From 1980 – 85 I served as a pas­tor of a church in Fer­ney-Voltaire, France, across the bor­der from Gene­va, Switzer­land. A woman — let’s call her Sal­ly — had start­ed attend­ing ser­vices and vis­it­ing our church offices dur­ing the week. She didn’t self-describe as a believ­er but was inter­est­ed and open and had ques­tion after ques­tion about the Chris­t­ian faith.

Sal­ly and I worked through her ques­tions reg­u­lar­ly, tak­ing our time. Often an hour ses­sion end­ed and Sal­ly would look at me and say, Yes, that makes sense.” And she’d head off for home. We’ve made progress, I’d say to myself. 

Yet when our next ses­sion began, it always seemed we were back at square one. What had appeared so clear to Sal­ly when she left the pre­vi­ous time now seemed fog­gy and con­fused. This cycle — clar­i­ty, fog­gi­ness, clar­i­ty, fog­gi­ness — con­tin­ued for six months. I didn’t know what to do.

Then I got a nudge. From the Holy Spir­it. In very con­crete lan­guage. With a high lev­el of specificity. 

Twen­ty min­utes before our next appoint­ment I asked the Lord for a spe­cif­ic word regard­ing Sal­ly, not sure what to expect. And this is what I heard, not audi­bly, but still clear­ly and dis­cernibly. Sal­ly will be com­ing into the king­dom of God at 2:22 this afternoon.

I thought, My, that’s clear!

Maybe it’s indi­ges­tion or the pow­er of sug­ges­tion. But my stom­ach felt fine. And as for sug­ges­tion, I had been work­ing with Sal­ly for six months and made no head­way. No one had sug­gest­ed to me that she would come to faith this after­noon. Indeed, I still had a very low expec­ta­tion that God could speak so clear­ly and direct­ly. Was God’s mes­sage to me real or not? Let’s test this out.

I crossed from my office to that of my col­league, Gary Edmonds. Monds,” I said, either I’m los­ing my mind or this is what I just heard from God. Sal­ly is com­ing into the king­dom at 2:22 this after­noon.” Though Gary was also get­ting inter­est­ed in the pos­si­bil­i­ty of hear­ing from God, I think I noticed a slight eye roll, but he respond­ed, Ok. Let me know what happens.”

With­in min­utes Sal­ly pulled up in the church park­ing lot for her 2:15 meet­ing with me. She stepped into my office, we talked for around 5 min­utes, and at 2:22 the fog that had sur­round­ed her mind and heart for months lift­ed. In faith and with a sim­ple, heart­felt prayer Sal­ly entered the king­dom of God. The end­less string of ques­tions snapped. Sal­ly humbly gave her life to Christ. At 2:22.

Dip­ping a Toe in the Charis­mat­ic Stream

In my ear­li­est days as a Chris­t­ian, long before my expe­ri­ence with Sal­ly, I was taught that many gifts of the Spir­it — the charis­ma­ta—had ceased with the death of the last apos­tle and the clos­ing of the Apos­tolic Age. Since as a young believ­er I pos­sessed lit­tle knowl­edge to judge this teach­ing right or wrong — I lat­er learned it was known as ces­sa­tion­ism—I let things lie. Gifts of the Spir­it such as tongues, heal­ing, and prophe­cy made me ner­vous, and if they had ceased, fine with me. Or at least so I thought.

My ces­sa­tion­ist friends argued that many spir­i­tu­al gifts end­ed with the clos­ing of the bib­li­cal canon. They read­i­ly acknowl­edged that in the times of the apos­tles Chris­tians spoke in tongues, per­formed mir­a­cles, healed oth­ers, and received very direct words from the Lord. Once the author­i­ty of the apos­tolic mes­sage was con­firmed through these remark­able gifts, the need for fur­ther attes­ta­tion ceased. Author­i­ta­tive texts — the bib­li­cal canon — replaced author­i­ta­tive signs, with the list of con­tin­u­ing spir­i­tu­al gifts sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduced.

As time went on, I found the the­o­log­i­cal ratio­nale for the ceas­ing of some gifts and the con­tin­u­ance of oth­ers to be increas­ing­ly implau­si­ble. Nudges, I think from the Lord, encour­aged me to reeval­u­ate my think­ing, prac­tices, and expec­ta­tions. A new open­ness to the Holy Spir­it slow­ly devel­oped with­in me.

