Dancing Queen

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.

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Sunday’s coming!

Darkness is an inevitable part of life. But then the light gets through the cracks – and the darkness doesn’t seem quite so dark.

On that fateful first Friday, nobody knew it was going to get called ‘Good’.

When Jesus was crucified, he faced betrayal. Abandonment. Denial. Mockery. Humiliation. Cowardice. Envy. Hatred. Violence. Brutality. Cruelty. Injustice. Pain. Suffering. Sorrow. Loneliness. Despair. Defeat. Destruction. Death.

All hell broke loose. The Devil was seemingly in control.

Jesus was in the darkest of dark places, having made the ultimate sacrifice.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.”
(Isaiah 53:5-6)

But when the darkness struck, the light struck back. It shone through the cracks. It broke into the darkness.

It bamboozled the Devil, who didn’t see the light coming. He didn’t bank on Jesus rising from the grave and defeating death. He thought the darkness had conquered and won.

The story did not end on that fateful first Friday. It did not end in the darkness. It did not end at the cross. It went on to be called ‘Good’ for a reason.

Without the cross, there would be no forgiveness. No mercy. No peace. No resurrection. No renewal. No hope. No Easter. No light in the darkness.

These words of S.M. Lockridge (1913-2000), pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in San Diego (1953-1993), sum it up perfectly:

It’s Friday
Jesus is praying
Peter’s a sleeping
Judas is betraying
But Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
Pilate’s struggling
The council is conspiring
The crowd is vilifying
They don’t even know
That Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
The disciples are running
Like sheep without a shepherd
Mary’s crying
Peter’s denying
But they don’t know
That Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
The Romans beat my Jesus
They robe him in scarlet
They crown him with thorns
But they don’t know
That Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
See Jesus walking to Calvary
His blood dripping
His body stumbling
And his spirit’s burdened
But you see, it’s only Friday
Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
The world’s winning
People are sinning
And evil’s grinning

It’s Friday
The soldiers nail my Savior’s hands
To the cross
They nail my Savior’s feet
To the cross
And then they raise him up
Next to criminals

It’s Friday
But let me tell you something
Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
The disciples are questioning
What has happened to their King
And the Pharisees are celebrating
That their scheming
Has been achieved
But they don’t know
It’s only Friday
Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
He’s hanging on the cross
Feeling forsaken by his Father
Left alone and dying
Can nobody save him?
Ooooh
It’s Friday
But Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
The earth trembles
The sky grows dark
My King yields his spirit

It’s Friday
Hope is lost
Death has won
Sin has conquered
and Satan’s just a laughin’

It’s Friday
Jesus is buried
A soldier stands guard
And a rock is rolled into place

But it’s Friday
It is only Friday
Sunday is a comin’!

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The Little Engine That Could

It’s a beautiful autumn day and the leaves are on the cusp of turning a beautiful golden orange red colour. The sun is shining and the sky is blue.

My sister is taking her children – my niece and two nephews – to a large park on the edge of the city. They have tickets for a steam train ride, which need to be used this weekend or else they will be forfeited. Would I like to join them?

The steam train is popular today. Lots of other families have had the same idea. We wait in line for our turn, climb aboard into the open topped carriages, spoon hug each other and hold on tight. The train chimney blows out a ‘choo choo’ and sets off on its way, ably manned by an elderly man with a crinkly face, weathered and worn by years at the helm, his wispy white hair blowing in the breeze. We wind our way around the track, once, twice, three times, the carriages following faithfully behind the curve carved out by the little blue steam engine. It reminds me of a classic book from my childhood, The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper.

There is a sense of disappointment when the ride comes to an end and little faces look down at little feet, amidst the cries for ‘more‘, reluctantly plodding over to the swings and slides.

Taking my older nephew by the hand, we head to the swings. Alfie* is 7 at this point in time and he has Downs Syndrome. He could quite contentedly sit in the swing for hours at a time, being pushed back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. After a while, it becomes soporific.

