On a ministry trip to Nigeria in 2008, I participated in the student mission conference of a university-based group called CASOR, the national student ministry of the Assemblies of God denomination in Nigeria. Towards the end of the conference, the speaker delivered an impassioned challenge to the students to commit themselves to global mission – wherever God would send them.
The response was immediate. Hundreds of students poured toward the stage as an expression of commitment. Some were crying out loudly. Others came quietly and pensively. The energy and enthusiasm was palpable.
The preacher said a few words to the students, but then he invited a very senior man on the stage, an Apostle in the Assemblies of God Church, to come to the microphone and prophesy over the students.
This older saint came forward to address the students. He walked slowly but deliberately. As I was in the second row on the stage, I noticed that the man had a slight limp, wore glasses, and had a hearing aid in at least one ear. He had obviously logged many miles and years in service to the Lord and the church across Nigeria.
When he came to prophesy, his words were those of great promises. The words sounded a lot like the words of Isaiah in chapters 40 to 43:
- You will rise up on wings like eagles
- You will walk and not faint
- Don’t be afraid; God is with you wherever you go
- You will be a light to the nations
- God will take you through the deep waters
His prophetic words, full of promises and assurance, continued for several minutes, but my ears perked up when he started the next sentence, “And sickness…”
Having traveled through Nigeria many times and encountering the impact of the “prosperity” teaching that exists there, I was fully expecting the man to quote a favorite prosperity phrase from Isaiah. I expected him to say, “And sickness will never touch you because by His stripes we are healed” Prosperity theology often teaches that Jesus not only bore our sins on the cross but that in His suffering, He took all of our sickness and suffering away as well: “By His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:11). According to the teaching, if we have enough faith, good health will follow and financial success as well. A popular prosperity Nigerian song proclaims it this way: “Me I no go suffer; I no go beg for bread.”
Back to the student mission conference prophecy: this senior Apostle finished his prophecy differently. He called out over the students, “and sickness will not have dominion over you.”
The phrase leaped out to me. Remember I am a long-term insulin dependent diabetic – multiple blood tests and injections daily, and a constant need to monitor my food intake. Add to this that in the USA, in Argentina, and again in Nigeria, I have been prayed for and anointed with oil by men and women of God (who really believe in miraculous healings!). We’ve prayed intently that the diabetes be completely healed. And the miraculous hoped-for answer has never come, at least not yet.
But the Nigerian Apostle gave me the prayer that I can always pray: Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I ask that diabetes not have dominion over me or my life or my choices.
I went back to the guest house after that service and I emailed the Apostle’s words to many of my friends struggling with chronic issues:
- To a number of fellow Type 1 diabetics, I e-prayed with them that diabetes not have dominion over them.
- To people doing daily battle with the infirmities of aging (like the Apostle – with eye, hearing and walking challenges), I e-prayed that God would strengthen them to face the challenges of each new day.
- To a mom and dad living with the pain of their child’s mental illness, that their son’s infirmity would not have dominion over them.
- To several suffering through long and painful treatment of various cancers, that their pain would not have dominion over them that day.
The prayer is not a glib panacea. We cannot simply speak to our diseases and hardships and command them to “have no dominion over us” so that they disappear like a puff of smoke. I still struggle with high and low blood sugars. My colleagues with cancer can be sick for three days after every chemotherapy treatment. Aging friends can hate their walkers, their hearing aids, and their arthritis. We all struggle with the discouragement that accompanies chronic issues of pain and hardship.
The mom and dad cited above wrote back quickly and thanked me for the exhortation from the Apostle. That day their son’s mental illness was having dominion over their household, and they were very discouraged. They affirmed that the words about dominion gave them something to pray in the midst of feeling helpless.
They made a choice. We can make the same choice – to believe that God will take us deeper into dependence on Him, will refine our characters, will transform us more and more into the image of Christ – as we grow through our hardships.