In March 1993, John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement, discovered he had an inoperable tumour, treatable only by radiation. Here he tells what it looked like to be on the other side of the healing process.
Trials and testings seem to be a normal part of the Christian life. Our job is to be ready and able to handle the testings with God’s help, secure in the knowledge of his care and ultimate delivery. One night three years ago I awoke with a jolt. “What is it, Lord?” Something in my spirit wasn’t right. As the father of four married children and a grandfather to ten, my immediate thoughts were, “Is it one of the kids? Grandkids?”
No, that wasn’t it. It was something else.
My mouth felt dry. I had the distinct impression from the Lord that something frightening was headed my way.
Slipping out of bed, I retreated to my prayer corner in the living room and prayed my favourite crisis prayer: “O God, O God, O God.”
I opened the Bible, expecting the Lord not only to comfort me, but to reveal the nature of this dire warning. He led me to Psalm 33. I read verse 18: “But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love.” The next verse perplexed me: ” … to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.”
I’m certainly not starving, I thought-at the time I weighed 280 pounds. And I didn’t think I was going to die.
I read the rest of the psalm: “We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.”
I didn’t think I was going to die.
I relaxed and let out a sigh, relieved to be reminded that he was in charge. God had gotten his message across, though I didn’t know what the message was all about. Seven days later my doctor told me I had cancer.
When I began radiation treatment for my cancer, I discovered what it was like to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. As I spent weeks without eating solid food, I began to realize that the physical and emotional trauma coming my way could only be met by taking the hand of the Lord and walking with him.
Even so, being led through the valley of the shadow is frightening. Its uncertainties keep you alert to every changing scenario. I began to cling to every nuance of the doctors’ words, shrugs, and grimaces; I experienced the full range of emotions that go with a life-threatening illness. I wept as I saw my utter need to depend on God. The fear of the unknown often gripped me. I had to embrace the truth that I could not control or plan my life.
Some Christians believe we should never struggle with doubt, fear, anxiety, disillusionment, depression, sorrow, or agony. And when Christians do, it is because they’re not exercising the quality of faith they ought to; periods of disillusionment and despair are sin.
If those ideas are true, then I’m not a good Christian. Not only have I suffered physically with health problems, but I also spent a great deal of time struggling with depression during my battle with cancer.
But I also found that the view from the valley gave me a focus on Christ that I wouldn’t have gained any other way. Stars shine brighter in the desert. There are no obstructions, no distractions, no competing lights. The view from the valley isn’t so bad because Jesus shines so clearly. I knew he was there even when I didn’t always feel close to him.
I also spent a great deal of time struggling with depression during my battle with cancer.
During that year of treatment, my wife, Carol, and I made the trips to the hospital together. It was in the radiation treatment waiting room that I experienced God’s peace transcending my understanding. The waiting room was full of people who had all types of cancer, some worse than mine. Some who had smoking-related cancers were missing parts of their faces. It tore my heart to see little children waiting with their mothers. In the first few days, I was so overwhelmed by the misery of the people in the room that I shrank into myself. I couldn’t do anything or speak to anyone. I couldn’t even look at them. I didn’t want to talk. I just wanted to be there with my cancer.
But soon, as we became aware of God’s presence in that dire situation, the Holy Spirit began drawing us out. We became aware that the right word shared at the appropriate moment could move others toward God. Slowly we saw a higher purpose.
Sometimes our experiences don’t fit with our understanding of what the Bible teaches. On the one hand, we know that God is sovereign and that he sent Jesus to commission us to pray for and heal the sick. On the other hand, we know from experience that healing does not always occur. Why would God command us to heal the sick and then choose not to back up our act (so to speak) by not healing the person for whom we pray?
This can be downright discouraging, as I learned years ago in my own congregation when I began to teach on healing. It was nine months before we saw the first person healed. The temptation was to withdraw from practicing Christ’s commands or, at the other extreme, to drum up a false bravado to convince God to do what we thought he ought to do.
Neither posture is correct. Our part is to obey his commands, and his part is to execute his will. We know his will; it is given in the Bible. Still, the Bible doesn’t tell us which people God will heal or not heal, and God has the sovereign choice concerning each person for whom we pray. Will he heal, or will he extend grace for suffering instead? Or will he grant healing at a later time? Is there another factor hindering the healing, such as demonic opposition or the lack of unity in the church? These very real issues leave us where we began: trusting God to make the sovereign choices for our lives.