I’m beginning to zone out, deep in thought, in tune only with the rhythm of the swing, when I become aware of a man singing a song over his son in the next door swing. The little boy must be 3, or maybe 4, and he too has Downs Syndrome. An older boy and girl are running to and fro, keeping tabs on where their dad is, and joining in the song when they are nearby. It’s obviously a family classic and the words catch my attention:

“Oh ye of little faith,
oh ye of little faith,
oh ye of little faith,
you’ve just gotta have faith.”

The tune is catchy and I find it interrupting my thoughts, as I realise I’m humming along while I’m pushing Alfie. Before I know it, I’m engaging in conversation.

I like your song,” I remark, turning to the man who’s leading the singing. “I can’t help noticing the words. Why are you singing about faith?”

His response is warm and friendly. “Oh,” he says, “The song is one we made up in the summer, when we were on holiday and looking for a parking space.” He chuckles to himself, clearly remembering the scenario.

“Do you have a faith then?” I ask him.

Sure,” he says, pausing before continuing. “We’re Christians.

What about the parking space?” I enquire. “Did you find one?

Yes we did,” he says. “The song became a kind of prayer.

His older two children run over and join him and they excitedly explain how they came up with the tune. They are clearly a close family.

He asks if Alfie is my son and I say no, that I’m his auntie, pointing out my sister, his mum, in the distance. He introduces the little boy he’s pushing in the swing, letting me know that he’s his son, Tom*.

We talk about Downs Syndrome and then his story comes pouring out. His wife, Tom’s mum, isn’t well. Life has taken its toll since Tom’s birth. It’s not that they have lost their faith or stopped believing in God. It’s more that getting to church is difficult and lonely. There’s nobody there who has a child with special needs, nobody who understands. So it’s simply become easier to spend Sundays doing other things.

I feel a surge of boldness.

Why don’t you come along to our church?” I suggest, looking him in the eye. “There are several families there who have children with special needs. Tom won’t be the only one, and your wife might find support.

He seems open to the idea and, while we are chatting, my sister comes over with her other two children. I introduce her into the conversation I’m having and we exchange names. She shares some of the sources of support that she’s found available in the city, including our church, and he seems genuinely interested, asking when and where we meet, and making a note in his phone.

We talk about the steam train, as it turns out that he and his children were on it earlier, just as we were. I liken it to The Little Engine That Could, and bring in the story of the book, suggesting that sometimes there will be people who just aren’t able to help, and we have to keep pushing until we find one who can.

Perhaps our church could be what he, his wife, and their children, need in this season?

***

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when, two weeks later, who should walk into our church but the family from the park! All of them, even the wife, not just the man and his three children. They are greeted with a warm welcome and Tom is treated like royalty. He can’t stop grinning as he runs around, making himself at home.

Six months on and they have been coming regularly, Sunday by Sunday. It is faith building to see.

They may have been singing, during that day at the park, about having little faith. But now they have found fresh faith in a new church community.

It’s a heartening reminder that God cares about those on the margins, those who are suffering in silence, those who are feeling lonely and isolated. He longs to draw them in, to shine a little light into their darkness. But it’s up to us to initiate an invitation.

Will we be like The Little Engine That Could, offering help to the stranger, rather than refusing it?

 

* Names changed to preserve confidentiality

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Mystifying the Medics

It was on this date, 18 years ago, when this story started. What’s recorded here is a synopsis. I’ve written the full version as a chapter in my upcoming book. But I wanted to share this short version to mark today’s anniversary.

***

It’s been a couple of months since the turn of the century, and I am living and working about an hour from my home town, sharing a house with a group of friends. On this particular weekend, I am staying with my parents for a long overdue catch up.

All afternoon, dad seems to be affected by an abnormal tiredness. On Sunday morning, despite an early night, it doesn’t seem to have dissipated. If anything, it’s worse.

Peeking my head around the bedroom door, I can see he’s struggling to move his right leg, and I speak out my suspicions.

Do you think you’ve had a stroke, dad?” I ask, “Should we call for a doctor?

When the paramedics arrive, they are apologetic about the delays and clear about the diagnosis. “You’ve had a Transient Ischemic Attack, a TIA,” they tell my dad, “It’s like a mini-stroke.” They recommend bed rest and a watching brief. “If you’re not feeling better by tomorrow morning, and if the movement in your right leg doesn’t improve, you’re going to need to call your GP.”

