Shall We Pray for the Healing of Disease by J R Miller
All the passages below are taken from J R Miller, “Intimate Letters on Personal Problems.”
I am glad to read your letter over, and yet I am very sorry for the things that are causing you added anxiety. It certainly must be very sad for you all to have your little child grow worse again, thus disappointing so many fond hopes.
You ask about prayer in such cases. There is always a difficulty in making oneself understand, or even in formulating our own beliefs on the subject of prayer when matters like sickness are concerned. There is no question whatever that God hears all our prayers. He is our Father, and no human father in the world was ever so truly interested in any of his children, as God is in each one of us.
Jesus said, "Your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things." We are sure, therefore, that in one sense God does not need to be told anything about our lives. He hears the prisoner's sigh, and the twittering of the sparrows when they are hungering for food on the winter days. With regard to the answer, however, we must remember that God is wise as well as good. He takes in, not merely the present day and tomorrow — but also the future. He never allows us to take from the treasury of his blessings a temporal good or gift, which will imperil our future spiritual good. He is too kind not to cause us pain — when pain is the best thing for us. This is about all I can say on this matter. The teaching, however, is this, that we should trust the wisdom of God to decide the manner of the answer to prayer, quite as much as we trust the love of God for sympathy and tenderness in our suffering.
There is something else to say also. No doubt there is a great deal of what may be called vicarious suffering in this world. If you read the story of Job you will learn that it was not particularly for his own sanctification, that the trouble came upon him — but for the confuting of Satan's accusations or charges, and the witnessing before the world to the power of God's grace to sustain and strengthen. We look with broken-hearted compassion upon a suffering child. Over and over again when I have sat by such a child, watching its anguish and pain, my heart has been most deeply stirred, and I have been led to ask, "Why must this child suffer in this way?" There was no reason in the child, that I could see. Yet I have seen over and over again a whole household not only brought to Christ, but enriched in spiritual life, and blessed immeasurably through the suffering of a little child.
I knew a young girl who had the very trouble of which your sister's child is suffering — "white swelling." Year after year until perhaps she was eighteen, this child suffered most excruciating anguish. She clung to me very fondly as I often went in to see her to say something cheerful to her and make a little prayer by her bedside. I would not attempt today to give a reason why this innocent, sweet, beautiful child was permitted to suffer during those six or seven years until she died. I can only say that one of the results of that suffering was the enriching of the whole household in a most wondrous way. She has been dead now for thirteen or fourteen years — but the memory of her beautiful face and sweet spirit — her patience and peace and love — lingers in the hearts of her father and mother.
Only yesterday a letter came to me from the father, on a little business matter, and in it he referred to the invalid, as he always does and as the mother always does when they write to me or when I meet them. I can testify that for myself, the ministry upon that child was an education. I think few things in all my experience ever have affected me so deeply, have left plainer or more indubitable marks upon my character, than her sweet life left.
I merely give you this incident to help you to understand my answer about prayer. God does not promise to answer all prayers in a literal way at once. We must submit our prayers to his wisdom — asking him to do the thing that is best. It may be best for the child to suffer, for who knows what childhood's suffering may do in the preparation of a spirit for service near God's throne, ages and ages hence? The only true thought of life which I can get, is that which thinks of it as one continuous existence, not limited by seventy or eighty years at the most — but stretching on beyond into the eternities.
We say a child lives in vain, if it is sick for ten or twelve or fourteen years and then dies of a long, agonizing illness. No, we dare not say that. Some people even call God cruel because he permits such suffering in an innocent and beautiful child. But here again, we know not what to say. I believe that life in this world is at best, only a preparation for future existence. If I am spared for sixty or seventy or eighty years, and then go home, what I have passed through in this world in the way of suffering, of struggle, of defeat, of victory, of joy or of sorrow — will all go into the preparation for my real life, which will begin the morning after I get home to Heaven, and go on forever. So we cannot say, we dare not say, that any child's anguish and pain are in vain, or that the life which is filled with such experiences here, is in any sense a useless life. The suffering purifies the spirit, lifts up the heart toward God, makes the character stronger and truer, and gives new tenderness and new sympathy to the person.
Then who can tell what the influence may be upon the loved ones who stand about the child's bed and witness its sufferings? While their hearts are breaking with sympathy and anguish, if they keep near Christ — their very suffering will help to sweeten their own lives and fit them for larger, better service. Nothing draws out the best things in life — as care for a suffering one does. Many a mother is made angelic in her spirit, Christlike, almost divine, by being called to minister, month after month, in the sick room of her own child.
Let me now answer the question about prayer — that God does always hear prayer — if the prayer is sincere and true. And also that he answers prayer, not always literally in a physical sense. We can breathe up our prayers to God and know that they will be answered in the best way. One of the most beautiful pictures in the book of Revelation is that of the "vials full of incense, which are the prayers of saints" which John saw. The picture suggests first that all prayer is fragrant to God — incense; and, second, that the prayers that rise to Heaven are not lost, even though not answered immediately. They are kept as in vials, before God, in safety, until the time comes for their answering.
What you and I want, therefore, is not only a simple faith but also a large faith, taking in all time and all eternity, a faith not only in the wonderful love of God, but also in the wisdom of God.
You will understand that I have been thinking a great deal about your sister as I have read your letter and dictated these words. My prayer goes up to God for her, that her faith may be strengthened and that her own heart may be sweetened and enriched by the grace of God, as she keeps her loving mother-watch about her suffering child.
Do not let me give the impression that God never answers prayer for healing. I think he does. I think that all healing is wrought by Christ. We must always send for the physician and use all the means within our reach, for this is ordinarily God's way of helping us. But we fail if when using the means we do not also pray to God. The best means are of no avail, unless God uses them and blesses them. While, therefore, we have the physician and employ all available skill and use every means within our power to bring back restored health — we must take the case to God and leave it ever in his hands.