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Today's medical arsenal is stockpiled with wonder-drugs and powerful antibiotics. So imagine, if you can, an otherwise healthy eighteen-year-old spiraling toward death from tuberculosis—not the new, resistant strains we've heard about, but the old garden-variety disease, which is easily treatable. But then, something very strange was going on in John's life. He was a patient treated by Dr. Dan Fountain in Zaire.
John was admitted to a hospital with terrible pain in his right hip, a constant fever, and progressive weight loss. The doctors had no trouble with a diagnosis and began administering the proper antibiotic. But John's condition worsened, unexplainably. A month later, John appeared to be incurable. Doctors were mystified. He was dying.
One day, a student nurse took time from her busy schedule of studies and ward duties to have a leisurely talk with John. As she sat beside him, she was astounded to hear John say he was probably dying because he'd been cursed. An uncle, furious because a loan for the boy's schooling had not been repaid, told John, "You've been cursed. Very soon you'll become ill and die. Nothing that doctors can do will help you."
I am not suggesting that some supernatural power is released by such a curse. Rather, I see how a persuaded mind can influence the body. John believed in the curse, and his belief gave it power to take his life.
When the nurse told the story, the hospital team prayed for the wisdom to change John's belief in the curse. They led John to the Lord Jesus Christ, convinced him from the Scriptures that Jesus is mightier than his uncle's curse—and thatJesus did not want him to die. John accepted the truth about the reality of Christ's love for him, and his fear vanished. Now he was convinced that his uncle's curse could not harm him. The staff encouraged him to forgive his uncle. Forgiving brought inner release from anger, hatred, and bitterness.
John's body responded quickly to his new beliefs and the new, positive feelings. In just a few days John's fever left, and he began eating and gaining weight. Soon the tuberculosis that had been robbing him of life was gone.1
The Power of a Healthy MindSince learning of this case and others like it, I have come to realize what Jesus meant when he said, "The truth will make you free" (John 8:32). Along with freeing us from sin, I believe he meant to proclaim freedom from negative thoughts and their effects on our bodies. The physical improvement John experienced when he learned to tell himself the freeing truth has been given to many others too—including people with disorders like heart disease and cancer, and so-called incurable conditions like HIV infection. Strength and health can return for you too, even if you've been told there is no hope. If replacing negative thoughts with the truth does not bring you a rapid cure as it did in John's case, it can help you on the road to a healthier inner life, which will restore your life from within—no matter what your outer circumstances may be. On the other hand, you don't have to have a terrifying illness to make physical progress with the truth!
[j502]Pills, salves, injections, and surgery alone are not enough. You can learn a new way to cooperate with your own healing.
Perhaps you feel like a magnet for colds. Are you pestered every few weeks by a runny nose, a hacking cough, or plugged-up airways? Maybe you have a habit of coming down with everything that's "going around." Are you thinking of making "strep throat" your new middle name? Do you live with thyroid problems, blood sugar out of whack, stomach or intestinal disorders, ulcers? Are your emotions out of sync? Your symptoms or diagnosed diseases should not be neglected or handled without high-quality professional assistance. But as you may have discovered already, pills, salves, injections, and surgery alone are not enough. You can learn a new way to cooperate with your own healing. And that means discovering how to fill your mind with beliefs and thoughts that have tremendous therapeutic power.
Many people think they are slaves to their feelings. Others don't know it, but they are slaves just the same.
What you need is the courage and the will to change some habits—including perhaps your diet and exercise routine, rest and relaxation cycles, work and play habits. But the essence of the program I will outline throughout this book involves changing some of your beliefs, attitudes, and thought patterns and thus the inner climate they create. It is possible that some of your thoughts are making you susceptible to illness, or standing in the way of healing.
Thoughts and beliefs can make you sick. And thoughts can prevent optimal health. Especially thoughts that produce inner climates of anger, fear, discouragement, bitterness, jealousy, frustration, discontent, or resentment. That is because these negative patterns actually work to depress physiological processes, including the body's immune response. And that is a formula for disaster.
Thoughts Can Make People SickOne goal of this program is to help you discover negative thought patterns that may be contributing to overall suppression of immune response, and to help you take a good look at behaviors and habits that may be working against you as well.
If you harbor the kinds of thoughts listed below, you are contributing to inner conditions that promote poor health—thoughts you can replace with ideas that affirm the goodness, love, and power of God:
My case is hopeless.
I might as well give up because the doctors can't help me.
I can't help hating or resenting someone.
I have nothing to look forward to but pain, suffering, and death.
There is nothing I can do about the stress in my life.
I cannot tolerate any type of frustration.
My problems are overwhelming.
Always expect the worst.
