How Does God Heal? - Word&Way

How Does God Heal?

The alleged healing of three amputated toes made national news recently. Pastor John Lindell at James River Church in Ozark, Missouri, claimed that during services in Joplin on March 15th, a woman was healed who was missing three toes. He said her toes were regrown within thirty minutes of praying over her.

David Rice

I’m usually oblivious to things like this since James River Church has a tendency to make the news. A few years ago, Pastor Lindell spoke out on yoga’s spiritualism and it sparked some controversy. But last week, I was approached after a class at the gym by a member of James River Church to go seek healing there during their services. She had overheard me talking to the instructor about my pain and seizures, a disability that has changed so many things about my life. “Thank you, but I’m Baptist,” I apologized to the woman who is obviously a believer in healing.

The Assemblies of God (AG), the Pentecostal denomination that James River Church belongs to, is headquartered in Springfield, Missouri, near where I live, and consequently, I have many friends who are AG. I don’t want to misrepresent their beliefs, but generally, the AG emphasizes the Pentecost (Acts 2:1-3) and the Gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12). Both Baptists and the AG hold that scriptures are the Inspired Word of God, but we don’t hold the same interpretation as the AG and Pentecostals and focus less on the Gifts than they do. However, both denominations pray for the healing of believers and non-believers.

I had recently spoke with my doctor, just the previous week. I told her I would do anything to get the seizures to go away. “Throw the kitchen sink at it,” I said. I told her, “I find it hard to be a thoughtful person and go through this. I feel lost trying to understand what has happened to me and I keep trying to fit it into a rational worldview where God is sovereign. I want the world to make sense, and for some reason, a scientific diagnosis would help me make sense of what has happened to me. I refuse to accept the world is irrational and full of arbitrary rules and jealous and petty gods. When I despair about my seizures, I worry the world is ruled by a mad god. These past five years have tested my faith that God is rational.”

I am desperate after having no answers for why the seizures occur or even how to control them. I went from the peak of a healthy body at 39 which could ride a bicycle two hundred miles in a day to feeling constantly betrayed by my body when I just wanted to walk to my kitchen. Every good moment in the last five years has been tainted by my seizures. I might not sit in ash like Job, but my mouth feels like ash, (Job 2:8). The idea of attending James River Church for healing didn’t just pull at me — it was like finding out they were the only island in a drowned world. I want a miracle too. I want to believe God would heal me if I had enough faith.

But being disabled can be spiritual turmoil. I have seizures I can’t stop and I can’t make them go away. My life has changed in every way. I can no longer teach or even leave the home most days. And in the darkness of my own heart, I wonder if God is punishing me for every sin I have ever committed. I felt drawn to attend the healing services. I wondered if I would get in. Would I get to the pool in time to see the Angel trouble the water (John 5:4)? Did I even deserve to be healed? Was it all a sham? Were they healing in a way that was Biblical?

My own desire to seek healing couldn’t quite trump my desire to know if it was biblical. I have made too many big decisions in my life, caring little about whether it was biblical. Going through this period in my life has refocused me on God and what He is trying to say to me. So I decided to look at the way James River Church was healing and then look at the way Christ and his disciples healed in the Bible. If you go to the Assemblies of God website read the article “I’ve Never Seen Anything Like This,” you can read the testimonies of people who have claimed they were healed.

But as a Baptist, I have doubts about their testimonies. Their shared testimonies are incredible, yet it is important to recognize that the miracle of healing is more powerful if you know the individual who was disabled and then healed. Without that knowledge, you should give grace but remain reserved about the testimonies. I would never ridicule any of the testimonies, but I will not use them as witness or hold them as evidence of God’s power.

In this situation, I try to think what I would believe if I was alive when Jesus was healing people. Would I have believed miracles from testimonies? I don’t know if I would if I didn’t know them. It’s easy to lie and say, “Of course I would. I’m a good Christian.” Maybe it is even easier to say, “Those are all false testimonies and false teachers.” But it’s best to be honest with yourself and with God and show a little humility. If I lived then, I would know people who pretended to cause miracles to gain power over people. I would know about people like Simon the Magician who claimed the healing powers of God, yet were false and proven so by Peter and the Holy Spirit, (Act 9:8-24). So let’s be humble about affirming and discrediting their testimonies and look at the Bible.

Ilya Chunin / Unsplash

In the New Testament, God gives us examples of how He heals through Jesus. As a believer, I don’t believe Jesus was only a historical person. I believe in the Resurrection. I believe in His Virgin Birth. I believe in the miracles of Christ. I believe in a good and perfect God who sacrificed his good and perfect Son for my sins and my salvation. I believe He cast out demons. I believe He healed the blind and the sick and even brought the dead back to life. I believe in the whole Bible and I believe when Isaiah says “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.” (Isaiah 35:5-6) If I believed all these things about Christ, why wasn’t I running faster than Elijah to James River Church to be healed (1 Kings 18:46)? In my mind, I think this is hilarious to imagine myself running like this while trying not to have a seizure.

But I didn’t go to the James River Church healings. I live in Ozark where it is located. The church is actually less than a mile from my home and it is an easy walk to attend a service and pray for healing. Spiritually, I felt disconnected from the idea of going. I couldn’t go through with it for two reasons. The first is the healings are so public and attention-seeking. Maybe they are seeking God’s glory to be announced to the world so more people will be saved — I am not wise enough to know their hearts. The second is James River Church expects people to come to them. Christ commanded again and again, “Tell no one that I have healed you, for my time has not yet come,” to paraphrase him. Mark 1:43-44 is one example, because the healing and the spectacle of the healing, interfered with his Ministry which was to save the lost from spiritual death. The woman at the well didn’t need to be saved from thirst, she needed to be saved from her spiritual death (John 4:5-30).

