Hope is Worth the Fight
A prayer for healing is good. Could a prayer for hope be better?
When I was first diagnosed with cancer and was public about it, I received a flood of calls, texts, social messages, and more that were all prayers for healing. I don't want to discount those prayers. They mean so much to me, they mean the world to me. And, I know God is certainly big enough to heal and I would love to be cancer free.
As a pastor, I have also had so many conversations, hospital visits, bedside prayers, hospice calls, with the majority of people who had healing prayed for, but healing didn't come for them in this life. I have had heart wrenching and tear filled meetings with parents of children who were losing their fight against cancer, who had heard so many people say "I'm praying for healing for your son...for your daughter..." and as I listened to them, I found that for each of them the words became hollow, and certainly not the harbinger of care they had been intended to bring.
If you know me, you know I like to reflect and ponder on theology. I like to ask tough questions of my faith. This subject left me sleepless and unsettled. It seems as if our theology has a virtually empty toolbox. Someone we love has been diagnosed with a life threatening disease, so what do we do? The faith circles I travel in, have deposited one tool for that, and that tool is a prayer for healing. The question is, should that be the only tool we have? And, probably more important to me, is that tool the most life-giving source of comfort? Could there be a more important tool? And, would it surprise us if we learned that we find it in almost every book in the New Testament?
Okay, beyond a prayer for healing, Pete, what else is there? That question has consumed me. And my findings were equally as painful, because it seems we have missed so much unwittingly. In my search, I have found that the Bibles speaks very little about healing. In fact, if you take out the examples where healing was done by Jesus or the apostles as a means to confirm the word that was being spoken, where healing is truly an instantaneous miracle, we have very little to go on.
But, in my search, I found something. A tool emphasized by nearly all New Testament authors and the example starts with Jesus himself. When Jesus is in the garden, just prior to being arrested, beaten, and killed, he is praying to his Father. His understandable words are easy to relate to: "Father, if it is your will, please let this cup pass from me..." Haven't we all found ourselves there? We're face to face with a situation that seems so freaking difficult to endure. So, we go to our Father and we pray for it to go away, to be fixed. Jesus does the same thing. In fact, it is very similar to a prayer for healing. But, Jesus follows those words with: "nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done, Father..." The Hebrew author sheds even more light on this moment. It tells us that, he never lost sight of where he was headed - that exhilarating finish in and with God. Since he was filled with that HOPE, he could put up with anything in his path before then. The cross. The shame. Whatever.
Paul, likewise, had this "thorn in the flesh" that was tormenting him. He prayed to God for it to be taken away. And we're shown God's answer: "My grace is enough for you." Not the answer he was going for, but shortly after, he writes Timothy, "...keep your eye on what you're doing; accept the hard times along with the good...this is the only race worth running..." Paul could see the HOPE set before him and he endured in spite of the thorn, in spite of his circumstances. He not only endured, he was filled with peace and joy.
In the garden, Jesus, to the casual onlooker, looked to be alone in his moment of suffering and despair. Paul when so consumed by his thorn in the flesh, would appear to all of us as alone in his plight. But, they were not alone, God was there and gave them what they needed to endure: HOPE.
I now believe that another tool outside of a prayer for healing, and what I believe is a better tool in that it can fill the cancer fighter with endurance is a prayer for HOPE. Despite scans, despite chemo, despite side effects, despite the weariness of the fight...HOPE. A HOPE that brings endurance.
I have spent much of my life wanting to bring the world a message through the way I live that speaks to HOPE. I believe one of the greatest ways to live out that message before the world is to die well. For in dying well, we live well. Please pray for me that I cling with all of my being to HOPE and in so doing, I show a peace and calm even as I face potential death. That prayer gives me LIFE! That pushes me to FIGHT! A fight for HOPE.