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Your local church: A healing place

By Stuart German

Our son Nathan’s first seizure came just before his fourth birthday, while we were en route to the Philippines for our second term of missionary service. Intensifying and growing more frequent, the seizures eventually gained control of his life and our focus.

The effectiveness of medications waned, allowing multiple breakthrough episodes, and Nathan’s responsiveness steadily declined. By the time he was 9, the cumulative results of EEGs and CT scans forced three separate neurologists to conclude he would not outgrow the disease. We returned home so we could seek better medical help.

Nathan had his last epileptic seizure on Aug. 1, 2002. Even though we and countless others had prayed for Nathan over the years, I’m convinced his healing is a direct result of one prayer in particular. We had been attending James River Assembly of God in Ozark, Mo. One Sunday my wife, Jeanie, sensed an urging of the Holy Spirit to get our 9-year-old from his Sunday morning class and take him forward to the altar for prayer. Jeanie faithfully obeyed.

Following the event at James River, all of Nathan’s EEGs continued to reveal consistent spikes in his brainwave activity, but we returned to the Philippines, and he went year after year without any seizures. Nathan would occasionally ask if we thought he was healed, and we would simply answer that we didn’t know, but that we believed it likely. It was too dangerous to take any risks on reducing his medication. So we waited and prayed, along with family, friends and churches, while Nathan went without seizures for three, four, five, and now more than six years.

On our return from the Philippines in May 2007, we approached Nathan’s doctor in Springfield, Mo., about reducing his medication. The doctor agreed to take another EEG and see if anything had changed. A few days later he presented us with a totally unblemished reading, a first for Nathan, and set us on a schedule for reducing Nathan’s medication — heavy doses of Depakote and Keppra. Nathan is now completely off both medications, and family and friends remark on how much more alert, responsive and energetic he seems.

My stress level soared during our 2001-02 missionary itineration cycle, worrying about my son while traveling across the country raising ministry funds. I sought prayer for Nathan among all of the churches I visited. To this day the first question dozens of pastors ask when I contact them concerns Nathan’s health, assuring me their congregations have kept him in regular prayer.

I am so grateful for the multitude of prayers offered for Nathan over the past 11 years and believe they have all contributed to his healing. But I find it most interesting that the prayers of our home church, James River, were the last he received from a specific group before he ceased having seizures. Not because it was James River, per se, or a particular pastor, but because it was our home church.

I came to this conclusion when I sought God for a compelling answer on how to pray for Nathan. God directed me to James 5:14-16, where I realized something I had never contemplated before.

This is the only passage of Scripture in the New Testament specifically instructing on the method of healing in the church. Every other New Testament passage regarding healing is primarily evangelistic. Consider the healing of the blind beggar at the temple in Acts 3. Look at Jesus’ empowering of His disciples to heal the sick in Matthew 10, and Peter and Paul’s healing the sick during their ministry in Acts. All these examples highlight healing for the sake of communicating the gospel.

Only James teaches directly how followers of Christ should seek healing. What are his instructions? He points them to their local church. Interestingly, James does not encourage the sick who are sitting under local pastoral care to seek out anyone else in order to make certain they receive their healing. I’m convinced this omission is purposeful, not negligent. When healing takes place in the church, under the ministry of pastors and elders, the church gains its rightful authority and recognition in the community, and Christ is more readily exalted.

I believe Nathan’s healing transpired as it did to instill in me a renewed faith in the ministry of the local church. This is what Christ gave His life to build. My challenge is to reinvigorate local leaders and fellowships in the ministry God assigned to them in Scripture. I need to stand by them, encourage them, and believe in them as God’s servants, neutralizing the tendency toward hero worship in our faith.

In the days and weeks following the results of Nathan’s last EEG, and occasionally still, I break into spontaneous weeping over God’s goodness. Yes, Nathan’s illness was a difficult season for our family, but I can see God’s hand in what that illness brought about. Nathan is gentle, loving, respectful, humble, joyful, intelligent and a genuine pleasure to be around — all qualities I would love to recognize more in myself. I couldn’t be more proud of him, and am persuaded that his personal qualities are at least in part due to the trials he has faced with epilepsy.

In junior high, one of his public school teachers once encouraged the newspaper editor to interview Nathan about life as a missionary kid. A query form question presented to him read, “Do you think you’ll be a missionary when you grow up?”

Nathan penciled his answer: “I think that I’m already a missionary.” Enough said.

STUART GERMAN is an Assemblies of God missionary to the Philippines.

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