Summary: Third in series on “Illness Through the Eyes of Faith.”
LEARNING FROM ILLNESS
INTRO: A pastor went to the hospital to visit a church member who was recovering from surgery. He was about to pray for this person when the patient said: “You know, Preacher, you really don’t need to pray about my gall bladder. The doctors have that under control. If you want to pray about something, pray about my hospital bill!”
Unfortunately, I can’t do much about your medical bills, but I do want to talk again about this issue of illness. Let us examine another important issue in developing a Christian interpretation of illness: learning from illness.
I knew of a seminary professor who had a complete physical breakdown when he was still a young man. He had pushed himself to the very limit of physical and emotional endurance. Finally his body could take no more.
Although he still suffers the negative effects of that breakdown, he would tell you that it was one of the most positive experience of his life. The experience forced him to reevaluate his priorities and clarify his values. His illness also taught him much about prayer and spirituality. He learned much from his struggle with illness.
This is not a unique experience. Many of the great figures of history and of the church attribute their greatest insights and growth to times of illness.
In Romans 8:28, the apostle Paul affirmed that God can bring good out of any and all situations. Surely, then, He can do so out of the brokenness of physical infirmity. According to the Bible, God can bring good out of bad situations, including the experience of illness.
While we see this principle in a general way in Rom. 8:28, let me mention some specific examples. In Numbers 12:10, Miriam was smitten with leprosy in order that she and Aaron might turn from their sin. In Psalms 119:71, the psalmist said it was good for him to be afflicted. In John 9:1-3, the disciples asked Jesus about a blind man’s sins. In John 11:4 Jesus talked about the purpose of Lazarus’ sickness. In 2 Cor. 12:7, Paul talked about his “thorn in the flesh.”
BENEFICIAL OUTCOMES. It is clear in Scripture that illness can have good results. That does not take away the pain and difficulty of illness, but it does mean that it can serve good purposes in our lives.
Third in series on “Illness Through the Eyes of Faith.”
I. ILLNESS TEACHES HUMILITY.
This was the experience of Paul as seen in 2 Cor. 12:7. Illness, like nothing else, reminds us of our limitations. It is a vivid lesson that from dust we come and to dust we shall return. Physical infirmities are a poignant reminder of our finitude. When we realize our weakness and frailty, we can better acknowledge our need for God and thrust ourselves on His mercy.
II. ILLNESS OFFERS PERSPECTIVE.
I remember a conversation I once had with a relatively young man. He had just had a heart attack. He said to me: “For the first time in my life, I realize that I am not going to live forever.” Illness reminds us of the brevity of life and challenges us to “number our days,” to make the best of the time we have left.
III. ILLNESS DEEPENS RELATIONSHIPS.
One woman shared with me that her illness gave her a new appreciation and love for her family. Illness can help us grow closer to the people around us. It reminds us how much we need others.
IV. ILLNESS ENCOURAGES EVALUATION.
Illness may force us to admit that our life-style needs to be altered. A healthy response to illness is to ask what our responsibility was in bringing it on. We can then make decisions about changing our life-style. Sickness can also shock us out of our shallowness. It can help us decide what really matters. It offers a time to take serious stock of life.
V. ILLNESS DEVELOPS EMPATHY.
Through our experience with illness, we can better understand and respond to others who suffer. Through our suffering, God equips us to minister to others who face similar problems. Paul stated this clearly in 2 Cor. 1:3-4.
In spite of its negatives, illness, if we will let it, can teach us much. It offers the potential for growth that few experiences can match. Let me add one final possibility.
VI. ILLNESS INTENSIFIES SPIRITUALITY.
I remember visiting a man in the hospital after he had a major heart attack. He had never expressed much interest in God or religion. That all changed, however, when he entered the “valley of the shadow of death.”
When I first saw him, he was in intensive care. He could not talk because he had a tube in his throat. But when he saw me, he immediately put his hands in a position of prayer. I asked him if he wanted me to pray for him. He nodded his head vigorously.