I pon­dered ces­sa­tion­ist teach­ing in some depth and asked myself, Why not test what I’ve been taught? So slow­ly, with some trep­i­da­tion, I dipped my toe into the charis­mat­ic stream.

Was it pos­si­ble to still hear from God, not sim­ply in a gen­er­al sense, but with a high lev­el of speci­fici­ty? Of course,” my non-charis­mat­ic friends respond­ed. Read the Bible.” My prob­lem was that the Bible con­tained sto­ry after sto­ry of God speak­ing to peo­ple and act­ing in ways that the non-charis­mat­ic par­a­digm didn’t allow.

For years I had been study­ing texts that spoke of the pow­er of the gospel man­i­fest­ed in remark­able ways. Now, I was told, because we have these canon­i­cal texts which attest to that pow­er we shouldn’t expect the pow­er to con­tin­ue to man­i­fest itself. This argu­ment seemed high­ly implau­si­ble. What to do?

I decid­ed to test empir­i­cal­ly the non-charis­mat­ic the­sis, not by ask­ing the Lord to give me the gift of speak­ing in tongues, but sim­ply by speak­ing to me in con­crete, spe­cif­ic ways in response to my prayers. And, to my sur­prise, God did. First with Sal­ly. Then three years lat­er it hap­pened again. This time in Africa.

Bar­ney Hamady

It was the late 1980s. I had returned from France and was attend­ing grad­u­ate school at Regent Col­lege in Van­cou­ver, BC. A pas­tor friend in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia had been invit­ed to speak to a group of Kenyan Chris­tians but he wouldn’t be able to make the trip. Could I go in his place?

I had nev­er been to Africa. It sound­ed like fun. I asked, Who will I be going with?”

There’s anoth­er pas­tor from the Vine­yard Fel­low­ship down here who’ll also be going. But you’ll be doing most of the speak­ing. His name is Bar­ney Hamady.”

Bar­ney Hamady, I thought. That’s an inter­est­ing name.

Our con­ver­sa­tion end­ed and I began to make plans for the upcom­ing trip, some four months away.

While plan­ning for the trip, I prayed for God’s bless­ing. My prayer was fair­ly gener­ic. Lord, bless this trip. Even now help me with what I should say.” As the trip drew near­er, I prayed for safe­ty and health. Sud­den­ly, out of the blue, just like my expe­ri­ence with Sal­ly, I heard very spe­cif­ic words: Have Bar­ney Hamady pray for you. These words were more than a sense impres­sion. They were very specific.

It’s a stretch to say I gave deep atten­tion to the words, but thank­ful­ly I tucked them in the back of my mind. I con­tin­ued plan­ning and pack­ing and final­ly board­ed my flight for Nairobi.

My expec­ta­tion was to teach a sem­i­nar with around 250 peo­ple attend­ing. I was sur­prised to dis­cov­er my first assign­ment was to speak to 10,000 men in the bush dur­ing their spir­i­tu­al renew­al week. The fol­low­ing week 5,000 women would gath­er and again I was the main speaker.

I would be con­nect­ing soon with the Vine­yard pas­tor and I thought I knew what to expect. Over the years I had devel­oped stereo­types of Charis­mat­ic believ­ers as loud, naïve, deceived, and ignorant.

Then I met Barney. 

He had an earthy sense of humor, was well-read, and a good lis­ten­er. His mind was deeply ground­ed in Christ, bib­li­cal­ly informed, and flex­i­ble in terms of how and when he expect­ed God to work. The plat­i­tudes and plas­tic Chris­tian­i­ty I expect­ed to see and hear nev­er appeared. In my sur­prise and shock, I for­got the words I had heard so clear­ly in Van­cou­ver: Have Bar­ney Hamady pray for you.

The day arrived for me to speak to the men’s group in the bush. Some walked fifty miles to attend. The pre­vi­ous evening, I had vis­it­ed a kind Kenyan pas­tor and his fam­i­ly who lived in an iso­lat­ed area. Water for their home was sup­plied through a borehole.

When we shared din­ner and water was served in glass­es. I asked if I should not rather drink water from a sealed bottle.

No, no,” the pas­tor respond­ed. The water in your glass comes from a bore­hole. It’s very clean. The rock cleans it.”

I took a long drink.

