Does God still heal?

A few months ago, in one of our evening Bible studies, the question of healing was raised: does God still heal? One of the men was convinced that God can and does still heal, and he had a lot of questions about this. And so finally, I asked him to read a book that I felt could explain both healing and prayer for him. I gave him a copy of William Vaswig’s book, I Prayed, He Answered. In the book, Vaswig, a pastor from California, tells the story of his teenage son, Philip, who was diagnosed at age eighteen as being paranoid schizophrenic. The doctors told Vaswig and his wife that their son would probably never be entirely well, and that it would likely take eight to ten years of weekly psychotherapy before they would even begin to see any improvement.

Pastor Vaswig and his wife had been praying for Philip for years, as had his entire congregation—but no healing occurred. Then Vaswig’s wife suggested that they contact a woman who, years earlier, had written a book called The Healing Light. Vaswig was skeptical, but because he was desperate he wrote a letter to the author, a woman named Agnes Sanford.  She agreed to meet with Vaswig and his son and when she did, she prayed for Philip—and for Pastor Vaswig.

Agnes Sanford prayed for Philip again five days later, then several more times over the next six months. At the end of that time, Philip seemed to be completely healed—despite the fact that he had stopped seeing his psychiatrist when Agnes began to pray for him.

Pastor Vaswig and his wife were hopeful that prayer had healed their son, but they wanted to be sure. So they took him back to be evaluated by his doctor, as well as by a group of psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric social workers. At the end of a lengthy evaluation process, the head of the team, who also happened to be a former president of the American Psychiatric Association, said, “Call it God, call it healing, call it a miracle, call it whatever you wish. The fact is, Philip is fully recovered.”

Does God still heal today? Pastor Vaswig and his wife believe that God healed their son.

Pastor Herb Mjorud, a Lutheran pastor who was one of the pioneers in the Lutheran renewal movement that began in the 1970’s. In his book Dare to Believe, Mjorud tells of his experiences with healing prayer. One of his earliest experiences was with a man in his congregation named George who tells him that he has been diagnosed with a rare heart problem for which there is no known cure. George has been told that he has only a couple of months to live. But, George tells him, he has been reading his Bible and James 5:14-15 says: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.”

Now Pastor Mjorud had been taught at his Lutheran seminary that we could not expect God to heal—or to perform any other miracles, for that matter. And so he was hesitant to pray as George wanted him to. George, on the other hand, was quite confident. “Let’s do what the Bible says,” he told Mjorud, “Call the deacons and have them pray over me and anoint me with oil.”

Pastor Mjorud reluctantly agreed and they set a time to meet the next day. He called the deacons and went out and bought a bottle of olive oil. Then he called a few other people from the congregation that he knew were strong pray-ers, thinking that “maybe if I call enough Christians, someone among us might be able to pray that prayer of faith.”

Fourteen people gathered in the sanctuary the next day and they prayed for George, anointed him with oil, and claimed the promise of James 5. When they were finished, George stood up and said, “I feel much better.” Where he had walked in supported by his wife and a friend, he walked out on his own. Mjorud, still skeptical, was astonished when George returned a few days later to say that he had been examined by his heart specialist—twice—and that they found his heart to be fully healed! Mjorud said that George was still very much alive at the time that he wrote this story, some eighteen years after it occurred.

Mjorud wrote of many other healings that he had witnessed during his years of ministry. Among them:

  • He tells of a telephone lineman whose doctor said that he would never regain consciousness after a fall; Mjorud prayed for him and three days later, the man spoke. A year later he was back at work.
  • He tells of a young woman named Emily who was blind. Mjorud prayed for her and the next morning she could see a pinprick of light. After six months, tests at the Mayo Clinic showed that she had 20/20 vision.

Does God still heal today? Florida cardiologist Chauncey Crandall didn’t used to think so. Crandall used to keep his Christian faith and his profession separate—until one day when a man collapsed of a heart attack at the entrance to the emergency room and was pronounced dead. Despite being shocked repeatedly with defibrillator paddles, his heartbeat had flatlined.

As the man was being prepared for the morgue, Dr. Crandall obeyed a mysterious yet compelling urge to pray for the man even though he had already been declared dead. Despite the fact that Crandall, says “I did not know this man, and, frankly, I felt embarrassed by the impulse to pray for him,” he did. He prayed, “Father God, I cry out for this man’s soul. If he does not know You as his Lord and Savior, raise him from the dead now, in Jesus’ name.” After which he turned to the ER doctor and told him to shock the dead man again. He did and the dead man’s heart began to beat perfectly.

Crandall says that “In my more than twenty years as a cardiologist, I have never seen a heartbeat restored so completely and suddenly.”  The man is still alive and healthy today—and a strong Christian.

Crandall goes on in his book, Raising the Dead, to describe many other miraculous events that he has witnessed since that day when he began to combine the power of prayer with his skill as a nationally recognized cardiologist.

Does God still heal today? Scripture tells us that God is unchanging—that He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Our gospel tells us about two of the many healings that Jesus performed during His earthly ministry. Blind men see and a man who is mute is able to speak.

And out Old Testament reading tells us about King Hezekiah, who was healed of a terminal disease. We read that he “became sick and was at the point of death” (2 Kings 20:1). Isaiah the prophet came to see Hezekiah and told him that he would not recover, and so should prepare himself for death.

