This meditation on Lent and healing prayer comes to us from our friend Laurel Marr. 

In his book, The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane tells the story of Henry Fleming, a young soldier who enlists in the army in hopes of fulfilling his dream for glory. But, a long time goes by before his regiment is called forward to battle and the fear of dying begins to set in his mind. Henry wonders if he is really brave enough for battle. Then, upon seeing the enemy for the first time, Henry’s courage fails and he flees the battlefield.

Thank you, Stephen Crane for this unforgettable picture of the reality of human nature. To die is inconceivable. It is something we constantly work against and pray to avoid. Yes, there is the dying that takes place with our final breath; the death that ends our life on earth, but there is also the dying of losing our life or losing what we think is our glory.

As we head towards Holy Week and Easter, the observance of Christ’s death and the celebration of his resurrection are only weeks away, but let’s take a glance at it now. On the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus prays in the Garden of Gesthemane:

And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground (Luke 22:44, ESV).

In Jesus Christ, God fully lives in the experience of our human nature. He prays in such agony over His own death that His sweat turns to blood. The agony of death is real, even for God. He can do what ever he pleases and He chooses to plunge into the agony of death and demonstrate dying in front of the world, nailed to a cross.

How does this picture of Christ shape our understanding of prayer, specifically healing prayer? It may be helpful to look at the recovery process of addiction. The beautiful thing about the addict is that his need for healing is most likely a life or death situation. 12-step recovery proves to be very helpful in the restoration of life for the dying addict. By the time one has reached step 3, he has surrendered to the will of God. As sick as he may still be in using his drug, the addict’s blindness has been restored as his sight is set to God rather than to himself. He has extinguished any beliefs in self-help or positive thinking promises. He has finally lost all control of ever helping himself, but he has given the nothingness he feels is left of his life to the only One who can restore him – the same one who once knelt in the garden facing the agony of his own death.

The recovery for an addict is, in essence, dying. His prior life cannot be made better; he must be made new. When speaking of the alcoholic’s surrender of life to God, Sam Shoemaker, Rector of Calvary Church (1925-51), wrote this: “ We felt we had come somewhere within hearing distance of His [Jesus Christ’s] tremendous surrender ‘Let this cup pass…nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done’”.

Teachings on prayer often look at Christ from the prospective of His ability to heal. The scriptures give us this great picture of Christ walking through town healing anyone with faith who comes near to him. We might hope in this practice of faith and prayer, and in many ways we should, but God is not in the service of our prayers as we might think He is. He is not a Holy vending machine. We tend to see the healing work of Christ as methods to be studied and utilized. But this mindset has the propensity to worship the method or the healing, not the healer. It becomes a sort of law where we believe our healing is attached to the way we pray. If I’ve learned anything in my search for healing, it is that the work of Christ, sore and bloody, is not persuaded by my next method.

It is our nature to take the cross of Christ and put it to use for our own glory instead of seeing it as the place where we meet our own death. To surrender to the Will of God is nothing different than to lose your life, but even this surrender lives with the expectations of another method. Instead, it is the end; surrender is all that is left when every method has failed. That is when we can look at the cross and see it as the place from which God once hung. For the Christian, the cross is put to use in our own lives in a way that gives us no other option than to finally surrender to the will of God.  This is the action God takes in Christ as he brings us into our new creation, and its result is suffering. Healing comes as He strips us of our self-sufficiency and our pride, but it is painful enough that we question the will of God. We do not understand it, and truthfully, we don’t even trust it.

But just as Christ was raised, so are we. As we die to our own will or our own way, we are raised up in faith. It is only by His work to make us new that we can be faithful. The prayer of faith rises from our hearts as the Good News of the Gospel takes hold of our lives. We are faithful because he is faithful to us. In faith, we begin to ask God to take us as he wills and use us as he may, even at the cost of our own life.

Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for giving us your Son.
Bring us to surrender our wills to you,
heal our blindness so we will look to
your care and keeping and
not our own. You raised your own Son
from the dead and You have the power to
raise us also. Give us the peace to rest in
You as you work in us and make us new.