It’s funny how things in our life happen all at once to give us guidance even when we didn’t know we needed any wisdom. Within the same week of James River Church’s healings and being invited, I had a friend from church earnestly pray over me to be healed. His prayer was as compassionate and as heartfelt as any prayer which would be held at James River Church. He saw me at church, suffering from my seizures, and his heart moved him to pray for me. My seizures range in complexity from stuttering to losing the ability to talk to shaking up and down my right side. I never lose consciousness, but it is still unsettling for people to witness. He saw me at one of my worst moments while I was waiting for my son. My friend responded to my seizures in the way Christ is recorded in the Gospels as responding to suffering. Jesus was moved to compassion and this led to him healing, which was often performed in private — though not every time. Sometimes a healing would be dropped on him from a hole in the roof (Luke 5:17-26), so I can’t say it was always private. But when He could, he never made a spectacle out of healing. Jesus always put His ministry first.

Sometimes our suffering and our pain can be a spiritual light to ourselves and to others. I chose not to go to the James River Church healing because I suspect at the core of their healing services is the theological idea that God doesn’t want us to suffer pain if we are in His will. I do believe in their desire to alleviate suffering in others and will not malign them. But if I will be healed by God, I will seek it through what God has shown in the Bible. As a Christian, the Holy Spirit lives within me at all times and He came to save my soul, but not necessarily to unburden me of my disabilities or suffering. Before the seizures, I worked as a teacher with kids who were disabled. Why should I expect healing and not my students with Down Syndrome? Or Cerebral Palsy? Or Microcephaly? If God loves my former students with their various disabilities (He loves them so dearly and for a time called me to love them also), He certainly doesn’t stop loving me when I have seizures and pain.

God is wise enough to allow us to suffer when it serves His purpose as Paul is reminded through the thorn in his side or Job who sits in the ash heap, covered in boils after losing everything (2 Cor. 12:6-7 and Job 2:7). Further, history and Church tradition holds that ten of the twelve disciples died serving Christ. He didn’t save them from everything. And it cannot be claimed that their martyrdoms were a punishment for their sins. When we suffer, it is not God turning his back on us, but an opportunity for us to turn to Him for support.

In my own life, I have been the subject of prayers and healing. Just one example is living when I shouldn’t have when I experienced a terrible childhood disease. I have seen people healed from terrible diseases. My mom suffered from an aggressive stage 3 Breast Cancer and had a stroke — and she is healed and still actively serves God. A friend almost died from a brain infection and he still was able to return to teaching without any significant damage, though weaker from the ordeal. We are all made weaker by this ordeal called life, but God isn’t defeated when we are weak. For both of them, I prayed for healing, specifically for miracles because it didn’t look like they would survive. God healed them for reasons I still won’t understand, but in healing them, He is Glorified.

When God heals, His power over life and death gives Christians hope and comfort. But neither my mother nor my friend went to a special healing service. Often when most of us reach out to the Holy Spirit to ask for healing, we ask for the healing in the least sacred of places. We ask for healing in hospitals, in battlefields, in bedrooms, in cars, or even in bars. God makes the place sacred, we only have to ask. It is Biblical to seek God immediately, wherever we are. Job sat in a pile of ashes. Daniel was in a pit of murder (Dan. 6:4-9). It is even Pentecostal to recognize the Holy Spirit is right there with us, living in us. He exists in us and we don’t have to seek Him in a special one-of-a-kind service.

I will continue to be a gracious Christian to my brothers and sisters in the AG, but I know that Christ often went to those who needed healing and that the disciples were sent out to do healings. He did not tell the disciples to wait at the Synagogues and hope the people would seek them out for healing. I will remember I don’t need a special service with a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a certain location to be healed by the Holy Spirit. As a Christian, I live every day with the Holy Spirit. I can call on God at any time or any place for healing and I have. So many places and so many times.

As of this writing, I’m still disabled and still have seizures which have taken away things I enjoy. I miss cycling, spending time outside with family, and teaching my students. But Christ loves me throughout the pain and throughout the moments of darkness. He sustains me even though He hasn’t healed me. He feeds my soul, even though I still have to eat every day. If you are like me and are disabled or live in pain, we’re like everyone else. We’re not special or wiser. We’re still sinners who need God. Our pain is shared by everyone who has a mortal body. But our weaknesses can be reminders to others to find joy in Christ.

Christ didn’t come just to perform miracles of healing so He could gather crowds, He came so we could be saved from this world of pain and suffering and live with Him with new resurrected bodies where there will be no weeping or shedding of tears (Rev. 21:4). Our faith, what we share, is that even while we remain disabled and in our temporary bodies, we can still praise God for his promises of eternal salvation. Job 19:25-27 perfectly sums up a biblical view of healing and its purpose:

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.

And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;

I myself will see him with my own eyes — I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”


David Rice lives in a small town in Missouri with his wife, Jennifer, and has three boys. David was a Special Education teacher for ten years before he had blood clots which led to seizures. He earned degrees from Southwest Baptist University, Missouri State University, and Drury University. He now writes, paints bikes, and is learning to work with his hands. He loves to read fantasy novels, science fiction, theology, philosophy, and history non-fiction books. When he is having a good day, he rides his ebike around his local area to try to keep in shape.