TOAM PJ Smyth on Suffering, sickness and healing

This evening during the worship we were encouraged to make the following prophetic declarations that are all part of our history together. Half of the room called out each promise to the other half who replied “We will!”

  • Remember we can do more together than we can apart
  • Remember we are called to change the expression of Christianity throughout the world
  • Remember we are called to plant thousands churches and churches of thousands
  • Remember there are no well worn paths ahead of us so keep pioneering
  • Remember we are people of the word and the Spirit
  • Remember God’s Lavish Grace
  • Remember to build on an apostolic and prophetic foundation
  • Remember it is too small a thing to restore the church, bring my salvation to the ends of the earth
  • Remember the poor

This was a holy moment as we felt commissioned to go with these promises into the next phase of our life together as a people.

In the video that was shown about the future of Newfrontiers, there was a phrase Terry said that stood out for me: “I am praying that God goes on multiplying this so that what was once a single sapling becomes a mighty forest.”

PJ shared with us a kind of practical and systematic theology of suffering and healing.  There is no question in my mind that this is the best sermon on this subject I have ever heard.  Every Christian would do well to listen to this, study it, grasp it, and prepare themselves for the suffering that will inevitably come our way.  

You can download the audio, read my notes below, or download a briefer set of notes PJ kindly let me share here:

8 ways he has tried to live in response to his cancer this past year (Note that at times in these notes I refer to PJ as “I”!)

1. I reflected on the possible sources of sickness

a. The fall Genesis 3:3. You will surely die. The common pattern of this world is live, get sick, die. Romans 8 we are in bondage to decay. There are no 120 year old faith healers!
b. Foolish living. Sowing and reaping. If you crash your car don’t blame others. Poor diet, pollution, etc.
c. Satan (Luke 13, Acts 10:38) The default option of Jesus and the local church is to treat sickness as the work of Satan
d. Sin John 9 Jesus said “Neither this man nor his parents sinned…” He doesn’t say all sickness is caused by specific sin but it can be. Psalm 32 David is sick because of his sin. 1 Corinthians 11 they were sick because of abusing communion. Usually it is not a specific sin that leads to death but it can be. “Sin deserves death and it is because of God’s mercy that we are not each struck down whenever we sin” Carson
e. Direct from God. Actively instigated or actively permitted.

Knowing that God is in control of God’s sovereignty is very comforting. If it was outside of his rule it would mean he cant heal us. If he can’t prevent it how can he stop it. How can he use it for my good either? We would loose Romans 8. If you try and rescue God for responsibility for suffering then you rescue him from being God, and that is about as uncomforting as things can be.

Some say why pray to a sovereign God? But there is no point in praying to a non-sovereign God as he can’t answer! If suffering surprises God then he is no longer able to help us! He is your sovereign father. Jesus prays “My father” even when in the garden of gethseme. Those two words are precious. PJ said he is so glad that his cancer was not some random attack of the enemy that is uncontained. Rather it represents something God has allowed to happen and something he will work for good.

2. I reflected on the possible sources of healing

a. the power of the cross – the place of victory over sin and all its evil relations- sickness suffereing and death. Matthew 8 “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah” Isaiah 53 is about the cross, so there is a clear link between the cross and healing. Some feel it is automatic. Some say that Christ purchased healing for us and by faith we apply for divine health now automatically. Others say the cross is the source of all healing power but if someone is not healed it is not a failure in the cross or faith because it is not automatic. Believing the automatic link is the primary source of confusion and dissilusionment when healing doesn’t happen. PJ believes completely that God heals today but he does not believe the automatic link. We can have success in healing without believing in this automatic link.

Why doesn’t he believe in “automatic healing” from the cross?

