Healing Prayer Practices

I am in the middle of a DMin program and challenged myself to write a bit this summer before classes resumed in August. I woke this morning with a bit of urgency (caffeine-induced urgency, to be exact) to get some thoughts down. I really don’t know if anyone will read it or even care. That doesn’t matter to me, at this point.

My current topic is seeking to discover the way spiritual practices help us engage the Scriptures. As a protestant, I believe that the Bible informs, guides, and inspires our beliefs, our practices, and our mission into the world. In the current postmodern context, Bible reading is challenged; the exclusive claims within it  promote a skeptical reading from postmodern minds.

However, the postmodern world values the elements of story, community, and wonder. My basic hypothesis is that creating an environment where spiritual practices exercised in the NT community are normal ways of life in our current church communities, perhaps we can bridge the gap between a 21st century reader with a 1st century text. If our story today resembles the story of the early church, perhaps the content of the Scripture will be received more readily and faithfully.

Enter the practice of healing prayer. Throughout the NT, we see God’s people engaged in praying for the sick. By my rough calculation, nearly 1/5th of Mark is either Jesus healing someone or teaching about healing. Nearly every chapter of Acts has a miracle narrative in it. James 5:13-16 displays that praying for the sick in a local congregation was normative, at least in the churches James was a part of.

Here are some early thoughts on healing prayer:

1. Healing prayer is Eschatological- when the new heavens and new earth appear, we will be given new bodies that will be animated for the eternal life we will share with God. Until then, we have bodies that are subject to decay and will expire. Healing helps us to be reminded of our future hope that is breaking into the present through the power of Jesus Christ. When terminal cancer is reversed and a patient thought to have been close to dying because of cancer gets better, we can rejoice not only in that person’s healing, but also in hope that death will be completely conquered and God’s people will be rescued when Jesus re-appears.

2. Healing prayer is Sacramental- this is closely linked to the eschatological idea above. On this side of the new creation, not everyone is healed. For those who struggle with illness and see one of their friends healed through prayer, they can rejoice with them. Even if that person remains sick, the healing of their friend is a reminder that God will set them free from their illness, either in this age or in the one to come. It allows us to look back at the life/death/resurrection of Jesus in the past and look forward to the future with Jesus’ return. This is the role of any sacrament; to collapse the time between the past and the future into a present moment, meeting with the resurrected Christ in real-time.

3. Healing prayer is benevolent The practice outlined in James 5 is important. The local church in James 5 had both people who were healthy and those who were sick. Both camps need one another. That local church was not homogenous, but had folks with plenty and those in need. Anglican sacramentalists are fighting today to remove ‘in proxy’ healing prayer liturgies because they promote a context where we are praying for people who need healing who are not physically in our midst. James 5 sketches healing prayer practices for people who are physically sick ‘in our midst’. The right rendering of James 5:14 is “the prayer over the sick” not “prayer for the sick.” (Prayer “for” the sick can happen if the sick person is absent or among us. Prayer “over” the sick happens when both healthy and sick rub elbows together.)

4. Healing Prayer is Mysterious- everyone who is prayed for does not recover. This is mysterious and allows us to trust in the tension between God’s faithfulness to His promise to be our healer and His freedom to do whatever He wants.

5. Healing Prayer is Extraordinary- Perhaps it was from the influence of Modernity, but we tend to segment life into spiritual/physical, supernatural/natural, and sacred/secular divisions. This dualism doesn’t appear to square with the Jewish consciousness that the Christian story has its origins from. Life isn’t broken up into these divisions, but is experienced holistically. My friend CJ has been helping me change my language in referring to miracles as “extraordinary” events, rather than “supernatural” events. This appears to be more of the biblical idea and helps preserve a holistic idea.

6. Healing prayer is Disarming- Healing prayer is a messy ministry. The average person in our congregation has a tension with healing prayer. On the one hand, congregation members normally pray for sick friends and believe God can heal them. On the other hand, the images of faith healers with neurotic personalities, constant pleas for money, and scandals turn off the average congregant to ‘hitch their wagon’ to such a type of ministry. It would be really disarming if average “Jimmys and Janes” outfitted with skinny jeans and v-necks (rather than tacky suits and weird hairstyles) engaged in healing prayer ministry in homes, dorms, hospitals, markets, and Starbucks coffeehouses (instead of on camera or in gigantic mega-church buildings). I think it would be a beautiful image.

7. Healing Prayer is Mobilizing- As a pastor, I’m discovering the need to equip rather than to instruct. Our people are growing to the point of being released into mission, only to find that they have no place to go serve, or have rather static positions to volunteer. Healing prayer could be a stepping on point for ordinary people in our crowd to help care and nurture the people of God and to engage in outreach. Ramsey MacMullen notes that the primary form of evangelism in the Roman Empire from 100-400 AD was healing prayer as the early Christian movement prayed for their neighbors and friends. Even that rascal Tertullian commented that they needed to teach their young people to cast out demons, because it would be more exciting than going to the Gladiator games of ancient Rome.

Just some initial thoughts… more to come. Needed to get something on paper or, on the web, I guess.


