From Let Me Tell You a Story, pages 34-6, © 2000 by Tony Campolo
A couple of years ago I was at a church conference in South Africa. The other speaker was one of the founders of the movement often referred to as the Toronto Blessing. This is a movement that very much believes in a theology of signs and wonders. Those engaged in this ministry contend that miracles are part of the witness that we should have to an unbelieving world as we try to win people to Christ.
This particular evangelist was very respectful of me, even though miracles were not any part of my ministry. When he asked if I was into healing people, I explained to him that when I’m with people who are sick, I always pray for them to be healed, but to be perfectly honest, I hadn’t ever seen anything spectacular happen. My friend jokingly reminded me that not seeing anything spectacular happen hadn’t deterred me from being a preacher. We both laughed, even as he affirmed that the ministry of Christ was to preach, to teach, and to heal, and that all three of those things should be part of what we do in our everyday service for the Kingdom.
The next week I was back in the States and preaching at a church in Oregon. On impulse, as I ended the service I said to the congregation that if anyone wanted to remain behind for healing, I would be glad to pray with them. I told them they shouldn’t expect much to happen, because nothing much happens when I pray, but if they wanted to give it a try, I’d be willing to pray as hard as I could. Surprisingly, about thirty people stayed behind and waited patiently as I prayed for one after the other.
I did not want to do this healing thing fast, like some of the healers I see on television. I wanted to really talk to a person before I prayed and get a feel for what was on that person’s heart. I wanted to hug each person and connect with him or her as deeply as I knew how. I did that with each of the people who stayed behind, and in each case I put some olive oil that I had brought along with me on each of their heads. It took me more than an hour to pray through that little group. But I did it! What intrigued me was that most of the people who had come for healing had nothing physically wrong with them. One woman wanted healing for her marriage. One man needed healing for an addiction to pornography. Someone else asked healing for anger. But there were a few who did have physical illnesses.
Four days later I got a telephone call, and the woman at the other end said, “Tony, on Sunday you prayed for my husband. He had cancer.”
When I heard the word “had” my heart quickened a bit. “Had cancer?” I asked.
The woman answered, “Well, he’s dead now.”
When she said that I thought to myself, a lot of good I do.
Then the woman said, “You don’t understand. When my husband and I walked into that church on Sunday, he was angry with God. He had cancer and he knew he was going to be dead soon, and he hated God for letting it happen. He wanted to see his grandchildren grow up more than anything. At night he would lie in bed and curse God. It was horrible. And, the angrier he got toward God, the meaner he was to everyone around him. It was unbearable to be in the same room with him. His nastiness just kept getting worse and worse and worse. But then you laid hands on him on Sunday morning and you prayed for him. When he walked out of church I knew there was something different. I could feel it. He was a different person. The last four days of our lives have been the best four days we’ve ever had together. We talked and laughed. We even sang hymns with each other. It was a good, good time.”
She paused, then added something really profound. She said, “Tony, he wasn’t cured, but he was healed.”
I hung up the phone, knowing I had learned something about the work of the Holy Spirit.
J.C. Ryle wrote, “Health is a good thing, but sickness is far better if it leads us to God.” May we accept health as God’s blessing and its absence as God’s severe mercy, allowing both to draw us closer to Him.
II Corinthians 12:7-10 — To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
O Father of all mercy and God of all comfort, strengthen and uphold me by your Spirit, until you reveal to me the purpose of my tribulations. For it is your will that we, at times, be troubled and grieved. Indeed, you do not permit any evil to be done, unless you can make it serve a good purpose. You see my distress and weakness. I pray that you help and deliver me. Amen.