1. it undermines spiritual healing as so often believers are not healed now. Maybe by his stripes I am not actually spiritually healed now. Terrifying
2. It undermines common sense. Most Christians die fo a sicknessfrom which they don’t recover
3. It undermines the gift of healing why is it needed if it is just by faith in the cross?
4. It makes faith impossibly high as so many apparently high in faith don’t get healed
5. It contradicts how Paul dealt with sickness in his friends. Phil 2:27 linked healing to Gods mercy rather than man’s faith in the atonement. 1 Tim 5:23 He doesn’t say no need for medicine boy get your faith up, stop getting sick so often you are a pastor! Galatians 4:13-14 Despite Paul’s illness they didn’t treat him with contempt. If it was simply a case of having enough faith it would indeed by contemptuous. 2 Tim 4:20 he didn’t see it as a disastorous failure of the atonement. They all got sick at one time or another and he did not assume that divine health is our divine right.
6. Contradicts NT teaching on suffering. 1 Tim 3:11 he uses the word persecution and suffering next to each other must be both 1 Peter 1:6, James 1, James 5 shows multiple types of trials. Job is illustrated there, making clear that sickness is in this chatagory.
7. The lack of the use of the divine health now as a right being used in the NT. So seldom is it taught in anything like that way. We are told more about faith in Jesus.
8. Undermines the biblical commendation of physicians. It is Luke the beloved physician not that idiot who had to get another job when he got his theology right!
9. Contradicts now and not yet. Mark 1:14, Revelation 12:10. Here, but coming! 1 Corinthians 15:24 Christ reigns now but opposing authorities are in play. 1 Cor 15:52 death will be destroyed THEN. John 16:33 you will have trouble Rev 21:4 there will be no more trouble then. Romans 8:22. “pains of childbirth” There is definite new life NOW but it has not yet been fully delivered. Matthew 13:28. Wheat and weeds together. You are a soldier of Christ you are supposed to be surrounded. Jesus is leaving us in this place to shine like stars. “If you are looking for easy comfort look for a bottle of port not Christianity” C.S. Lewis

There are succusseful healing ministries that teach this automatic link. God loves faith. He blesses faith because he loves it. But it is possible to have great faith without this automatic link.

b. The power of the kingdom
The Kingdom is here now, not fully but the waves are breaking on the shore now! We have tasted of the power of the coming kingdom and we are authorized to dispense the future kingdom of God here now. The future kingdom can rush out on earth now. We are to pray that what happens on earth now is what happens in heaven. There is no sickness in heaven. Lay hold of the future kingdom and courageously dispense it now!

c. The power of the Spirit

Why would God place the gift of healing as one of the nine gifts? Because God is into healing now! James says “the prayer of faith will raise the sick person up!” It is part of an elder’s job description to pray and anoint with healing. Keep healing front and center, elders. We have a mighty theological basis for faith and action in healing now.

3. I relied on the church

At one of his lowest moments he couldn’t walk much and was feeling down. Said he felt he had nothing to offer. His wife said “stop trying to be superhero pastor dude lie still on your mat and enjoy others carrying you to Jesus.” She also remind him of Ephesians 6 and his need to stand.

4. I refused to doubt God’s goodness

It wasn’t heroic. Romans 8 says “he who did not spare his son…he will graciously give us all things” When God doesn’t answer your prayer for healing, in view of his previous gift to you of your salvation you know it is not because he doesn’t love you. In the really dark days he just could not bring himself to doubt God’s goodness because Jesus has already proved that to us!

5. I reached for both forms of God’s power:

  • Power to be on display through my deliverance from the trial
  • And power to be on display through my perseverance within the trial.

Power to bear up under a trial is not as evervesant as deliverance from it but it is no less potent. Paul pleads with God to remove a thorn in his flesh. God says “my power is made perfect in your weakness.” Paul says I will boast about my weakness.

Yes we want God to take us out of trials. Paul says “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection!” But the second half of the vers says “and the fellowship of his sufferings” We can embrace Gods power to get us out of suffering, but we must also embrace God’s power to persevere. What this means is that we get to stick it to the devil either way!

6. I resisted and requested

PJ resisted any Satanic element. The early church treated it that way. But he also requested healing from God. Resist hell and request from heaven. He cursed cancer, he welcomed healing, he was forceful and vigiliant. Yet wary of giving the devil more credit than he dserved and wary of shouting faith healing verses at heaven rather asking God to heal him and  listening to God.

