Those who believe in me will place their hands on the sick, and heal them. (Mark 16:18)
This promise is listed below in its entirety. The full promise speaks of casting out devils, speaking new languages, handling snakes, drinking poison, and healing the sick. I believe that healing the sick is the one most applicable to us in our Christian ministry, and, so, I have chosen this part separately. When Jesus ascended into heaven, he brought the body he had with him. He sent down his Spirit, and he asked us to supply the body, through which the Spirit could do his work. If I supply the voice, the Spirit will speak God's word. "When you stand up to speak on my behalf, don't worry what you shall say, because the Spirit will give you words that no one will be able to oppose." (Matthew 10:20). If I supply the hands, and lay them on the sick, the Spirit will effect healing through them. I couldn't heal anyone, nor am I expected to heal anyone. Only God can do a God-thing. "The Kingdom, the power, and the glory are his." If I supply any of the power, I will be tempted to steal some of the glory. I am not a generator or a transformer for God's power. I am simply a channel of that power, when I allow the power and life of God flow through me to others.
There is a difference between sickness and suffering. Suffering is a special vocation, and it is from God. I have met people in hospital and they were profoundly edifying, through their patience, compassion for others, and gratitude for everything that is done for them. They are a great source of affirmation to the staff who care for them. On the other hand, there are patients who are forever complaining about the tea being too cold, the porridge being too hot, or the way in which they are not getting the attention from the staff that they expect. "By their fruits you'll know them." (Matthew 12:33). This latter group are sick, and I mean sick! Sickness is not from God. Enough cigarettes, alcohol, or food, and we shouldn't blame God for what happens to us. What I am saying is that suffering is from God, and sickness is not. Before praying with someone who is ill, it is important to discern whether that person is suffering, or is sick. For the one who is suffering, I pray for continued strength to carry the cross, and, if it is God's will, that the suffering might be shortened. St. James writes : "Are any among you suffering? They should keep on praying about it. and those who have reason to be thankful should continually sing praises to the Lord. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church, and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil, in the name of the Lord. And their prayer, if offered in faith, will heal the sick, and the Lord will make them well. And anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven." (James 5:13-15). James is saying that anyone who is suffering has reason to be praising God. Those who are sick, however, are in trouble, and there is a hint that the sickness may have been caused by some sin. There are a lot of sicknesses today that are self-inflicted. Such people should ask for help, and they should be given help. It is here that the laying on of hands comes in. Once again, this is an exercising of the authority that Jesus has entrusted to us.
The distinction I have made between sickness and suffering is not always so evident, and it doesn't always hold up. When I think of a baby who is sick, I cannot define this as either sickness or suffering. I know, however, that this is a very definite opportunity for parents to carry out the Lord's injunction. Nobody loves this baby as much as the parents, and it is reasonable to assume that no one is better suited to be an instrument of healing for that baby than those same parents. Parents should always be encouraged to place their hands on a sick child, and to ask the Lord to anoint their touch with the gift of healing. Once again, as in coming to claim and exercise the promises, this is done only by practice. When I exercise this mandate given to me by Jesus, it becomes almost second nature to me. I find myself automatically stepping out to claim the strength that is offered, and that is available.