When it comes time for me to return to where I live, I leave reluctantly. It’s not easy seeing my dad looking so weak and fragile.

***

When the phone call comes through on Monday morning, I am back at work. During that Sunday night, dad has had a full stroke, possibly more than one. His blood pressure is dangerously high; he is experiencing chest pain; and he’s been blue lighted to hospital. Please can I get there as soon as I can? 

My boss immediately releases me and I get in my car and do an about turn, driving back the way I came only yesterday, as fast as I can, as safely as I can. My prayers take on a sense of urgency. I can’t stop the tears.

Everything seems to be operating in slow motion. How can so much have changed in just 48 hours?

I find dad sitting up in an old fashioned metal framed hospital bed, wearing his old plaid pyjamas. He tries to greet me, but his speech is slightly slurred and he can’t lift his right arm. He seems to be overwhelmed by absolute exhaustion. It’s even more pronounced than the tiredness I’ve witnessed over the previous two days while I’ve been with him. He says it’s unlike anything he’s ever experienced before. All he wants to do is sleep.

I feel completely numb and, in a state of shock, I sit with him and pray with him. Literally overnight, there’s been a reversal of the generations, and I can feel myself fighting it. It’s not meant to be like this. It’s happening too soon. He’s only 60.

***

The doctor suggests a game of Solitaire. “It will test your dexterity,” he tells dad. “It will show me how your right hand has been affected.” Obediently, dad tries with his right hand and fails miserably. Then he tries with his left hand, but he’s not left handed and never has been.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” the doctor says, “but you’re never going to be able to write again.”

The stroke has been sudden and unexpected. The whole of his right hand side feels like a dead weight. To be followed so soon by this pronouncement is devastating. Lying in his hospital bed, dad cries out to the Lord in utter desperation. He has never experienced such a low in all his life. He is a university professor. Books. Articles. Papers. Essays. He writes all of them long hand, with his right hand. Writing is part of his identity.

When mum visits the ward, later that day, she brings him a fresh stash of cards and letters. One by one, he opens them, and then he begins to cry. In message after message, his Christian friends and acquaintances are pointing him towards Isaiah 41 v.13:

For I am the LORD your God, who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you’.

It’s a Scripture that couldn’t be clearer. God is promising him, right there and then, that he is will take hold of his right hand and help him. Whatever the doctors might be pronouncing over him, God is countering their words.

***

Dad has tests, the results of which show he has a tumour on his adrenal gland. It should be benign, but they can’t be certain. What’s clear is that this will have been part of the cause of the stroke.

Having none of it, dad has asked the church leadership to visit him in hospital, to pray for him and anoint him with oil. A nurse sets aside a hospital room and dad is pushed into it in a wheelchair.

Claiming spiritual authority in the room, the vicar places his right hand on dad’s back as near to his adrenal gland as is possible and, full of faith, he begins to pray. “Father God,” he says, out loud, “We pray for healing and health, and we ask you for full recovery from this stroke. Please take the tumour off the adrenal gland now, in the name of Jesus.

The vicar picks up the anointing oil and continues, as dad sits back in his wheelchair. “I anoint you now with the sign of the cross in the name of Jesus,” he declares, ever so softly, making the sign of a cross on his forehead with his thumb and forefinger, each covered with a thin film of oil.

Immediately and instantaneously, dad experiences an intensely hot burning sensation in his back, and he knows the Holy Spirit is touching him. Before he’s even able to express what’s happening to him, the tears well up from nowhere and he begins to cry.

***

I don’t understand. Something must have gone wrong with the tests.” The endocrinologist is clearly baffled. “See, here is your Xray and here are your text results,” he says, peering over his glasses, and pointing to the Xray and the piece of paper, held, overlapping, in his other hand. “For some utterly inexplicable reason, they are both completely clear.”

Looking the endocrinologist straight in the eye, dad says calmly, “My church leaders prayed for me and anointed me with oil, in the name of Jesus. I felt a burning sensation and I believe God healed me. The fact you can’t find the tumour is evidence that He has, indeed, healed me.”

