The Quest For Fulfillment
© Copyright, Grantley Morris, 1985-1996.
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Chapter 14: Disasters – Divine And Demonic
Waiting For Your Ministry
The Quest For Fulfillment
In 1950 Siamese twins were born. Separation was impossible. They
shared the one bladder, lower intestine, rectum and reproductive
system. Of their three legs, two were functional. Masha controlled
one, Dasha controlled the other. Yet though they shared organs
and even the same disease-carrying blood, they contracted illnesses
separately. When one was stricken with measles, for instance,
the other was perfectly well. If you think that’s bizarre, read
Willie Burton, pioneer missionary to the Congo, prayed for Chief Lubinda’s withered arm. As he prayed the arm healed. Moved by this spectacular proof of divine power, the chief pleaded with the missionary to bring the gospel to his people. But it was impossible. ‘God’s miracle worker’ was too sick to go.
Sickness and disability seem to bar so many of us from service that I cannot avoid the issue, though unraveling the easy cases would take a spiritual Sherlock Holmes. Desiring to simplify the complexities of life, we tend to ram the many reasons for affliction into just one or two categories and then wonder why our answer doesn’t work with everyone.
By re-weaving several threads in this book we will produce a simple but revealing tapestry.
You will recall, at his royal command performance, Moses’ rendition of If I had a stammer. That song and dance didn’t go down too well. Like his speech impediment, some disabilities are toothless tigers. Mrs. Scudder was denied mission board support because they were sure she could not withstand the harsh conditions in India. She went despite their protests, and remained for sixty-three years. We could cower before our limitations, unaware that we are being terrorized by a set of gums!
On your behalf I have researched the lives of hundreds of people. Of all the things that moved me, I was perhaps most powerfully struck by those who faced crippling health problems and won. I refer to people who won, not in the sense of quickly regaining health, but by achieving amazing things in the face of infirmities that would have rendered other people helpless. Earth owes much to tough people in weak bodies; people like Livingstone, Brainerd, Finney, Hudson Taylor, ‘Praying Hyde,’ Catherine Booth, ‘Granny’ Brand and a multitude more. A strong spirit brings more glory than a strong body.
So some afflictions can be ignored. Others are oppressive obstacles that must be blasted by the explosive power of faith. But some are a friend.
God can make disability a ministry launching pad.
‘Why was this man born blind?’ the disciples probed the Son of God.
‘That the works of God might be manifested,’ came the reply. (John 9:1-3) Then Jesus healed him. Instantly, a flood of ministry opportunities engulfed the beggar. It seemed everyone wanted to hear his story.
Healing is a striking testimony to God, (Matthew 11:21-24; Mark 16:20; John 5:36; 10:25,38; 11:4; 14:11; 15:24; Acts 4:14; 14:3; 15:10-12; Hebrews 2:4) but this thrilling opportunity has one drawback: to receive a miraculous healing you must first be sick. And the longer and more chronic your illness, the more powerful the testimony.
But ill health can launch us into service without such fireworks.
‘You have heard of the endurance of Job,’ wrote James as he sought to spark his readers. (James 5.11) From a ministry perspective, the most productive part of Job’s long life was the time of his illness. Even today Job lifts us. We know he understands.
Some people suffer so greatly that all they need do is remain remotely Christ-like to achieve more for God than a thousand sermons. You’ll find that unbelievable until touched by someone whose flickering love for God continues despite intense suffering.
Leslie Lemke, whose story I related earlier, personifies another route to ministry. Severe handicaps have heightened his ministry by focusing the world’s attention on the musical gift God has given him.
Then there’s the pruning principle.
It is said George Matheson’s blindness sharpened his spiritual sight. Pious nonsense? Fanny Crosby wouldn’t think so. She claimed that if offered the chance to regain her sight she would refuse. Fanny believed she would not have been such a prolific hymn writer if forced to cope with the distractions presented to seeing eyes.
