Several times a day, the Medevac helicopters fly hurriedly over the house in Washington, DC where we used to live. We lived in the flight path between the Children’s Hospital complex and points to the southwest. Depending on the direction of the helicopter’s flight, either it is flying to someone in distress, or it is carrying the most precious thing, a human being, back to the hospital for healing. And if the one in that helicopter is being rushed back to the hospital for care, what kind of care will he or she receive? What kind of doctor will they meet? Will they receive excellent medical care, and that is all? Or will they get that plus the gracious and powerful touch of doctors and nurses who know that their hands somehow are the hands of God to bring healing to a broken world and broken bodies?
Recently, a Christian doctor from Children’s Hospital and twelve other healing practitioners met for aVocare discussion, a long conversation (put on by The Washington Institute) exploring the relationship between faith and work. On this night, we discussed the impact of a patient’s faith on their general health and length of life, using the groundbreaking study of this relationship by Dr. David Larson and others as a starting point. Our conversation ended exploring the role of the practitioner’s own spiritual life in the pursuit of their vocation as a healer, ministers of God’s Kingdom through the ministry of healing. Viewed conscientiously through the right lens, all of us can understand our vocations as being “ministers of God’s Kingdom.” This is not a hard connection to make particularly for nurses, counselors, doctors and others in the wide range of those ministering to the body, mind, and heart in their professions.
To paraphrase Dallas Willard, God’s Kingdom comes when what God wants done is done. God’s kingdom comes when the ways God designed things to be actually happen. Jesus came to make it possible for God’s ways to happen through us, for God’s Kingdom to come through his people. This explains the ministry of Jesus and how he called and equipped and sent his disciples to continue his ministry, and healing is one of the most obvious ways.
The progression in the Gospel of Luke is breathtaking. In his first sermon as recorded in the first half of chapter 4, Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom of God has come in him. Immediately he sets about casting out demons and healing people, and continues to proclaim “the good news of the Kingdom of God.” (4:43) Later he commissions and empowers the twelve disciples to do exactly the same thing, including “to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” (9:1-2) Shortly thereafter, he commissioned 72 more to do exactly the same thing with authority: “Heal the sick and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come to near to you’.” (10:9) After his resurrection, Jesus says to his disciples “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you: Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21-22)
Jesus healed, and empowered others to heal, so that many could know that that in Jesus the kingdom of God had come and that indeed the coming of the kingdom would have tangible expression. This ministry continues today, through healers ministering in Jesus’ name. Five hundred years ago St. Teresa of Avila put it so well-“Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.” To say to those who practice medicine, “Yours are the hands of Christ to heal now,” is not too much to say. We can be grateful for that generous “common grace” of God that doesn’t limit this ministry of healing only to those who do it in Jesus’ name. And we can be stunned by remembering that Christians healing in Jesus’ name carry out very tangibly the ministry that Jesus started.
What a remarkable gift to be called to the ministry of healing! Whether offering healing physically, mentally, or emotionally, there are few vocations so easily connected to being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. And there are few ministries that are so eagerly desired by so many in so many places at basically any time.
My wife Tara is a nurse practitioner, and several years ago we literally traveled around the world ministering to abandoned women and street children in Majority World cities like Lima, Nairobi, Calcutta, Kathmandu, and others. In each of those places, people in distress lined up for ministry, and inevitably they wanted to see her first. Their presenting concern was the illness in their body, which consistently she addressed not only with medical professionalism but also with a compassionate spirit of genuine concern and individual attention. They were ministered to by the hands of Jesus through Tara’s hands, and were then much more able and willing to receive words of God’s love and power to bring more healing than simply the alleviation of their physical suffering. The Kingdom was happening to them. What God wants (the restoration of body and soul from the brokenness of illness and sin) was happening. So often the “healers” are the first place sick people encounter the Kingdom of God coming to them.
This big picture view of a biblical perspective of the ministry of healing is inspiring indeed, but not so much that it can’t get swept up in the day to day reality of overbooked appointments, long lines of patients, and health crises that demand one’s full attention. Are there ways those in the healing profession can keep a “Kingdom consciousness” clear, constant, and present, even on the busiest days? Are there ways for the health professional to remember that “my hands are the hands of Jesus to bless this person?” There are simple ways to start cultivating that mindset.
Perhaps by taping a “note to self” on the dashboard of one’s car-“My hands are the hands of Jesus to heal“- to be pondered and prayed about on the way to the hospital or office. Or perhaps, when seeing a patient, pausing for a moment in their presence, or during an exam, and praying silently in great faith, “Father, heal them by the power of the Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ name.” A doctor praying this may have studied to be given the tools to heal the patient’s body. Through the prayer of that same doctor, God may be bringing healing to ailments that don’t show up in a CAT scan or blood test.
That same doctor from Children’s Hospital, to whom those helicopters sometimes bring patients, recently treated the little son of some dear friends of ours, who was afflicted by an imminently life-threatening ailment. With his skill he treated the boy successfully, with his prayers and spirit he ministered to the parents. Somehow that feels like the Kingdom of God coming, where God’s way is what happens.
Rev. Bill Haley is the Director of Formation at The Washington Institute and Associate rector at The Falls Church in Falls Church, Virginia.