Oftentimes I have prayed for my family members and friends who have been very sick. When I was younger my prayers focused on their healing from cancer, from heart issues, and from disease. These prayers focused only on immediate physical restoration.
But it didn’t always happen.
My prayers failed in these cases because I didn’t pay any attention to the hope we have beyond physical healing. I had prayed for these people to continue to live in this fallen world instead of looking forward to them living in the next, where there is no cancer, no disease, or no accidents. My time would have been far better spent preparing my loved ones to gave upon Jesus, whom they would see face to face (1 John 3:2). But I had only prayed for their physical healing.
Such a need for hope caused Paul to pray this for the Ephesian church:
“That the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe,” Ephesians 1:18-19.
In his other letters, the Apostle spends time encouraging this level of hope in the congregations he loved and prayed for: Romans 8, Colossians 1:21-27, 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18). Without hope we live aimlessly (Ephesians 2:12), lacking God’s provision for living in this world and the next. Without hope, we fall into sin and despair. But a living hope controls the flesh, makes alive our desire for Christ, calms the heart, steadies our resolve, and gives us strength when we face weakness and opposition (1 Peter 1:3-9). Hope reminds us that present circumstances—no matter how difficult—are not the end (Romans 8:18, 28). Our life is Christ is the ultimate end.
This is what I’ve learned to do since watching my prayers for physical healing go unanswered. Seeing people I’ve loved and cared for face death, I have repented (and continue to repent) of living for the moment instead of living in light of eternity with my hope set firmly in Christ (Philippians 3:12-14). The Lord shows me time and time again that he is ultimate, so I need not be trapped by immediate, fretful circumstances—which is my regrettable tendency. I’m learning each day that my affections and thoughts need to stretch to eternity instead of being merely confined to this life.
When I begin each day with a conscious hope in Christ, it affects the way I respond to demands, losses, and even accomplishments. It’s much like the seventy who felt great excitement when the demons were subject to them in Christ’s name. I’m learning, as they did, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” Luke 10:20. As I continue to grow and mature in my faith, I see more clearly that while I desire the Lord to restore health and life, my prayers should also focus on the hope we have of eternity. That hope acts as a fountain of joy that affects my life, my preaching, and my relationships. Death is not the end, Jesus is the end.