurrection he secured their eternal life with him in glory.

 
The letter to the Hebrews tells us again, “Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf….  He has appeared once for all … to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”[Heb 9:24-26.]  Because Christ stood in the place of judgement on our behalf, all who trust in him receive the righteousness of the God of their salvation, and may stand in the holy place, in the presence of God.  As the Apostle Paul puts it, “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”[2 Cor 5:21.]  Those who trust in him are forgiven their sins, clothed in the righteousness of God, and reconciled to God, and will experience the fullness of joy in the presence of God for all eternity.  This is the basis of our confidence for our great comfort and joy today: not that my Gran was a good person, but that she trusted in the only good Saviour.

 
We have not asked the second question Psalm 24 poses, though we’ve already seen the answer to it: “Who is this King of glory?”  Just as the Ark of the Covenant went before the nation of Israel to show that it was God himself who was mighty in battle on their behalf to conquer their enemies, so it is Christ Jesus who has fought on our behalf to conquer the great enemy, sin, and has risen victorious from the grave to show that death, too, is ultimately conquered.

 
The King of Glory is, indeed, none other than the risen and ascended Christ, the Lord, strong and mighty, mighty in battle over sin and death, who has ascended and entered into heaven itself – the only One with clean hands and a pure heart qualified to do so.  For him the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem are flung wide open to admit their King.  But this King of Glory, strong and mighty, will also carry all who trust in him, rather than in their own efforts, up the hill of the Lord, to stand in the holy place.  Our confidence, our comfort, our joy and encouragement rest in Christ alone, the King of Glory.  The battle is won, friends: stand (with my Gran) by grace in the holy place.

I went to the vet the other day. In fact just three weeks after my Mom died, I had to put my beloved cat down. The vet said Mr Tiggles was suffering and would not get better, and putting him down was the right thing to do.

Now we know this vet, and when other vets had given up with a previous problem, he had persisted until Tigger came right. I don’t class myself as an animal lover, but Tig has taught me a great deal: in fact he had previously taught me some things about God as well (which I intend to repost later); now in his death (as my wife, my daughter and I sobbed our hearts out) he was teaching me something again.

When a day or so later I was expressing some doubts about having The Tig put down, I was told, “D__ (the vet) knows him, and loves animals; you should rely on his judgement.” And here was the lesson. God knows when we should die.

Have you ever wondered why some people who are prayed for do not get visible healing? I have. And only recently have I begun to get the glimmer of an understanding about this.

Some years back our church had a lady who was a leader of a woman’s group, and was really loved and respected. She went down with an incurable disease relating to her nervous system, which led to a slow, progressive death. She was prayed for, and prayed for, and prayed for. I recall at one service the assistant minister said that we weren’t even going to pray for healing “if it was God’s will” because we knew it was God’s will for her to be healed, and so she WOULD be. I felt really uncomfortable about this, but at the time couldn’t articulate even mentally why I felt that way. Was I just in revolt because (according to the minister in charge) I did not speak in tongues and therefore did not have the Holy Spirit?

Both my wife and I had also been prayed for; been told; “You are healed: now walk in your healing;” and certainly still suffered. Because we weren’t healed, the blame (i.e. guilt) for that was plonked on us: not enough faith.

I belong to a kind of email-based intercession group. Some of the people we’ve prayed for have had healing (disease, injury, financial circumstances), and some (outstanding people in their churches) have not been healed as we know it, and have died. Did we not have enough faith? Did we not put in enough effort? Did we not twist God’s arm enough?

Whose healing is it anyway?

A close friend of mine has a very dear friend who has cancer. This has spread to various organs, including the brain. We have obviously been praying for healing; but, medically speaking, the outlook is gloomy. My friend was “tackled” for considering the possibility that her friend would die, the argument implying: if you admit to the possibility that your friend could die, you lack the faith required for him to be healed.

Again, as far as I am concerned, we have the heresy that faith implies that we can say there will definitely be a healing, and we usually mean of the physical sort.

To assert this is the same (I think) as saying Naghmeh Abedini’s pastor-husband, Saeed, is still in gaol in Iran because she doesn’t have enough faith that he’ll be released. If you believe that, you haven’t heard Naghmeh’s testimony.

If everyone were healed, we’d have people who were centuries old in their “current” physical bodies. It’s a fallen world: everyone has to die: “… people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,.” wrote Paul [Hebrews 9:27]. Under these natural (fallen) circumstances I have no wish at all to invite you to my 5304th birthday tea!

Of course, if all suffering is illogical and random, the only thing that matters is what makes us feel good.

