The year was 1992.
“Pastor Hayford,” the editor from Charisma inquired, “would you write something to answer the questions of people who prayed for Jamie Buckingham to be healed and are now bewildered by his death”? For any who are unfamiliar, Jamie Buckingham (1932-1992) was the editor of Ministry Today as well as a columnist for Charisma. He wrote 42 books and served as senior pastor of Tabernacle Church in Melbourne, Florida, which he founded.
I recognized the dilemma. The faith-filled ministry of healing so often blossoms with blessing. Yet in situations like this one, faith for healing and grace and miracles sometimes seems to boomerang—to strike down some believers with disappointment.
The heavenly homegoing of our dear friend left many hearts stunned and full of understandable grief. When such a gifted servant to the whole body of Christ is taken from our midst—one who seemed to have more years of expected life than actually realized—questions abound: What went wrong? Where was faith’s claim? Did we miss what might have been?
In moments like these, the gift of faith is often impugned. We may feel driven to conclude we didn’t receive or apply it correctly. God’s promise of healing may also seem suddenly suspect: “We invoked the Word,” we lament, “and we believed that what we’ve seen in other cases would happen in this case. Why didn’t God honor His promise?”
Wrestling With the Dilemma
A better approach to these difficult moments is simply to accept them with humble worship, in a spirit not unlike the praise attending our more obvious victories. A fundamental problem in our approach to the Christian life is revealed by the words: “I just don’t know if I can ever believe for a healing again”—or even worse—“It wouldn’t have happened if they had just held their confession of faith with pure constancy.”
This is not to indict those who have difficult questions, but to challenge them to look at the fuller context of these issues. Here are some scriptural insights that I believe can provide a framework for wrestling with this dilemma and help us overcome the disappointment we encounter when healing prayer seems to fail.
1. Our apparent “failures” in employing our faith aren’t due to “God’s will.”
God isn’t the guilty party in instigating the losses we experience. Few errors are parroted throughout Christian circles more frequently that the religious philosophy that faces tragedy or loss with the words, “It must have been God’s will.”
To the contrary, the Bible never shows death, disease, sin, suffering, destruction—any devastation of His beloved creation called humanity—to be His will; at least, certainly not with regard to the people within His covenant. The whole process of redemption, centered in the Father’s gift of Jesus, is the conclusive evidence that “God is not willing that any should perish” (2 Pet. 3:9), and that His primary intent is for a temporal abundance of life’s blessings as well as eternal life (John 10:10).
Yet our temporal life remains temporary. Due to Adam’s sin, when an entire race fell, the living of our “abundant life” is still on a broken planet. Even as redeemed members of that fallen race, we still are confined to certain temporal limits, our eternal redemption notwithstanding (see Rom. 8:22-23).
Natural disasters, accidents due to human error or limitation, the invasion of a human organism with disease—whether temporary or terminal—are facts of life on planet Earth. Thus as believers we live between the tension of two truths: First, that God does not design the deadly or the disastrous that surrounds or strikes us; and second, our walk with God does not guarantee any of us a life without trial amid this present brokenness.
We are neither fatalistic nor faithless to acknowledge that “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). To admit as much is not to surrender to the inevitability of trouble as though there were no answer to it. On the other hand, to pretend that our eternal salvation removes us from all vulnerability, or that our skill at learning slick methods of “believing” ensures a life without trials, is to believe something the whole counsel of God’s Word doesn’t promise.
We will always face trials of faith—instances of apparent inadequacy at appropriating our divinely promised benefits. And when this happens, we will probably always have some questions. But in this era where at best “we see through a glass darkly” until the day we see our Lord face to face (1 Cor. 13:12), the wise believer will not feel condemned when life’s imperfection seems to win for a moment. To suppose that a mastery of every difficulty is the verification of vital faith is to err in judgment as to the primary objective of our faith. Faith’s focus isn’t ultimately upon its productivity, but upon its Source—God Himself.
2. Rather than wrestling with ideas about God at such moments of pain, trial, death or difficulty, we should let these moments furnish opportunities be pressed more closely to Him.
These are the times when we may dig faith’s foundations deeper and find our knowledge of the Lord Himself becoming more intimate and profound.
