Monday, January 28, 2008

Jesus S.E.A. – Are disabilities just another ‘evil spirit’?

The dictionary defines ‘disability as ‘a lack of adequate power, strength, or physical or mental ability that prevents a person from living a ‘normal’ life or from holding a gainful job. Special Education Assistants (S.E.A.) have been working in our public and private schools for many years now so that those children with disabilities may find it easier to succeed in their studies. In 1995, Laurie Beth Jones published a book called “Jesus, CEO” a bold yet sensitive inspirational guide for leadership success. If I were to write a book called “Jesus, S.E.A.” what would it look like? How would Jesus help children overcome their disabilities? As Bible readers can attest to, Jesus healed everyone he touched, talk to or influenced in some way. If Jesus was an S.E.A., I would expect that though he might help children with reading, math, history or science, he may also heal them of their disabilities entirely.

I have heard it mentioned that a person may be able to perform his/her job so well that they may one day work themselves out of a job because of how effectively and efficiently they do their work. As an S.E.A., I work to lessen the load of children with disabilities, hopefully making it easier for them to succeed in their day to day educational endeavors. Recently I wondered, in addition to helping them complete their work, if we prayed for healing for these children, the Lord, who promises to “do more than we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20) may take away their disabilities. However, I wonder, so that we may always have a job in special education, we work to ‘deal’ with disability rather than simply get rid of it as Jesus did.

Mark 9 tells the story of a father, who brings his ‘demon-possessed’ child to Jesus’ disciples, hoping that they could heal his son as their Teacher was temporarily absent. But all they could do was argue with the Pharisees about the legal, spiritual and social problems the father had to deal with. As Jesus came down the mountain, surely full of the Holy Spirit, as he had just experienced the most wonderful encouragement any son could ever receive from his father (Mark 9:2-13) he found his disciples arguing with the other teachers of the day. When the boy’s father saw Jesus, he was surely ecstatic, as the one person who could heal his son had finally arrived.

“What’s going on here?” Jesus calmly asked.

The anxious father began by quickly explaining his son’s situation. “His body has been taken over by Satan; he can’t talk or hear, and can become incredibly violent. He foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth and becomes as stiff as a board. I was hoping that your healing power would have rubbed off on your disciples, so I asked them to help him, but they couldn’t.” (verses 17-18).

Our secular society views praying as a hypothetical hope; one that shouldn’t be trusted unless it is our last option. When it finally is, we may or may not throw ourselves at the mercy of a God we may or may not know. Can we expect this God to answer our deepest cries when we, in previous years, may have practically severed our relationship with Him?

No matter if their relationships with Him had previously been severed or not, it didn’t matter to Jesus. All that mattered to Him was if they had faith right now. Throughout the gospels, the one thing that bothered Jesus most about his disciples, and the majority of the crowds he preached to, was discovering again and again that they had no faith. Here, Jesus encounters yet another crowd of people without faith.

Verse 19 continues: “Gee, you guys drive me crazy! Don’t you believe in anything? Your souls are like sivs! You can’t hold on to anything God gives you for two seconds! Bring him here. Knowing they had disappointed their teacher, they sheepishly pulled the boy to the feet of Jesus.” (v19-20).

For a few moments, Jesus just watched the boy, who fell to the ground repeatedly, writhing, foaming at the mouth, and shouting incoherent words. “How long has he been doing this?” Jesus calmly asked. (v20-21)

“For years!” the man all of a sudden was in a great hurry, “just do something quickly!” And under his breath added, “if you can.” Underlying words always caught Jesus attention. This was no exception.

“Hold it right there,” he said, “healing can wait, faith can’t. What do you mean, ‘if I can!’” (v21-23)

The man continued his frantic pace, “Oh hurry up, I believe, I believe, really I do! But gimme more faith!” (v24)

The crowd was quickly growing, so because of this and not the man’s anxiety or sudden profession of faith, Jesus quickly gave the vile spirit its marching orders: "Dumb and deaf spirit, I command you—Out of him, and stay out!" Screaming, and with much thrashing about, it left. The boy was pale as a corpse, so people started saying, "He's dead." But Jesus, taking his hand, helped him to his feet. (Several lines of verses in 25-27 have been taken from ‘The Message’ by Eugene Peterson)

Later, back in the house with his disciples, they asked Jesus, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?” (v28)

“You can’t cast out anything by yourselves, only prayer to my Father can.” (v29)

This story left me with a few questions. Would the problems that demons inflicted mankind with in Jesus day be called ‘learning,’ or ‘physical,’ disabilities today?

