I’m free! Well, almost. I just finished up six weeks of walking around with an incapacitated right hand due to a tiny little stress fracture in my wrist. I’m working on getting my range of motion and strength back, but if feels so good… In a culture dependent on typing, and a job dependent on writing—when you’re one hand down, and the dominant hand at that, it’s really no fun. I had broken this same wrist 20 years ago, when I was 12. But then I had mom and dad around to help button shirts, do dishes, walk the dog, etc. And I really didn’t have to worry about typing and all this writing. I could sit back and watch TV all day and not think anything of it… really really don’t want another cast as an adult…
Anyway, only the first part of that paragraph is relevant to my post. While my hand was casted, I took a trip from Missouri to Wisconsin to see one of my best friends. We talk regularly, but haven’t seen each other since his wedding four years ago. When I first bought the plane tickets, I had no injury and we had plans. Well a cast limits what you can do, even what roller coasters you can ride (another story). So we had to do simpler things, like hiking at Devil’s Lake.
Just before we started our afternoon on the trails, my friend had to move his car and I took a seat at a picnic table. While waiting, two young men (looked maybe late teens, early twenties) came up, and both were wearing cross necklaces.
First thought that went through my mind as they approached and made it clear they were approaching me and not just walking by… This should be fun, the pastor is getting ready to be witnessed to. Well, not quite. Just one of them did the talking.
Guy: “Hey, we saw you had a hurt hand and were wondering what happened to it?”
Me: “Broke it playing volleyball.”
Guy: “Oh. Does it hurt?”
Me: “Not really.”
Guy: “Well, is it okay if we pray for you.”
Guy: “Can I touch it while I pray?”
So this kid lays his hand on my cast and prays a short prayer asking Jesus for healing. After the amen, the kid asks, “So can you tell if it’s healed.”
Me, shaking my head: “Nope. Not with the cast on.”
Guy, disappointed look on his face: “Oh.”
Me: “But, hey, thanks.”
Now being a Baptist pastor, even with a somewhat charismatic bend to my theology, I wasn’t really expecting immediate healing. In fact, I chalked it up as a funny thing that happened. When my friend finally walked over, I smiled and said, “You’ll never guess what you missed.”
Later, however, I started to reflect on this whole experience. Yes, I am of a theological persuasion that does not believe the laying on of hands and the saying of a prayer will absolutely result in immediate healing, after all even Paul had to tell Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach—a bit of non-immediate healing medical advice from a guy who healed a lot of people through the power of the Holy Spirit. But, I began to question…
Why did I have zero expectation of anything happening?
After all, even if I know God does not will all his children to be instantaneously healed in this life, don’t I also equally believe that God can and does heal people? Don’t I believe in a God who is powerful enough to overcome any sickness?
Could it be there I was as a Baptist pastor, face-to-face with two charismatic young men, and despite the fact that I think for good biblical reasons their theology is a bit off, they were the ones with greater faith?
One of Jesus’ biggest criticisms of his followers was, “Oh you of little faith.” Then in Jesus’ hometown, he taught a group of religious people (they went to the synagogue after all), yet they rejected him. And Matthew wrote, “He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (13:58). Read that again. Not he “could not do many mighty works” but he “did not do”…because of their unbelief.
Jesus was going around before this trip and after, feeding thousands with a handful of food, casting out demons, healing the sick, walking on water, changing water into wine, raising the dead, etc. Yet in Nazareth he did very little (if anything significant) because the people did not believe. When we get to Acts, as the church spread it didn’t matter what was happening, the people expected big things. They expected people to be saved, to grow in their faith, to be healed, to be set free…
They expected. They had faith.
Then I started thinking about my own life and the life of my church. Someone is sick…Lord, give the doctor’s wisdom; help them be comfortable; give them patience to deal with the situation. Much of the town is lost without Jesus…Lord, spread your Gospel (it’s not very often we call on God to save people by name). The church is stagnant…Lord, bless our VBS and the teachers.
Now certainly, if I’m having a doctor do something to me, I want them to act in wisdom. If I’m suffering I want comfort. We should want the Gospel spread. We should want our VBS blessed. But is two minutes of a general prayer truly seeking for God to powerfully and specifically move in our lives, our church, and our town?
I’m starting to ask the questions: Do we actually believe that God can heal? Do we actually believe God can save every single person in our town? Do we actually believe God can send a revival and turn our stagnant and struggling church around? Do we actually believe God can restore that marriage? Do we actually believe God can protect that person on their mission trip?
Do we actually believe?
I’ve started to pray Luke 17:5-6, crying out with the apostles, “Increase our faith!” I’ve started to pray Mark 9:24, crying out with the man from the crowd, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
In Ephesians 3:20-21 Paul wrote, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
I want my prayers to be bigger, and I want my church’s prayers to be bigger. I think what we ask ultimately reflects how big we truly think our God is. Even if God were to choose never to save another person in our town, I want us to believe that God is great enough…awesome enough…to save every single person here, young and old, and in belief I want us to pray for them by name.
If I’m ever again sitting at a picnic table with a cast and two guys come up and ask to pray for me, I don’t want to say afterwards, “I really didn’t expect anything to happen.” God is able to do far more…
I believe. Help my unbelief.