My dad often warned me that 'loose tongues can cost lives'. He ought to know, he served in the Special Forces. But loose words can have serious theological consequences too. That was my immediate reaction to the recent news story that suggested that, together with a team of other Christians, well known preacher Francis Chan had miraculously healed a number of individuals in a rural village in Myanmar. Thankfully I took my time and read what Chan actually did say and my fears were immediately allayed. Chan did not claim that they did the healing, it was a misleading summary of what had taken place.
Chan certainly made some remarkable claims though. During a sermon delivered at Moody Bible Institute's Founders Week Conference, Chan told his audience: "I have never experienced this in 52 years. I'm talking, like, a little boy and a little girl who were deaf. We laid hands, she starts crying and smiling. These are not Christians who have even heard about Jesus, and she's freaking out. We lay hands on her little brother, we lay hands on him, and he starts hearing for the first time." In fact, Chan went on to say that every person he touched was healed.
Now, I have no problem with the idea of supernatural healing. You will never make sense of Jesus unless you come to terms with the fact that even His enemies couldn't deny His remarkable powers. And I am convinced that God can and does work miracles today. I say this because I have listened to others describing their own remarkable experiences, but even more convincingly, I have witnessed God healing people in the most amazing ways. I've seen a young mum healed of cancer following a time of prayer, for example, and I've been present when He healed an elderly woman of chronic arthritic pain during her sister's baptism service. No one prayed for her. No one laid hands on her. Yet, much to her amazement it simply disappeared.
And I have no problem with Chan's claim that his faith was operating at a totally different level either. I can recall a good friend telling me that whenever he was serving God secretly behind the Iron Curtain in the latter part of the twentieth century it was as if he had entered a completely different spiritual dimension altogether.
Francis Chan was witnessing to people who knew nothing of the Christian story and that is exactly where and when we should expect God to intervene in ways that command our attention. Sadly, the church in the West has often forgotten this and fallen into the temptation that Jesus resisted, namely to experience the power He gives to meet our needs, rather than impact the world for good. But God wants to give us the Holy Spirit so that we can change the world, not experience times of intense spiritual self-indulgence.
Spiritual blessings and powers bring their obvious temptations, though, as Jesus discovered at the very outset of His ministry. We need to be aware of them and confront them whenever they rear their ugly head. If we focus on the man (or woman) rather than on God, for example, then all sorts of dangerous, unintended consequences can follow. Pride and self-confidence are common temptations, as is the readiness we display to idolise the 'healer'.
I remember a church member asking me many years ago to pray for them because I was 'the pastor' and by implication I was 'closer to God'. I quickly put him right on that score! In a far more disturbing case I can recall being at the bedside of a dying girl listening to a well known healing evangelist assuring the family she was going to live. I buried her a week or two later.
I like the way the apostle Paul refers to "gifts of healing" rather than "healers". God does the healing, not us, and the fact He may choose to use us is no guarantee of our holiness. One Bible teacher used the term "serving grace" to underscore this important point. If God uses us, it's because of His grace and not our merits. Thankfully He chooses to use dysfunctional, flawed people like you and me. But when you come to think about it, He has no choice; He has no one else.
Rob James is a Baptist minister, writer and church and media consultant to the Evangelical Alliance Wales. He is the author of Little Thoughts About a Big God.