|Practicing the Presence of God for Healing|
|An Alternative Way to Celebrate Christian Healing in a Public Format|
|By The Ven. Larry Mitchell|
|Text of his talk for the OSL Online Telephone Conference Call on May 18, 2014|
|What would happen if the only active role we played was to reassure the person that they are in God’s presence and that God knows their need and knows exactly what to do for them… then to invite them to rest in the presence of God and to allow the Spirit of Jesus to fill, to surround and to heal them?|
In the very beginning of Genesis we are told that God’s Spirit or Presence moved across the face of the earth bringing into being the world and all living beings, and that God was happy with creation because it was just as God meant it to be, perfect, whole and without blemish. It wasn’t very long however, before the story changed and things began to come apart as we read about evil, sin, sickness, and disease, destroying that which God created to be perfect.
The Bible however does not leave us without the hope of a solution to this human dilemma because at the beginning of John’s Gospel, which we could call the story of re-creation we are told that the “word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” God’s solution to bring creation back to the way it was meant to be was to send His Son, Jesus to become God’s presence in our midst as the word of life, and the Saviour and healer of the world. Genesis talks about creation and how humankind messed it up, and John gives God’s response by talking about re-creation and God’s solution to heal and restore it. The story of recreation and renewal is rooted in and nourished by the fact that it is a result of God’s healing presence in our world.
The power of the healing presence of God is found in all of the healing stories. As an example, in Mark 1:21-28, in the healing of the man with an unclean spirit the evil spirits recognized that when they were in Jesus’ presence they were also in the presence of Almighty God and that is why the evil spirit cried out, “What do you want with us Jesus of Nazareth, …I know who you are, the Holy One of God!” At Jesus’ command the evil spirit threw the man down on the ground and then left him. To prove that Jesus was sent to heal and restore us back to God’s original purpose in the healing stories one thing stands out and it is that in the presence of Jesus as in the presence of God evil, sickness, disease and sin cannot stand or remain because they are totally inconsistent with the will of God. Healing consistently happened with Jesus because the presence of the living God dwelt within him and when evil, sickness, disease and sin met up with the presence of the living God in the life of Jesus they were conquered, defeated and destroyed. Right from the very beginning of the Old Testament it is quite clear that creative and healing power flows in the presence of our creative and healing God and the New Testament is equally as clear in saying that that creativity and power resides in the life of Jesus and in the lives of those who are in Jesus.
The Bible continues to impart God’s healing message of love in the world today and the church is to proclaim it and to become an earthly vessel for God’s healing presence as it reaches out and tells the world that it is God’s will to heal and that God’s gift of healing comes to us in and through the presence of Jesus in our lives. For Christians, the presence of Jesus stands at the centre of everything we do and is the message of everything we proclaim and the result of that proclamation is always renewal, restoration and healing.
Our OSL group just finished studying “Finding Hope and healing in the Bible” by Roy Lawrence. In that book, in the framework of healing and the possession of healing gifts, Roy made the following comment:
“The scriptural centre point of the healing ministry does not lie in the possession of special gifts but in the practice of the presence of Christ. ….Being a Christian involves ‘union with Christ’ – literally the experience of being ‘in Christ’ and the heart of the Christian healing ministry is union with the healing Christ. We are called to be infected by his healing nature and then to pass on that infection to others. It is a ministry for all Christians, irrespective of whether we may or may not have an individual ‘gift’. It is the prime mission of the church within this sick world. The New Testament stresses that the resources behind this mission must never be underestimated. Indeed the transforming power of union with Christ is such that according to St. Paul it can be described as nothing less than ‘new creation’ (2 Cor. 5:17) Page 106
Roy’s comment: “The scriptural centre point of the healing ministry does not lie in the possession of special gifts but in the practice of the presence of Christ and being a Christian involves ‘union with Christ’” rang true to some thoughts that I had been having and had tried to work with during the last few healing services that I had been asked to conduct. Since healing is a natural result of standing in the presence of the living God I wondered what might happen if our public services of healing were designed in such a way as to concentrate not so much on the ministry of prayer but on the ministry of the presence of God as a living reality in people’s lives. I thought of how I and others had experienced the power of the healing presence of God in Mike Endicott’s Celtic healing service and wondered if there might be a way of facilitating that same atmosphere in a public healing service.
I decided to see if it was possible to design a public healing service in such a way that people could more readily experience the living presence of our healing God and experience the healing that flows not so much from our prayers but from simply being in the presence of our awesome God. To do this the focus for receiving healing would be to come in silence into the presence of God and to allow God’s healing to flow. I wanted to see if we could develop a way to help people become totally dependent on God for their healing and not on the healing service or on the ministry of the prayer teams. I stressed the fact that the function of the prayer team was not to minister healing but to help the person focus on the healing presence of Jesus in their lives. The team’s major role was to introduce the person to Jesus and then to get out of the way and watch Jesus do his work. To do this we needed to develop a different approach to the practice of public healing prayer then we had become accustomed to practicing it. In my experience the normal routine for prayer ministry was that a person would come forward and meet with a prayer team who would ask the person to state their prayer concern and then the team would pray accordingly asking God’s healing touch upon the person especially in the specific area of their lives that was their immediate concern. My experience with this was that the prayer team might focus more on the expressed problem rather than helping the person to focus on the fact that they were standing in the presence of the healer. I wanted to see what would happen if the only active role we played was to reassure the person that they are in God’s presence and that God knows their need and knows exactly what to do for them, then to invite them to rest in the presence of God and to allow the Spirit of Jesus to fill, to surround and to heal them.