The consultant, an expert in his field, has never heard anything like this in his life before. He stops and stares, wide eyed, as he listens to dad’s explanation, clearly confused.

I’ve never come across a tumour just disappearing without trace,” he muses, pausing for a moment, before finishing with a flourish. “This is quite remarkable!

***

It’s a sunny Sunday morning in early autumn, six months on from the stroke, and dad is standing in a stream of sunlight, at the front of the church that he and mum have attended for decades. Despite years of lecturing and public speaking, he is finding it hard to convey the immensity of the testimony he’s about to share.

Placing his Bible open in front of him on the lectern, and leaning heavily on his stick, he reads from Isaiah 41 v.13 and testifies to those who are listening.

 … The Lord is my God,” he declares with confidence. “He has taken hold of my right hand. He told me not to fear because He would help me, and He has taken away my fear and He has helped me. I am right handed, and I was told that I would never write again, but God has taken hold of my right hand and helped me to write … “

If even just one person leaves the service with a sense of awe and wonder at God’s goodness; if even one discovers that God still speaks today; if even one understands that God works wonders when we least expect them; if even one learns that God is always faithful to His promises, then it will have been worth it.

***

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An educated guess

It’s a beautiful Spring morning and I’m sitting in a spacious living room in a hotel that was once a stately home. The vaulted ceiling is high and sunlight is pouring in through the floor to ceiling windows. Outside, beyond the deserted patio, lie vast green lawns, stretching into the distance. Scattered across them are clumps of yellow daffodils, clustered together in defiance at the cold, swaying gently in the breeze.

My companion is a woman who I’ve only just met. Let’s call her Emily*. She’s beautiful, twinkly eyed and smiley. Her hair is swept up into a chignon away from the pale grey cowl neck sweater she’s wearing. She must be in her early 40s. She is well rounded and motherly, her concern for others evident even in the short time we’ve been talking.

Our tan colour soft bottomed chairs are set at a jaunty angle, as we clasp our palms around mugs of hot tea and lean forward. A warm rapport soon begins to build, as our conversation meanders through various themes.

It soon emerges that Emily has three daughters. The oldest, Jemima*, is 16 years old and causing a lot of angst in the family. Emily has heard that I pray for healing for people and she’s wondering whether I would be willing to pray for Jemima, although she’s very vague about the specifics.

Has she got anorexia?” I enquire, making an educated guess. (I’d like to say it was Divine revelation, but I’m not known for having words of knowledge!)

How do you know that?” Emily responds, her eyes welling up with pain.

Before long, the tears are free flowing, as I reassure her that I didn’t know; that I’d simply guessed, based on my experiences of interacting with other teenage girls of a similar age and social standing; but perhaps God can use educated guesses to bring insight and understanding to a situation. She nods slowly, acknowledging that she understands.

I move to give her a slightly awkward sideways hug and, as I do so, a familiar surge of compassion and courage come over me and I start to pray, out loud, for Jemima. I pray with a confidence that belies my feelings, as I simply command the anorexia to leave Jemima, body, mind, soul and spirit, in the name of Jesus. I declare John 10 v.10 over her life – a Scripture that the Holy Spirit brings to mind – as I feel a sense of anger surging up inside.

When I look up, Emily’s cheeks are streaked with mascara and small strands of hair are framing her face where it’s begun to fall out of the clip holding the chignon in place. She smiles at me weakly, exhausted from crying.

Are you aware of how much authority you have when you pray?” she asks me. “That prayer was powerful.”

I feel deeply humbled. Can this really be true? Surely the way I pray is the way anyone would pray in the same circumstance? 

I encourage Emily to keep praying for Jemima, to not lose hope of her situation being turned around before it’s too late.

A few days later, by now back home, Emily finds me on Facebook and sends me a private message: “I think Jemima is healed,” it says. “She’s been eating completely normally all week and she seems to have returned to her old self, the Jemima we thought we’d lost. I  never thought this would happen. Thank you for praying for her.”

