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About this series
Does God Still Heal?
Finding Wholeness in a Broken World
God does, in fact, heal today, but often our presuppositions and expectations prevent Him from accomplishing all that He wants to in our lives. This series, from James 5, will help you sort through the many and conflicting voices in our day about the issues of healing.More from this series
We have been taught to cope with our symptoms rather than learn how to heal the source. And there’s a proper time to get counseling and there is a proper time under a doctor’s guidance where medication is needed. There’s a proper time for support groups and help groups and small groups.
There’s a proper time for pastoral counseling and professional counseling. There’s a proper time for all those things, but what I would suggest is that if you’re not careful and if we’re not careful, what we really do is try and manage the symptoms.
And, by the way, there’s a lot of improper ways that we manage our symptoms as well, aren’t there? We are not hungry, but we eat. The obesity in our country isn’t because people are hungry. It’s called what? Comfort food. Whether it’s eating too much or shopping too much or drinking too much or working too much, we do lots of things to quiet the pain.
We go on adventure or adreneline runs. And what I want you to know is that God wants to heal, not just the syptoms, but the source. And He is going to give us a prescription for how that happens.
That happens in James chapter 5, beginning in verse 13. And we have God’s prescriptrion for emotional healing. And even as I read this, you will be shocked at its simplicity. In fact, you might be so shocked you say, There is no way this can work. But I think by the end of our time, if you’re willing to practice God’s prescription, you’ll experience some powerful things.
God’s prescription for emotional healing is, for emotional distress, His Rx is, you can write the word in, pray. Pray. And I assure you, it’s not just some common prayer, but there is a type of prayer that brings emotional healing.
He says in verse 13, “Is anyone among you troubled?” The word means afflicted, suffering, enduring hardship or distress. Misfortune of any kind. It’s the trouble, the emotions, the difficulty, the pain, the anxiety, the stress. “Are you troubled?” You lost your house, you have broken up in a relationship, health problems, discouraged, you’re distressed. Are you troubled? And, by the way, it’s, “Is anyone among you…?” This is for individuals.
When you are troubled, when I am troubled, when I am sad, when I feel bad, when I feel discouraged, when I want to give up, when I am angry, when I am troubled, God says, “Pray.” To which you are thinking, Um, I’ve actually done that, but it’s not working so well for me.
The second one is, for emotional delight, the Rx is “sing.” “Is anyone,” notice, specifially, an actual person, not just singing in a group like you did earlier, not just worship in a church, but individually, are you happy? And this word means, not just like an emotional light or boistrous, or, “I feel, ooh, happy.”
But it’s that attitude of inner delight, even if circumstances are bad. You know that flickering up inside of joy, that sense of satisfaction? That, Oh, God. Thank You. The connection of a relationship, the accomplishment of a goal, the sense of watching God work in people’s lives. He says the Rx is to sing.
And so God has some solutions. What I want to encourage us to do is say: What if rather than the symptoms, there was actually a way to come into God’s presence in the way that He has shown us, where He could heal what is behind why I go to the refrigerator. What’s behind that addiction? What’s behind the explosion in anger? What’s behind why I shut everything down and work, work, work, work, work?
Could God heal my emotions? Turn the page and let’s discover exactly what he says and how. Because I am guessing some of you are saying, You know what? I have got struggles and I’ve got pain and I’ve got hurts and I have actually, I have prayed. I have really prayed, “Oh, God, will You please help me? And, God, my job situation here and I’ve got a breakup in a relationship here. One of my kids is struggling here. Our marriage is…”
And you have prayed and you’ve prayed and you would say to me, And when I got done, I still felt kind of bad! It’s hard to say out loud, but it’s like, I prayed and it didn’t work.
And so the question you’ll notice on your notes is: What kind of prayer, what kind of prayer brings about the kind of change that we are talking about? And I am going to tell you that there are two kinds of prayer.
And one I will describe by an experience. Many, many years ago, I was teaching, coaching basketball, I lived in a little apartment by myself with about two rooms. And I was leading a college discipleship ministry. And there was a fellow who came.
