Introductory Note:

In this conclusion to Wednesday’s piece (The Royal Touch, Part One), James Catford digs a little deeper into the power and effects of healing prayer, examines how this ministry is to be approached, and offers us a little more insight into Bill Vaswig’s work within this ministry.

From the laying on of hands to the practice of presence to the miraculous channeling of energy, Jesus is our ultimate guide in all the ways of healing. We can partake of this particular gift of the Spirit and are invited to do so with, as Bill cautioned, wisdom, sensitivity, and healthy doses of humor.

If you have not already had a chance to listen, you can find the first part of Nathan Foster’s conversation with James about Bill Vaswig and healing prayer here. We’d also like to commend to you again James and Bill’s own conversations on Bill’s life work in this ministry.

(Original British spellings and punctuation have been retained.)

Renovaré Team

Centre or periphery? 

Becoming more like Christ may or may not involve healing. For my tutor, Bill Vaswig, the reason why one person is healed and another is not is a mystery. A young mother is struck with cancer in both breasts. An elderly man watches the death of his wife and lifetime companion. A boy finds little relief from a rare impediment. Those who have taken their suffering into the Kingdom have benefitted most from not asking the why? question, but the what? What can this experience do to build the character of Christ on the inside, as well as demonstrate the Kingdom to the world on the outside? (Rom 5:3 – 5

Whether healing comes in this lifetime or the next (Rev 21:4) it is certainly in the heart of God to heal (Isaiah 53: 5). This is not always the accepted view in the West, but it has gained greater support from scholars from a wide variety of Christian traditions, and not just those who trace their roots back to Azusa Street. 

Even though so many people around the world are looking for it, the message of some Christian teachers is that God has only a passing interest in healing. The gift is seen as a doubtful experience contained in only one of the peripheral controversial’ gifts of the Holy Spirit. And even then the Holy Spirit is often seen as the little brother of Jesus in the Trinity. In this way healing is located as a subset of a subset of a subset of God. Little wonder it is shuffled off to the sidelines of our churches. 

However, the glorious truth that Bill was so passionate about is that God is for us (Rom 8:31) and wants to answer our prayers and requests (Matt 7: 7 – 8). Thankfully, when it comes to the lavish offer of Jesus to us in John 15, he puts in a qualifier; if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you’ (v7). The qualifier is there so that we don’t do too much damage to others or ourselves by handling such a powerful resource. But the point is that the person who abides in him will truly want other people to be well. Love impels us to pray for the wellbeing of a parent, a sibling or a child; and if there is ever any doubt about what to pray for, simply find something good and ask for it. Doesn’t God want to give good gifts too? (Matt 7: 9 – 11

The Kingdom of the heavens that opened at Jesus’ baptism has never closed (Matt 3:16). Jesus said that his followers would be able to do the same kind of things that he did (Jn 14:12). What, we may ask, did he have in mind here if it didn’t include some form of healing gift? 

A universe of healing 

Jesus knew how to handle this reality better than anyone else. He knew how to turn water into wine (Jn 2). Our world has only understood how to turn material things into energy, such as oil or gas or wood, and even that took a long time to develop. But Jesus knew how to turn energy into matter, and that is quite a different thing. 

By his life and example Jesus appears to have gone out of his way to model something that is open to all humanity if they will relocate their lives into the Kingdom of God through the power of the Cross. But anyone who wishes to experience anything like this kind of power will need the same sort of character that he had so that they can deal with it. 

Blighted with a serious heart condition, ill health forced Bill Vaswig to retire from leading a growing church in Southern California while still in his forties. Over several years I would listen attentively, often making copious notes, as this wounded healer explained what he had discovered about healing prayer, and I would watch him at work with a variety of sick people in both America and Britain. 

In practical terms Bill showed me several things. For example, see each person’s story as unique. It is only in the context of God’s deep love for them individually that anyone should consider engaging with the process of healing. Little good can come from inappropriately attempting to pray for someone to be healed. But that should not stop anyone trying, or watching for healing to come over time. See doctors as God’s helpers, not in opposition to his intervention. Start small’, Bill taught, and don’t go for resurrections for a while’, he would joke. Also, as a usual discipline, pray under the authority and supervision of a local church and avoid going it alone. Always be pastorally sensitive, be wise about praying for the opposite sex, and maintain a healthy level of humour that doesn’t allow the experience to get intense. 

Why, I asked our mutual friend Dallas Willard, was Bill so effective in his prayer for people who came to see him? Because he lives in a universe where these things happen — naturally and normally’, he said. Looking back on my own time with him, if Bill taught me anything it was that healing prayer is abiding prayer. 

Bill had himself been prayed for by a remarkable Christian woman when he was experiencing struggles of his own, and his faith had grown considerably as he ministered to hundreds of people over thirty-five years. His own experience of grace gave him the assurance that what he was praying for was real. Through his own careful study of Scripture, his brokenness and his many years of training and experience, Bill had developed the character to handle the precious gift of healing. I want to develop it too. 

Small beginnings

On his last visit to the UK when Bill had all but stopped speaking in public about healing, he visited a community that had been badly hurt by unanswered prayer. Some years earlier a child of one of the elders had been very sick and the congregation gathered together to pray. But the girl died, and along with her died the church’s belief in prayer. Bill took me to one side and asked why did they bring the church together when the Bible teaches that it is the elders who are to pray for the sick?’ (Jam 5:14) The point had never occurred to me, but Bill explained that the elders were considered to have the faith and character required to handle the power of prayer. There will be people in the congregation who don’t believe in healing at all’ he told me and this will have been a considerable block to God working’. 

Over the next hour or so Bill lovingly listened, coaxed and challenged the little group back into believing that God might just be able to heal people after all. Do you believe that God can save someone from their sins?’ he asked. Well of course he can, they replied. Then what makes it harder for God to heal someone than to forgive them for their sin?’ A nice line, Bill. You just kick-started another church into trusting God again.