But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12.9-10.
Yesterday, after the morning service had finished and the refreshment time was over, my wife, Yvonne, packed her music bag and put the cover on the keyboard. Time for lunch! We gathered up our stuff and began to head for the door, but before we could get there, the visiting preacher swept up to us and said in a very non-negotiable way: ‘I need you to pray. Not for me, but for an 11 year-old girl in the school where I’m a governor. She has just had something – a cyst, a tumour, we don’t know what yet – removed from her brain and her parent’s are worried sick as to what the outcome might be.’
My heart sank.’What’s the girl’s name?’ I asked, buying a little time.
The fact was, you see, that I wasn’t prepared, mentally or spiritually, to pray for healing at that point yesterday morning. I hadn’t geared-up for it. Yvonne and I weren’t even the people on the prayer ministry rota for 30 June, so it had never even crossed my mind that we might be asked to pray. And on top of that, I hadn’t warmed to the preacher and had found her personality scratching against mine like a knife on a tin plate for the last hour or so. However, prayer for Alison (I’ve changed the little girl’s name) was not to be avoided, so we went and sat together – the three of us – holding each other’s hands, and after a few moments’ silence I opened my mouth (because I had no other option) and began.
My stumbling prayer was not something I’d want to set down here. I was acutely conscious of the visiting preacher listening to me and I was thinking, ‘She’ll know. By now she’ll have sussed the fact for sure that I’m totally unprepared for what I’m trying to do;’ and with that thought firmly lodged in my mind I became even more inarticulate, rambling on with a long-winded reminder to God that he was a God of love and then (just in case he’d forgotten) that he wanted healing and wholeness for all of his creation, until finally I told him (so that he wouldn’t be caught unprepared, I suppose) that we were now lifting Alison into his presence and I asked him to heal her.
Phew! That was it . Prayer over. And as I finished, I recall thinking ‘I bet the preacher’s never sat through such a rubbish prayer for healing as that!’ But, hey, now we could go home and think about making some lunch, thank goodness. I had never felt less like praying in my life. I meant what I had prayed, of course. But I didn’t feel it and I was glad to be able to pick up Yvonne’s music case again and for us to head for the door once more.
But as you might have guessed, we didn’t make it.
‘Neil and Yvonne!’ It was one of the church wardens, standing with a young woman in the centre aisle and calling to us. ‘Ella (name changed again) would like you to pray for her too.’
Oh no! Inwardly I groaned, but we took Ella off to one side and sat with her and prayed with her too; and, wonderfully, Ella was touched by God and so grateful for our prayers – little knowing what was going on inside of me. But today, as I read these words of Paul in 2 Corinthians, I got to wondering …
Are the prayers we offer when we are not prepared and lack conviction and are not very articulate and have no sense of authority or competence or anointing, let alone a nice warm emotional glow, perhaps the best and most efficacious prayers of all? Because, you see, those are the times when we are truly and clearly and painfully aware that it all depends on God and not on us. Yesterday morning, I knew full well that if the healing I sought and had asked for had anything to do with how I felt or the authority I was exerting or the eloquence of my language, then it simply wasn’t going to happen: God had to step in, independently of my ‘performance’ if Alison or Ella were going to receive the healing that we had prayed for.
And what has struck me this morning is that maybe God can actually make use of my unpreparedness and incompetence. When I am caught unawares and my words are unpolished, I am no longer a distraction. Nobody is thinking: ‘Oh what a lovely prayer … Oh what an air of authority Neil has.’ No, they are moving swiftly on, past the unimpressive mortal who is saying the prayer to the wonderfully competent Healing God who stands beyond, arms outstretched, ready to give them all they ask of him.
As Paul says – God’s power is made perfect in weakness.