By Matt Chandler (1974- ), pastor at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.
All of us are only a phone call away from our life changing forever. We will get sick. We will lose loved ones. Trials will come. And we don’t know when suffering will hit us.
For me, it was Thanksgiving morning in 2009. I walked into our living room at home to give my youngest, Norah, her bottle. I burped her. I took her back to her Johnny Jump Up. I turned. And then I woke up in the hospital. I’d had a brain seizure, and I was diagnosed with a primary brain tumor, facing immediate surgery, chemo, and radiation — and an estimate of a few years to live.
In that season, I found that my Christian friends tended to fall into one of two camps. The first camp was all about the will of God, and praying for the will of God. The second camp believed that if I had faith and believed that the Lord would heal me, then I would be healed.
Those two camps often do not play too well together, but I actually believe they can help one another more than they realize. One tells us how to pray for healing, and the other tells us how to respond when God doesn’t heal. We need both. We see that need played out in at least one familiar Old Testament story.
You may well remember the characters Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from felt boards in Sunday school, but this story has direct implications for how we think about healing and how we pray for healing.
To recap, king Nebuchadnezzar made a golden image and demanded that the people of God, who had been exiled to Babylon, worship it. Three of God’s servants, who had been put in a place of authority in Babylon — Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — refused. When the king threatened to throw them in a fiery furnace because of their disobedience, they responded by saying (Daniel 3:17-18):
Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. BUT EVEN IF NOT, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.
In other words, our God can save us, we believe that the Lord will save us, and even if he doesn’t, we will still praise the name of the Lord. This should be our default position, regardless of what we’re walking through, but especially when we’re walking through the valley of suffering.
God is sovereign. “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6). He is the Creator of all things and the Sustainer of all things, and he has the power to do whatever he wills. Colossians 1:16–17 says of Christ, “By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Whatever suffering we are facing, we know that God has the power to intervene, and we know he has the power to redeem and heal whatever pain and brokenness we experience.
God is not only all-powerful; he is also personal, and he will heal all our diseases. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:1–3). The question for his children is not if he will heal, but only when and how. One way or another, he will deliver us — from suffering, from sin, from death. God loves us and cares about us (1 Peter 5:6–7). He bends his ear to the cries of his people. Psalm 34:17 says, “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” God invites us to pray to him, and tells us that he will answer our prayers (Matthew 7:7–8).
God is good. We can see throughout the Scriptures, as he reveals who he is and what he is about, that God is a loving Father who knows what’s best and wants what’s best for his children. As Jesus pointed out, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11). We can trust that if God chooses not to heal us for now, he knows something we don’t know — and that one day he will end suffering and death once and for all.
The Bible frees us up to pray boldly and courageously for healing — not to simply pray for God’s will — because we know that he can heal, that he will heal, and that ultimately his will will be done in every circumstance (Ephesians 1:11). We’re not setting low bars for God to step over. We cannot set a bar too high for him. We come to him believing that he will heal, and believing that if he does not, it will be because he has a better plan and a higher aim in mind.
The Bible calls us to pray and plead with the Lord, asking him to bring healing. I’m going to ask, believing that Jesus Christ is going to heal me and heal the people I’m praying for, but then I’m going to open my hands, entrusting myself and others to the will of my God. That’s the example Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego give to us, and that’s how we pray in our trials:
Lord, I know you can heal. Lord, I believe you will heal. And Lord, if you don’t heal now, bring glory to your name and keep my faith in you.