Call me a skeptic, but Fanny was blinded soon after birth. How accurately could she guess the ‘disadvantages’ of sight? Was she over-zealous in wanting to see blessing in tragedy? Surprising confirmation of her view flows from a secular source. In Creative Malady, British medical professor, Sir George Pickering, explored the lives of five famous people whose work, he believes, benefited from psychosomatic illnesses. Pickering also noted that one of his students was unexceptional until tuberculosis confined him to a sanatorium for a year. The man read and thought and emerged a changed person who extended the boundaries of human knowledge. The professor tells of another colleague whose great intellect apparently benefited from the ‘enforced solitude’ of illness. For similar reasons, when Pickering was cured of a painful arthritic condition, he admits his relief was mixed with sadness.
New Zealand artist, Rei Hamon, discovered his unique ability when as an injured logger he began filling the empty hours by making little dots on paper. Similarly, for Geoff Goodfellow, back pain boarded up previous openings and turned a poetry-hater into one of Australia’s most popular poets.
People are amazed at what physicist Stephen Hawking has accomplished despite his chronic limitations. Yet the world-famous scientist achieved little before contracting motor neuron disease. There were too many other things to do, and no apparent urgency. Hawking, like so many people before him, seems to have excelled because of his handicap.
So there are at least four ways in which the wall of affliction can become a door to service.
* Your ailment could be used to display the healing power of the risen Lord, blazing new avenues for witness.
* It could highlight your godliness, inspiring others and demonstrating the reality of God, even if, like Job, you lack special talent.
* Or, like black velvet behind a diamond, it could draw people’s attention to your talent, as it has done for Leslie Lemke, quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada and many others.
* It could seal off distractions, funneling your efforts into those skills the Lord wants you to excel in.
Irrespective of whether it is hepatitis or a broken leg, chicken pox or cancer, sickness is sometimes the physical manifestation of a mental problem.
If, for instance, we fear God’s call, sickness can be an agonizing but effective way of avoiding commitment, without the need to consciously rebel. Be it social or family or work pressures, competitive sport, exams or whatever, if an individual finds something sufficiently traumatic and yet feels obliged to do it, medical illness is an escape hatch the unconscious mind is likely to seize.
Or illness could be our psyche’s attempt to entice the attention or sympathy of someone, perhaps even of God.
Another possibility is that we are unconvinced of our right to vibrant health. Again, this may be conscious or unconscious, spiritual (e.g. guilt), or non-spiritual (e.g., parental messages received as a child). Whatever the cause, a weakened will to resist illness can make us vulnerable to almost any illness. As we saw from twins Masha and Dasha, there is more to illness than the chance exposure to disease.
It may be liberating to prayerfully and gently let God examine our hidden motives, but in the lives of other people, we should play amateur psychiatrist no more than we would become a back-yard surgeon. Consider Amy Carmichael, who spent twenty highly productive years in India with seldom a pain-free moment and practically never venturing out of her room. I dare not touch even her memory by wondering whether Amy sought healing with sufficient intensity; whether, for instance, her subconscious found sickness a way, albeit a tortuous one, of avoiding distraction, thus empowering her to focus on more critical work. Since God has vowed to mold all things for good in the lives of his darlings, it is hardly surprising if we could see certain advantages in Amy’s tragedy. So rather than flirt with the devil, who delights in turning the screws on suffering Christians, I exalt Amy as an inspiration to all who are afflicted by limitations that will not budge. As distressing as infirmity is, we should follow her lead of refusing to use painful limitations as an excuse for opting out of divine obligations.
* Poor health could be a leash used by God as the only way of restraining us from a foolish move.
* It could be the product of an ungodly lifestyle. I’m sure you could denounce drunkenness, drugs, smokes and promiscuity as eloquently as me. Most of us are also alert to the health-destroying sins of anger, envy and bitterness. But I draw attention to lack of faith, manifesting itself in worry, frantic activity and a refusal to delegate. More subtle still is the pressure to be over-zealous, slaving dangerously long hours ‘for the Lord’.
