The following is by the Rev. Dr. Joe Bowden, who in addition to being an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Georgia is an Emeritus Professor of Surgery at the Medical College of Georgia and Chief of General Surgery at the Augusta Veterans Administration Hospital. He has been Editor-in-Chief of the surgical journal, The American Surgeon
for fifteen years.
I recently had the opportunity to work with a small church that wanted to start a healing ministry. After I had given my prepared remarks and offered what I thought their healing ministry should look like, I asked the group to honestly tell me what they thought about what I had said. Their immediate response made me wish that I had left well enough alone, because they went straight to the big questions,
"What if it doesn't work?"
"What do we do if people are not healed?"
"What if we fail?"
I would have ducked those questions, but if I had tried to do so, my visit with them would have been meaningless. The questions are good ones and the obvious fact is, not everyone ministered to is healed, or so that would appear.
I responded to their concerns by comparing medical care to church healing ministry. In spite of the miracles of modern medecine, most people have no difficulty understanding the need for a lengthy course of medical treatments, or undergoing months of physical therapy or rehabilitation until a musculoskeletal problem is resolved or maximized. But, on the other hand, many people seem to believe that if immediate improvement is not experienced after one prayer, then healing prayer is a waste of time, and they give up. I'm not saying that dramatic healings don't happen—they do with medecine and healing prayer, but most often healing is gradual. The body, when wounded, undergoes a sequence of physiological events known as the healing process. That process takes time even when enhanced by modern medecines, advanced by surgical techniques, and healing prayer. The point here is that in medecine we keep on treating as long as there is hope for recovery. Bottom line—we don't give up—persistence is our battle cry.
I see the church's healing ministry as an ongoing "curing of souls," which persists in spite of apparent "successes" or "failures." I see the church, as a hospital where broken lives are made whole and spirits are restored through everything we do as a community of faith. Just as in a hospital where rounds are made every day we too, as Gospel physicians, are called to make our faily rounds in prayer. I believe that is what Paul meant when he wrote 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to "pray witout ceasing." He was telling the church to persist regardless of what happened.
Throughout the entire history of God's relationship with his creation one clear quality of God emerges—our God is persistent. Can we do any less.
This text column originally appeared in the newsletter of The Church of the Holy Comforter in Augusta, where the Joe currently serves as an Assisting Priest.
King of Peace's monthly healing service will be tonight at 6 p.m.