Copyright, Grantley Morris, 1992. All rights reserved.
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If you think that’s bizarre, read on.
In 1950 Siamese twins were born. Separation was impossible. They shared the one bladder, lower intestine and reproductive system. Of their three legs, two were functional. Masha controlled one. Dasha controlled the other. Yet though they shared organs and the same disease-carrying blood, they contracted illnesses separately. When one was stricken with measles, for instance, the other was perfectly well.
Sickness and disability touch so many of us that we cannot avoid the issue, though unravelling the easy cases would take a spiritual Sherlock Holmes. Desiring to simplify the complexities of life, we tend to ram the many reasons for illness into just one or two categories and then wonder why our answer doesn’t work with everyone. Let’s prod the writhing mass of possibilities.
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. Mrs Scudder was denied mission board support because her ailing body could not withstand the harsh conditions in India. She went despite their protests and remained for sixty-three years. Clearly, some disabilities are toothless tigers. Like Moses, we could cower before our limitations, unaware that we are being terrorised by a set of gums!
I have researched the lives of hundreds of people and 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,
Hudson Taylor, ‘Praying’ Hyde, ‘Granny’ Brand, Catherine Booth
and a multitude more. A strong spirit brings more glory than a
SICKNESS, A FRIEND
So some afflictions are oppressive or deceptive obstacles that must be blasted by the explosive power of faith and persistence. But some are God’s ministry launching pad, firing us into wondrous service.
The disciples probed the Son of God with one of the most perplexing questions ever contemplated. ‘Why was this man born blind?’
‘That the works of God might be manifested,’ came the reply. (John 9:1-3) Then Jesus healed him. From that moment, a flood of witnessing opportunities engulfed the beggar. It seemed everyone wanted to hear his story.
Healing is a striking testimony to the power of 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 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 personifies another route to ministry. Blind and spastic, with severe mental retardation, Leslie has inspired thousands. Appalling handicaps have empowered his ministry by focusing the world’s attention on the musical gift God has given him.
Finally, there’s the pruning principle.
It is said George Matheson’s blindness sharpened his spiritual perception. 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 hymnwriter if forced to cope with the distractions presented to seeing eyes.
Call me a sceptic, 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. 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. He 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 mingled 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 the world’s attention to your talent, as it has done for Leslie Lemke, quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada and many others.
* Lastly, it could seal off distractions, funnelling your efforts into those skills the Lord wants you to excel in.
THERE ARE STILL OTHER POSSIBILITIES
* 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’.
* As already suggested, frail health could be a Satanic onslaught against which we should call down fire from heaven.
* On the other extreme, Scripture is emphatic that illness could be divine punishment. (Eg, 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 counsellors, however, 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. 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) When looking down
on earth from heaven, things are seen upside down: Paul’s marks
of shame become medals of honour; causes of pain become reasons
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 agonising but effective way of avoiding it, 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 (eg guilt), or non-spiritual (eg 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 psychologist no more than we would play 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 mould 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.
Could a heavenly experience make you ill? It happened in the Bible
and my refusal to lower Scripture from the rank of God’s Word
For Today to spiritual ancient history book compels me to conclude
that it could happen to you and me. 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, (Eg, Psalm 119:67,71) black velvet, red herring, pruning hook, badge of honour, 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 of 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 is a demonstration of His terrifying power. He can even compel evil to perfect His holy purposes.
Irrespective of whether Paul’s ‘thorn’ was physical 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. Nevertheless, 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)
Ill 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. One woman, reports a British medical journal, soon recovered from influenza, yet remained bed-ridden for forty years. ‘Wilt thou be made whole?’ probed 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. Consider 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: agonising health problems can never thwart the Almighty’s love. Job’s ailment was not allowed to be lethal and his reward was great. (Job 2:6; 42:10ff) Willie Burton recovered from his fever. The pruning temporarily 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.
The above is an extract from a fascinating book available free to internet users: Book
For insight into how Christians sabotage their health/healing and how this can be corrected, see
You Can be Happy & Resist Sickness
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