After a night’s rest in a tent out­side the pastor’s home, I head­ed back to the mis­sion­ary com­pound where Bar­ney and I were stay­ing. The men’s event was two days away.

How can I put things del­i­cate­ly? On the day I was sup­posed to speak, I awoke around 6:30 and real­ized I had a prob­lem that could only be resolved by a sprint to the bath­room — a jour­ney that occurred every five min­utes or so for the next two hours. The big D” had arrived.

In two hours I was sup­posed to speak to 10,000, but the sick­ness was wors­en­ing by the minute. What am I going to do, Bar­ney? I’m sup­posed to speak in front of all these peo­ple and I can’t move more than five from the bath­room or real dis­as­ter will strike, for me and every­one else.”

The min­utes passed. The time for our depar­ture drew near. We mum­bled a hand­ful of prayers and Bar­ney final­ly said, We need to go.” I grabbed a roll of toi­let paper and we climbed in the bed of an old pick­up truck, set­tled down into two rock­ing chairs, cov­ered our­selves with blan­kets to pro­tect our­selves from the dust, and off we went. With each bump of the truck my low­er half jig­gled, but things held firm.

After an hour’s dri­ve, we arrived in a large val­ley. Seat­ed on the ground wait­ing for me were 10,000 men. I walked gin­ger­ly from the pick­up truck to my speak­ing spot in the cen­ter of the val­ley. A loud­speak­er was hang­ing from a tree. My inter­preter hand­ed me a mic and I greet­ed the crowd. I’m afraid I’m not feel­ing well today. Will you pray for me as I speak?” Ayee!” the crowd respond­ed in Swahili. Yes!”

I start­ed speak­ing. I can’t recall what I said. I do remem­ber that while I was speak­ing I felt calm, peace­ful, and free from nau­sea that had been plagu­ing me. After forty-five min­utes I end­ed, the crowd dis­persed, and I went home with Bar­ney. By the time we got back to the com­pound, my health prob­lems had returned and they con­tin­ued as the week proceeded.

As the day drew near to speak to the 5,000 women, I became weak­er. The only thing I could man­age to keep down was soda con­tain­ing glu­cose. I spent the day before the event in the small liv­ing room of a missionary’s home. Walk­ing required Bar­ney Hamady and Jack­son, my Kenyan host, to sup­port me on each side. How was I sup­posed to speak the next day?

Then the words I had heard so clear­ly in Van­cou­ver drift­ed back into my mem­o­ry: Have Bar­ney Hamady pray for you. Yes, I thought to myself. That’s right. How could I have forgotten?

On Fri­day night, sit­ting in my bed beside Bar­ney and Jack­son, I asked soft­ly, Bar­ney, will you pray for me?” He agreed.

My hands were stretched out in front of me, per­haps to show my will­ing­ness to accept what­ev­er the Lord would offer or do. Jack­son was there, too. Since he believed that heal­ing had stopped at the close of the first cen­tu­ry, I’m not sure what he was expect­ing, but he seemed to join in willingly.

I expect­ed that when Bar­ney prayed, it would be loud, dra­mat­ic, and insis­tent. Yet the prayer Bar­ney prayed, as far as I can recall, was qui­et, direct, and expec­tant: Lord, Chris has to speak tomor­row. A lot of folks are walk­ing a long way to hear him. And he’s sick. Please heal him.” That was it. And he prayed just once.

To be hon­est, I had expect­ed more from Bar­ney. Some­thing a lit­tle loud­er per­haps? I do believe Bar­ney expect­ed some­thing to hap­pen and didn’t feel he had to raise his voice for God to respond. There I sat, arms slight­ly extend­ed, palms open, and a bit dis­ap­point­ed in Barney.

Then it began to hap­pen. Some­thing like an elec­tric cur­rent start­ed stream­ing into my left arm. My arm’s mus­cles began to flex in response. The same arm began to swing method­i­cal­ly, slow­ly, back and forth. There was no pain but I did feel a dis­tinct heat. In one of my wis­er moments, I decid­ed to accept what was hap­pen­ing rather than resist it, and the cur­rent con­tin­ued for ten to twelve minutes.

Bar­ney offered only one brief prayer while the cur­rent streamed into me: More pow­er, Lord.”

In my mind’s eye, while the pow­er con­tin­ued to flow into my arm, I remem­ber see­ing the beau­ty of God, the beau­ty of the Trin­i­ty man­i­fest­ing itself to me as a blend­ing of stun­ning col­ors. Final­ly, this too — a vision of some kind? — slow­ly dis­si­pat­ed. Last­ly, I fell back on the bed.

