By the time the year 2003 rolled around, I had been bothered by severe back pain for a long time. It had reached the point that my normal activities, even as a relatively non-active teacher, were being affected. I decided after much delay to make a visit to my friendly doctor, who, as is the tradition nowadays, referred me to a specialist. Upon examination and observance, x-rays and scans, the doctor determined that I had some collapsed cartilage between a couple of my lower vertebras in my back which resulted in pinched nerves, causing the sharp pains up and down my left leg. I had been told this several years before by other doctors, but this time I was ready to have something done about it, and I allowed myself to be referred to a surgeon who accepted my case and scheduled surgery to correct the problem. I was to see him on a Tuesday for final examination and to confirm the surgery time. I was not looking forward to back surgery; I have too many friends who have experienced back surgery with unsatisfactory results.
Coincidentally, at my home church at that time, Harvest Temple in Baytown, Texas, on the Sunday before my scheduled Tuesday appointment, we had a visiting minister who was, I would classify him now, a “faith” or “healing” minister. Strangely enough, at this point in time I can’t even remember his name. I do remember, however, that when he (as Pentecostals occasionally do) spoke in tongues, it almost sounded as if he was speaking in Latin. I have some limited interest in languages, and there is a certain rhythm or reoccurring sounds in just about every language. Anyway, on this particular Sunday night, the minister preached a very powerful message about the healing power of the name of Jesus. At the end of his sermon, he invited anyone who needed a healing touch from God to come to the front to be anointed with oil and receive a prayer of faith. Since upcoming surgery gives one a sense of urgency and since the sermon had caused me to look for divine help, I stepped out and walked to the front of the church. I closed my eyes and began to pray with my hands raised while at the same time I heard the minister walking amongst those standing with me, quietly praying in his Latinesque speech. Eventually his voice became stronger as he approached me and I felt his fingers touch my forehead as he anointed me with oil and continued to pray. At that moment I felt an immediate sensation, a warmth that coursed through my body, and somehow instinctively I knew something had happened. However, I prayed for a few more minutes uneventfully, the prayer service came to a close, and the service was over.
It was not until the next day as I was doing my daily activities as a teacher that it suddenly dawned on me that my back was not hurting, and I realized neither had it hurt me the night before. I began to think for about the Sunday night service, trying to reconstruct what I had felt. I had no pain the rest of the day, and when I walked into the surgeon’s office on Tuesday, I still had not felt pain. Since it was my first time to see the surgeon face to face, naturally I had a load of informational papers to complete. One questionnaire concerning my health asked, “Where are you hurting NOW?” I answered that I was not hurting anywhere. Eventually I was called by the nurse and went in to see the doctor. The doctor greeted me and began to describe the surgery planned as he was slowly scanning my personal data and questionnaires. He came to the “pain” question… “Mr. Downing, you answered here on the questionnaire that you are feeling no pain. Is that correct?” he asked. I answered that it was true. He responded with a sort of funny, but direct question. He asked, “If you’re not hurting, how am I supposed to improve on that?” I explained to him what had happened the past Sunday night, and he was very professional and accepting. He made the suggestion that since everything was ready for the surgery, we should just put everything on hold. I would go about my business, and when and if my pain reoccurred, I could give him a call and the surgery would be scheduled. That seemed a reasonable thing to do and I agreed. I have never been back to see him. The back pain has never returned, and I believe I was healed by the touch of God.
Fast forward to March of 2008, at which time I underwent heart surgery requiring five bypasses to be completed. Four days after the surgery, the hospital staff was still trying to figure out my pain medication, and I was still hurting. A nurse walked into my room and hooked me up to a different container of medication and left the room. She came back into my room a short time later and gasped when she saw the bottle empty....the medication was supposed to last for two or three days. About that time I began to shake as if I had chills, but I wasn’t cold…I just could not stop trembling, and the shaking became progressively and rapidly worse. I tried to force myself to be still, but I was rattling the whole bed, and I could see the nurses and physician’s assistant huddling just outside my door. Finally we were told that they would observe me closely and hopefully the shaking would wear off soon. They left the room and I was getting more and more uncomfortable as my newly repaired heart began to pound. In the depth of the shaking, I heard my wife tell my daughter, “Let’s pray,” and with one on each side of my bed, they began to pray for God to touch me in my hour of need. I am not exaggerating when I say that within thirty seconds, I exhaled a breath and completely stopped shaking. I lay quietly, and in a few minutes drifted into a peaceful sleep.
