Following the Lead of the Healer –
By Stephen Seamands –
Healing played an essential part in Jesus’s three-year earthly ministry. In fact, along with teaching and preaching, it was one of his three major activities. The Gospel of Matthew sums up Jesus’s ministry in Galilee like this: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (9:35, emphasis added; cf. 4:23-24).
Not only did Jesus heal, but he insisted that his disciples and followers heal as well. Sending them out two by two, he “gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness” (Matt. 10:1), and he commanded them to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons” (Matt. 10:8). And they did.
But what happened after Jesus died, rose, and ascended into heaven? Did his ministry of healing come to an abrupt end? Definitely not. It merely assumed a different shape. Now Jesus’s healing ministry, like his preaching and teaching ministry, continues on earth through his body, the church.
The healing ministry to which we are called is not primarily our ministry but Christ’s. What we are called to do is to participate in the ongoing healing ministry of Jesus Christ.
Luke emphasized this at the very beginning of the book of Acts. In his first book (the Gospel of Luke) he said that he wrote about “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1, emphasis added). Notice he didn’t say “all that Jesus did and taught” as we might expect. That’s because Luke was convinced that Jesus’s ministry on earth didn’t end when he ascended into heaven. In reality, it had only just begun. The reason Luke was writing this second book (Acts) was to tell the story of the ongoing ministry of Jesus through his apostles and his followers.
So this seemingly insignificant phrase – “All that Jesus began to do and teach” – is actually extremely significant. We are called to participate in his ongoing ministry of healing, to join him in his ministry rather than asking him to help us carry out ours. He is the healer – not us. Our job is to follow the Healer.
Because of our deep-seated tendency as fallen human beings to put ourselves at the center of everything, to make things about ourselves, we must be constantly reminded of this. Healing ministry is not primarily your ministry. It’s not about Jesus helping you as you minister to others; it’s about you joining him as he continues his ministry of healing through you.
Why this matters so much. This foundational truth about healing ministry has profound practical implications. I’ll tell you about four of them.
First, it shapes the way we pray as we engage in healing ministry. As we prepare for healing ministry, we often pray “Lord, help me” prayers. For example, “Lord, they’ve asked me to pray with people who come forward to request prayer for healing during the Communion service this Sunday at church. Would you help me as I pray for them?”
To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with “Lord, help me” prayers like that. There are many in the Bible, especially in the Psalms. But when you realize that it’s more about you joining Jesus than him helping you, then it’s better to pray, “Lord, help yourself to me. Lord, use me. You are here working. What do you want to say or do? Let me join you. Don’t let me get in the way of what you are doing.”
Someone once asked Mother Teresa the secret of her amazing, awe-inspiring ministry among the sick and dying in Calcutta. “I’m just a little pencil in God’s hands,” she immediately replied. “He does the thinking. He does the writing. He does everything and sometimes it is hard because it is a broken pencil, and He has to sharpen it a little more” (The Joy in Loving).
Mother Teresa understood that her job was to be a pencil – and notice she said a little, not a big pencil. She was willing to be little enough. And she also understood that it was God’s job to do the thinking and writing.
Like Mother Teresa, understanding whose ministry it is shapes the way we pray in preparation for healing ministry. We find ourselves praying, “Lord, help yourself to me. Help me simply to be a little pencil. Dull and broken though I am, use me to accomplish your work through me.”
Second, and perhaps most importantly, understanding whose ministry it is relieves us of the burden of ministry. For if, in fact, it’s Christ’s healing ministry, then ultimately he is the one who is responsible. It’s his burden, not ours. We don’t have to make it happen. He does. Our task is merely to let it happen.
A Christian leader who was in a class I taught several years ago shared with me what a difference it made as she began to grasp this. Here’s how she described what happened:
“I work at a mental health hospital as a clinical counselor. In the past, my prayer, as I entered work, was always to ask Christ to lead me and guide me through my ministry, helping me to be a vehicle instead of a barrier. For one week I prayed instead that Christ would allow me to accompany him, asking him to fill me with the Holy Spirit and allow me to piggyback on his ministry.
“It was the most exciting ministry with the most surprising results. The anxiety I usually experienced as I entered the building was gone. I was smiling and felt a power around me that felt unstoppable. My colleagues responded to me differently, often asking for guidance or consultations. And the clients prospered.
“My days were filled with something bigger than I ever could have imagined. I liked coming to work. My journey became bigger than I am because it was bigger than I am. I was tagging alongside Jesus through the Holy Spirit.”
