Over the past 2 weeks while on holiday in Brittany I have had a mysterious pain in my right hip, making it difficult to walk very far. You know how we always like to know what caused these things – which anatomical part is at fault and why? Martin and I spent a while on that – tendon, ligament or muscle? had I overdone it in the gym? – and of course not forgetting to pray it would kindly go away and stop marring our holiday strolls on the beach. It didn’t.
But I have managed to go for short walks – and perhaps the exercise will actually do it good: there is only the occasional loud ‘ouch!’ when climbing up steps or over rocks… and then the reminder that I may have over-exerted myself when trying to get comfortable to go to sleep at night… Oh, stop moaning, woman – you’re having a nice holiday!
Anyway, there’s the history of my current medical problem for you – and don’t we all love to give a detailed description to anyone who will listen, as Dr Martin knows so well 😉 Meanwhile, I still don’t know what it is or how to make it go away… perhaps it won’t. And so the fear comes in as I remember once before I had a similar pain in my left shin that didn’t go away – and then led to post-viral fatigue – and then the threat of M.E. which lasted 8 long months in ’99. Indeed I have been feeling quite exhausted since coming here to relax – so is this tendonitis too, another harbinger of CFS?
After one quite anxious night last week being tormented by this possibility I have simply had to draw a line, stand up and consciously refuse that option! Well, I did get better last time by changing tack from submission and acceptance to rebuking infirmity and affliction; of course I’m tired after all the stress and strain of the past months and it doesn’t mean I’m doomed to spend my life in bed! The fear has gone but my hip is still hurting…
So what do we pray when fighting back doesn’t seem to yield results? Of course we can ‘keep on asking’ – Jesus taught persistence in prayer, that we should ‘always pray and never give up’ (Luke 18v1-6) Yet He intends us to be motivated by faith and not frustration! Back in ’99 I had so much to learn about faith and prayer: at the start of my ministry journey I had just launched out on my first ‘sowing seeds for revival’ team. Prayer teams led by Martin Scott were travelling the nation to intercede for towns and cities and I took my courage in both hands and joined the February team to Reading: I took to it like a duck to water. Becoming ill at Easter and then not being able to recover was thus a double blow to my hopes and plans – and seemed a typical contesting of my future call, as in, “Oh no you don’t!” I’d already excitedly booked again for the team to Northamptonshire in July and now everything I was looking forward to was under threat 😦
Of course we prayed for my healing over those long months, but still I struggled to manage life at all – with 2 school-aged children and a busy husband it was very hard. So my first lesson was acceptance of the need to rest – to refuse bitterness and resentment and pace myself accordingly. I had to learn the ‘not my will but Yours’ prayer and find peace in my curtailed activities – receive help in my weakness and keep trusting in the Lord even though I couldn’t understand. At this point many of us think, “God doesn’t care” or “He’s forgotten me” – or perhaps “I must have done something I’m being punished for”! That’s why our faith is tested at such times, revealing what we really think of God and what is truly in our hearts (see Deuteronomy 8v2).
I had good reason to ‘blame the devil’ too… surely the evil one was causing me this pain and standing in my path – it would be easy to completely focus on ‘praying against’ my symptoms. I’ve always preferred to pray for things than against them – to focus on the Lord rather than the enemy – praising and thanking Him is always a good way to pray 🙂 Anyway, as we’ve learned so many times since then – not least through what has befallen our son – the Lord is in control of everything and though He is not the God of sickness and pain, He does somehow allow these things for reasons of His own… We’d love it to be black and white, ‘goodies vs baddies’, but the spectrum of heaven has many more subtle colours than these. It was Job who learned it was not that he had sinned as his friends insisted; indeed God knew very well what was happening to him because it all started when God drew satan’s attention to his righteous servant. It almost seems Job was picked out as a test case… hmmm, no wonder we are taught to pray ‘lead us not into temptation’. Does God do that then?! As when Jesus was ‘led by the Spirit’ into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil? Perhaps we feel safer with the complementary phrase ‘deliver us from evil’?!