How did Hezekiah respond? He prayed—he cried out to God for healing. He prayed fervently and he wept bitterly. And God responded—quickly. We read that even “before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court,” God was sending him back to tell Hezekiah that He had changed His mind. God said, “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you” (2 Kings 20:5). God told Hezekiah that He would add fifteen years to his life. And He promised even more—He promised that He would deliver Hezekiah and the city out of the hand of the king of Assyria.

We read in the 18th chapter of the Second book of Kings that Hezekiah became the king of Judah when he was twenty-five years old. And, we are told, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. … He trusted in the Lord the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered” (2 Kings 18:3, 5-7).

Hezekiah was a man who knew the Lord and who was accustomed to taking all his problems to Him. And so when Isaiah told him that he would not recover, but was going to die, Hezekiah didn’t argue with him. He didn’t talk about how unfair it was, he didn’t call all his friends and ask them what they thought he should do. No, none of these things. Instead, “Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord” (2 Kings 20:2). And in his prayer, he said, “Please remember [Lord] how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly” (2 Kings 3). Hezekiah poured out his heart to the Lord. He talked to God the way that we talk to someone we know and trust. He cried out in desperation.

He didn’t just say, “Well, Lord, I really don’t want to die yet. If it be your will, maybe you could heal me.” He prayed boldly, expecting God to answer—and He did. And when He did, Hezekiah asked for more—he asked for a sign that God really would heal him. And Isaiah told him that the Lord would give him a sign: He would make the shadow go either forward or backward ten steps—Hezekiah could choose which. And Hezekiah replied, “It is an easy thing for the shadow to lengthen ten steps. Rather let the shadow go back ten steps” (2 Kings 20:10). And “Isaiah the prophet called to the Lord, and he brought the shadow back ten steps, by which it had gone down on the steps of Ahaz” (2 Kings 11).

Hezekiah understood what Martin Luther put into words several thousand years later: “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness.”

There are a few things that all of these healings have in common. The first is that God intervened miraculously only after all available medical options had been exhausted. God has given us modern medicine; He has given us doctors and nurses for the purpose of treating our sicknesses and He expects us to use them. Dr. Crandall seems to confirm this in his book Raising the Dead. He tells a story of a time when a man broke his arm and the doctor, caught up in the excitement of seeing God’s healing hand at work, prayed for the man’s arm to be healed. Nothing happened and eventually he heard God telling him to “just set the arm.”

This is very important—there is no evidence anywhere in Scripture that God wants us pray without seeking medical treatment. On the other hand, it is clear that prayer is to go hand-in-hand with medical care. Another Old Testament king of Judah, Asa, died of disease, and we are told that “even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but sought help from physicians” (2 Chronicles 16:12). Get medical care—but don’t forget to pray.

The healings that we have experienced here in our congregation also seem to confirm this. The people who have received healing through prayer are people who have already received all the medical options available to them.

Another thing we see from all of the stories that I have shared with you this morning is that healing involved faith—a belief that God really does hear our prayers and that He really does answer. It is our failure to pray that often results in a lack of healing. And not just to pray, but to pray boldly and confidently, to really put our trust in God—to believe that when we pray, He will answer.

Dale and the baby.

The apostle Paul wrote: “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8).  Why indeed? Paul also wrote to the Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”(Philippians 4:6). Why worry when you can pray?

It’s also important to realize that God does not heal everyone—we all die eventually, and for reasons that no one really understands, sometimes God heals and sometimes He doesn’t. Even people like Pastor Mjorud, who have seen many people healed through prayer, have seen just as many who remain unhealed. Dr. Crandall totally believes in the healing power of prayer, despite the fact that his prayers were unable to save his teenage son from dying of cancer.

Another important thing to realize is that all of the people that we’ve talked about this morning were changed forever by their encounter with the living God. God healed them and He was glorified—not them. And they knew it. The blind men in our gospel went and told everyone, despite the fact that Jesus told them not to. That’s what happens when we’re touched by God—and that’s the whole point.

Hezekiah wasn’t healed just because he was faithful to God—he was healed so that we could hear his story today and know the glory of our God.

Does God still heal today? The day after that Bible study where we talked about healing, I received a phone call from the man to whom I had loaned the book I Prayed, He Answered. He had already finished the book and wanted to know if I had any more copies. When I told him I didn’t, he told me that Amazon had thirteen used copies—and he had already ordered several of them.

That book, I Prayed, He Answered, started a minor firestorm within this congregation, as people from that Bible study read it and passed it around to others. I think that most, if not all, of Amazon’s thirteen copies, were purchased by members of this congregation.

God does still heal today. Why, then, don’t we see more healings? Perhaps the reason is that when God works in a powerful way, in the way that He worked in Hezekiah’s life, or the life of any of the other people that I have talked about this morning, it is impossible to avoid acknowledging the fact that God is God. Not me, not you—but He alone is King of kings, Lord of lords, ruler of the universe. And we don’t always like that—because we like to think that we’re in charge. Maybe even that we could be king of kings, that we have all the answers, and that, if things go just right, we might have all the power.

John 3:30 “He must increase, but I must decrease.” We aren’t always so interested in decreasing. And yet there can only be one King, one Creator, one Lord, one Ruler.

Step out of the way, let God answer your prayers, not the way that you think He should, but the way that He wants to answer them. Let Him be Lord not only of the universe, but of your life, of every minute and every hour—you’ll never regret it.