Editor's 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. 

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