God, you are good, I think to myself. Even when I can only pray from afar, you still show up and surprise me. Thank you for using me. Thank you for hearing my prayer.

 

*Names changed to preserve confidentiality.

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Knees are made for kneeling

It’s a dark, cold Saturday evening and I’m reluctantly heading into the city centre, wrapped up in my thick winter coat, hat, scarf, gloves and boots, over all the normal layers. I’ve dragged myself out because a group of us are gathering to welcome back old friends who have just returned to the UK, after a year living in Australia.

I push on the door of the pub, and it swings open in front of me. A blast of warm air greets me. Twinkly lights are wrapped around the wooden ceiling beams as far as the eye can see. The atmosphere is thick with the hubbub of conversation. Plenty of people are propping up the bar. Many of the tables are taken up by love struck couples, looking into each other’s eyes across candlelit dinners. (It is, after all, only a few days after Valentine’s Day, and cupid has clearly been busy.) And then I spot a few familiar faces gathered around a couple of tables in the corner, by the welcoming glow of a wood burner working full pelt.

Standing in front of the fire blazing in the wood burner, I am removing my coat and placing it on the back of a chair at the table, when a guy called Kevin* starts talking to me. He’s in his 30s, tall and slight, with a shock of thick black curly hair and deeply penetrating brown eyes. I’ve known him and his wife for a while, but not well.

I tell him I’m going to go grab a drink and, as I return to the table with a glass of red wine in my hand, I am barely able to sit down before Kevin engages me in conversation again. He’s heard that I sometimes pray for people to be healed, and he’s heard that sometimes God answers my prayers.

It’s hard to know how to respond when that’s the opening gambit.

Please forgive me for being forward,” he says, apologetically, “but I’m in agony at the moment and I wonder whether you’d be able to pray for me.

I feel that increasingly familiar sense of compassion rising up in me and I respond by asking him to describe the problem.

It’s my knees,” he tells me, bending over and gesticulating with his hands, even as he describes what’s happening. “They are shot,” he continues, matter-of-factly. “The muscles in my thighs have grown so huge that they are putting immense pressure on my knees, and I keep having to use a cold spray to keep the inflammation at bay, but it only lasts about an hour and then it wears off.” He pauses for a moment. “It’s having repercussions on my hips, which makes it painful when I walk.

It turns out he works in a deli, so he spends most of each day on his feet, rushing from one thing to the next. It also turns out that he doesn’t drive, so he relies on cycling to get around town. He fears that he may have to find a desk-based job if he doesn’t get better, because he can’t continue as is unless something radical happen.

He’s been to the doctor multiple times but, apart from prescribing him the cold spray, he has not been able to help.

Taking a deep breath, I ask him whether he has a Christian faith. Does he believe that God can heal him? Does he want God to heal him? He answers affirmatively to both. He only made a commitment to Christ, relatively recently, he explains. He’d been in jail and, when he came out, he became friends with a Christian, who invited him on an Alpha course. The rest, as they say, is history.

Would you like me to pray for you, right here, right now?” I ask him. Even as the words leave my mouth, I am shooting an arrow prayer up to the Lord, asking for an increase of faith.

Yes please!” he replies, leaping up from the table to stand in front of the wood burner.

I get out from my position, bend down, in a squat position, in front of him, ask where it’s hurting most and then lay my hands, one each, just above each of his knees. As I do so, I take authority in the name of Jesus, and pray a simple prayer, out loud. Boldly but firmly, in the name of Jesus, I command the pain and inflammation to go, the muscles to return to normal size, and for everything between his knees and his hips to align and normalise.

It’s so noisy in the pub that I can barely hear my own voice and, looking up, I know that Kevin is struggling to hear me too. I’m also aware that his wife is watching us from the table. I hesitate a moment and then I realise Kevin’s face has broken into a smile.

I can feel a cold arc over both my knees,” he proclaims. “It’s like the cold spray, only it’s more intense.” I’ve never come across anything like this before. Normally, when there’s a physical sensation, it involves heat or tingling, not cold, so this is new.

Why don’t you walk about a bit and test your knees?” I suggest.