I Peter 2:24 “Who in his own self (Jesus) bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”
James 5:16 “Pray for one another that ye may be healed”
I tell you these two examples of healing in my life to assure you that I believe in healing. I believe that God can, with his simple touch, correct ailments, both physical and mental, which appear beyond repair. There are countless examples of the power of God’s healing. I have seen faithful members of the church healed and yet at the same time witnessed healing for people who barely knew who God was. The mystery of healing is not whether it exists, but rather why does God appear to apply the healing touch selectively.
In Matthew 5:45, Jesus tells the disciples that the Father “sends rain on the just and the unjust.” The scripture is generally interpreted to mean that the common problems of life will affect the devout as well as the errant person. Being faithful to God does not mean that the saint will never experience trial, tragedy, sickness, and pain. It also means we will not be healed every time we ask for it. I have heard more than one minister preach that if one is living right and has faith, and a prayer for healing is offered, healing will result. I find no scripture for that position. The church my wife and I attend now, Bethel Tabernacle, is a powerful, faith-believing church that believes in healing. Many souls who have come to its altars with personal, physical, family, financial, and mental needs have seen their problems removed, and have testified about the power of healing. But there are many who have lived faithfully, prayed earnestly, and believed intensely and yet still have not received their healing. Why is that?
I believe the answer lies in what the scriptures tell us about God’s will in our lives. First, the scriptures tell us that God has a plan for each of us, and, just as our wonderful pastor mentioned in a sermon recently, His will is not that we be healthy, rich, or famous, but rather it is His will that we all be saved from the judgment to come. Everything that occurs in the life of a believer is designed to point him/her in the right direction toward God. I was happy and thankful in 2003 when God touched my back and took away the pain, but in 2008 He did not heal me from the heart problems I had or keep me from going through the chemotherapy for the cancer that immediately followed. I had many people praying for me, for which I was eternally thankful, but healing did not come. Had I not pleased Him to the point that He refused to heal me? I don’t think so. But I can tell you this, I am a better Christian now than I was before my heart/cancer episodes. I am far more conscious of my mortality, and I attempt to be more sensitive to the spirit of God in my life. What did my medical problems do for me? They pushed me in the direction He wanted me to go…namely toward Him.
Over the years, I have listened as many missionaries to foreign countries described the incredible demonstrations of God’s power though healings in their country of assignment and wondered why we did not see such amazing displays very often in the United States. Is it because we in this land of opportunity and wealth have become more callous, less faithful, or more unbelieving? The short answer to that question is no. We have in our church ranks many giants of faith who serve as the foundation of the church as we know it today. I think the answer lies again in an analysis of the scriptures. In looking at the acts of healing done by Jesus Christ and the apostles, a majority…not all, but a majority…of the acts of healing recorded in the scriptures were done to demonstrate the power of God. Think of the story of Peter and John in the third chapter of Acts. The crippled man asked for nothing but alms and expressed no spiritual commitment, but he was healed, and the act caused an excitement to spread through the city. Many of the recipients simply expressed a desire to be healed and it was done. The acts of healing were done to bring attention to the works of Jesus or the apostles. They were designed to spread the news of the creation and establishment of His church.
The great demonstrations of His handiwork are being seen in other lands today because the church is still being established in those new areas. We in the United States, with the spiritual maturity and progress we should have, are able to appreciate healing events and may even pray for healings in our own lives, but the fact is, we should not need to be healed to maintain our faith. We should be so established in our dedication to Him that, whether He heals us or not, we are going to be faithful. We no longer need great demonstrations of God’s power to keep us faithful to Him. We accept His power unquestioningly. There is nothing wrong in praying for healing. As our children come to us with pleas, requests, and outright begging, we respond with yes to those things we think will benefit the child and no to those things which we know will be detrimental. So it is with our Heavenly Father…we may pray for healing, a better job, or a better relationship, but God sees the end of the road and knows the direction which is best for us. But we as parents sometimes allow our children to "learn the hard way." Our children cry, plea, and beg until we finally give in to a request, and all the while we know as parents it is not a good decision and the child will suffer because of it. But we allow the child to proceed…and then fail…knowing that from the failure will come a valuable lesson for the child to remember. I wonder if God may sometimes answer our insistent and persistent prayers, all the while knowing that the results will be a disappointment and a hard lesson we must learn.
I do not know why God chooses to heal one person and not another. But this I do know; He has our interests at heart and our futures in mind when he allows difficult events to occur in our lives. It is not for us to question His will, but be sensitive to it. Job, the great man of patience of the Old Testament, said it best, “Though He slay me, yet will I serve Him.”