* We have noted that frail health could be a Satanic obstruction against which we should call down fire from heaven. On the other extreme, however, Scripture is emphatic that illness could be divine punishment. (E.g., Numbers 12:8-10; 2 Samuel 12:13-14; 24:10-15; 2 Kings 15:5; 2 Chronicles 21: 14-15; 26:18-20; John 5:14; Acts 13:10-11; 1 Corinthians 11:29-30; Revelation 16:2) (We need go no further than Job’s counselors to see how this truth can be horribly abused.)
* Arthritis might be a cross to bear – if it resulted from languishing in a damp cell while awaiting trial for one’s faith. We saw earlier that, as Jesus used the term, a ‘cross’ is suffering voluntarily embraced in order to follow Christ. Paul’s wounds and Epaphroditus’ illness fit this narrow slot. (Philippians 2:27, 30) Looking down from heaven, earth’s events are seen upside down: Paul’s marks of shame, for instance, become medals of honor. Causes of pain can be reasons for joy.
* Could a heavenly experience make you ill? It happened in the Bible and a refusal to lower God’s Word from the status of God’s book for today to spiritual ancient history compels the conclusion that it could happen to you. Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord damaged his eyes. (Acts 9:3-18) On Patmos John fell down as if dead. (Revelation 1:17) ‘No one can see my face and live,’ the Lord warned Moses who had to settle for a lesser revelation. (Exodus 33:20-23) After a vision ‘Daniel fainted and was sick’ for days. Another vision physically overwhelmed him and temporarily left him dumb. (Daniel 8:27; 10:8-17) For Ezekiel and John the Baptist’s father, their loss of speech lasted much longer. (Ezekiel 3:23-27; 24:27; 33:22; Luke 1:19-22) It is difficult to gauge how serious such afflictions would have been had the Lord not intervened with healing. I would like to argue that in such circumstances God would always heal. However, many scholars believe that Jacob’s heavenly wrestler left both Jacob and my argument permanently lame. (Genesis 32:24-32) Such mysteries highlight my ignorance, bolstering my suspicion that there are causes of sickness I have not even identified. Certainly in the realm of rare events one might find almost anything. For Bruce Olson, lone missionary in the jungles of South America, life-threatening illness was the only thing keeping him alive. The savage he loved wanted to kill him but superstition forbade the murder of anyone critically ill. Chronic hepatitis not only saved Bruce’s life, it played a key role in winning over an enemy and proved a significant factor in Bruce’s eventual success.
God’s leash, Satan’s hammer, rod of correction, (E.g., Psalm 119:67,71) black velvet, red herring, pruning hook, sin’s fruit, mental trick, badge of honor, springboard to service, glory aftermath, sealed mystery – who knows the true character of your disability? God. And with those who press him, he shares his secrets – on a need-to-know basis. (Sorry about that last phrase, yet even that is comforting. Seek, however. Your need to know may be greater than you think.)
Before abandoning you with this seething brew of possibilities, I offer a suggested vantage-point from which to view the cauldron.
We should not exult infirmity, nor bow to it. Even if through divine genius sickness often ends up more a surge than a scourge, all affliction, like death, can be tracked back to Adam’s sin. (Romans 5:12; 8:18-23) If God ever uses sickness, it displays his terrifying power: he can even compel evil to perfect his holy purposes.
Regardless of whether Paul’s ‘thorn’ was sickness, it has much to teach us. Christ deflected the Devil’s dart with such precision that it punctured only that part of Paul that was in danger of bloating with pride. Though hurled in Satanic wrath, it passed through the scarred hands of Jesus and entered Paul as a manifestation of divine love and wisdom. Nonetheless, we can so focus on the good God squeezed out of this that we overlook the key elements. Paul’s discomfort originated with the Evil One and became necessary because the sin of pride lurked dangerously near. (2 Corinthians 12:1-7)
Poor health is not God’s first choice – Adam and Eve were created whole. Neither is it his final solution – sickness has no place in the world to come. (Revelation 21:4)
Aeneas was bedridden ‘eight years, and was sick of the palsy’. (Acts 9:33) ‘After eight years, I’d be sick of the palsy, too,’ cracks some clown. Not necessarily. Remember Fanny Crosby. Remember the British spinster in bed forty years with ‘the ‘flu’. ‘Wilt thou be made whole?’ queried Jesus. (John 5:6, see also Luke 18:41) For the long-term patient, full health often means an unnerving disruption of lifestyle. Even when infirmity is spiritually beneficial, we can dwell too long in that state. If we need a pride pricker, we obviously have a problem with pride. If we need the pruning power of sickness, it suggests inadequate self-restraint, insensitivity to the Spirit’s leading, or some other spiritual deficiency. We should seek to overcome the deficiency so we no longer need our sickness.