And Bob had a very difficult, difficult childhood. Rejection by his father, multiple rejections afterwards. And if you have ever been around one of those people who, they have this tape. And the first time you hear it, your heart just goes out to them and you go, Oh my gosh. You went through that and you went through that and you went through that and you went through that and, oh, wow. And you listen.
And then you’re with them again and it’s like you ask them about something, and it’s like they punch a button and the tape plays and you hear exactly the same thing. Right?
And then you’re with them with someone else and someone says, “How are you guys doing?” And Bob plays the tape and, “Oh, man, my childhood was terrible. My dad treated me this way and actually, in high school, I was rejected. And junior high people made fun of me! And everywhere I have gone…”
And it’s like, and I’m thinking, Man, I’ve known the guy three weeks. I have heard this story, like, fourteen times.
And you’re up until two in the morning and talking, talking, talking, talking, talking, talking, counseling. And, What about this, Bob? What about this, Bob? Bible studies together.
And so finally I said, “Bob! I have heard this story a hundred and forty-four times. Why don’t you just pray?” He goes, “I do! It doesn’t do any good.”
“Alright. We are going to pray and we are going to pray right now.” Okay. Get this thing out here, it’s a hard, wooded floor, we are going to be holy about this. “Get down on our knees, Bob. Okay, Bob, okay, right. Bob, you go first and then I’ll pray. Alright.” I bow my head, he bows his head.
Oh, God, you know what my father did to me. You know where I have been through. You know how I was rejected in junior high. Ay, yi, yi, yi, yi, yi, yi, yi, yi.
And I feel like he is whining to God like he is whining to me! He got done and I said something like, God, please help him. I can’t. And, see, there is a kind of prayer that God uses, and there is a kind of prayer that really doesn’t work.
Whining in the presence of God, where you’re the victim, telling God how difficult everything is, and asking Him for magic bullets to make everything go away, rather than facing the cause – I feel rejected, I feel hurt – is there a place and is there a person that totally and completely loves me for who I am? And what does it mean to be in Christ and be accepted and be a son and be a daughter, and to believe that I have an inheritance and that I’m adopted and that I am special and that I am loved? And to live out of who the new person I am.
And I heard another guy named Dave pray when he was going through a rough time. Dave had been through a horrendous life. He was very affluent. In a weak moment, committed adultery. Later, killed someone. In a moment of pride, actually made a decision that cost thousands of people to lose their lives.
And I heard Bob pray on my living room floor. And when I heard Dave pray, I thought, I think that might be illegal. I can’t believe how he talks to God. And the Dave that I am talking about is the David of Scripture. The David who, when God heard this man and saw this man, in spite of his tremendous failure and sin, said, This is David, a man after My own heart.
One third of all the psalms are called “lament psalms.” And there is a type of praying in a lament psalm where you meet God, where you don’t deny, you don’t make excuses, you don’t blame, you don’t whine. You face what you really feel, you get raw at a level, and you bring it to God and there’s a three-step process. And in the midst of this, God heals our emotions. Sometimes instantaneously, sometimes over time.
Prayers that heal emotions include three parts and they are called “laments.” About fifty of the one hundred and fifty psalms are in this category. Well, what is the pattern? Number one, you recount your pain. You recount it.
Not, “I’m a victim,” and whine about it. No denial, no repression, no stuffing, no self-pity, no complaining. You recount it.
Second, you recall God’s character. When you recount it, there’s honest emotions, there’s graphic language.
He is raw. He’s earthy.
See, “The Lord is near to those who call upon Him,” Psalm 145:18, “to those who call upon Him in truth.” Genuine healing always is about grace, but grace and truth are always connected for healing to occur.
Open your Bibles to Psalm 13. It’s a song of lament. He recounts his pain, you’ll notice he is going to recall God’s character, and then number three, notice there’s a choice that he makes. He resolves to trust.
So this is really, really simple. You want emotional healing when you’re going through difficult times, number one, you recount the pain – specifically and honestly.