Wow,” I said to my two friends — one who ful­ly expect­ed some­thing like this to hap­pen and one who thought this kind of thing had ceased hun­dreds of years ago — that was wonderful.”

Yeah,” Bar­ney respond­ed, the Holy Spir­it was jump­ing all over you.” I glanced at Jack­son and he was star­ing at me with an expres­sion of utter sur­prise. Even­tu­al­ly Jack­son went home and Bar­ney and I went to bed.

After his ini­tial com­ment, Bar­ney said noth­ing about what had hap­pened. Indeed, he did not seem all that inter­est­ed. What could be more nor­mal?, he seemed to be think­ing. As we drift­ed off I asked, Bar­ney, do you think I’m healed?” I don’t know,” he mum­bled and fell asleep.

Eight hours lat­er I awoke healthy, healed, restored, and ener­gized. My dysen­tery had dis­ap­peared. I was able to speak lat­er that day with­out hin­drance, weak­ness, or difficulty.

Two or three days after the heal­ing occurred I asked myself whether some­thing real­ly hap­pened. Was there some oth­er expla­na­tion? Sud­den­ly a very dis­tinct word came: Don’t you do that. With this direct word came the aware­ness that my left arm was still sore from the heal­ing cur­rent. Don’t doubt what I have done for you.

So, where do we go from here? I have told you two sto­ries, two expe­ri­ences of hear­ing from God I offer as we pon­der the charis­mat­ic stream. Quite evi­dent­ly, at least based on my own expe­ri­ence and that of many oth­ers, God con­tin­ues to speak to his image-bear­ers, some­times with a high lev­el of speci­fici­ty. Of course, it’s fair to ask, as many of you might well be doing, Well, why hasn’t God spo­ken to me like that? What makes you so special?

I have no idea. Indeed, I’m reluc­tant to share these sto­ries, because I don’t want peo­ple to walk away dis­ap­point­ed and dis­il­lu­sioned with God or with them­selves. Yet I would be lying if I said these things didn’t hap­pen. They did. And I’ve been pon­der­ing them for years, am thank­ful for their occur­rence, and some­times ask why they don’t hap­pen more often. These were gifts from God, words and acts that great­ly facil­i­tat­ed what God desired to do through me for the sake of oth­er image-bearers.

You’re Not Listening!

Since the Kenyan expe­ri­ence, I have prayed for many oth­ers to be healed. Some­times I’ve been graced with unwant­ed respons­es. My mind is drawn to the life — and death — of my dear friend, Reba Yoder.

I met Reba in the mid-1990s while teach­ing a class at East­ern Uni­ver­si­ty titled Foun­da­tions of Chris­t­ian Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. Dur­ing a lec­ture, I touched on the issue of suf­fer­ing and the role suf­fer­ing plays in our spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion into the image of Christ. I noticed one old­er stu­dent, per­haps mid-for­ties, lis­ten­ing intent­ly. At the end of class, she came up and intro­duced her­self: Hi. My name’s Reba Yoder. I liked what you had to say. I’ve got can­cer.” This greet­ing was what I came to know as clas­sic Reba: direct, hon­est, and open to God and oth­ers. Nice to meet you, Reba. I’m so sor­ry about the cancer.”

Over the next few years, Reba and I became very close friends. We prayed fer­vent­ly, con­sis­tent­ly, implor­ing­ly to God that her can­cer would be healed. For a while, dur­ing a won­der­ful peri­od filled with joy and expec­ta­tion, Reba’s can­cer went into remis­sion. We thought she may have been healed and hope expand­ed in our hearts like a bal­loon. Our spir­its soared as the future appeared to open to Reba like a flower stretch­ing its petals to the sun.

Then, at first almost imper­cep­ti­bly, Reba began to feel tired. Old, wor­ry­ing symp­toms reap­peared. Per­haps, we thought, Reba was just work­ing too hard. She decid­ed to take a short vaca­tion to Ore­gon, hop­ing the rest and change of scenery would do her good. Then the phone call came, one I will nev­er for­get: Hi, Chris. It’s Reba. It’s back.”

My heart sank like a stone. Oh, Reba. I’m so sor­ry. We won’t give up, though. We just need to pray even hard­er for your heal­ing. God hasn’t for­got­ten you.”