The following are some examples of behaviors and habits that might be harming you. Some are practices or routines you need to change if you want to be healthy:
avoiding other people, refusing to make friends, alienating yourself from others
consuming a high-fat diet, eating too many saturated fats, not enough vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes
neglecting to take necessary medications
leading a sedentary lifestyle with too little exercise
allowing too little time for breaks, rest, relaxation, and adequate sleep
spending too little time in honest, open communication with God, whether in worship or private devotion
practicing poor giving habits, serving others little or not at all
smoking cigarettes, drinking too much, overeating, abusing drugs, indulging in illicit sexual activity.
Materialism: A Spiritual DisorderIf you are not convinced that your mind affects your body, you are not alone. Materialism, which infects our culture, is a narrow philosophy that still rules the thinking of many medical professionals. Doctors have been taught to think of themselves as sophisticated mechanics, repairing machines called "people." They aim weapons at germs, cancers, plaque, and chemical imbalances. For some disorders the materialistic approach works well. But the purely mechanical view has too many limits. Moreover, we know from God's revelation—and even from our own self-knowledge—that we are not machines.
Psychology, my own field, has also been infected with materialism. For years psychology has held that we cannot know anything about spiritual reality, absolute truth, or the meaning of life. When I was in graduate school, many psychologists believed optimistically that, because behavior was mechanically determined, we would soon be able to explain and control all human thoughts, feelings, and actions. All we needed was to learn more about how the "machine" worked. So it seemed puzzling that many of our patients wanted to talk about matters more profoundly significant to them than their weekly behavior-reinforcement schedules!
[j502]We are not machines. We must be treated as persons, not as mere collections of anatomical parts.
Such materialistic thinking represents a kind of "faith"—faith in mechanics, that is—which has been tried and found wanting. Much of this thinking still holds sway. Numerous psychologists, psychiatrists, and medical practitioners still cling to it. Maybe you have suspected that your own psychotherapist or physician thinks of you as a machine. If so, you may want to reconsider who you are working with in the care of your mind or body.
It is very important in personal health matters that we be treated as persons, and not as mere collections of anatomical parts.
"My doctor really did not want to hear about my feelings," one woman told her counselor. "As soon as I said I was depressed he cut me off, grabbed his prescription pad and wrote the name of an antidepressant. He told me to take one pill each night. Then he walked out on me. I felt like a machine."
This woman had sought psychological help because she didn't want to treat her problems as if they were nothing but chemical anomalies. No wonder so many of my patients say they don't want pills for their depression!2
Following are some questions to consider to help you decide whether your physician has a broad enough view of your total health needs:
Does your doctor take the time to talk with you and to listen to your concerns?
Does she show interest in your marriage, your family, your work, and the impact of various life-factors on you?
Does the doctor suggest that you use health aids like exercise, vacations, listening to music, talking to a counselor, or healthy socializing? Or does he prescribe a drug for every complaint?
Is your therapist or physician interested in your spiritual life, giving due recognition to the fact that church attendance, prayer, and other spiritual practices have been shown to be important risk factors? If you are not satisfied that this person is willing to take spiritual realities seriously and to respect your beliefs and your feelings, you may want to find someone who does.
Are You Working With Your Doctor, or Taking Orders?It's important for you to know that you are working with, not against, your doctor or therapist. You are not required to work under the doctor's authority, like a soldier under a commanding officer. For best results, your psychological and medical treatment must be considered your responsibility, not someone else's. If you have a condition requiring treatment, you need competent professional help. But you need to view your professional person as one who informs, advises, and assists you in making decisions that will promote your health aims and recovery.
Powerful help is often available through appropriate use of many kinds of skilled professionals, such as chiropractic doctors, surgeons, psychiatrists, psychologists, or the use of allopathic medicine. I am suggesting that you also consider the crucial spiritual, mental, emotional, and behavioral contributions that go into creating health.
Now we need to return to some questions raised by the story of eighteen-year-old John, whose belief in a curse made him ill. How did belief in Jesus make him well again? How did his encounter with truths contained in the Bible impact the fears that were killing him? Has research demonstrated that connections between mind and body exist—that thoughts, feelings, and beliefs really affect our physical organs and make us sick or healthy?
The medical community is on the threshold of breakthrough thinking and discoveries. Let's take a look now at this new frontier.
1. From a personal communication by Dr. Dan Fountain, M.D.
2. Antidepressants are effective against depression insofar as it has a biochemical component. But physical treatments are often not enough. Depression is a case in point. While it responds to pills in many cases, it can recur more readily if it's treated with nothing but pills. Treatment with changed beliefs and thoughts can bring not only recovery but resistance to recurrence.
The Healing Power of a Christian Mind by Dr. William Backus
Copyright © 1998, Dr. William Backus
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.