Path to Healing: Ancient Lessons from the Diseased
By John Stumbo
His name was Naaman. He was an unlikely candidate to become an example for us.
First, he was a military commander for the enemy of God’s people. That’s not the first place we’d expect to find God at work. Second, he lived a really long time ago—pushing 3,000 years. We tend to look to more current examples when it comes to the subject of health. But, some of life’s best lessons arise from the most unexpected places.
I’ve known Naaman’s story since my Sunday School days. Yet as I read his story again—now through the eyes of someone living with physical difficulties—I find his example extremely relevant and timeless. I pray the lessons from his story will encourage you, especially those who battle long-term illness or infirmity.
Naaman’s story is recorded for us in II Kings 5. We know little about him other than that he has leprosy and his army has been making raids on Israel.
In their raids, they have taken captives. He has taken one into his home. She’s an unnamed slave girl. She’s lost her country but not her faith. She’s a slave in body, but seems free in spirit. Rather than becoming bitter about her state, she has concern for her conqueror. She testifies that in her country, prophets are able to heal.
Like those of us who are ill today, Naaman was willing to go to desperate measures to find healing. Israel was the enemy. It was his job to lead others as they beat up on the enemy. They enjoyed beating up on the enemy. But in his desperation, he goes to his enemy for help … something he never would have otherwise done.
Naaman wouldn’t be the last to have an infirmity open new possibilities for him. How many people who have run from God for a lifetime, turn to him in a time of crisis? The “enemy” suddenly becomes our only hope. Such is the power of disease and hardship.
LESSON #1: THE PATH OF HEALING OPENS UP NEW POSSIBILITIES
Let me simply summarize in this way. Lesson number one: Our Illness can open us up to new possibilities. Our infirmity can take us to places, people and principles we previously avoided or didn’t even know existed. Oddly, in so doing, illness can become one of the best friends we ever had.
With a letter from the king and a caravan of provisions, Naaman begins his journey. He does what people in power typically do—he goes straight to the top, to the king of Israel. His slave girl had told him to go to the prophet, and evidently Naaman assumed that prophets reported to political rulers. He didn’t understand that the prophets were under a higher authority—the King of Kings. Suffice it to say, Israel’s king is not pleased to have an enemy commander requesting supernatural healing and views it as another attempt to pick a fight between the countries. Naaman’s attempts to find healing are temporarily derailed. For those of us who have sought healing, this comes as no surprise.
LESSON #2: THE PATH TO HEALING OFTEN HAS A DETOUR
And so arises lesson number two: The path to healing often has a detour. If you have gone directly from illness to recovery or from hardship to solution: congratulations. You are the minority. Most of us, even those of us who have experienced significant healing, did not experience it immediately.
As the story continues, Naaman finds himself standing outside the entrance to the home of Elisha—Israel’s famed prophet. The prophet doesn’t come out to greet him, but merely sends a message instructing him to wash in the river. This does not make the commander happy. This does not fit his expectations. He had a mental picture of how this was all going to play out. The prophet is going to come out personally, wave his hand over my disease and cure me. But his plan and the prophet’s were quite different.
LESSON #3: THE PATH OF HEALING MAY NOT FIT OUR EXPECTATIONS
For those of us who have sought healing, this, too, comes as no surprise. It is lesson number three: The path of healing may not fit our expectations. How many times have you and I as Christians had a plan for God? We’re pretty confident that we know what He should do and how He should do it. Eventually we discover that He, whose ways are higher than ours, rarely follows our plans. He has His own for us.
Naaman is ready to abandon the entire mission. The path of healing has come to a dead end for him. He’s done. The storyline reads, “He turned and went away in a rage.” At that moment another voice enters the story. A servant meekly approaches him with a different way of looking at the situation.
LESSON #4: THE PATH OF HEALING IS OFTEN PRESERVED BY A VOICE OF REASON
The ill, the broken, the bruised and beaten benefit from caring outside voices. This is lesson number four: The path of healing is often preserved by a voice of reason. Those of us who are struggling with issues like long-term illness can sometimes lose perspective. We may not have the best judgment. Our long-term trial can erode our faith to the point that sound thinking is difficult for us. We are rescued from ourselves when we are wise enough to stay open to the wise voices around us.
LESSON #5: THE PATH OF HEALING OFTEN LEADS TO HUMBLING PLACES
Eventually, Naaman heads to the river, follows the prophet’s instructions, and there he is healed. Not all rivers are created equal. Naaman views the rivers of his native land as superior to those of Israel. He may well have been right. But in the process, Naaman is modeling lesson number five: The path of healing often leads to a place of humbling.
It is humbling to call for the elders of the church to anoint us with oil and pray for us. It is humbling to follow the command of James 5 to confess our sins to each other. It is humbling to admit our need, our brokenness, our inability to fix ourselves. It is humbling to admit we need a Savior. Yet, healing rarely comes without a humbling. Salvation never comes without a humbling.
The healing story closes with Naaman returning to thank the prophet and declare his allegiance to the one true God. His heart has been moved and his mind convinced: “there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” In doing so, Naaman gives us the final lesson. Lesson #6 Healing is often more than physical. It can lead us to a new relationship with God.
Many of us who have battled long-term infirmities can testify that a new relationship with God waits on the other end. Sometimes this new relationship is delayed by a long, dark season of an apparent absence of God. But when we come through, a deeper experience is found.
GREATEST PROBLEMS LEAD TO SOME OF OUR FINEST MOMENTS
Naaman would have never chosen leprosy. Yet, his greatest problem led him to his finest moments. Actually, it led him even further: it led him to God. I don’t know that any of us would choose to suffer as we have. Yet, like Naaman, great lessons—life changing experiences—can be realized along the way.
John Stumbo is a pastor, husband, author and leader with the Christian Missionary Alliance. At age 47, life suddenly “turned” for this pastor and ultra-marathon runner. A mysterious illness left him bedridden for 77 days and unable to swallow for over a year. Stumbo, who now lives and works in Wisconsin, and also has written about his journey. His first book is titled “An Honest Look: At a Mysterious Journey.” His second book is titled “In the Midst: Treasures from the Dark,” a collection of many of the blogs, poems and prayers that he wrote “in the midst” of his health crisis and a companion to his first book. For more information about John or to buy his books visit www.johnstumbo.com To isten to John’s extraordinary journey: www.johnstumbo.com/messages