Knowing whose ministry it is means knowing whose burden it is – Jesus’s not ours. Ultimately, we are not the ones who are responsible. We don’t have to lead or to heal. We just must follow the Leader and the Healer.
Third, understanding that healing is a participation in the ongoing healing ministry of Christ increases our confidence and boldness as we minister. Think of it this way: every time we enter a place to engage in healing prayer ministry with someone, we can rest assured that the risen Christ is there with us. Actually, he arrived there before we did and is waiting for us to join him.
In her wonderful book The Healing Presence, Leanne Payne captures this idea well: “He it is who comes and heals. It is he who befriends the sinner, releases the captive, and heals the lame in mind and body …. We learn to practice the Presence of Jesus within (our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit), without (he walks alongside us as Companion and Brother), and all around (he is high and lifted up, and we exalt him as Sovereign God). And we ask him to love the world through us. We learn to collaborate with him. We do what we see him doing … we simply trust in his Presence with us.”
Knowing that Jesus is present with us and will meet us also enables us to approach ministry with greater confidence – not in ourselves, but in who Jesus is and what he desires to do.
Years ago, when I had first begun to engage in healing prayer, I was ministering to the wife of a seminary student. As I listened to her unpack the tangled, sordid story of her life, I felt overwhelmed. There was so much trauma, pain, and baggage, so many complicated problems and emotional issues to deal with, so many layers that needed healing. As a result, I found myself desperately praying, “Lord, I don’t have a clue where to begin. But I know you do. You’ve been working in her life, and you’re here now. Come now and reveal yourself and your presence in our midst.”
I can’t remember what I said, what questions I asked, or even if I said anything, but before I knew it, Jesus had answered my prayer. He came into the situation, revealed himself to her, and put his finger on the exact place where she needed to begin her healing journey. Forty-five minutes later, as she left my office, she was effusive in thanking me over and over for how much I had helped her.
After she had left, I sat there stunned and silent, shaking my head in awe at what had just transpired. “Lord,” I asked, “how in the world did that happen? I didn’t do anything!”
“Yes, you did,” Jesus seemed to whisper. “You made yourself available to me. You invited me to come, and when I did, you didn’t get in the way.”
The key to fruitful healing prayer ministry is to be so open and available to the risen Christ that he is free to manifest himself as you listen and counsel and pray with people. Knowing it’s his ministry in which we’ve been invited to participate increases our confidence and expectancy. He really does want to show up!
Fourth, understanding whose ministry it is determines our primary calling. Abiding in Christ, not healing ministry, is what matters most. As Jesus stressed in his parable of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-8), branches bear fruit only as they abide in the vine. “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5 NRSV). When we make abiding in him our top priority, Jesus himself will come and dwell in us. And then he will accomplish his healing ministry through us.
Often when I am taking time in the morning to abide in Christ through prayer, devotional reading, and meditating on Scripture, I will find myself thinking about a healing prayer appointment I have with someone later in the day. When that happens, my natural tendency has been to pray, “Lord, help me as I meet with so-and-so. …”
Most of the time I hear nothing. Instead of answering my prayer, Jesus seems to say, “Steve, don’t worry about that appointment right now. Just concentrate on me and your relationship with me. Abide in me. In fact, I really care more about that than anything you’ll ever do for me, Steve. So dwell in me, worship me, and love me. Receive my love for you. Enter into the joy of my rest.”
I’ve discovered that when I focus on that – when I make it more about abiding in Christ and less about asking for help concerning what lies ahead – then when I’m in the healing prayer session, he will have freer rein and will come and accomplish his healing work through me.
Abiding in Christ is our primary calling. And Jesus promised that if we abide in him, he will abide in us (John 15:4) and we will bear fruit (v. 5). This, of course, is why the various spiritual practices or disciplines, or “means of grace,” as John Wesley liked to call them, are so vital and indispensable. As many and as varied as they are, they are all ways of abiding in Christ.
I trust you are beginning to realize why it matters so much that you understand whose ministry it is you are entering. Knowing that it’s essentially Jesus’s ministry and not ours shapes the way we pray, relieves us of the burden of ministry, increases our confidence in his healing presence, and determines our primary calling.
Stephen Seamands is emeritus professor of Christian doctrine at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is the author of numerous books such as Wounds That Heal, Ministry in the Image of God, and The Unseen Real. This article is taken from Follow the Healer by Stephen Seamands. Copyright © 2023 by Stephen A. Seamands. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing. www.harpercollinschristian.com. Artwork: Parma, Italy: The fresco Jesus healing the ten lepers in Byzantine iconic style in Baptistery probably by Grisopolo from 13 century. Photo by Renata Sedmakova/Shutterstock.