A pastor of whom I'd never heard, Mark Dahle, from La Jolla Lutheran Church near San Diego, it was announced, was going to offer an hour-and-a-half program at several locations in southern Ohio.
It wasn't fetching advertising or the credibility of a well-known presenter that intrigued me when I read the mailing. It was the topic: Praying for Healing. (That, and the price of admission: It was free!)
Anyone who has ever prayed for the health and well-being of people, as I often have and still do, can point to miracles and answered prayers. But we can also recount the cases of people whose health was not restored, who died in spite of a lot of fervent, faithful prayer for them.
The material announcing Dahle's appearances here in southern Ohio acknowledged that not everyone for whom we pray will receive healing. It further conceded the simple truth that all of us are going to die.
As obvious as those truths are, they're rarely mentioned by the gang who hype what they call "prevailing prayer." People of this ilk act as though God intends for us all to be immortals on the earth and hint that there's something wrong with the faith of pray-ers who don't get the healing they seek.
The mailing I received from Mark Dahle promised that we can pray for healing for people with the expectation of great answers to prayer. And, it said, those who don't receive the healing we seek can nonetheless experience God's presence with them in the most trying situations any of us face.
I went to the building facilities of Dayton's Zion Lutheran Church to check out Pastor Dahle's presentation. I tried to do so with an open mind. Enhancing the credibility of the program from the start was the fact that the pastor of the hosting congregation, Rick Hinger, is a guy I respect.
I won't go into details because you might want to take the opportunity to attend Mark Dahle's presentation if he comes to your area. (To be notified of when he may be coming your way, contact him at LAJOLLALUTHERAN@AOL.COM.) He's also going to be doing a three-day retreat in California this October.
But among the most important things I got out of Dahle's approach to praying for healing is that we begin with God. So often, when we pray for someone to be healed, we focus on their disease or problem. Dahle's method suggests that we begin by focusing on the One Who is bigger than our problems, glorifying Him and acknowledging that He can do great things.
Another important take-away gathered from his presentation is that a good part of prayer for those who ask us to pray for them should be spent in listening. Dahle says that you and I are receiving all sorts of messages, in our subconsciouses, in others' body language, and even in our own bodies, all the time. Many of those messages are from God.
Our prayers for healing should always begin with praise to the God Who can heal. After that, Dahle says that we should be silent, attending to what God is trying to tell us about the person who desires healing. Knowing whether a thought or impression is from God is something we discern in part by trial and error, Dahle says, and there is no downside to not getting things absolutely right. When in doubt about our impressions and their origin, we should always compare it with what we know about God from the Bible, the authoritative source and norm of the Christian's life, faith, and practice.
In this connection, Dahle also suggests that we pray with our eyes open, allowing us to pick up on signals sent by the person who wants healing.
Toward the end of his seminar, Dahle asked those who wanted prayers for healing to remain seated and those of us willing to pray for them to stand. I ended up praying for a man, the specifics of whose situation I obviously can't divulge for ethical reasons.
As I stood with the man desiring healing--for his wife, it turned out, we began as Dahle recommended. But I felt a bit frustrated, like we weren't getting at the real nub of what he needed me to pray for him. So, I began asking some questions about his life, his wife, and so on.
He had begun by saying that he had stood up, feeling that it was his wife who needed praying. "But obviously, I need prayers too," he told me. He just didn't know what he needed. He just sensed that he needed prayers.
This really isn't much of a surprise, when you think about. Often we become so consumed with concerns for those we love that we lose touch with our own needs, concerns, fears, and dis-eases. The rush of daily events can sow confusion in our lives.
I think it's confusion about our needs that's behind what Paul writes in a remarkable passage in the New Testament book of Romans:
...the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but...[the] Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, Who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for all the saints [the Bible's word for the people who believe in Jesus] according to the will of God. [Romans 8:26-27]In other words, prayer is just one more compartment of life in which we don't have to be perfect. God takes our simple, indistinct impulse to call on Him and counts it as prayer for the needs that He understands even more clearly than we do.
As I questioned this man, my hand on his shoulder the entire time, I learned more about him and a distinct impression washed over me. A single word came to the fore, describing the condition of his heart and mind. I said, "Excuse me, would you mind if we prayed again?" "No, not at all," he told me. I began to pray about the very condition represented by the word that had impressed itself on me as I listened to the man. As I prayed, with my eyes opened, the man shook his head affirmatively with some vigor. It seemed at that moment that his spirit was agreeing with the signal I felt that I'd gotten from God's Spirit as I listened to him. His affirmative head-nodding told me, "That's it! That's what my wife and I need right now!"
As a general principle, even apart from the issue of healing prayer, I think that I learned something else tonight. I learned the importance of taking time in my praying, not just to read God's Word and pray my concerns, but also to be still and listen to what God might want to tell me with that still, small voice, sounding like silence, that He can use to speak to us. It was a good lesson and I hope that I apply it faithfully.
I'm not ready, on the basis of two-hours spent in Dayton, to give a blanket endorsement of all that Mark Dahle might teach or believe on this topic. But during that time, I found nothing objectionable to what he said from a Biblical perspective and I appreciated his genuineness and his humility. He made no extravagant claims. He seems to be a guy with a passion and a ministry and I appreciated what I heard and saw.
Mark Dahle will give presentations and pray for healing during appearances at All Saints Lutheran Church, 445 Craig Road, Cincinnati on Tuesday evening from 7:00 to 8:30 P.M. and Saint Paul Lutheran Church, Columbus (New Rome), also from 7:00 to 8:30 P.M.
UPDATE: The links presented by Purple Kangaroo in the Comments section below are definitely worth checking out. For anyone of faith who has been upbraided by the ignorant or fearful, claiming that illness or adversity is the result of no belief in God, her story is an emphatic and gracious affirmation of you and a refutation of your detractors.