WHY DOES MY HEALING TAKE LONGER THAN OTHERS’?
By Mark Sandford
Many times throughout my thirty-seven years as a prayer counselor, I’ve seen amazing transformations in just a few sessions. People have emailed, saying, “My anxiety attacks are completely gone!” “I never again struggled with anger!” “My kids saw the difference as soon as I came through the door!”
…And then I wonder, “What’s wrong with me?
Why is it that for me, the same amount of change takes thirty years?” There have been times when I wondered if I was even qualified to be doing ministry. But before I threw in the towel, I found solace in the fact that I was not alone. As I’ve compared notes with those whom God has placed in positions of influence (as well as some He hasn’t), it appears to me that we’ve been led up a longer, steeper path. God doesn’t give us any shortcuts. And we wonder why.
I’ve given it years of thought (more than thirty-seven, in fact). A few days ago, I read a Facebook post that shed further clarity on my accumulated musings. Someone quoted a recent Orthodox saint from the Ukraine named Amphilochios (1894-1971). He spoke of a man who fell into a specific sin repeatedly for ten years. After the latest in an endless line of confessions, Satan accused Jesus of being overly lenient with him. Jesus answered: “You didn’t send him away when he headed toward sin, but you accepted him with joy and you neither abhorred him nor hindered him, because you hoped to win him. Well then, I who am merciful and benevolent, who had instructed my high Apostle Peter to forgive any man who sins daily up to seventy times seven, will I not forgive and spare this man?”
In our heads, we would all agree with Jesus’ reply, but the heart often has its own agenda. There are Christians whose actions betray a heart’s belief that God truly is less forbearing than the Prince of Darkness. They post warnings on social media that God is about to destroy the nation for its sins. In truth, for only ten righteous men, God would have spared Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:32). And He didn’t destroy Israel until He could no longer find even one righteous person in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 5:1), and that was after Israel had backslidden for eight and a half centuries (from the Exodus to the Babylonian captivity). How preposterous to think that there is not even one righteous person left in our nation! These prophets of doom see themselves as more just than God.
At the other end of the spectrum is the far greater number of Christians who compromise with the surrounding culture. It’s not that they agree with its beliefs outright. Culture isn’t a mere set of beliefs; it’s more like a pot of stew. They have marinated in it so long that they have slowly and imperceptibly taken on its flavor, and the church has begun to taste like the world. More and more Christians are living together before marriage. My nephew, a former youth pastor, tells me this is true of many of his fellow youth pastors! Among Evangelical Christians homosexuality is quietly gaining acceptance, especially among youth. Seldom do we hear anyone proclaim Jesus’ words to “take up your cross and follow me.” Signs and wonders are not a clarion call to a lifestyle of repentance; they are entertainment. Prophetic leaders dole out personal prophecies of health, wealth, and acclaim, but say little about the cost of discipleship. Many of them have no standard by which they are held accountable. After giving false prophecy after false prophecy with no retractions or apologies, they are still widely acclaimed as a mouthpiece of God. False teachings creep in as the watchmen sleep on the wall.
While the prophets of doom fail to portray the patience of God who forgives seventy times seven, others test His patience by failing to persevere in repenting seventy times seven.
What does this have to do with why God is taking so long to heal you? Like the man in the saint’s story, your inner healing process has been a marathon of confessions. You know from experience what it means to be forgiven seventy times seven. You have had to repent so many times that, unlike the prophets of doom, you cannot place yourself above anyone. You know you are capable of the vilest sins (even if you haven’t committed them) because you know how much struggle it takes to resist sin. There have been times when you shook your fist at God for not making it easier. And you know what it’s like to have to resist the temptation to make it easier; you well understand why so many are compromising. But unlike the compromising crowd, you have resolved to serve God no matter what the cost, no matter how long you have to wait for the happy ending. You have repented seventy times seven, and you’ll do it again if you have to. And because of that, you are attaining the virtue that will save the next generation: commitment.
My brothers and sisters and I watched my parents create a culture of commitment for our family. They gave us an example too seldom seen today; they walked hand in hand for over fifty years, no matter what disagreements they had to work through, no matter what the cost. And, as well as they were able, they gave us sound teaching, discipline, hugs and kisses, and fun and laughter, even when they didn’t feel like it. Their commitment infused a flavor into the soup that could not be overwhelmed by that of the culture. That is what has kept us walking in uncompromising faith all these years.
In 1984, at the beginning of our marriage, in my mind’s eye, God gave me a vision of a future world in which young people would know little of such commitment. Maureen and I would go through a storm (I’m thankful He didn’t tell me how long it would last!). Not long after our storm ended, the rest of the world would be plunged into its own storm. The trials we had been through would strengthen us, forming us into a rock that young people could cling to in the midst of the pounding waves—spiritual parents for a fatherless and motherless generation. Our storm is now subsiding, and their waves are beginning to surge, and it’s going to take a lot more rocks to keep them all from drowning. Are you beginning to see why God has made your healing process so long and strenuous? Your healing has had to be more thorough than most. He has been ferreting out every flaw in your character—no matter how small—so as to leave no crack that the swirling waters can seep into and weaken your commitment.
There is much talk nowadays of a coming revival, but there is something that must happen before it can be possible. I will quote a Scripture passage I have quoted countless times before, and I will continue to quote it as long as it takes for the Body of Christ to sit up and take notice: “Behold, am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).
Only our fulfillment of the Malachi mandate can make a revival last for more than one generation, or perhaps even for more than one short season. lt can be accomplished only through men and women who know the meaning of commitment. Like the man in St. Amphilochios’ story, we have had to learn in the depths of our souls what it means to be forgiven seventy times seven. Having experienced God’s rock-solid commitment, we will become rocks of godly commitment to a generation that has scarcely witnessed commitment beyond that which is expressed by the enemy of their souls. We will reveal a God whose commitment is infinitely greater than his. We will neither preach doom nor condone compromise. We will live out a love that is as forbearing as it is unyielding.
In the face of the coming storm, the only way to become that kind of rock is by way of the longer and steeper path. But if you really love your children and the countless fatherless and motherless children God sends your way, you will come to know that every excruciating step you have taken has been worth it.
---1 John 4:19