I know that,” Reba replied, some­what curt­ly. But we’re going to pray differently.”

I didn’t like the direc­tion the con­ver­sa­tion was head­ed. I longed for Reba to be healed. I want­ed her around for years to come. I didn’t want to hear any­thing about pray­ing differently.

What do you mean, pray­ing dif­fer­ent­ly?” I asked, my voice tinged with impa­tience, anx­i­ety and sadness.

We are going to pray that I die like a Chris­t­ian,” Reba replied.

No, we aren’t, I said to myself. There’s no way I’m going to pray that prayer. Reba was just dis­cour­aged and tired; she wasn’t see­ing clear­ly. She only need­ed some encouragement.

Reba, I know this is dis­cour­ag­ing. But we don’t want to give up. Christ has heard our prayers in the past. This cancer’s not the last word.”

I attempt­ed to con­vince Reba that we should con­tin­ue to pray for her phys­i­cal heal­ing. She lis­tened for a while, I’m sure bit­ing her tongue, but final­ly she’d reached the end of her patience.

Stop it,” she said angri­ly. You’re not listening.”

Reba was right. I wasn’t lis­ten­ing. I wasn’t lis­ten­ing because I didn’t want to accept that Reba’s pil­grim­age on earth was near­ing its end. I want­ed her around for a long time. I want­ed her there for her chil­dren, for her hus­band. I want­ed her to see the birth of her grandchildren.

I want­ed to dance a jig with Reba. Instead, Jesus had decid­ed — for rea­sons of his own he has not shared with me — that our last dance togeth­er, one he would join in with us, would be a slow, solemn, sad waltz. Occa­sion­al­ly it would be beau­ti­ful beyond words; some­times unspeak­ably sor­row­ful. What strange music Christ some­times sings to us!

So, over the next few months, Reba lis­tened to Christ and dis­cerned more clear­ly the words he was speak­ing to her. Indeed, we both came to believe that Jesus was answer­ing the deep­er intent of our ear­li­er prayers for Reba’s heal­ing: a deep­er trans­for­ma­tion was occur­ring, one that would con­tin­ue into the age to come. I still strug­gled with this deep­er heal­ing, because I knew, as did Reba, it would involve part­ings — if only for a time. And I didn’t want to say good-bye.

As Jesus and I waltzed with Reba, our dance grad­u­al­ly slowed into its last del­i­cate steps. Joe Mod­i­ca, the chap­lain at East­ern, and I promised Reba we would vis­it her each Fri­day until her earth­ly dance with Christ ceased its grace-filled rhythms. And so we did.

On our hour dri­ve to Reba’s home, we pon­dered togeth­er the puz­zling ways of God with his pre­cious crea­tures. We nev­er fig­ured out why God chose to waltz Reba out of this world when she could have done and received so much good; to this day I don’t know why.

There are many things, I’ve come to believe, we must leave in God’s hands, bas­ing our trust on the strange and won­drous truths revealed in the incar­na­tion, min­istry, cross, and res­ur­rec­tion of Jesus. Two thou­sand years ear­li­er Christ him­self had danced the waltz he now stepped gen­tly with Reba. He has nev­er dis­tanced him­self from our suf­fer­ings. He will nev­er ask his dis­ci­ples to endure some­thing he has not first under­gone him­self. He invites us to enter his suf­fer­ings with him, just as he does with us (Luke 14:25 – 33; Col. 1:24; Mark 8:31 – 38).

If I chose to judge sim­ply by appear­ances, Reba’s sick­ness and death looked to be an act of divine fool­ish­ness or indif­fer­ence as God extrav­a­gant­ly spent Reba’s short gift of years; by all appear­ances it seemed there was a much bet­ter path God could have tak­en, one of restora­tion, hap­pi­ness, joy, heal­ing. Yet Reba dis­cerned, in a man­ner I didn’t at that time, that God was at work deep down, under the sur­face of things, fer­til­iz­ing her roots through the Spir­it. Fruit and flow­ers were blos­som­ing in the gar­den of her suf­fer­ing — if only I had eyes to see. But how dif­fi­cult it is to look and dis­cern beyond appear­ances and longings.

