It’s not every day that you find yourself praying for a complete stranger and his wife – and especially not over the phone – but this is what happened to me just recently.
As it’s a classic ‘light through the cracks‘ sort of story, I’m sharing it here.
I’ve decided to call the PayPal helpline.
It’s all very well people buying my book through the online shop on my website, but not if their hard-earned cash isn’t working its way through to my bank account.
“It’s probably user error”, I conclude, as I wrestle with getting the glitch fixed – and so it is that I find myself calling PayPal.
I’m greeted by a delightful man, with a lovely strong Irish accent. He introduces himself as Martin, and tells me he’s based in Dublin.
It turns out he knows all-there-is-to-know about the technicalities of the behind-the-scenes workings of PayPal. He explains, in simple terms, what he thinks the fault might be. He suggests a few tweaks to the default settings. He bends over backwards to be helpful. It doesn’t take long for the fault to be fixed.
But it’s then that the conversation takes an unexpected turn, when Martin asks me what products I’m selling through the online shop on my website …
“It’s a book that I’ve written,” I explain.
“What sort of book is it?” he asks inquisitively.
“It’s a book of ten true stories,” I tell him, taking a deep breath, before diving straight in. “They are stories of God’s healing, provision and protection. Stories of miracles. Stories that reveal how God breaks in when life turns tough.” I pause to catch my breath, and send up a few silent arrow prayers, before continuing. “I’m a Christian,” I say, “and I’ve seen God answer prayers that are prayed in the name of Jesus.”
Martin is clearly intrigued. A whole series of questions follow, and it’s obvious that I’ve piqued his interest. I do my best to answer them, and then, “My wife’s had prayers for healing,” he tells me, before hesitating a moment. “They haven’t worked though,” he adds.
His wife is called Julie and it turns out that she has a long-term chronic condition, which causes her immense and unrelenting levels of pain. The doctors have been unable to provide a cure, so she manages the pain as best she can through medication.
It seems that friends of theirs from a different county in the Republic of Ireland, recommended that Martin and Julie visit a ‘spiritual healer’, who lived in their neighbourhood. Out of utter desperation, they had travelled to meet with him.
The more I gently probe, the more the alarm bells are ringing – and the more I am praying, as I listen.
“What happened when you were with the ‘spiritual healer’?” I ask Martin. “You’ve said he prayed for Julie, but did he pray in the name of Jesus?”
“Um, err, no,” he confesses. “He performed some strange rituals over her, incanted some ‘spirits’ to heal her, and it was all a little confusing.” He pauses a moment. “I don’t recall him ever mentioning the name of Jesus. Why do you ask?”
I explain that there is power in the name of Jesus, and that I’ve seen people healed when Christians pray in the name of Jesus. But I also explain that it’s up to God whether or not this happens; that it’s not guaranteed.
“The spiritual realm is real, Martin,” I tell him. “That ‘spiritual healer’ was tapping into things that were not of God.” I bite my lip, trying to find the right words. “You and Julie need to be careful,” I caution him.
“Julie’s pain got worse, after that meeting,” Martin concedes. “I think she’d be willing to give your sort of prayer a go, if she thought it might help.”
Even as he’s speaking, I can feel the oh-so-familiar surge of courage and compassion rising up within me. For this man who I haven’t met, and can’t see, at the other end of the phone line. But also for his wife, who is clearly suffering.
I know I need to seize the moment, and I take a deep breath. “Would you like me to pray for Julie, Martin?” I ask him boldly.
“What? Right here? Right now? Over the phone?” he asks, clearly unsure how it would work.
“Yes,” I respond, “Right here, right now, over the phone.”
“OK,” he says, without hesitation. “Please feel free.”
Feeling utterly outside my comfort zone, having never prayed over the phone for a stranger before, I ask God to help me pray.
It crosses my mind that PayPal might be recording the conversation ‘for training purposes’, but I ignore the thought and press on.
My prayer is simple. I ask God to meet with Julie, in her pain, and to bring her healing and release, in the name of Jesus. I ask God to help her forgive the ‘spiritual healer’ for any harm he caused her. I ask God to show both Martin and Julie that he is real.
Apart from a muffled “Amen”, there is silence at the other end of the phone and I wish, with all my heart, that I could see him.
“Thank you,” he says. “Julie will be touched to know you’ve prayed for her like that.”
“It’s my pleasure,” I reassure him.
The conversation continues for a short while longer. I suggest that he and Julie might want to find a local church. I recommend the Alpha Course for exploring the Christian faith. And I suggest they might want to read my book. “You know where to find it!” I joke, and he laughs.
As I end the call and put the phone down, I sit back at my desk, and pray out loud for Martin and Julie. Only God knows why this conversation has happened, and what seeds have just been planted. I pray that he waters them, so that they take root and flourish.
How many random strangers do each of us interact with, during the course of an average week?
Perhaps it’s the person at the end of the phone line in a call centre? Or the supermarket worker at the checkout? Or the delivery man who drops a parcel on the mat, rings the doorbell and stands back to see if we’re in? Or the person standing next to us in the queue at the Post Office? Or an unknown parent at the school gate?
What sort of situations might they and their loved ones be facing?
Whoever comes to mind, how about being bold and opening up a conversation, taking time to listen, and to show that you care? And if you’re a Christian, how about looking for an opening, and offering to pray with them when the opportunity arises? (If they feel uncomfortable, they can always decline.)
As ever, any thoughts and reflections would be welcome in the comments below.