How to Hear

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Luke 18:1–8, ESV

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep…I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

John 10:14-15, 28, ESV

Nearly three years ago, when I first went on sick leave from work, there was a Christian at my company who prayed each day for God to heal me from my migraines. Every morning for weeks, she transcribed her prayer and sent it for me to read and pray along with her. She was one of dozens of people that were praying for my healing at the time.

But eventually, the messages stopped coming. Did she stop praying for my healing? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t blame her if she had. After all, she lasted longer than I did.

It’s hard to pray persistently for healing. Each day of God saying “No” brings fresh temptations to turn from Him (to “Curse God and die,” as Job’s wife said), and these are over and above the temptations that come with having chronic illness in general. It’s exhausting to keep asking and hoping only to be disappointed, day after day after day. 

For me, cynicism is a coping mechanism that feels like a convenient middle ground between optimism and unbelief. I’m not turning from God by being cynical, I’m just giving up on hoping for healing, specifically. This is the lie I tell myself, anyway.

There’s a lot of stuff I do every day to improve my headaches. The doctors say that maybe, if I stick with the right combination of medications, treatments, alternative therapies, lifestyle changes, and supplements, my body might recover, or at least substantially improve. So I try to be diligent in swallowing pills, avoiding certain foods, getting good sleep, etc.

Meanwhile, I do plenty of praying, but not for healing. God, get me through the next hour, the next day, without falling apart. That’s my usual prayer, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. Christ does tell us, after all, to ask the Father for our daily bread, and sometimes that’s all I can manage in my prayer life.

But on the flip side, when I’m talking to the omnipotent Creator of the Universe, I regularly pass over my most urgent need. God could heal me in an instant–I believe this. I know that He’s listening, and even that He often rewards persistence by “relenting” or changing His mind. But it seems somehow easier to trust in the drugs to help me. What does this say about how I view God, and how I relate to Him as His child?

I think I don’t hear loving the tone of God’s voice when He tells me “No.” I remember Chris talking about God’s tone before, specifically about God’s tone when He says “Fear not!” God says this a lot throughout Scripture, and it’s hard to know the intended tone when reading these two words. There’s “Don’t fear, you stupid coward!” vs. “Don’t be afraid, my precious child, I’m in control.” Which tone do we assume? More often than not, the latter interpretation makes the most sense in context, and it’s also more consistent with the character of the God who is the Good Shepherd.

What do I hear, then, when God says “No?” What tone do I assume when He denies my request for healing? What words am I reading into His answer? My knee-jerk reaction is to feel like God is shutting me down, that He’s sick of me asking, and that He won’t ever change His mind. And this is how cynicism grows in my heart.

But this isn’t the voice of the Good Shepherd. Christ says He holds His people safely in His hand. He doesn’t push them away in anger. 

So I must train my ears to hear the Good Shepherd–not only His voice, but also His tone. And I should keep praying for healing because, whether “yes” or “no,” God’s every answer is love.