Closing lines from “The Great Giveaway”, David Fitch

David Fitch’s The Great Giveaway is a great book. The last page is a mini manifesto that is a capstone for the whole book. I wanted to share it and place it in the cloud to remember:

“I imagine our congregations becoming smaller, not bigger, yet teeming with the life of his body. And I hope that there are more of them, so many of them in fact, that they become the alternative to the Starbucks of our day. I hope our churches become know for servanthood in the neighborhoods and warm hospitality tha tinvites strangers into our homes. I pray that the home of every evangelical person becomes an incubator of evangelism, inviting strangers to the gospel out fo their lostness and into the love and grace of life in our Lord Jesus Christ.

I imagine real fellowship in our congregations, the kind that shares joys and suferings and potluck meals. I pray our leaders take on the form of humble servants who sit, listen, and suffer with real people through many years of leading them through this life in Jesus Christ. I hope we leave behind the CEO models of leadership.

I look for our worship services to become liturgical places that form our people into faithful participants in the life of God. May we renew the sense of God’s mystery, beauty, and transcendence in our worship services through the rehearsal of his great work in Jesus Christ.

In the process, may many postmodern wanderers be drawn into this life by his majestic wonder and the compelling story of the forgiveness and new life made possible in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. I hope our congregations look more diverse both economically and racially. Dare I imagine that each member’s bank accounts becomes submitted to teh King and to each other through some symbolic act as we gather around the Table of our Lord. I long for the day we become model communiites for a new politics that spreads God’s redeeming justice to the poor and the racially divided.

I hope we see small groups that renew the monastic practices of confession, repentance, reading Scripture, adn prayer for our day. And most of all, may our churches become communities that nurture and care for children in the way we conduct catechesis communally, adopt the ‘unplanned’ children, and invite all children into everyday life with God. To me this all sounds like a truly amazing way of life.

Is this a pipe dream? I certainly hope not. For I believe this is what we must be, know, and do as Christians if we are to survive the postmodern malaise overtaking us in the urban and suburban contexts of American life. We must recover the truly amazing way of life given to us as a people by God through his redemption in Jesus Christ. The only way we can resist the totalizing forces of late capitalism and its derivatives is by recovering being the church.

Is this not possible? I point us all to the smattering of emergent churches that have arisen in the past ten years and the churches Robert Webber refers to in his book The Younger Evangelicals. And I hope this book gives ope and direction to seminarians, pastors of small churches, and all those people who have tired evangelicalism’s incessant marketing and mega-sizing. May we start gatherings of people that practice the practices of being a body of Christ. As difficult as it might be, let us join together and find our way back to the practices of being the people of God under the reign of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For he truly is the hope of the world. (229-230)

The Gospel According to Starbucks, Len Sweet notes- part 1

I’m finally getting a chance to read The Gospel According to Starbucks by Len Sweet. I normally have to keep notes when reading Sweet’s books… too much to try to remember.

“Organized religion has been assuming that because it has a better product- namely, God- that it simply needs to open the doors and customers will line up. That assumption no longer holds.” (5)

“Christians have much to learn about faith as a lived experience, not a thought experiment… Starbucks knows that people live for engagement, connection, symbols, and meaningful experiences… The problem is not that Christianity can’t be believed, but that it can’t be practiced because of its lack of lived experience. And it can’t be observed by others because there are too few Christians who are radical enough to manifest what the gospel really looks like.” (5)

“Starbucks views its brand as a kind of cultural portal.” (8)

“Today, too many Christians line up to follow God out of duty or guilt, or even hoping to win a ticket to heaven. They completely miss the warmth and richness of the experience of living with God. They fail to pick up the aroma of what God is doing in their part of town.” (9)

“The refrain is real: ‘distance is dead.’ Any place can be every place.” (11)

Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks) sees himself as a “Chief Evangelist Officer”, one who is a coffee evangelist. For years, the church has been stealing concepts from the business world. Why is one of the world’s best companies stealing lines from Christianity, namely evangelism? (13)

The church needs to regain the ability to teach “old dogmas new tricks.” (14, Bruce Sterling quotation)

The point of evangelism, according to this school of thought, is to win an argument. Evangelism also has been taught as a spiritual sales pitch, more nuanced perhaps than a religious argument but still relying on high pressure and ultimately committed to closing the deal. And if not an argument or a sales pitch, the gospel is neutered and reduced to an objective, nonrelational exercise in logic.” (14)

“I’ve never met anyone who was energized by cliche one-liners and subcultural kitsch. But offer people a meaningful, earth-changing mission and then just try to hold them back!” (15)

Sweet’s model for an evangelism experience is: “E.P.I.C.- Experiential, Participatory, Image-Rich, Connective.”