Number two, you recount God’s character. Wait a minute. This is all how I feel, this is what I have been through, but this is who God is. And then you resolve. You make a decision, not because you feel like it, but to trust. And that’s what begins the healing process.
Listen to Psalm 13. If I was a psychologist and I was sitting on a couch and I was listening to this, see, we don’t live in biblical language. We live in therapeutic language. So I’ll give you a picture of how this might go.
Here is David praying, “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will you hide Your face from me?” In our day, we would say he has abandonment issues. He does. He’s not experiencing God. He prays, nothing happens. He feels alone. He feels isolated. He feels discouraged. But what is he doing? He’s not processing those emotions and going different places. How long, God? How long? You made me, You love me, You died for me, You rose from the dead. I don’t like this. Are You going to forget me forever? Are You going to hide Your face from me? I want to know! When was the last time you prayed like that?
“How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and everyday have sorrow in my heart?” You know what anxiety is? You ever been there where you can’t think on one thing? And you are bombarded by thoughts? And you don’t know where to go? And this thought is and you leave something in this room and you go to the next room. And then you try to start on something and you’re distracted by something else and you feel like, at times, like you’re almost going out of your mind.
I am bombarded with my thoughts, and then he says what? “Everyday sorrow in my heart.” He is depressed. He is bummed out. He doesn’t feel good. He feels absolutely abandoned, he has high levels of anxiety, and he is depressed.
“How long will my enemies triumph over me?” And now, if it’s really happening, he is realizing, I’ve got external circumstances that I can’t control, and they are winning.
Here is a guy that his emotions are in a very bad place. And there are no therapists in his day. “Look on me and answer me, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death.” I don’t know if I can keep going! Have you ever been there? You ever felt like, I just can’t take this another day. I can’t go on. God, if You don’t intervene, if You don’t do something, I can’t go on. That’s what he is saying. It’s raw. It’s honest.
“My enemies will say,” and then if I bail out, my enemies will say, “‘I have overcome him,’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall.” Notice the turning now in the psalm. What he has done, that’s how I feel. That’s how I really feel. That’s not, I was one of the youngest kids and my dad really didn’t give me much attention, my older brothers were really down on me when God told me He was going to use me, I have a personality that a little bit more sensitive than others and I…
I think we spend a little bit more time trying to figure out why we are the way we are and I think what David does here is say, This is where I’m really at. “But I trust in Your unfailing love.” By the way, at the heart of curing every addiction and every problem – what I need, what you need, what everyone is looking for, and whether we look for it in sex or work or shopping or a bottle or fame or a drug or from a counselor – we want to be loved. There’s a miraculous thing that happens is you just for you, apart from anything you have done, will do, or could ever do, that you just for you are an object of deep, unfailing love.
And he says, “I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation.” He is looking back to what God has done. I’m going to focus now on the facts. You have delivered me. My feelings are in the toilet. But I am going to choose to look at the facts and who You are and what You have done.
And then notice, “I will sing to the Lord for He has been good to me.” Notice, “I will.” It’s a choice. Bob, often I would talk with him and we would try and work through issues and I would say, “Bob, you can’t pray like that. You need to pray like that.” “I just can’t. I’m just too down.” And finally, “Bob, do you want to stay the way you are forever?” “No.” “Then stop making excuses and start making choices.”
The most loving, kind, available, powerful Being in the universe is waiting for you. In fact, in the words of Isaiah, he would say this: You come and state your cause. Let’s have an argument that you could be proved right. God is longing to hear from you. Not some, Help everything to go okay. Bail me out of this situation.
Just listen to your prayers sometimes. How often your prayers and mine are really about, God, fix this; change that; make this work. Why? So I can be happy, so I can feel like I’m back in control, so I can feel like things will go…
And God says, Wait a second. Why don’t you come and why don’t we get, not to coping with the symptoms. Let’s get really, really honest. How do you really feel? Where have you really been hurt? And why don’t you lay it out as straightforward and painfully, and then I want you to stop and remember: I love you.