Christ’s will­ing­ness to suf­fer for her strength­ened Reba’s deter­mi­na­tion to live and die like a Chris­t­ian.” He had pro­vid­ed the pat­tern and he asked Reba to imi­tate it. Her faith­ful dis­po­si­tion, open­ness to Christ, and increas­ing abil­i­ty to dis­cern how Christ was choos­ing to work were forged in the fire of pain, loss, trust, and faith. And she was nev­er alone. Christ was present, con­tin­u­al­ly tak­ing the lead.

Reba’s expe­ri­ence with Jesus reflects a broad cur­rent in the charis­mat­ic stream. She was lis­ten­ing and Christ was speak­ing. When we lim­it how God must speak and respond to our prayers by dic­tat­ing or pre­ma­ture­ly deter­min­ing how charis­mat­ic cur­rents must flow or where its streams and eddies lie, we unnec­es­sar­i­ly and unwise­ly mud­dy its waters.

I’m So Blessed. Thanks Be to God.

One final sto­ry. Let me intro­duce you to some­one we’ll call Rachel, a patient at the New Jer­sey geropsy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal where I served as direc­tor of pas­toral care in the late 1980s.

Make no mis­take about it, work­ing at a geropsy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal is very dif­fi­cult. Not only are patients suf­fer­ing from a vast host of psy­chi­atric ill­ness­es, they are also suf­fer­ing from a wide vari­ety of end-of-life issues: fre­quent ill­ness, lone­li­ness, fear of death, deep remorse over past mis­takes that seem beyond repair, and so forth.

One month was par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult. The sheer weight of suf­fer­ing I encoun­tered dai­ly weighed heav­i­ly on me.

I recall, for exam­ple, walk­ing into a unit, dressed in cler­i­cal garb. A patient down the hall­way spot­ted me as I walked toward her. She was strapped into her chair to keep her steady as she ate her break­fast. Sud­den­ly, she start­ed scream­ing and bang­ing her head into her break­fast tray. Rev. Hall, Rev. Hall, I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.” Susie was all alone; she had been an abuser of oth­er peo­ple and been abused by them. Her fam­i­ly had writ­ten her off. And how she was dying. I rushed up to her, cra­dled her head in my hands to pre­vent fur­ther injury, and said soft­ly, I know, Susie, I know.”

I had been pray­ing for Susie and oth­ers for months and it seemed that God was refus­ing to lis­ten. I asked and asked and asked for heal­ing and the restora­tion of hope, and all that appeared to hap­pen was patients grew worse, men­tal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly. Indeed, Susie died a few days after this inci­dent. I buried her; a few fam­i­ly mem­bers came, the very peo­ple who refused to vis­it her while she was still living.

A few days after Susie’s death I decid­ed I had seen enough. Anoth­er long day at the hos­pi­tal had passed and things looked the same. Dis­cour­aged, sad, and angry, I sim­ply want­ed to go home. How quick­ly I fell into the sin of presumption.

What is pre­sump­tion? I pre­sumed — based on appear­ances — that God was not work­ing at the hos­pi­tal, that patients were not being helped, that my prayers were not being heard, that God didn’t care.

At the end of one work­day, I was sit­ting in my office fum­ing at God and the cir­cum­stances at the hos­pi­tal. The phone rang. It was my boss. Chris, Rachel has just been admit­ted into the ICU unit at Eas­t­on Hos­pi­tal. She’s in bad shape. Could you vis­it her on your way home?”

I’d be glad to,” I lied.

The last thing I want­ed to do was to vis­it a dying schiz­o­phrenic. I was sick of suf­fer­ing, sick of pain, sick of sad­ness, sick of death.

I drove to Eas­t­on, parked in the hos­pi­tal park­ing lot and steeled myself for more agony. The nurs­es at the ICU unit smiled and nod­ded as I walked past. I had no expec­ta­tions that God was at work here or any­where else. I was tired, dis­cour­aged, angry, fright­ened. I just want­ed out. I can dis­tinct­ly remem­ber think­ing, first in my office and lat­er as I entered Rachel’s room, that God was not work­ing. You’re not work­ing. You don’t care,” I grum­bled inter­nal­ly. God had not lis­tened to my prayers. God didn’t care about these suf­fer­ing peo­ple. I want­ed out, plain and simple.