He willingly complies, although it’s not easy in a crowded pub. When he returns to the table, he’s grinning broadly, so I take it to be good news. “It’s still cold,” he says, “but I can feel the pain and inflammation going,” he tells me. His faith is simple and innocently childlike.

Sleep on it,” I suggest, “and see how you feel in the morning. If God truly has healed you, you’ll need to keep testifying to the power that comes when we pray in the name of Jesus.

He nods sagely in agreement, as his wife comes to join him, grabbing hold of his hand.

The next day, he finds me on Facebook and sends me a private message: “I’m completely healed and pain free. To God be the glory!” Even as I read it, I can feel my faith rising.

When will I learn? When will I realise that, when I’m caught unawares, completely unprepared, God can use me? And when I step out in faith, and pray with boldness, in the name of Jesus, God will show up?

It’s good to be reminded.

 

*Name changed to preserve confidentiality.

 

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An angelic encounter

It’s been a drab, grey, rainy January day, and I notice the temperature has dropped, as I get out of the car outside my friends’ house and walk up the drive to where a group of us are gathering for food.

The warmth hits me as the front door opens and I am quickly ushered in, and my coat taken off me, as I take a seat at the table. A plate of steaming curry and rice is brought out and, as we tuck in, our hostess steers the conversation to angels.

For some unknown reason, she tells us, she decided to do some research on the Internet this morning, while her children were getting ready for school. It meant she read some incredible stories and she’s been dwelling on them all day.

Have any of you ever seen an angel?” she asks, in her broad Scottish brogue, looking around the table at us all, wide eyed and expectant.

Immediately, I’m reminded of a time when I encountered an angel.

***

It’s a warm May morning. The sky is blue, the sun is shining, and all is well with the world.

I am in training for a long distance cycle ride and I have persuaded my friend Louise to join me for a few hours, out on our bikes, in the beautiful English countryside, not far from the city where we live.

We have been going for about an hour, winding our way along little lanes and side roads, up hill and down dale. On either side, we pass yellow fields full of oil seed rape, banks of vibrant bluebells sheltering under trees burgeoning with blossom, and villages lined with cottages clad in the golden honey hews of Cotswold stone.

As I change gear on a particularly steep hill, my bike chain suddenly, and inexplicably, comes off and completely jams.

We are, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere.

Pulling over to the side of the road, into a kind of cutting, Louise helps me balance both our bikes while I try to fix mine. It’s a disaster. All I succeed in doing is making my chain more jammed and my hands more oily. I use every tissue I have while I try to wipe them clean.

I find myself panic praying: “Lord Jesus, help!” I can’t face a long walk home with a broken down bike.

Neither Louise nor I hear the white van drive up, but suddenly we see it reversing into the small clearing where we are standing, and a cheery man leaps out of the driver’s seat.

Do you need some help, ladies?” he enquires.

Yes please!” we reply.

It is impeccable timing.

He flings open the back doors of the van. Laid out inside are a neatly arranged orderly array of bike fixing tools. The man leaps instead and, just as quickly, out again. In one hand, he’s clutching exactly the right combination of tools needed for fixing a chain. In the other, he’s holding a bunch of wet wipes and cloths for hand wiping, which he passes to me and I gratefully accept

Without a word, a mini-lesson follows in how to unjam bike chains. It’s a case of learning by observing rather than learning through language. His hands are deft and my bike chain is swiftly fixed.

Louise and I bend over the bike to pick up my panniers and we clip them both back, along with my water bottle into its rack. When we stand up straight and look around to thank the man, he and his van have disappeared without trace.

Where has he gone? We wonder. Why did we not hear him driving away?

We look at each other.

Both of us think it, and then we say it, almost simultaneously: “Do you think he was an angel?

It’s the topic of conversation that dominates the rest of our ride.

Without him, we would have been stuck.

***

There is silence around the table as I finish telling the tale, and a level of incredulity and amazement. But the waters of the dam have been unleashed and suddenly other stories are pouring out, as each and every person recalls a time when they were at the receiving end of the kindness of a stranger … or maybe an angel.

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