If you lie awake worrying about how they’ll fit all your medical conditions on your death certificate – even if you are so near death you look like your passport photo – I believe you have a right, almost a duty, to pray for healing. And unbelieving prayer is wasted prayer.
Never give up your quest for healing. Remember the cripple who habitually begged at the temple gate. Innumerable times, possibly every year since his childhood, the Son of God must have walked past this man. After more than forty years of disability, even after the Messiah had left the planet, God healed him. (Acts 3:2,10; 4:22)
One final reassurance: agonizing health problems can never thwart the Almighty’s love. It was somewhere in the midst of the apostle Paul’s amazing catalogue of trials that he made the triumphant discovery that nothing – not deprivation, starvation, torture, or lingering death – can remove us from the love of God. (Romans 8:35,38-39) Job’s ailment was not allowed to be lethal and his reward was great. (Job 2:6; 42:10 ff) Willie Burton’s fever limited his ministry but not God’s work. I’m told a friend went in his place and a Mission Station was established, though beyond that, my source is silent. The intricacies are kept from me. I’m used to that. But I know enough about God to know it worked out perfectly.
Tucked in the heart of the Bible sleeps a tiny psalm of priceless truth. (Psalm 131) The singer confessed that as a mother denies her baby access to her milk when it’s time for her darling to be weaned, so God sometimes denies us things we crave. Yet as a weaned infant lies warm and secure in its mother’s bosom, our soul can nestle into God, not knowing why we have been denied what we have clamored for, but content to draw love and comfort from the Father’s heart.
As the heavens soar far above us, high and unreachable, so is God’s wisdom. (Isaiah 55:8-9; Psalm 139:6; 147:5; Job 11:7-9; Romans 11:33-34) Our tiny minds may understand the Father’s ways no more than a babe understands its mother, yet still we can rest in him, bathed in the certainty that when the omnipotent, omniscient Lord lets the inexplicable touch a child of his, it is a manifestation of unfathomable love. In the hands of the One who wouldn’t so much as break a damaged reed or snuff a smoking wick, you are safe. (Matthew 12:20)
Since our last review we have uncovered another set of hindrances to ministry. If it involved just God and us, ministry would be complex. Yet this is complicated many times over by the involvement of other people and even demonic powers. Nevertheless, every impediment to service will break under the weight of stubborn, faith-filled prayer. It may take days, months or years, but it will happen – provided we don’t let doubt, disobedience or bitterness sap our prayers of power.
Christians are surrounded by serious problems. For us, problems have to be serious – if they smiled we’d see they have no teeth.
Spiritually enthroned in heaven with Christ, we have instant access to the Father. Though evil forces of incredible power impinge upon us, resident within us is One greater than the combined forces of hell. (1 John 4:4) So we are never helpless pawns in a battle between spiritual superpowers. And divine omnipotence doesn’t sag when adversaries take human form or merge with psychological factors. The origin of our difficulties may be outside us, but not, in Christ, outside our sphere of influence.
We serve a God in whose presence impossibilities cringe in defeat. Our mighty Lord can manipulate Satan like a puppet. Rest in the love of God, and a hostile world becomes a feather-bed. ‘You meant if for evil, but God meant it for good’ (Compare Genesis 50:20) describes every calamity we could ever face. (Romans 8:28)
Hold on. Victory is certain.
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