I’m staying with friends in their elegant Edwardian vicarage home. They live in an up and coming neighbourhood in south London. Once upon a time, in the dim and distant past, it was probably a separate town, maybe even a village if you go far enough back. Nowadays, it’s simply one of many suburbs in the mighty metropolis.
The three children are asleep upstairs. The mutual friend who was with us for dinner has just got on his bike to cycle home. The soft warm glow of street lights pours in through the tall elegant windows, reminding us that we’ve forgotten to draw the curtains. The clock chime tells us that it’s late. Tea towels in hand, we are clearing the table, loading the dishwasher, and washing and drying up the pans.
Our conversation is all engrossing. We are meandering up hill and down dale, putting the world to rights, when we find ourselves turning to the topic of discernment, faith and healing …
Do you need to have faith to pray for healing? How do you pray for healing if God hasn’t given you any discernment? What determines whether He’s going to answer your prayers for healing? Why do some people get healed, while others don’t?
There seem to be no easy answers.
Suddenly, while we are talking, a story springs to mind. It’s a story that’s been lying, languishing, at the back of a drawer in the filing cabinet of my memories for a long time. So I take it out, dust it off, and start to recall what happened.
It must have been 20 years ago, maybe more. At that time, I was living in a large market town, sharing a house with like-minded young professionals, and attending a vibrant Anglican church, where I volunteered in multiple capacities.
On this particular Sunday evening, at the end of the church service, a well dressed, middle aged lady has come forward for prayer. I am on the prayer ministry team that night, so I offer to pray for her.
She is complaining of migraines. Nothing seems to shift the nausea they bring with them. Some of them are so severe that she has to hide herself away in a darkened room to try and recover. Even then, blackout curtains aren’t always enough. Begrudgingly, she has learnt to live with them and come to accept them as a persistent part of her life. But she’s decided that she’d like God to take them away. She’s not sure why, but she wants to receive prayer for healing tonight. For no particular reason, she’s chosen this particular evening.
Please will I pray with her and ask God to heal her?
I pause for a moment, wondering whether I have faith for this. Then I take a deep breath, shoot up an arrow prayer, and explain to her that I’m going to need to ask God to speak to me before I speak to Him.
So I do precisely that, praying quietly under my breath, anticipating I’ll soon start hearing His still, small voice. Instead, all I’m getting is an earworm. Where on earth has it come from? It’s the tune, ‘Dancing Queen’, by the Swedish 70s pop group, Abba.
I don’t know what I’m expecting, but this isn’t it. It’s far too random. But I’m learning that God sometimes speaks through the seemingly random, so I take a deep breath.
“Do you like Abba?” I ask her, trying an obvious line of inquiry.
“Err, I suppose so,” she replies. “They’re OK, but I’m not a fan.”
I can feel my heart sinking.
“The reason I’m asking,” I say, “is because I’ve been getting the Abba tune, ‘Dancing Queen’, going round and round in my head, like an earworm, ever since I started praying.” I pause for a moment, seeking God for discernment even as I’m talking, and then I try an alternative line of inquiry.
“Do you like dancing?” I ask her. “Have you ever wanted to be a ‘Dancing Queen’?”
This clearly triggers something and she looks at me, tears welling up in her eyes, before going on to explain that she always wanted to dance when she was a child but her mum wouldn’t let her. She’s never been able to be a ‘Dancing Queen‘ because she’s always been aware of her mum’s disapproval. The reasons come tumbling out. It’s clearly complex.
“Do you think you can forgive your mum?” I probe her gently.
She pauses a moment, her mascara muddied by the tears trickling down her cheeks. It feels incongruous for this to be happening to a woman dressed in twinset and pearls. She looks at me again and shares how her mum has passed away. Apparently, she died last year.
I feel completely out of my depth and buy time by plucking a tissue or two, out of the box available for the prayer ministry team to use, and pressing them into her hand.
“You still need to forgive your mum,” I explain to her, “even though she’s passed away.” I pause for a moment, before continuing. “Do you think you can?” I honestly have no idea where this is going.
She gently, gingerly nods her agreement.
“Can you speak your forgiveness out loud?” I enquire, “Just so I can be a witness?”
Within seconds, she repents of not forgiving her mum, speaks out forgiveness of her mum, and then asks God for His forgiveness. It’s clear, concise and simple. When she turns her tear-stained cheeks towards me, she already looks lighter.
Sensing a nudge from the Holy Spirit, I ask her to point to the place where the migraines cause the most pain and discomfort. She shuts her eyes and bows her head and, with her permission, I place my hand on her head. Out loud, I pray a simple prayer for healing, commanding the migraines to go and not come back, in the name of Jesus.
A minute or so later, she looks up, grinning. She says she feels a sense of release.
Before I know it, she is skipping her way down the side aisle, oblivious to others around her. I watch her as she goes, assuming she’s heading for her seat. Instead, she keeps going, to the entrance area at the back, by the glass double doors. There she dances with childlike innocence, lost in wonder, love and praise.
I am amazed
What just happened? Did I just exercise faith? How about the lady? Did she?
I find myself reflecting …
She came forward for prayer because she wanted to be healed and she had faith to believe that God would heal her. She was also willing to forgive, and be forgiven, leading to release from her past and removal of a factor that might have been acting as a blockage.
My part was simply to be open to pray for her and to listen out for God’s still, small voice on her behalf; to discern what He might be saying and to act on it, even though it was rather random; and to step out in faith by calling on God to heal her, trusting Him to do the rest.
She stepped forward in faith.
I stepped out in faith.
And God stepped in with a miracle.