Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
July 16, 2017
Text: Romans 8:5, O.T.: Psalm 119:105-112, N.T.: Romans 8:1-11
Most Americans define health as a condition of the body. They consider health to be freedom from illness, disease, or physical disability. As the nineteenth century Swiss writer Henri Fredric Amiel wrote, “Health is the first of all liberties.” We feel most free when we’re healthy. Health offers choices which illness, disease, or disability restrict.
But others warn that health is more than freedom from illness or disease. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Health is the condition of wisdom, and the sign is cheerfulness – an open and noble temper.” Emerson pointed to people like Helen Keller. They were afflicted by what many of us would consider a physical disability, yet remain optimists despite of their condition. They transcended their physical infirmity.
In recent years, Joni Eareckson Tada, has inspired thousands to find God despite being paralyzed from the neck down from an accident she suffered as a 17 year-old. Her accident re-defined her life. She was physically devastated. But her accident awakened her spiritually.
Joni Tada is healthy, when you measure her heart, attitude, and her emotional and spiritual condition by her cheerfulness. Joni radiates the joy of living in God’s presence. She exemplifies how health lies beyond freedom from bodily afflictions. Health lies in our awareness of God
The Apostle Paul describes the struggle to discover health in his letter to the Romans. He does not use the word health at all in his letter. But the battle between the flesh and the spirit that he describes is all about yearning for spiritual healing in our awareness of God.
Paul frames the search for spiritual health in liberation from sin. In Romans 7 he describes the internal wrestling of the mind and body with physical impulses and pleasures of the flesh. In verse 19 he laments, “I do not do the good I want. But the evil I do not what is what I do.”
Two verses later, he observes that when he forces himself to do the right thing, the impulse to do the opposite “lies close at hand.” Then, he collapses in despair with the admission, “I see in my members (or body) another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members.”
The Apostle Paul describes in the battle between the flesh and the spirit how focusing exclusively on physical health and mental health leads to frustration and discouragement. Demanding the flesh to be healed is not an end to itself. The mind, emotions, and body are so intertwined, pursuing physical pleasure obstructs spiritual awareness of God’s presence. We seek to avoid physical difficulties rather than to seek God.
Joni Tada admits after she sat motionless with paralysis, her demand for physical improvement led to such despair she gave up trusting God. The tortured pain inside her mind would not permit her to see the greater purpose of God’s love. She could only see what she could not do. She could not see God’s presence in her infirmity. She gave up on life.
Joni was healed of rejecting God when a 16 year-old boy led her to see her situation from the perspective of Jesus’ suffering on the cross. He talked with her about God knowing our pain through suffering on the cross in the form of Jesus. When she found herself in Christ’s life, she was freed from focusing on her physical health. She was free to find God’s presence.
Spiritual health is the wisdom to see God in every circumstance of life. God calls us to share Christ’s Gospel with joy, especially in those circumstances in which a person’s cheerfulness defies explanation. When we see things from the perspective of the flesh, we want to be free from worldly discomfort. We seek pleasure rather than God. We drop our love for God and elevate our focus on preserving the body.
When we see life from the spiritual perspective – the perspective that God’s love emanates within bodily hardships and tribulations we experience, then we’re free to embrace God’s grace and to serve His redeeming purpose. That purpose is to bring spiritual health to others.
Amy Carmichael was born in Northern Ireland to a large Presbyterian family, in 1861. She was the eldest of seven children. When Amy was three, she told the local minister that she loved the color blue more than any other color. She loved the blue sky. She loved blue Lotus flowers. She especially loved her mother’s blue eyes. But Amy had brown eyes and wanted more than anything to have blue eyes.
Amy was fixated upon her physical condition and prayed to God one night as a three year-old can, that God would change her eyes to blue. She awakened the next morning and jumped out of bed to see what God had done to answer her prayer. She started crying when she saw that God had not honored her request.
Amy’s mother told her disappointed child that God had a reason for Amy’s eyes to be brown. She just needed to be content with God’s love for her, and wait to discover why God had given her brown eyes.
Many of us struggle with praying to God to change our physical condition, like Amy. We wrestle with whether God is hearing our petitions for change. To see beyond the change we seek, to discover the hidden purpose behind the condition of our flesh, and to embrace the spiritual purpose to which we are called is the object of spiritual healing.
It wasn’t until years later, when Amy became a Presbyterian missionary to India’s children who were ritually abused in Hindu temples, that she discovered why she had brown eyes. To save these children, Amy Carmichael disguised herself as a Hindu woman to free them from their terrible fate. If her eyes had been blue, she would never have been accepted as an Indian. For 56 years she labored as a Christian missionary to save the children in Dohnavur, India. There was a spiritual purpose she could see with her brown eyes, as she remained faithful to God’s mission.
In 1932, several angry Hindus dug a hole outside her home, hoping to end her mission. She fell into the hole and was severely injured. Those who knew of Amy’s missionary work feverishly prayed she would be healed so she could continue saving the children of Dohnavur.
But Amy became confined to bed because of her injuries. She began to contemplate God’s purpose anew. She re-discovered the lesson that she was first taught as a three year-old. The nature of her flesh was not what gave her God’s purpose. It was God’s own love that gave her a purpose that not even infirmity could prevent.
Amy began writing, and writing, and writing, about the power of God to bring salvation to the hopeless. Her poems and prose filled 30 books before she died at the age of 100. Her mission work was expanded – to readers around the world. Thousands have read her cheerful message of the redeeming love of God through Jesus Christ. Her physical infirmity taught her the wisdom of companionship with God. She was a shining example of spiritual health throughout her lifetime.
Spiritual healing depends upon your focus on God’s greatness. If we limit our vision to only seeing things of the flesh, we will fail to see the great blessings God is giving us.
But when we keep our focus upon God’s grace and mercy, His sharing with us in the struggles of life, and His examples of Christian cheerfulness and confidence that defy earthly explanation, we will see our hearts and minds moved into the care of the great physician of heaven.
He will restore our relationship with Him. He will enable us to help others be healed as well. When you share the joy you have with Christ, you are giving to others the gift of new health. Keep your eyes steadfast on God, and be cheerful. Spiritual health emerges from a cheerful giver.
If you’re having problems seeing God’s grace and mercy in your life, then let’s take a moment to pray for God to heal your vision. Will you join me in prayer?
Lord Jesus, help me see your blessings every day, so I am renewed in spirit, and invigorated to be Your blessing for others. Fill me with a heart that longs only to see how You want me to do to bring healing to others. I pray this in the name of the world’s great healer, Jesus Christ. Amen.