The pastor felt someone nudge his elbow. A nervous voice asked, “Excuse me. I wonder if I might ask a question.”
Bill Darke beamed with delight. He loved questions. True, it gave him a chance to show off his knowledge of the Bible. But much more importantly, it was a great way for his people to grow in their understanding of the faith. That was why he always scheduled 10–20 minutes for Q&A at the end of the church’s midweek Bible Study. And the harder the questions, the more Bill enjoyed himself.
Of course today was the Lord’s Day and he wasn’t in the habit of fielding questions on Sundays. But the service had gone well and most people had accepted the invitation to move to the minor hall for tea and coffee.
When Bill glanced at his interrogator, the first thing he noticed was the woman’s eyes. She was dressed conventionally for a Sunday morning: lace-lined blouse, ankle-length skirt and sensible shoes. But her eyes had a haunted look. This was a woman, Bill thought, who was all too familiar with being disappointed.
“You’re very welcome,” he said. “What can I help you with? Was it something from my sermon?”
“No, not exactly,” she replied.
Were her eyes filling up with tears? Bill wasn’t sure. Her voice seemed steady enough but then, before he could make up his mind, she dropped her gaze and stared down at the floor:
“I was wondering whether you pray for the sick in this church?”
It was the forbidden question. One that Bill’s people had learned not to ask. Yes, God could heal. God probably still did heal. But not in Pastor Darke’s church. It wasn’t that he had any theological issues with divine healing. He was more than happy to preach on the many miracles in the Bible. It was just that no one that Bill prayed for was ever healed. In the early days of his ministry, he had laid hands on the sick and anointed a few with oil. But not a single person said that they even felt better. Eventually he just gave up and stopped offering.
“We have sometimes prayed for the sick,” he said, hesitation obvious in his tone of voice. “But not for some time.”
Disappointment gripped the woman. Bill watched her turn aside, muttering something like “Never mind.” But what compelled him was the sorrow etched into the lines on her face. How many times had she been rejected in the past? Here was someone desperate for God’s embrace.
“Tell me your name.” Bill reached out with his hand, turning her from flight.
“Mary. Mary O’Brien. It’s my first time in your church. I’m, uh, new to the area.”
“What do you want prayer for?” The moment the words were out of his mouth, he wished he could drag them back. This wasn’t a private counselling appointment with comfortable chairs and quiet music playing in the background. Bill was in the middle of the church hall with more than two hundred people milling around. The moment he starting praying for the woman, he would attract a curious audience. And thereafter, once God had declined to answer his prayer as the Lord always did, everyone would be quick to jump to their own conclusions.
“It’s my hands,” she said. “I can’t open or close them properly. I’ve seen a specialist and even had an operation, but the paralysis is still there. I passed your church last week and thought I would maybe give it a try.”
Bill glanced round and saw that his wife was standing just beside him. It amazed him how she knew when to return to her husband’s side – it was so uncanny it was almost supernatural. With his spouse’s nod of approval, he took hold of Mary’s left hand and began to pray.
“Lord Jesus,” he whispered, “you have seen this woman’s faith. Please heal her so that she will know that you love her and died for her. Amen.”
Nothing happened. No warm glow. No clap of thunder. No angelic voices. The pastor excused himself and headed for the privacy of his study. He had only taken five steps when he suddenly became aware of the buzz within the hall. Glancing over his shoulder, he stared in incredulity at Mary O’Brien. Tears were pouring down her face as she stood rooted to the spot, clenching and relaxing her fists.
God loved her: everything else would come in time.
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