How? When tough times come, start by bringing your questions to God Himself. He won’t be angered by questions nor threatened by doubts; neither are of themselves wrong. But to submit yourself to either, rather than bringing each to the Lord, is a deviant course.
When Habakkuk laid his complaining before the Lord (Hab. 1:1-17), he concluded by saying, “Now, I’ll wait and see how God will reprove me” (2:1). But God didn’t! Instead He called Habakkuk to record that time would eventually bring about the fuller blessing of God’s transcendent will.
However stark or painful our moment of grief, however puzzling the circumstances, we aren’t called to play mind-games with questions about faith. Instead, we must seek the Author of our faith. Because He did not design our pain, nor execute the disaster we see, He isn’t indifferent to our dilemma.
At such a time, wisdom doesn’t wrestle; it learns to rest. As Job affirmed: “As for me, I would seek God, and to God I would commit my cause—who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number” (Job 5:8-9).
Until we go to the fountainhead of our faith—to the very heart of God—the pain of the moment will seek to dominate the mind of the most reverent or faithful among us. So we must together learn to answer faith’s highest summons: “Come unto Me all you who are weary and heaven laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
Those words of our Master are not an appeal to escapism, but a call to realism. The sufficiency He brings to our lives never provides us with tools assuring an independent adequacy or a panacea. Even though we may have acquired a certain maturity through growth and experience with Christ, our ultimate center of all life is in Him.
Don’t be disappointed or even surprised when life deals a blow that forces you to retreat to the Savior. Even when our understanding ends and our finest systems and disciplines fail, the Savior is still there. Seek Jesus. He satisfies—after all and above all.
Anyone who has pushed past the pain to penetrate God’s presence and comfort knows that what they found in Him was not self-induced emotion or rationalization, but a Person. In His presence, gnawing doubts and nagging questions are resolved—most often, not because He addresses them but because He overshadows them. The grandeur of His Person reduces the pain of temporal trial because His presence gives it an eternal perspective.
It isn’t a matter of God’s demanding, “I’m here, so stop worrying or weeping!” Rather, to encounter Him—to press more closely, even though with terror or through tears—we discover how real, present andoverwhelmingly loving He truly is. The transient world pales before the enduring, exceeding glory of the fullness of His Person.
“There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God,” reads the old hymn. As a people called to preach the full gospel to our generation, we may need to be called afresh to find that place of closeness to the Father’s heart. In that place:
• We will feel His compassion for the lost, the sick and the suffering.
• We will encounter the Holy Spirit’s prompting boldness and ability for ministering the miraculous.
• We will hear His Word and find faith to claim His promises and confess His Word with confidence.
• We will bow humbly when we find the fruit of our faith manifesting in the wondrous and the dynamic.
• We will rest peaceably when results we sought and thought and fought for aren’t realized; when questions haunt and doubts taunt and fears daunt our boldness to believe for the next miracle.
3. Our disappointment with occasions when we don’t receive the answer we have sought should never reduce our sense of our appointment by God to proclaim the healing message.
All that we have said seems too seldom taught or spoken among us who hold the Pentecostal or charismatic posture with regard to life’s trials. Even to breathe the possibility that someone might die from disease, or that prayer may have not been answered as we have “claimed” or “bound and loosed” is deemed a concession to unbelief. Have we been so much taught the possibilities of our faith that other provisions of the same faith have gone unnoticed?
Certainly, seeking God amid trials is an important part of a bold, believing, Spirit-empowered, Kingdom-reaching Christianity. We can be people who both aggressively contend for the miraculous, as well asacceptingly comfort when miracles seem absent. A combination of aggressive faith and accepting faith will always triumph. Faith that both receives promises for dynamic ministry and rests on the Word when circumstances flounder can’t be distracted or distorted, either by its manifest triumphs or its apparent defeats.
What about our message of faith, of healing, of miracle power, of Kingdom dominion? We must never fail to affirm that God has added to our gift of eternal salvation a thrilling resource: the promise of our potential to realize powerful benefits of temporal blessing as part of our present inheritance in His Kingdom. Among these is the message and ministry of healing, reinforced by Jesus’ own unmistakable commission: “Lay hands on the sick and they shall recover” (Mark 16:18).