“An EPIC faith is an upside-down, topsy-turvy faith that shows that God can turn buried trash into treasure. The Hebrew word for “Hell” was Sheol. Heaven was Shiloh. God can turn any Sheol into a Shiloh if you will let God take that pain, suffering, and ugliness and let God’s Spirit turn it upside down. Treasure chests can be hammered out of trash cans… The dominant story of the Scriptures, from Genesis to the maps, is the story of how God takes what is worst, least, and most contemptible and does what is greatest, best, and strongest. It is nothing less than the EPIC story of the gospel.” (26)

“Whenever I am interviewed, the question I’m almost always asked is this: ‘Dr. Sweet, do you believe in absolute truth?’ There is only one answer: ‘I more than believe in it. I know Absolute Truth personally.’ Absolute Truth is Jesus. The word absolute comes from the Latin absolvere, which means to ‘set free.’ Jesus said, ‘I am the… truth.” (30)

24% of Starbucks’s customers visit 16 times per month. No other fast-food chain can claim that success. (31)

“The shunned middle teaches us about authentic experience and tis irresistible attraction in the twenty-first century. Authentic experience does not flourish in the trampled soil of the anonymous masses. It grows instead in the rarified extremes, in the fertile mulch that’s building at the two ends of the well curve. (That’s not a typo. I wasn’t going for bell curve and missed the b key.) Avoidance of the middle explains why Starbucks does not sell a size called medium. Medium is not a virtue. What is the emotional strength of being not large but not small either? Just sort of there in between… a medium. The strength has left the middle. The Via Media has become the Via Mediocre, especially in a well-curve world, which is the land we live in, the post-bell-curve, world.” (38-39)

“Today, no company in its right mind would name itself General Motors or General Electric or General Foods. There is no general anything, no happy medium anymore. Both ends now play against the middle. In this mitosis of the middle where the ends are getting stacked, the liposuctioned middle is creating an hourglass society.” (40)

“The basic question of the Christian life is this: is Christ a living force to be experienced or a historical figure to be reckoned with?” (45)

The holy trinity of authenticity is provenance, beauty, and rarity. (47)

“If faith is not both an engagement and an experience, then it’s little more than a good idea. If faith is not beautiful in its practice, then it can easily devolve into an argument and a polemic. And who is looking for another argument? Did Jesus die to win an argument? Did Jesus die to give us a better position paper?” (47)

“Provenance- the process of growing a soul that radiates such beauty that it bears the Maker’s mark and bares the Creator’s signature. Most people today don’t fret over whether Christianity can get them to heaven. They want to know: ‘Will it make me a better person? Jesus did not call disciples so they could become Christlike. He called them so they could become ‘little Christs,’ or what I like to call spittin’ images. Some linguists argue that the phrase spittin’ image derives from the Southern dialect where spirit and image were contracted (some say corrupted) into one. To say that you are the spittin’ image of your father is to say that you bear both his spirit and image. You bring together the visible and invisible, the tangible and the intangible, of your parent. Jesus enables us to be his spittin’ image in both body and character.” (48-49)

“The world is not impressed that people attend church on Sunday morning. If anything, such a habit is viewed as a quaint waste of time. But imagine if every Christian in the world were living as a little Christ. Such provenance is not just a passionate transforming experience for the Christian; it’s also a tantalizing expression of the gospel to the outside world.” (50)

“Experiences should lead us to become expressions.” (51)

“Your body is meant to do more than carry your head around. To bear the Creator’s signature stamp of YHWH, you were designed by God to experience life with all of your senses until you become an expression of the divine. For a God who threw the divine bodily not our midst, for a God who knows what it is to be human, divine provenance requires that spirituality not be divorced from materiality. (51-52)

“To experience faith is to process what is received using the senses in both its ‘making sense’ (thinking) and multisensory (fivefold) meanings. You can’t truly experience something without thinking.” (53)

“Totally missing from the church today are the fossores, the professionals who dug the catacombs with picks and shovels and lamps, carved the inscriptions, decorated the graves, painted the walls, and presided at anniversary rituals. Fossores were part artist, part architect, part laborer, part clergy, part gardener (keeper of the cemetery). The fossorian combination of three basic functions- laborer (ditch digger), artist (painter, sculptor, architect), and priest- speak to our ancestors’ need for leaders proficient in the three transcendentals of being: beauty (create works of art), goodness (willingness to dig graves and carve stone slabs), and truth (ritual practices of formation and communion). (55)

All for now… more to come.

Ministry in an Oral Culture: Tex Sample

This has been a great book to read. It is short and a fast read. Sample argues that the majority of our culture is an oral culture, therefore our communication and mission need to be tailored to that culture. This is a challenging work for seminary professionals who have been trained in literate settings.

There are 5 ingredients to the shaping of morality in the oral culture: “empathy, communal knowing, relational thinking, stories, and proverbs.” (37)

There is no activity more radical and more potent to shape oral cultures than story-telling. (62-63)

Oral culture is more ‘gather-oriented’ than ‘goal-oriented.’ (64)

Oral/Traditional people are not always fundamentalists with the Bible, “Fundamentalism is far too rationalistic ¬†and too ideological for the non-critical tastes of most traditional/oral folk. It finally becomes clear that the issue is not one of fundamentalist commitments but one of traditional loyalties. The Bible is family and home; it is identity and bond. It may not even be read! But it is a basic expression of who they are and to whom they belong. They are not defending some over-wrought doctrine of inerrancy; they are defending the Bible… its adequacy is not in a sustained intellectual tour de force, but rather in its capacity to help people through the night and then to get them up in the morning.” (82-83)