Two wonderful men from our Anaheim, California, congregation were diagnosed with cancer within weeks of my diagnosis. Harold Looney and Lynn Marang were both active servants in the church and very passionate in their worship of the Lord Jesus. We earnestly prayed in faith for their healings over the course of weeks and months, and in Lynn’s case, well over a year. They had families that needed them and lives worth living. Yet, in God’s sovereign choice, he took each of them home to be with him. He chose to let me remain. I can’t explain that. It’s impossible to explain. The mystery of God’s sovereignty is the only answer.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to pray for many people who have come to me wanting to be healed. Two women stand out in my memory as examples of God’s sovereign choices about living and dying. In each case, the mercy of God was at work. As I watched these women yield their lives to God’s sovereignty, I was moved again by the wonder of God’s presence in the midst of life’s most excruciating conditions.
I was speaking in South Africa at a large conference. A friend, John McClure, was with me, and we were asked to go to the home of a lady of the church. She was dressed beautifully but was very emaciated, weighing only 85 pounds. She had been sent home from the hospital to die. Her body was full of cancer. Her only hope of survival was divine intervention. We prayed for her, but not with great fervency. John had confidence that she would be healed. I felt nothing.
That night she woke up with a vibrant, tingling feeling throughout her body. For the next four hours her body was full of intense heat. She tried to call out to her husband in the next room but couldn’t raise her voice loud enough for him to hear.
Alone and frightened, she crawled into the bathroom, her body racked with pain. At the time she thought, “O my God. My body is coming apart and I’m dying.” Without knowing it, she eliminated from her body a number of large tumors. Finally, exhausted from the night’s events, she fell back asleep. She didn’t know if she’d wake up.
But a half an hour later she woke up incredibly refreshed. Later her husband woke up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. “What are you doing?” he asked, astonished to see his wife on her feet and preparing breakfast.
She replied with sudden understanding: “God has healed me.”
Two days later she reported to her doctors, who gave her a clean bill of health. They couldn’t find a cancer in her body. God had completely delivered her of all of it.
Without much energy to pray on our part and without any desperation or faith on her part, the Lord chose to heal this woman’s cancer-infested body through divine means. That’s God, and that is sometimes how he does it.
That’s God, and that is sometimes how he does it.
Not all stories of dire illness end that way. Margie Morton was a woman of wonderful faith. Over the years I had watched her exercise that faith in many different situations. She and her husband were committed members of the church from the very first day.
Margie suffered from brain tumours for a number of years. She had surgery that was somewhat successful, but continued on the long, long journey of this condition.
I was praying for her one day when I sensed the Lord speaking to me. It wasn’t an audible voice. Rather, I felt that he gave me some guidelines for ministering to Margie while I sat before him quietly. He said, “You taught Margie how to live. Now you must teach her how to die.”
I started sweating immediately. I was not happy to hear those words. I loved Margie greatly and did not want to see her life come to an end.
At the time, her doctors wanted to send her to a hospital in Los Angeles with no real prospect of being healed. They recommended a treatment that might prolong Margie’s life but without much quality. She would suffer tremendously, even with the treatment. I shared with her that I thought her remaining weeks could be better spent at home with her children, husband, and loved ones. I told her to share her heart and life with them, and that I thought she would know when it was time to go be with the Lord. I didn’t think that Margie would agree, because she was not one to give up without a fight.
However, the next eight weeks, she chose to stay home, sharing her life with her family and friends while conscious of her impending death. She did not spend her energies simply fighting cancer.
When it was time, she told her husband that she needed to go to the hospital. When she was in the hospital, her children and husband gathered around the bed and prayed for her. As they left they said, “Well, we’ll see you tomorrow, Mom.” She responded by saying, “You won’t find much.”
As soon as they left, she took a shower, and put on her brand new nightgown. The nurse happened to come in just as she was getting back in bed, and said, “My, how pretty you look! You’re all dressed up to go some place. Where are you going?”
“I’m going to meet my King,” Margie replied. Then she died, and did meet her King. That’s victory! That’s death that has no sting!
While I was being treated for cancer, someone wrote me a letter asking, “Do you still believe in healing now that you’ve got cancer?” I wrote back: “Yes! I do.” And the truth is, I do.
“I’m going to meet my King,”
I also believe in pain. Both are found in the Word of God. In the year I spent battling cancer God purged me of a lot of habits and attitudes that weren’t right, and through it I grew stronger as a Christian. Some of my greatest advances in spiritual maturity came as I embraced the pain-as each day I had to choose to allow God to accomplish his work in me by any method, even adversity.
Tragedy, illness, unforeseeable loss and pain will have an impact on all of us, and while I don’t know anyone who would deliberately sign up to suffer so, God uses these experiences to accomplish his purposes in and through us. But we ought not to be frightened. God is sovereign. He is our resource and our peace. We have security in the knowledge of the Lord’s plan for us to spend eternity with him. Nothing can ultimately vanquish us, and that’s good news.