7. I rested in the assurance of Romans 8:28. When everything is going wrong everyuthing is going right. This verse is a fortress. Some think of the resting as weakness. Resist and request and rest are two truths that are equally true. And they build each other up. Three men who face suffering (Dan 3:17) say “he will rescue us!” it is kicking. My God is willing and able and will rescue me from this trial. Full stop! But verse 18 says “even if he does not, we will not worship you!” V18 faith is a right hook to the devil! It is not just faith in God and the outcome you want, it is faith in God and the outcome I didn’t want. I don’t want you to think that it is a faith failure when verse 18 kicks in. If you die without receiving your healing it is not a failure. Don’t say “our faith didn’t work” In Hebrews 11 we read about believers who escaped death by faith and who died by faith. “We have a hope that goes beyond the grave…his name is Jesus!” If we only have hope for this life we are to be pitied more than all men. Death is not the end, it is just the end of the beginning.

PJ is convinced that his cancer will not return, he has been told it is in remission. But. if you were to get news that PJ has died, don’t say “Oh..he wasn’t healed!” Because the angels will be crying Look at him he is completely healed!”

Heaven is the ultimate deliverance. It is the ultimate healing. Do your worst death, all you do is promote us! Death is not our executioner, he is our gardener thanks to the resurrection.

Listen, it is ALL true! God is true. The comfort of God is true. Healing now is true. Healing in heaven is true.

If he had to sum up his expereice of the last year he would say “Its all true!” Before I l knew it was true, now I KNOW it is true. Sometimes when you suffer it is like your voice breaks. It works things in you.

8. I really connected with Jesus One of the greatest thrills for suffers is that God is with us. The psalmist said “I fear no evil because God is with me” It isn’t just poetry. Daniel 3:23 There are four men there! The forth man was Jesus. O the privilege of standing shoulder to shoulder with the fourth man. When a furnace is rightly revived and God is with yo, the furnace doesn’t consume it refines. The furnace of suffering doesn’t shout out forsaken by God it shouts out loved by God!

Jesus came to them in the storm. God will not abandon you in your hour of greatest need. The forth man will come to you in the forth watch. If you feel far from the shores, in the darkest of all watches he will come to you. He is coming to you right now.

In the cellar of suffering the great King keeps his choice wine. There is kind of wine he doesn’t serve up at the regular times. He invites you into the dungeon and personally serves you the choice pickings. He washed my eyes with tears that I might see him. Job said he had heard of God. After suffering he said “I have seen him”

God takes the stage at the end of Job and you are expecting him to explain why. But he doesn’t. He takes four chapters to talk about himself. That’s because comfort is never found in the why, it is always found in the who. He always comes and reveals himself to us.

Job 38:3: I am just a man 38:4 “were you there when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Job 38:35. Do the lightening bolts report to you? Job 38:21: when God resorts to sarcasm you know its time to quit! God will do something you don’t understand. How will you respond? Will you be haughty or will you just say “your ways are higher than mine.” We don’t understand a lot of what happens to us. I don’t understand why you are going through what you are going through.

The mystery of this last year, PJ treasures. Lord it is a source of worship to me that you are God and I am not! It prompts me to worship. Its treasurable.

Job 41:1, 5. Can you make a pet out of the crocodile? If we cant nail a croc how can we nail God? 41:11 “Who has a claim against me that I must pay.” God owes me nothing. The real mystery is not why has bad happened to me, it is why has anything good ever happened to me.

Jesus turned round a question “why does bad happen” and basically turned it around and said “why does good happen at all?God is replacing PJs sense of entitlement and replacing it with a sense of priviledge and gratitude and worship. He is the God of all comfort. The father of all compassion.

About Adrian Warnock

Adrian Warnock is a medical doctor, and a writer. Since 1995 he has been a member of Jubilee Church London. Adrian serves as part of Jubilee's leadership team alongside Tope Koleoso. Together they have written Hope Reborn - How to Become a Christian and Live for Jesus, published by Christian Focus. Adrian is also the author of Raised With Christ - How The Resurrection Changes Everything, published by Crossway.
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  • Terry McGovern

    so are yo saying suffering and sickness are thew same thing?

  • Scott Youngman

    The link to PJ’s notes is dead. Hopefully that can be repaired. Thanks!

  • Joni McArthur

    Just searched for PJ and sickness and found this. Thank you Adrian for compiling this. I really needed to read this today. :-).