Moreover, whose Sovereignty is it anyway? Is there any purpose in suffering? If our suffering has a purpose, then (firstly) it’s not all pointless and (second) it will stop only when that purpose has been achieved. If we hold that God is sovereign, then He has a right to choose, and that probably won’t sit too well with our quasi-democratic – and definitely self-centred – notions; but we don’t call the shots: God does.

Let’s go back to Naghmeh and Saeed: since he’s been imprisoned in Evin he has brought at least 30 people to know Jesus. Given that he is an evangelist, this means he is accomplishing his purpose while suffering in gaol: his life and suffering have themselves become a testimony. Naghmeh has addressed the issue at the UN – so those people have heard the Gospel. She’s been on US and BBC programmes in the Farsi language during prime viewing time in Iran, and has testified to Jesus; so thousands of Iranians have now heard the Gospel. Of course we all pray for his release, and that of all the others who are imprisoned or persecuted for their faith in Jesus.

My wife spent 3 weeks suffering in hospital because of a totally smashed ankle: during those three weeks, I learned the meaning of Grace. My friend went through suffering in her marriage; our prayers for her husband weren’t answered according to our wishes; but, having seen her suffering and tested, I know her faith is real, and that she’s not just some perennial optimist. And so she has been a massive blessing to me and my whole family – because of her suffering.

Let’s return to her friend’s suffering. Can her friend’s suffering have any purpose, and, if so, what would that be? As Christians our main purpose is to glorify God. While we can see that a healing would glorify God, could his suffering also not glorify God? I look at their rock-solid faith and I’m amazed (I know I shouldn’t be) at it and Who it’s inspired by; I see evidence of God’s Holy Spirit in him and in my friend as they go through this. I know theirs is not an airy-fairy feel-good, warms-the-cockles-of-my-heart kind of faith. It’s not the kind of faith that wheel-spins in vain in the mud: it’s got traction; it pulls them through because it’s engaged with God. It glorifies Him because God’s strength is shown in their “weakness” of suffering.

When my friend’s friend dies, I have no doubt that he’ll go to heaven and be with the God he has served so faithfully for decades, because he is in a right relationship with God. He’s getting promotion from this world to a world of glory. He’ll be no longer susceptible to suffering, pain and death. His promotion will depend on the Boss. What right have we to demand that God should heal him? Whose sovereignty is it anyway?

Does this mean I’m callous? I don’t think so: I’ve literally cried over their pain and because the happiness of their friendship will be cut short, and I still pray for healing.

I pray God will heal him and that, if it is not God’s will to heal him, that He will grant him:

1    unshakable CONFIDENCE is his salvation;
2    CONTENTMENT with his life;
3    the CONSOLATION that his salvation and God’s Grace afford in this life;
4    physical COMFORT in his suffering;
5    COURAGE to live each day trusting God.

Am I demonstrating a lack of faith? Am I hedging my bets? I don’t think so.

I do not doubt God’s ability to heal him physically; I don’t know if that is God’s will: there is a difference.

The leper in Matthew 8:2 illustrates what I mean: “A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean’.” He exercised faith in Jesus and recognised the supremacy of God’s will in this.

Are we going to accuse Paul of a lack of faith because he was not healed from whatever it was (some think, malaria) that he suffered from?

” Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. T.hat is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” [2Cor12:7] He wasn’t healed the way he would have wanted to be; and note the reason for the suffering: to keep him dependent on God and to glorify God.

Did Daniel say “Chuck me into the furnace and God WILL rescue me from it”?

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up’.”[Daniel 3:16]

Daniel considered the possibility that God might NOT rescue him, but he still demonstrated faith: “God CAN rescue me IF He wants to; but EVEN IF He doesn’t I’ll still listen to Him rather than to you.” Our faith must be an EVEN IF faith as well as a BECAUSE faith. Our faith must be in God and not in our own faith (which I have just learned is called “fideism”).

So, if someone who has had prayer for healing is not healed outwardly/physically (which is what we tend to mean – and God understands that), we mustn’t think it’s due to a lack of faith and heap guilt onto that person or on those who are praying for him or her. Who made us the judge? It’s God’s decision whether He will heal, not ours. It’s His agenda, not ours that must count; if we don’t respect that we are denying His sovereignty.

Like the vet, God knows when it’s our time to die. God is the loving, almighty, sovereign Lord – not a genie in a bottle.

 

To read the quoted Scriptures in their context, click on the links below:

Hebrews 9:7
http://biblehub.com/niv/hebrews/9.htm

Matthew 8:2
http://biblehub.com/niv/matthew/8.htm

2 Corinthians 12:7
http://biblehub.com/niv/2_corinthians/12.htm

Daniel 3:16
http://biblehub.com/niv/daniel/3.htm