To deny this assignment is tantamount to denying the whole of the Great Commission from which these words are quoted. Jesus Himself modeled a healing ministry, and He motivated His people toward one. Further, the abundant evidence of the New Testament records, and church history reveals, Jesus’ intent to continue His healing ministry in all its fullness through His Church until He comes again.
Wherever ready hearts will receive that ministry, He has assured He will still exercise it (John 14:12; Mark 16:20; Heb. 13:8). And so it is that we do see healings, miracles, abundant provision, signs and wonders—but not in every case. Therein lies our dilemma.
We can begin resolving the problem, however, with a dedication to seek God first with praise. Let the wisdom that rejoices in the Lord’s confirmation of His healing Word be balanced with praise when problems or questions arise. If we’re incapable of that dual wisdom, it may be that a larger problem exists with our ideas about “faith”—presuppositions that our faith has more to do with our positive results than with His faithfulness.
Give Up On Healing Prayer?
Some believers conclude that when a person prayed for isn’t healed, we should afterward simply avoid healing ministry altogether. They conclude: “Let’s just leave healing and miracles up to ‘the will of God,’ and not ‘claim’ or ‘confess’ or ‘believe for’ anything supernatural other than salvation.”
But that’s simply not the answer to whatever disappointments or questions we may encounter along the pathway of miracle-faith’s pursuit! Instead, we must hold to the message Jesus Himself has sent us to declare—a message of triumph and hope. He has anointed us as advocates and ambassadors for His Kingdom, and that Kingdom is a domain that includes healing grace and present miracle power. He has also committed Himself to provide regular evidence of the reality of that transcendent Kingdom in our present world—thus confirming the word of the gospel He has sent us to preach.
At the same time, let us never forget: The objective of this message of Kingdom dominion is not the resolution of all our problems in this world. Instead, it is the revelation of His grace abounding from another world—one to which we are called where we will join Him forever!
As for those instances in which our faith doesn’t seem to find the answer our prayers have sought, we need only consider a parallel situation: the incomplete results attending almost every instance of evangelism.
Whenever the gospel is preached, we rejoice in the souls who come to Christ. We revel in the masses “going forward” at a crusade, or the thousands of “decisions for Christ” tabulated in the annual ministry reports of Christian organizations. Yet does anyone say, “Because not all are saved, we shouldn’t be so bold to preach salvation from sin”? Has anyone ever said, “I just don’t understand why that person didn’t get saved—it’s really shaken my faith in the truth of the gospel message”? Of course not.
In either case, the fruit of our faith—whether the faith we proclaim or the faith by which we lay claim—is entirely centered in one place: in Christ. “Faith” in faith itself is not faith at all, but a deceitful work of the flesh that will produce frustration and condemnation over its fruitlessness.
The Promise of Heaven
One final important insight as we think about healing prayer is simply this:
The highest aspiration God has for His people who through faith have learned their place of authority—seated in the heavenlies in Christ—is to bring them completely to His eternal glory where we shall forever be with Christ!
For that reason, “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Ps. 116:15). Heaven must not be reduced to a second-level goal.
When our quest for a temporal victory through faith dims our anticipation of the ultimate eternal victory of faith, it’s time to reassess our priorities. The apostle Paul wrote: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). Don’t you agree that Heaven’s joyous promise deserves to outshine our greatest achievements of faith—and overshadow our deepest questions?
We can just as easily be bound by a doctrine of faith as by an affection for the world. The problem with either is that the focus has been subtly removed from Jesus Himself to something else. Once that happens, something is sacrificed of the soul’s longing and joyful prospect at being with Him forever.
Let’s teach the church again to sing the words of that classic hymn:
When all my trials and troubles are o’er,
and I am safe on that beautiful shore,
just to be near the dear Lord I adore,
will through the ages be glory for me!
When by His grace I shall look on His face—
that will be glory, be glory for me!
Our dear friend Jamie Buckingham is singing these words even now—in the present tense.
This article originally appeared in Charisma, June 1992. Copyright © 1992, 2009, 2014 by Jack W. Hayford.