To do this the prayer ministers were instructed to wrap the person in a prayer shawl which would symbolize being wrapped in the presence of the living God and then as a sign of the presence of living God working in their lives to anoint and lay hands on them to give them a sense of being surrounded and immersed in God’s love. In order to help the supplicant focus on God presence in their lives the prayer ministers were to say nothing except to reassure the person of God’s love and will to heal them and then in silence to just allow the Lord to minister his healing grace as they silently lifted the person up into God’s healing presence.
There are many ways that the church uses to minister the healing power of Jesus and most of us have seen people healed, restored and forgiven and equally most of us have seen people leave a prayer session seemingly in the same way that they came. We don’t know why some people are healed through prayer and why others are not. But I have come to believe that in any healing situation the reality is that most of the work is done and God’s healing has begun when a person makes and acts upon their decision to come forward to receive healing prayer. I see that decision as the ultimate act of faith in the person’s life. This has led me to believe that when one comes forward for healing verbal prayers are really not necessary because one can be confident that God is already at work and healing has begun and that God’s will for that person will be completed as that person is immersed in God’s healing presence. How and when it will be completed is not our prerogative but is in the hands of the healing Christ.
One of the things that I have learned as I am sure that you all have about healing ministry is that Christian healing depends not on me but on God. Approaching a service of healing in this way helps me to keep the focus on God and not on the person or on myself as a prayer minister. I find that so often in a prayer situation that as a healing minister I was becoming frustrated because I was beginning to feel that the person’s healing depended on me getting things right which is totally ridiculous because I am not the one who heals and thanks be to God it is not in my mandate or yours to be the healer. That is the mandate of Jesus and will of God in and through the ministry of Jesus.
To see how this might work in the context of a public healing service, we needed to deal with the logistics of the service. To do this, chairs were set around the altar facing the altar which is the focal point of the Eucharist through which we receive healing as we take part in the Holy Communion. Those who came forward for healing were seated as a chair became vacant. Two clergy were given the responsibility to anoint each supplicant and lay people to wrap the person in God’s love and presence. Each person that came forward to receive healing would sit in silence facing the altar. They would then be wrapped in a prayer shawl, anointed with the oil of healing and hands would be laid upon them as they were bathed in God’s presence.
In order to help people focus on God’s presence we played some quiet meditative healing music in the background during the prayer time. After a period of time a minister would lead the congregation on behalf of the supplicants in an appropriate prayer for their healing. We reminded them before they came forward to know in their hearts that God heals and wants to heal them. As they were seated around the altar we encouraged them to rest in the presence of our healing God and allow the Spirit of Jesus to flow into them and around them… healing and restoring them to health and wholeness.
The power of this type of healing ministry was that there was no need to use words to persuade God to do something that is in the very nature of God to do anyway. Noticeably different at these services was that one could sense in a most powerful way the presence of Jesus permeating the whole church, and instead of a few people coming forward for prayer… at least 90 to 95 percent of the congregation came forward. They were lined up in the aisle. Something beautiful was happening not only in the lives of those who came forward, but also in the lives of those who did not.
The success and the real purpose of the healing ministry is dependant not on the effectiveness of our prayers but on the effectiveness of our ability to bring a person into the healing presence of Jesus. The power of the healing ministry truly has to do with resting in God’s presence and our role as healing ministers is to bring the person into that presence, introduce them to Jesus and then to stand back to witness the miracle of Jesus doing the work of healing. As healing ministers it is not important or necessary for us to know what the person wants or should want or what we think God might want for the person we are there to be for them the tangible presence of the intangible God. The most helpful thing we can do as ministers of healing is to bring a person into the healing presence of Jesus, help them focus on the healing Christ and then stand with them in silence and awe allowing God to speak and minister to them his healing grace. You see we don’t have to have all of the answers in fact we don’t have to have any answers accept that God loves us and wants us to be healed which is the core of the Gospel as the old familiar hymn states so simply, “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so…” Therefore we don’t need to feel responsible for praying all the right words because our role is to become for that person a tangible earthly presence through which the intangible heavenly God can and will act. I have come to believe that it is true that God’s healing happens as we immerse ourselves in the healing presence of Jesus.
The wonder and beauty of the healing ministry is never if God will heal us but always when God heals us and that is the good news that we have for the world. As you have the opportunity to bask in the healing presence of Jesus just focus your life, your mind and your spirit on him and as you are wrapped in a blanket of prayer and anointed with the oil of healing know that you are receiving God’s gift of healing in your life. Remember that God is love and God loves you and God’s ultimate act of love for you is to heal you and make you whole. That is the Gospel and is the message of the cross which stands at the centre of our faith. To that we say “Praise be to God, Amen.”