You know that cross that some of you have around your neck or that cross that you see in the Bible? While you were yet a sinner, while I was yet a sinner, Christ died in your place. God demonstrated His love for you. He cares about you. He is for you.
What I have put here is a number of lament psalms so when you feel depressed, doubt, and circumstances: Psalm 13. When there’s guilt and shame, when you have really done something wrong, in Psalm 38, he just talks about: I have sinned, I have been in folly, I did this, I did this. And he talks about all of his emotions and then he stops. But he remembers God’s character and His forgiveness and His love. And then he resolves to trust.
In Psalm 56, he is persecuted. It’s unfair. In Psalm 73, he is getting a completely raw deal. And he comes to God and he says, “Surely You are good to Israel, but today, I almost checked out of following You.” Why? Because I am watching evil people get good stuff and I am getting killed. I tell the truth, I’m being pure, I’m following You, I’m doing what is right, and my life is going this way; and they lie and they cheat, and every sin you can imagine. And their lives are going great!
He says, “My foot almost slipped.” See, if you don’t process those kinds of thoughts, then what happens is, down inside, this little voice says, You know, living a Christian life, it’s not worth it. All those other sales reps, they are lying. You know some other people in business? They are padding stuff. Those people over here…and God says, he processes that.
And he said, “I would have betrayed all the people that will come after me,” the generation of my children. My testimony would have gone down the tubes. My relationship with You. He said, “But then I perceived their end when I went into the sanctuary of God.” And God revealed, It looks good now, but He pulls out the rug, bang.
But as you get raw and honest, as you remember His character, and then as you choose.
And, by the way, you don’t feel like it. You choose. But if you choose and verbalize and I would suggest that something that some of you might do to experience great healing is go to the drug store and buy one of these. It’s a spiral notebook.
For the last, probably, thirty-some years, when I’m trying to get stuff out of my head, I write it down. And there is something powerful. David wrote, you know what this is? This is David’s journal, later put to music.
And so lest we be hypothetical, I thought to myself, What is the last lament psalm? I was here early praying and saying, God, You want to heal us.
And so this was Sunday, the fourteenth of February. “I need to deal with my anger and my attitude. I came home and wrote in my journal, confessed my sins, gave thanks, addressed some emails, and got back to some people with my best sense of God direction on some questions they asked.
“I remember years ago, You, Lord, giving me a window of rest in preparation for the beginning of seminary, the summer of 1979 in Dallas. I constantly busied myself, looked back realizing that I missed Your gift. I have this strange feeling that I’m doing much the same now. Things are going really well at church without me, this is a time to get fully refreshed, to be okay with doing nothing, to let my body and my emotions recover and heal from the intensity of the last two years and probably if I’m honest, maybe the last ten.
“Help me, Almighty God, to stop, receive Your love and grace. Help me to enjoy You. Lord Jesus, rather than discover some big thing You want to teach me or discover some big, hidden thing that is wrong with me, or justify my existence by gaining some great, new insight while I’m down, would You help me to be still and be with You?
“As You full well know, I’m frustrated and I’m not handling things well, despite progress with my back. The outpouring of love and concern and prayers on my behalf at the church are amazing. Have mercy on me, My Father. Help me receive Your love and enjoy Your presence and simply not accomplish anything, to cease striving, and know You’re God.”
That’s a lament. That’s a lament. I was angry, mad, sad, frustrated, can’t sit down, can’t stand up, can’t read.
But I’m not in control. So what do you do? Eat more? Watch more TV? Make phone calls? Or get real with how you really feel? And then remember who God is. And all I can tell you is, a little moment of healing occurred. When I got done, it was like, Whew. It’s like those of you who have boyfriends or girlfriends or those of you who are married and something comes between you and you have it out.
Sometimes we patch things up right in those relationships, but we don’t really get down. It’s like, “Oh, I’m sorry. You’re sorry. I’m sorry. Can we be okay?” Which means: Let’s both forget it.