When I entered Rachel’s ICU room things were just as I expect­ed. My last ves­tige of faith slipped away. The scene was hor­ri­fy­ing. Rachel was strapped to her bed with pieces of linen cloth. Both her arms had been tied loose­ly to her bed frame because in her con­fu­sion she kept pulling out her IVs. A res­pi­ra­tor had been insert­ed in Rachel’s throat because she couldn’t breathe on her own. Her eyes were swollen and dis­tend­ed, seem­ing­ly in ter­ror. I glanced at the mon­i­tor list­ing her vital signs and real­ized that Rachel’s life was end­ing. Her body was shut­ting down. She was begin­ning to flat­line. What help could I pos­si­bly offer to a dying schizophrenic?

I walked over to Rachel’s bed and she looked up at me with enlarged, fright­ened eyes that begged me to help her. I reached out for her left hand. Rachel, can I say a prayer for you?” She fran­ti­cal­ly nod­ded yes. As I prayed the expres­sion on her face nev­er changed; her dis­tend­ed eyes — fran­tic, fright­ened, seem­ing­ly despair­ing — com­mu­ni­cat­ed hor­ror, not hope.

And what did I have to offer her? The short, sad, prayer of a faith­less chap­lain. Lord, please help Rachel in her time of need. Touch her body. Touch her spir­it. Relieve her suf­fer­ing. Be with her through­out the night. Amen.” I squeezed her hand and turned to leave. I didn’t want to see any more suf­fer­ing, any more dying.

Rachel’s left hand caught my sleeve. I turned and she stared at me with the same fright­ened eyes. She began to raise and low­er her left hand, sig­nal­ing to me that she had some­thing she want­ed to say to me. Her hand, though restrained, had about a foot of wig­gle room. I placed a piece of paper on a hos­pi­tal clip­board, slipped a pen­cil into Rachel’s hand, and held the clip­board in front of her.

She wrote slow­ly for about five min­utes, strug­gling to form every let­ter. Her expres­sion nev­er changed. By all appear­ances she was still a ter­ri­fied, lone­ly, dying schiz­o­phrenic. I thought to myself, You should have known bet­ter. She could tell you were lying and didn’t care about her. She knew you were just going through the motions. You deserve to get chewed out. And that’s just what I thought Rachel want­ed to do as she wrote minute after minute.

Final­ly, she stopped writ­ing. I took the pen­cil from her hand and lift­ed the clip­board to read her mes­sage. Rachel had man­aged to write five sen­tences in what looked like stilt­ed print. I still have the mes­sage she wrote me some thir­ty-three years ago.

First line: I love my Jesus.

Sec­ond line: Thanks for visit.

You shouldn’t be thank­ing me, I thought to myself. If you only knew what I was think­ing as I was pray­ing. I just want­ed out.

Third line: Your Jesus loves you too.

This was the line that both broke my heart and filled me with won­der. Had Rachel sensed my strug­gle, my dis­cour­age­ment, my anger over so many prayers that by all appear­ances had been unanswered?

Sud­den­ly, the room was dense­ly filled with the pres­ence of God — not vis­i­bly present, but tan­gi­bly present. I turned to see if some­one was stand­ing behind me. An angel, per­haps. No. The only peo­ple present in the room were Rachel, a faith­less chap­lain, and God. Jesus had lov­ing­ly bor­rowed the mind and body of a dying schiz­o­phrenic to remind me, I’m work­ing at the hos­pi­tal. I’m work­ing in and through you. I love Rachel. She’s going to be fine. Stop judg­ing by appear­ances. Trust me.

Fourth line: I’m blessed.

Blessed? You look so fright­ened, so alone, so dis­cour­aged. Don’t you real­ize you’re dying?

Fifth line: Thanks be to God.

Jesus’ mes­sage to me seemed to me to be this, also a major empha­sis of the charis­mat­ic stream:

Thank me, Chris, for those things you do under­stand. Thank me for the for­give­ness of your sins. Thank me for the beau­ty of my cre­ation. Thank me for all the gifts I have sprin­kled into your life: your fam­i­ly, your friends, your voca­tion, your health, and the times I speak very clear­ly to you. I have spo­ken to you in the past and I will do so in the future. But please, stop try­ing to fig­ure out mat­ters that I have not cho­sen to explain to you. Trust me.

Related Podcast

Originally published March 2020

Starting Soon: The 2020-21 Renovaré Book Club

An inten­tion­al way to read for trans­for­ma­tion not just infor­ma­tion. Runs Sep­tem­ber 2020 through May 2021.

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