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Confession, healing and small groups

2008 August 18

A few weeks ago I was preaching on James 5:13-20.  In these verses James seems to be drawing some sort of connection between sin that needs forgiveness, and physical healing.  It is not a direct connection – verse 15 (“if he has sinned…”) makes that clear.  But verse 16 encourages us all to be confessing sins to each other and pray for each other “so that you may be healed.”

There was an illustration I wanted to use – one John Piper used in connection with the value of small groups.  Only problem: I couldn’t remember where on the web I’d found it, and in the end had to give up searching.

But now I’ve found it.  It’s from a John Piper sermon reproduced here on the Resurgence website.  The illustration is as follows:

A visiting pastor in Auckland, New Zealand was asked by the pastor of a church to come to a small group to help it understand its function. He came early for dinner and the husband was not there. The wife was embarrassed and explained that the husband owned a construction company and worked late.

The group arrived after dinner and the visiting pastor taught for a while on how to use spiritual gifts to build each other up. Then he asked them to get alone for a few minutes to seek God for how each one might channel God’s grace to the others for their upbuilding.

When they came back together he assumed they knew each other’s needs because they had been together for several years. The husband came home, showered and joined them in a few minutes. When the opportunity was given to speak or to pray for each other there was an awkward silence. They had never done anything like this before—seeking the Lord for how he might want them to minister to each other in that moment to build each other up.

The visiting pastor felt a fiasco was on his hands and turned the meeting back to the pastor to close. The pastor asked if anyone had a special problem they would like prayer for. The hostess said yes and showed the group the rash all over her arms. She said that the doctors had prescribed medicine but it hadn’t helped. They invited her to put her chair in the middle for prayer. And as they prayed, Christ, the head of the church, did his ministry. The pastor said, “I sense in my heart the Lord is telling me your problem is the result of great anger.”

She was silent for a moment then began to cry softly. Then she confessed, “I am so angry at my husband. He promises to be home for dinner , but night after night we eat without him. . . . He’s broken his promises to me over and over, and I feel I am a widow as I raise our children.”

There was an awareness that something had just been revealed that two years of small group meetings had not revealed. And the husband was blushing with embarrassment.

To make the story shorter, several of the men began to speak about how they had wrestled with the same problem in their homes and had almost ruined their marriages. One in particular spoke of a deep meeting with God in such a crisis and how God had made everything new.

By the grace of God the husband knelt down in front of his wife and wept into her lap, as the group prayed for them more earnestly than they had ever prayed. The visiting pastor commented later, “The Lord had invaded His Body, and the gateway into the supernatural world had been crossed by us all.”

The following Sunday the visiting pastor was to preach and saw the small group gathered on the parking lot outside the church. When they found him inside the woman pulled up her sleeves and said, “Look, no rash anywhere!” The husband approached and said, “I’ve cut back my workday to eight hours. I took the kids to the zoo yesterday. We have a new home.” (Ralph Neighbor, Where Do We Go From Here? p. 161-64)

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