The World of Sickness

Just after Christmas, I caught a virus, which was quite incapacitating and knocked me out of action for seventy days, the longest period of illness that I had ever known. Through the process I began to empathise with those who suffer regularly in this way; those who more frequently than others pay a visit to what I call “the world of sickness.” Being ill can certainly be like living in another world, especially if the sickness itself is invisible, presenting no mark or wound that the onlooker might sympathise. As well as the challenge of any pain, immobility or discomfort, the world of sickness can also be a very lonely, theologically confusing and frustrating place; not to mention what looks to be, on the surface at least, an immense waste of valuable time.

Charismatic/Pentecostal churches have not always been very good at helping the sick. Any teaching heard on the subject will be focussed almost entirely on “getting healed” from sickness, rather than being sustained through it (Psalm 41), while some extreme Faith groups may even encourage you to deny that you are sick, or at least gag you from talking about it too much.

So what can we say about the world of sickness? First of all, we should not think it strange that Christians get sick from time to time. Lots of people in the Bible were sick – even those who walked in the miraculous, like Paul, Daniel and Elisha. Jesus discouraged His disciples from thinking that personal sickness came from personal sin (John 9:1-3) while the Apostle Peter taught that believers should not think it outrageous if they suffer (1 Peter 4:12). The world is fallen, and we are part of a groaning creation (Romans 8:22-23). When the Lord comes and raises us in glory, sickness will be no more. Up until that glorious Day, there’ll always be a chemists at the end of Mill Road and a doctors’ surgery on Bridge Street.

Secondly, a frank admission: it can be quite a test of character when we are sick. If we are in pain, we are likely to be less jovial or patient. This is not to excuse sin, but something for us to be aware of as we rub shoulders with one another in life. This is why a devout Christian should be all the more vigilant to think and speak like Jesus, craving holiness, while they are travelling through the world of sickness. We see this clearly in the story of Job. For as long as the suffering remained outside of his body, Job’s righteousness remained pretty much intact. Satan was shrewd when he gained permission to touch his health (Job 2:4-5), cursing him with fever, body sores, scabs, and constant pain day and night. Arguably, he cracked when he became ill, and not before. When you are sick, many of the disciplines of the Christian life, such as prayer and study, can become almost impossible. James hints that believers who are sick may find it hard to pray for themselves and need the help of others (James 5:13-14). It is important not to blow our testimony or become a misery in any circumstances. Praise God that the fruit of the Spirit is “long suffering” (Galatians 5:22 KJV) and that while we sick, our inner man, filled with God, can sustain us through the journey (Proverbs 18:14).

Thirdly, in the world of sickness we truly learn that God can work everything for good (Romans 8:28), even our suffering. Being flat on your back gives you time to think, to reflect; while suffering should lead you to be more compassionate with others. In Job 33:14-30, the writer tells the story of a man who had closed his ears to the voice of God; only a period of illness changed that. Truly, God can speak to us when we are “laid aside” so much easier than we are on the move. In my own life, I recall the first few weeks of the year 2000. They were incredible, life changing days. The presence of the Lord surrounded my life and I received three direct words of very specific, predictive revelation concerning the year ahead: each of which came to pass within months. It was amazing. Passionate fires blazed inside my soul and I fell in love with Jesus all over again. Where was I? In some revival land, or at a Holy Spirit conference? No. I was in bed with the ’flu, encountering the Lord like never before or since. Most “get up and go” workaholic people see illness as a huge waste of time. The Master may see it as a divine opportunity and it is always good to be on the same page as the Almighty.

Fourthly, we may need to learn so much more about how to respond to illness, both in ourselves and in other people. Of course, we should pray and ask for heaven’s miracle. God is a healing God and we should ask Him for His supernatural touch. Last September I had the privilege of preaching in a Brazillian ghetto where every single person who received prayer was healed, perhaps twenty-five people in all. For sure, Jesus did not come to hurt the sick but to heal the sick, and promises of God’s faithfulness to heal are found throughout the whole Bible. Indeed, in 2 Chronicles 16:12, the writer chastises King Asa for not asking God to heal him! Don’t worry, Asa didn’t ever read 2 Chronicles and get offended; long before the Old Testament arrived in the shops, he died from a foot disease.

Alongside prayer, and not a contradiction, there is also encouragement in the Scriptures for the sick to take medicine. No where does the Bible forbid people from seeking medical help, even those who come for prayer ministry (Luke 10:34; 1 Timothy 5:23). I often tell people in the prayer lines: “God will not unheal you as a punishment if you take your tablets!” Luke, the beloved physician and writer of the Third Gospel, was in a godly profession (Colossians 4:14). Some avoid medicine or going to the surgery, not because they have greater faith, but simply because they are seeking a greater testimony. Some, especially men, simply dislike going to the doctor at all – be honest! But whether through the Spirit’s power or by God’s wisdom given to chemists and surgeons, we thank God for our healing!

Finally, we need to learn to help others as they travel through the world of sickness. An important verse is found in Matthew 25, where Jesus talks about the separation of the “Sheep and the Goats”. He says, “I was sick and you looked after me” (verse 36). Not “healed me”; not “prophesied over me”; not “prayed for me.” We need to “look after” the sick as well as pray for them. Very few people are aware or could quote this verse, so please underline it in your Bible now. Sometimes, what is really needed is not more prayer, but to cook a meal, or to do the ironing, or to do the Tesco run. As much as we will do that for the very least of those who are ill, we do it unto Jesus!

So for all those travelling through, or even dwelling in, the world of sickness, take heart. Here’s my simple checklist:

1. Don’t get worried about “why” you are sick. God works everything for His glory. Just keep praying, let others pray for you too, and take the best medical advice you can get.

2. Watch yourself in terms of staying holy. You are more likely to be tempted into sin when ill and no-one wants that. Endure “long suffering” as cheerily as you can!

3. Be open for God to speak or minister to you in some way during the illness. Being laid aside for a week or two could be the best thing that happens in 2010.

4. Don’t be embarrassed or resistant when others want to help you and look after you while you’re ill. Actually, the Boss demands it!

Get well soon. Stay in the knowledge of God’s great love and may He restore you quickly!

Originally published in RE Magazine, May 2010

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