It ties us up in knots when we try to work this out: how hard it is for human minds to understand the character of God when A so often doesn’t equal B – unless our hearts are softened to His love. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” Isaiah 55v7-8. How many times do we presume we know what to pray for and what God would like to do to get us out of every situation? Do we ever ask that terrible question, “Is this sickness unto death?” before we jump in declaring healing? When Jesus used that phrase, that it was not ‘unto death’, He was talking about Lazarus… who actually DID die – and then He raised him (John 11v4)!
No, we can never twist God’s arm by some formula or fasting mechanism – that is manipulation, not spiritual authority. I’ve learned the hard way that our Father disciplines us as His sons and has a bigger picture in view: it is never about our comfort, but about our love and obedience as we grow in the knowledge of Him. He’s good – but like Aslan, ‘He’s not a tame Lion!’
How can a good God allow bad things? That’s the 64 million dollar theological question! Perhaps they are not ‘bad’ in His view, perhaps our understanding is limited… I certainly don’t think the immortal God has the same problem with death that we do! Or perhaps He has limited Himself in intervening, ‘it’s a fallen world and we are not immune’, ‘we are the stewards here and heaven is waiting for our partnership and response’, ‘we’re only reaping what’s been sown’? The one thing we can know for sure is that He never remains aloof, but suffers alongside us: Jesus came to identify with every pain we’ll ever have, to walk through it and show us how to do the same; at the end of all things, the end of the story, all evil will be banished and every sad thing redeemed and turned for good. His promise is a life that stretches beyond the grave for those who put their trust in Him: that Holy Spirit life cannot be extinguished – in fact we are surprised by how much it can flourish, grow and mature when we go through times of suffering and pain!
Back in ’99 as I was lying in my bed every afternoon, writing and praying, submitting to my situation and acknowledging my weakness, as I learnt to be still and know that He is God, the Scripture gave me another key, a promise that rings through the years: The end of Isaiah 54 declares:
“If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing; whoever attacks you will surrender to you. See, it is I who created the blacksmith who fans the coals into flame and forges a weapon fit for its work. And it is I who have created the destroyer to work havoc. No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the LORD. Isaiah 54v15-17
This came as a living promise to me – even if He had created the destroyer to destroy, He was giving His children a promise of victory. So this became my second lesson in prayer: the double whammy of ‘Submit to God AND resist the devil and he will flee from you’ James 4v7. I suppose sometimes we do try resisting when we are not submitted… Looking back on it now I can see it was only in God’s time, after I’d learned how to rest and how to be weak and manage myself like that for many months while keeping my heart right that I gained the authority to resist. Meanwhile, after much deliberation and permission from the family I pressed through to go on my second prayer team in July, despite continually aching legs. I found some relief in the presence of God – and it’s amazing how I now see suffering enables one to identify with others in much worse pain – an intercession in itself: there are always so many others in the world in far greater need and pain.
I look back on the Northampton team as a major marker in my journey – among a number of other significant things I received a prophetic word on my 42nd birthday that set my course for the next 10 years. It was a victory – but yes, I suffered when I got back home, as anyone who has this kind of condition knows so well… an instant healing would have been so much easier! Nevertheless, I had learned something invaluable about counting the cost and paying the price. Then as autumn drew in – and perhaps I was gradually improving, but I was still under-par – one day a letter from a friend arrived telling me I am a warrior and not meant to be underneath this thing! Her strong words gave me the courage to fully apply what I’d read in Isaiah 54, to rise in faith into my inheritance and wield it as a sword. This was yet another life-lesson in prayer about how much we need partnership and the power of agreement! One day in November, after speaking to it yet again, the fatigue lifted off. It went!
No – I don’t believe it’s coming back now, as another new season begins. But limping along the beach 13 years later, my prayer has quickly become, “Lord, if you have something to teach me through this pain in my hip, please give me grace and help me understand: I am listening.”