I enjoy podcasts. Podcasts provide an array of topics, some of which you might never hear broadcasted on radio. It is a platform for every-day people to share their interests, hobbies, skills, knowledge and excitement for a topic with the entire world. It gives like-minded people a chance to learn and experience similar joys and pains, similar struggles and successes.
One of the podcasts I’ve been enjoying recently is “Stuff You Should Know” hosted by Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark. If you haven’t listened to them, it’s really well done. They are funny, engaging dudes who are completely at home talking about history, science, religion and entertainment. They approach every topic (so far) with a really balanced approach, particularly when it is a philosophical or religious topic.
One such topic they recently covered was “Why Do People Believe In Faith Healing?”. In this episode, Chuck and Josh unpack the topic, albeit from a non-Christian or secular perspective. First, it should be said that it was really interesting hearing non-Christians discuss a topic like this and treat it with such care. They did a good job not berating or condemning anyone who adheres to faith healing as a part of their religious life.
However, because they were handling it from an outside point of view, they missed a crucial distinction. The topic they were covering focused almost exclusively on the frauds and charlatans of the faith healing world, exposing the spectrum of faith healing from parents denying medicine for their children to fraudulent, greedy televangelists. What they missed was that “faith healing” has become a pejorative for what is otherwise a legitimate demonstration of religious faith, primarily Christian. (Though certainly Christians aren’t the only people who seek divine intervention for healing.)
When it comes to healing – or any miracle – there aren’t buckets for all religious people to fit into nicely and neatly. For instance, my belief that God still intervenes in the world does not mean that I get slain in the spirit or scream out in tongues when I go to church. My belief that praying for people in the moment, not humbly offering to maybe pray for someone at some time in the future, possibly, if I remember, does not equate me with the frauds and charlatans. It means that I genuinely believe God wants to change circumstances. It means I believe God can make a difference in what a person is going through.
To be active in praying for people does not mean that we become weird or become uber-religious, changing our vocabulary. It doesn’t mean that we speak in tongues while praying for someone in Walmart. As Christians we should seek to be more natural, more effortless and more ourselves. It means that praying for someone isn’t a production to stir God to action. It means that we’re bringing a brother or sister to the only person we know that can truly help, our Dad.
We see this naturally supernatural approach in the way Jesus prayed for people. In John 5, there is a man sitting by the healing pool of Bethzatha.
1 After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Bethzatha, which has five porticoes. 3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
This story is so interesting to me. First, the man has been ill for 38 years, and there still seems to be a remnant of hope and faith that God will heal him, albeit through a pool. The problem is that he has to wait for the right moment for the waters to be stirred up.
We can disagree on this point, but I think it’s telling that the man was waiting for a stirring, for this thing outside himself to become active. Then up walks the Living Water, Jesus, ready and willing to meet his need. This man had been putting his faith in a pool, a thing, and was completely ignoring the true object of healing faith, the God of Israel. Only when Immanuel, God-With-Us, approaches him to ask about his need does he finally get the healing he’s been needing.
I also think this demonstration of God’s timing is telling. The Sheep Gate was in Jerusalem, where Jesus travelled extensively. How many opportunities had Jesus had to heal the man before and didn’t? Why now? The answer is: no one knows. God’s timing is so confusing! The key for us is God wanted to heal the man. Jesus saw the man’s need and went to meet it. Timing is for God to figure out. Our part is just to obey.
So what does it look like to be naturally supernatural? How do we avoid making prayer into a production, like a demonstration of our own spiritual ability instead of a humble, but confident, request to the God of the universe? The answer I think is in the passage above.
First, your eyes must be open to needs around you. Sometimes the needs are apparent, like in the story above. There was an ill man lying on a mat. This is an obvious need. In our world, it would be like seeing someone walking with a cane. I have a friend who used to walk with a cane, and she was always nervous to go to worship services at praying churches because she knew her cane was like a magnet for people wanting to pray for her. She was so touched that people wanted to pray for her, but she hated sticking out like a sore thumb.
The world around you is full of needs that God can and does meet through the prayers of his people. Look for the broken-hearted, the lonely and the abused. Look for casts and canes and crutches. Find tears and fears and see if God will meet that person right then and there to bring some comfort and healing.
Second, and this is the toughest part, it requires that you take a chance. In this podcast I mentioned above, one of the hosts said that when people offer to pray for him it generally depends on the mood he’s in how he’ll respond. Sometimes it’s with a reluctant shrug and sometimes it’s with gratitude. You can never know how the person’s heart will receive your offer for prayer. What you can control is the manner in which you present it.
As a person of faith, your belief isn’t in your own ability. That’s idolatry. Your faith is in Christ to hear your prayer and respond. To see God move, you must see a need and take a risk. After all faith is spelled R-I-S-K. To exercise it, like any muscle, you must be willing to lift weights that seem too heavy and show love to the hurting around you. Admit that sometimes you miss it or that God’s timing is a mystery to us. But show genuine love by asking how you can pray for the people around you.
Your assignment for the week is this: pray for someone. Seven of the most important words you can use to show God’s love are “Can I pray for you right now?” This takes some courage, but be brave. The worst that can happen is the person says no. If they do, and you offered in love, just bless them and pray for them in your head as you go about your business. But the best that could happen? God could show up instantly and answer your prayer. Imagine praying for someone’s pain and it goes away. Imagine praying for peace for someone who just lost a loved one, and they feel loved and accepted by God. That juice is worth the squeeze.
The second assignment for the week is to ask someone else for prayer. Your heart is never as pliable and ready for what God wants to do in you and through you as when you’ve been prayed for by someone. Take a chance, and seek out a pastor or a friend who can put a hand on your shoulder and pray about what’s going on in your life. You’ll be amazed how God shows up in that moment. Will he change your circumstances? Maybe. What is certain is that even if God doesn’t change my circumstances, he changes me.