And there are other times where you say, “I felt really bad when you said such-and-such, it really hurt my feelings. And honestly, I was pretty ticked off.” And when you really get the truth on the table and you really do forgive each other, isn’t there an amazing connection that happens afterwards? That’s what God wants. That’s what He wants, that’s how healing occurs.
There’s a second kind of prayer that God uses to fill your emotional tank.
There’s a prayer that helps us when we’re down, but notice he says to us, “If anyone is happy,” and you know what? When we are happy, sometimes we get all jazzed up and so we’re: Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! Ha! And you want to start doing all kind of stuff.
And there’s something he wants individuals to do, not just corporately, but alone and with Him that allows you to capture the happiness and the goodness and the love and the acceptance and to take it from an intellectual thing that you believe and something that you have now experienced, and let it pour down into your heart and build up a reservoir so that all the painful withdrawals of life that are going to come, that you would just have this sense of reservoir of life.
And I don’t understand, psychologically or even spiritually how it happens, but there is a correlation between truth going from your head to your heart through the process of singing, especially singing about who God is.
In fact, Ephesians chapter 5, you might jot it down, 18 to 21, we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. And then he says, “The evidence,” or, “the overflow of the Spirit is speaking to one another in songs and hymns, singing and making melody in your heart toward the Lord.”
Colossians 3:15 and following will take the same structure and say, “I want you to be filled with the Word of God. Let the Word of God richly dwell within you.” And then when the Word of God, the truth of God is richly dwelling within you, guess what? Singing and making melody in your heart toward God.
These kind of prayers that fill our emotional tanks have three parts as well. And they are called Psalms of Praise. Psalms of Praise. In these, you recount gain. You recount, Wow! This is what God did!
Second, then you recall God’s character. The pattern all through Psalms of Praise, fifty percent or about seventy-five of the one hundred and fifty psalms are psalms either of declaration or prescription of the praise to God.
And they talk about what He has done and they recount His works. And then that moves them to recall His character.
And then, finally, to resolve to thank or to praise Him. Forty-one times in the psalms alone we are commanded: “Sing unto the Lord,” “Sing unto the Lord,” “Sing unto the Lord.”
And I don’t know how it works and just confession for all the people who did not raise their hand. I feel weird when I sing out loud, personally. And I feel weird singing to God. It doesn’t come naturally.
But as I have learned to praise God and often take some of these worship songs and I put my earphones in or in my car a lot, and I open them up just a little bit, as I sing and praise God, something very powerful happens in my emotions. Something happens in my perspective.
There’s a strength and a filter that I begin to look at life and difficulty and pain and problems and because all of a sudden, I am praising and affirming the goodness of God and the wisdom of God and the power of God and the love of God.
And I am taking that from an intellectual knowledge to down deep in my soul, this is what is true. And it’s not just true out there. It’s true in me! And the Spirit of God takes the Word of God and the songs and He begins to bubble up emotionally inside of me and you.
It’s why I think Paul and Silas, in the midst of great adversity, they are in prison. And they are realizing God is in control. He’s got this. And they start singing, remember that?
Sometimes singing births forth great power. They sing for a while, then the earth starts shaking and there is an earthquake. God wants to bring some earthquakes and some breakthroughs in our lives and I would encourage you, maybe it starts with you singing some songs to Him.
The other thing it does, singing to God is a very intimate thing, isn’t it? I think maybe that’s why I’m uncomfortable. For years, I have listened as my wife has put our little kids to bed and now grandchildren.
And I can hear the rocker and I can hear her voice for all these years into the ears of those babies. And I watch what happens to them as she sings.
Zephaniah 3:17, this is phenomenal. Not only do we sing to God, He says He sings over us. Is God that personal and that intimate?
See, I think, He’s not a formula. He’s not “the force.” He’s not out there. He lives within you. It says, “The Lord God is mighty. He quiets you with His love. He rejoices over you with singing.”
If you would, open your Bible to Psalm 103. It’s probably the classic psalm, at least for me, or maybe it’s the one that God has used the most when I have been so discouraged.