Jesus has told us that those who have faith in Him will be able to do what He did, and even more (John 14:12). So, if we pray for the students in our classes, could the disabilities lesson or disappear entirely?

I often pray for myself, “Lord Jesus, please give me the strength and wisdom to work with the students you have placed in my care.” In a round about way, this may be like praying for my students because I know that I am a member of Jesus body, doing what he has called me to do. (Romans 12:4-8). But I rarely pray, “Jesus, please heal _____ of his _____.” Because we do not often pray like this, could this be one of the reasons why we feel we do not see the healing power of God in our day?

Each week at school brings new challenges along with some old and expected ones. S.E.A.’s quickly learn which children will be harder or easier to work with. But when a student reacts, what should we do about it? Should we brainstorm new strategies that may or may not work better? I have done this as it is a good idea. Or as Jesus suggests, should we pray that God would heal the child of the disability he currently has? I hope to continue this action until it becomes a habit and I trust that it will work even better. My work as an S.E.A. may encourage children to earn better grades, become better friends or someday hold a better job. But, if we pray that God would release our disabled children of their challenges, this would be much greater than any grade they receive, friend they make, or job they hold.

As Jesus was healing a man born blind, he said:

“We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am in the world, I am tne Light of the World.”

John 9:4-5

Monday, January 21, 2008

We’ve got to Pray, just to make it today!

In Luke 11, Jesus teaches us how to pray and immediately follows it with a practical story of its importance. In it, a man is confronted at midnight by an acquaintance who knocks on his door and asks for several loaves of bread because a friend of his has just arrived and he has nothing to give him to eat. The man inside counters, “I am warm and comfortable with my wife and children in bed. The door is locked, and I need a good night sleep. So I can’t help you.” The man’s prayer to his friend for help has apparently been denied. But the impact that persistent prayer makes is so remarkable, that it can move the hearts and minds of the healthy about the sick, parents about their children, masters about their pets, and even of God regarding his creation.
In his book, ‘The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God’, Dallas Willard expresses an unfortunate yet common perspective that many share regarding prayer:
“Suppose your children believed that you didn’t do anything differently because they asked you. For example; you will give them money on Friday evening regardless of whether they ask you for it or not. But they also believe that you require them to go through the ritual of asking, and so they do it. . . . They do it even though they believe you will or will not give it to them regardless of what they do, and you know they believe this.”
Is prayer a matter of ritual, or does it involve exercising faith?
In Dr. Randolph Byrd's 1988 study on intercessory prayer, a percentage of 393 coronary patients, who were hospitalized due to heart attacks or equally traumatic experiences, were prayed for, while the remainder were not. The study concluded that whether the patients were receiving prayer from across the street or across the country, distance did not play a role in the effectiveness of the prayers given. And considerably fewer patients, who received prayer, died or needed to use the most potent drugs, not one requiring life support.
We have two cats at our house who regularly meow, demanding that I (or anyone else within earshot) would stop what they are currently doing and attend to their immediate and desperately important need. On most occasions, this involves lifting them up to where their bowl of food is kept, on top of our washing machine. Sometimes I complain, “can’t you jump? It’s not that high!” Or attempt to ignore them entirely. But my frustration with their persistent and distracting noise always results in giving them my attention for at least a second or two so they will stop meowing.
If you were a cat who needed just a little bit of help to get to its food supply or a patient in a hospital who needed healing of some kind, what route would you take to get it? Cats would probably continue to meow and hopefully America would continue to pray for those in need. In Luke 11, the man waiting outside his friend’s house was also persistent, continuously knocking, talking and waiting on his friend to get up and give him what he needed.
If however, the man outside decided to leave, his friend inside would not need to do anything about his situation. However, if the man inside finally did decide to get out of bed, but his friend outside had decided that this situation was a hopeless one and left, he would not be there to receive the things that he had asked for. If my cats had decided to stop meowing and instead lie in front of the fire, they would still be hungry and not be ready to receive another meal from me. And if America had stopped praying for their countrymen in need, they may just die.
How important are the things you are currently praying about? Are they worth waiting for? As the man waited, all the time explaining his situation, repeating his request, and not allowing his friend inside to sleep, his request was finally granted. Are you willing to wait long enough for God to answer? If you do, you may just be rewarded.

Ask and you'll get;
Seek and you'll find;
Knock and the door will open.
Don't bargain with God.
Be direct. Ask for what you need.
This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in.
Don't you think the Father, who loves you, will fulfill your needs when you ask him?
Luke 11: 9-10, 13