Preaching and Healing Bridged

'As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.
Freely you have received; freely give.'

(Matthew 10:7-8 NIV)

The annual week of revival meetings is a feature of church life for many in India. The congregation would prepare by erecting the tent-like shamiana, hire the amplifier and keyboard. They would set up the coloured lights. Guests received colourful rosettes on arrival. It often seemed more like Christmas or a wedding than an evangelistic rally. Occasionally there'd be a generator competing with the guest preacher as he poured out heart and soul. 

My own style was typically western, aiming to get the message across in as few words as possible. 
     'Not long enough, sir,' was the remark. 'We like it longer.' 
     'How long'? I asked.
     'About an hour, sir,' came the reply. 

I did my best to comply. I was proclaiming truths of the kingdom, and they need to be clear. So why not reinforce them over and over again? The aim was always to lead the congregation to a deeper understanding of those truths, and to discover a meaningful relationship with Jesus, the centre of our faith.

The climax of the meeting came with a call to commitment. People were invited to come forward, either as a sign of that commitment, or for special prayer. Counsellors were available, but inevitably I would be asked to add my own prayer. 

If I was hoping that there would be people wanting to confirm faith in Christ I would be disappointed. These were requests expressing a deeply felt need: 'I have headaches,' 'I want to bear a child.' 'I need a job.' 'Our buffaloes are dry and there's no milk.' 'I am troubled by evil spirits in my dreams.' If the sermon took an hour, it was often another hour to engage in prayer with those in the long queue that had formed.

If the sermon gave opportunity for proclaiming the kingdom, then this time of prayer turned into an opportunity to meet people in the reality of life. Jesus might also have recognised this as 'healing'. Here was an opportunity to follow his commission to the first disciples -- preach and heal. The message was about him; now it was with him we spoke about their concerns as we prayed. The word needs to become flesh. Christ makes this one united ministry.

He is the bridge of integral mission.

I don't ever recall someone saying to me: 'Please pray for me -- I have leprosy.' But I was glad to know there were health programmes available to them if they did.

January 2016