And Psalm 103 gives us the pattern of recalling His acts, then shifting to His character, and then giving thanks.
“Praise the Lord,” or, “bless the Lord, O my soul; and all of my innermost being, praise His holy name. Bless,” or, “praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not one of His benefits.”
Now he lists them, “Who forgives all my sins, who heals all my diseases, who redeems my life from the pit and crowns me with love and compassion. He satisfies my desires with good things so that my youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. He made known His ways to Moses, His deeds to the people of Israel.”
And then notice, he is listing, “He has healed me, He has forgiven me, He has strengthened me.” He is looking at all the acts. And then he has this shift where he goes, “He made known His ways, what He is really like, to Moses. He made all of His acts: the Red Sea, the manna, the water out of the rock, to Israel.”
Who is faithful? Who, after it all got said and done, who continued to follow? See, God’s acts will never sustain you. You feel like if He would do a big miracle, if He would heal your leg, if He would bring your son to the Lord – some big miracle, some big thing – if something would right-size up instead of down in terms of your finance, if He would just do some big miracle…
I’ve got news, a month from now, you would have another big one He really needs to do. It’s God’s ways that sustain you. But the way you learn His ways is you recount the specific things that He does and then you step back and you look at His character.
Notice what He says now. He says, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always accuse, nor harbor His anger forever; He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on His children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.”
You see where he went? He went from: God did these things, to: This is who He is. And when you begin to sing and you would begin to believe that, are you ready for this? He is not down on you. Didn’t He say that? The Lord is compassionate, He is slow to anger, He is the most patient Being in all the universe.
Just as we as human fathers have compassion on our children, so the Lord has compassion on us as we fear Him and walk before Him.
Some of the guilt and the shame and where you have been and what you have done, as far as the east is from the west, when God sees you on this day in this room, He has removed them. He loves you! He looks at you through the blood of Christ, the righteousness of Christ. You are precious, loved, adopted, empowered.
He has got a plan for you. He is abounding in steadfast, loyal love and kindness. When you begin to sing that, you’ll start to believe it and you’ll start to feel it.
Now, turn the page and I want to summarize because people drift into areas that I think get dangerous. So let me bring balance. Number one conclusion is ups and downs are normal. In fact, I used to be really upset because I feel like my life and my emotions, and then I read the Psalms and realized, Guess what? Welcome to the NFL. Everybody is. No one is doing great all the time, or feeling great all the time.
Number two, emotional health demands we move from the silencing of our symptoms. What we want to talk about is, you can’t silence your symptoms. Ask yourself, What are the things that you do to just quiet it down? And whether it’s eating or work or addictions and just say, You know what? That’s really not the problem. Prescription drugs is not the problem. The Internet is not the problem. Work is not the problem. Your ex is not the problem. Your kids are not the problem. Your health issues are not the problem. There is something feeding that. And God wants to heal that.
Three, emotional healing is a gift from God. So go to the Counselor before you go to many counselors. Before you pick up the phone and share your story and share in a group and share it here, share it there – go to the Counselor. It’s not either/or, but go there first.
Number four, getting stuck is also normal. And God uses people in conjunction with prayer to mend our emotional wounds. We are competent to counsel one another. Life change happens in small groups. Professional, biblical counselors are necessary and wonderful. We need one another.
It’s not, Oh, you only pray. It’s, Yes, I come to God first, but He is going to use people in multiple ways and He is going to use me in their life.
And finally, extreme wounds, at times, demand extended and specialized care. Some of these things are physiological. Some people need antidepressants and should be on them. Some people need specialized treatment.
We have this idea, is it emotional? Is it mental? Is it physical? Answer: Yes. Do you realize the power of what is going on in your mind and how it affects your body and how what you’re thinking affects your relationship with people and God?
You are a wholeness. And so it’s complicated. So we need the best medical attention, the best spiritual, and the best emotional. And I don’t know what’s going on with you and you don’t know what’s going on with me. So let’s not judge one another about the processes, where they’re at, and the kind of care they might need. Okay?