THE ‘MINISTRY’ OF SICKNESS

(February 11, 2022) Brian Bell shares realistically about sickness and divine healing…

This may seem a strange title to choose. I have been a believer for more than 50 years. During those years one of the most constant scriptural issues about which much debate and questions have been considered has been sickness in the life of a believer.

I don’t say I will bring any new ‘revelation’ – however, having had a cancer diagnosis in 2020 and with my wife, Eveline, who has also been under treatment for a few years and knowing many others with a diagnosis including those who recently have as we would say ‘lost’ their battle with cancer and more recently covid-19 and such, it has been a topic I prayerfully revisited.

And, as always, I share my own views based on how I see scripture and without disrespect to others.

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Origin of sickness
From a scriptural perspective, I believe sickness is a condition inherited by the entire human race as a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience (Genesis 3). As a result of their disobedience we live in mortal and corruptible bodies and without exception we will one day reach the end of our life’s journey.

Although the temptation to disobey was brought by Satan, sickness of itself is not I believe ‘caused’ by Satan – remember the Lord allowed Satan to ‘test’ Job and among other things Job experienced sickness on his body.

Speaking about the paralysed man in John 5, Australian writer and author David Cook says ‘Jesus words in verse 14 indicate that the man’s state was due to his sin. In this particular case it may have been, but as a general principle it is much better to see disease as an intrusion into God’s created order, the consequence of living in a fallen world.’

Result of sickness
Romans 3:23 points out that ‘the wages of sin is death…’. I believe scripture not only of speaks about death in the natural sense but also in a spiritual context. For example, Romans 8:6 says, ‘if your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death…’ and this relates to ‘death’ in a spiritual sense.

In 2020 a relative of my wife, a young minister, lost a two-year battle with cancer; in January 2021 another friend, also a minister under 60 after a one-year battle with cancer; in August 2021 another man known to us of 67 years after a one-year battle with cancer – all three had the very best care our UK public health system could provide.

  • They believed they could be healed.
  • And they were prayed for.
  • At least one had hands laid on him in accordance with scripture.
  • But healing or restoration of their physical health was not how those prayers were answered.

During a recent hospital appointment the nurse shared with me how her husband’s diagnosis of cancer at an advanced stage (he had not previously displayed symptoms) led to his death fairly soon after the diagnosis, but as she added, calmly, ‘The Lord gives us three score years and ten or perhaps a bit more.’

I have known many people who have lived for 90 years or more without any major illness and some who encountered illness which was diagnosed as terminal at a very early age.

Remedy for sickness
Jesus said, ‘The healthy do not need a doctor, only the sick.’ I believe it is therefore scriptural and wise to utilise the God-given medical skills available to us… and that includes vaccinations. However, I know some believers who, when sickness comes, will not or have not sought medical intervention!

Did the Lord not hear the prayers for those I mention above and why did He not choose to ‘perform’ a miracle… as we read in scripture that the Lord Jesus did (I know of others who did experience a miraculous healing). One answer, I believe, is that God’s answers – as you may have heard – are sometimes ‘Yes’ and sometimes ‘No’ and sometimes ‘Wait.’

Amy Carmichael (from Northern Ireland) was a missionary who the Lord used to rescue temple children in India during the late 19th early 20th century. Amy in her writings shares some of the lessons God taught her.

When she was a young child and brought up in a Christian home, she was taught ‘God always answers prayer.’ Amy had lovely brown eyes but wished they were blue just like her mother. One evening as she went to bed she prayed in child-like faith that the Lord would make her brown eyes blue, confident God always answers prayer.

On waking and going to the mirror the next morning she was tearful to discover her brown eyes had not turned blue.

It was many years later in India, when Amy was dressing in the native dress for Indian women and as she often did, staining her pale skin with coffee to darken it, that one of her helpers said that she was able to look like an Indian woman because of her brown eyes.

The lesson Amy shares is that ‘even “No” is an answer.’ She reflects that when her mother or father had said ‘No’ it was an answer… and so it is with God.

The apostle Paul tells us how he prayed three times asking the Lord to take away a ‘thorn in the flesh.’ We do not know the exact nature of this ‘thorn’… and I respect there are differing views. However, I believe it was a physical weakness because Paul says the Lord told him, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my strength is made perfect in weakness.’

Victory in the midst of sickness
If like me you have enjoyed a good measure of physical well-being I can share with you that I didn’t enjoy any occasion when I have been unwell.

J.C Ryle is accredited with these words ‘Affliction is one of God’s medicines … health is a great blessing, but sanctified disease is a greater … losses and crosses are better for us, if they lead us to Christ.’

The ultimate victory of sickness for the Christian, of course, is when we exchange our mortal bodies for an incorruptible body and death has been defeated. Depending on your end-time view you may realise this experience is at the ‘rapture’ of believers, or on death, when we are absent from the body and present with the Lord.

However, I believe it is possible – but not easy – to know a victory in the midst of our sickness and I believe this is the victory and ministry the Lord would have us experience.

At one of our recent mid-week prayer meetings I was reminded of the words Jesus spoke in Mathew 7:11, ‘If you then being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him.

I believe that among those good things God gives us is His grace is to keep trusting Him and living for Him when we may find ourselves in an operating theatre, perhaps facing a terminal prognosis, or some life-changing situation!

On a recent hospital visit to review my situation I got into conversation with a nurse who shared with me the story of a friend who she said was diagnosed with cancer but would not seek treatment because they believed God would heal them.

I said I too believed God can heal, but also shared the words of Jesus I quoted above which is I believe God’s ‘endorsement’ of the skill and knowledge He has gifted to those in the medical and scientific field. 

Sharing encouragement when healing is needed
In respect of these matters I believe we should, as Dr Robert McQuillan encouraged us recently, use the commonsense God has instilled in us. (Link:Yes- Still Pray for Healing).

I do not always make a ‘success’ of opportunities like this, but was glad not to have missed on that occasion – for me it was a very simple act in the ministry of sickness which I trust will be God honouring and Christ exalting.

May we all be an encouragement to those we encounter who need the peace and blessing of God in respect of sickness.

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Brian Bell is a diaconate member, Christ Church (Congregational) Abbots Cross, Northern Ireland, and a volunteer with Disabled Christians Fellowship Ireland. He describes himself as ‘grateful for the privilege and opportunity given me to serve my Lord.’
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2 comments

  1. Thanks Brian, for sharing a little of your journey… you have a gentle and encouraging spirit and I am sure the Lord ministers to many around you without you realising. I agree that there are opportunities to share the Lord even in the midst of sickness and trials because we can comfort others with the comfort we ourselves receive from our relationship with Jesus. Blessings be yours in abundance throughout this year of 2022.
    Geri B

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