The place: My Full-Gospel, charismatic church located in the Bible Belt.
The time: Early 1980’s.
For weeks our pastor had been building the excitement, preparing his congregation for an upcoming healing service lead by his faith healer friend traveling to us from Alabama. He was a traveling evangelist anointed by God with the gift of healing. Everyone was eagerly awaiting his arrival.
The evening of the healing service arrived and we welcomed him into our church with hopeful anticipation. We began with a full hour of praise and worship with our praise band front-and-center. Then, with an enthusiastic introduction by our pastor, the evangelist took center stage.
“Jesus said,” he began with conviction and authority, “ If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Many in the congregation echoed his words with a quiet, amen.
“Our Heavenly Father does not play favorites. He wants you physically and spiritually well! He wants to heal YOU! Deliver YOU! Not just the person standing next to you! Do you believe God wants you well? The words in the book of James tells us that the prayer of faith will save you!” The crowd burst into applause. Amen! Yes! Praise Jesus!
“Consider the words of Jesus to us when He said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” He stood silent for a moment, scanning the crowd from one end to the other, waiting for the applause to die down .
Then he hushed his tone to a near whisper. He took the microphone in his hand, stepped away from the pulpit and closer to the crowd. “How many of you have had a sick child? Don’t you do everything in your power to make him well? Well, your Heavenly Father doesn’t delight in your sickness any more than you would delight in your own child’s sickness! Do you think He takes pleasure in your pain?”
The crowd responded quietly, No. Praise God. Praise Jesus.
I listened intently as the man proceeded to rifle through passage after passage that spoke to the truth of God’s healing power. Faith swelled in me at the same pace as the escalation of his preaching voice. I quietly whispered in tongues, praising God for his mercies and thanking Jesus for his promises.
By the time he headed into the homestretch of his message, he practically shouted Matthew 18, “Truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven!”
The air grew thick with hope as people praised Jesus and clapped their hands.
“What does the word, anything mean, Church?” He paused only briefly before answering himself, “Anything is cancer!” The crowd roared in agreement. “Anything is migraines! Anything is kidney stones… anything means any sickness you can name!” Praise God! Praise you Jesus!
Then in an instant, the sermon took a turn and the atmosphere of the room changed. He came to a halt, looked down and shook his head before he spoke. “There are things that can stand in the way of your healing, though. And we’re going to face those things right now, together, in groups of two or more just like the Bible says.”
He instructed us, a room full of some one hundred people, to gather in groups of two or three for the prayer of repentance.
“Sin will rob you of your healing!” he shouted. “Satan will use unbelief to hinder your healing! Lack of faith will keep you sick! If you want to be healed, confess your sins to one another. Rebuke Satan right now! Confess your unbelief to your sister or brother in the name of Jesus!” The rumble of voices enveloped the room as people huddled together in prayer.
I confessed to my prayer partner to the ‘sin’ of not engaging in routine ‘quiet times’ with the Lord. It was all I could think of in that moment.
“That’s right, Church…” the young evangelist said cajoling the crowd, “Yes… Lay your burdens at the foot of the cross. Shanda-lahundela…” he prayed in tongues.
He summoned the band to play as we prayed. The music, soft and sweet, hummed in the background as the evangelist encouraged us further, “Tell one another now what you need from God. And remember the words of Jesus! ‘Whatever you ask in my name, I’ll do!’”
The room was electric as voices rose saying, “In the name of Jesus be healed!” and “Satan I rebuke you in the name of Jesus!”
For several minutes the evangelist paced back and forth on the stage, praying in tongues. He held his bible in one hand while reaching the other hand out toward the praying crowd. Shundela hundela….
Then he stopped abruptly in his tracks and pointed to a woman nearest the stage. “You!” he bellowed. Everyone stopped praying and looked up. “Did you get your healing?”
His tone took me aback. More like an accusation than a question, he stood, feet firmly planted, waiting for an answer. For a flicker of a second the woman looked confused, but then quickly raised her hand in the air and said, “Yes! Praise Jesus!” and abruptly sat down. “Praise the Lord!” the evangelist beamed! “The works of God are alive among us! Pray, Church! Pray!” The thunders of prayer fired back up.
Then he did it again. He stopped his pacing and praying and pointed his finger, “You! Are you healed?!”
The young man on the front row hesitated for just a second and stammered, “Y…Yes, I think so.”
“You think so?!” the evangelist barked. “God is not a God of speculation. Pray until you know so! God has promised healing in His Word. Keep praying, Church! Pray in the name of Jesus until you get your miracle!”
I grew nervous… God, please don’t let him call on me. Even if I HAD been healed, I was growing more and more intimidated by the maniac on the stage with his big, booming voice and accusations phrased as questions. I secretly decided that if he called on me, I’d just say, “Praise Jesus” and quickly sit down. Surely, God could see how tense this had become.
The man went back to pacing and praying. And then…
“You!” he pointed in my direction, “YOU! Are YOU healed?!”
Adrenaline shot through my system landing like a cannon ball to the stomach. Then I realized, he wasn’t looking at me. He had addressed the woman standing right next to me, thirty years my senior, and one of the church’s largest financial givers. A fixture in our church.
She didn’t flinch at being singled out, “No. I’m not healed,” she said. The praying stopped throughout the sanctuary as silence fell hard with a thud.
A look of dismay crossed the evangelist’s face. Finally he said in a tone of disgust, “Why not?!”
She looked him square in the eye and said, “I don’t know why. I’ve done what you said.” For a moment, the two stood toe-to-toe, just looking at each other in a sort of stand off.
Slowly, I eased myself down into the pew, asking God to make it swallow me.
“Something is standing in the way of your miracle! And it’s not God.” the evangelist accused looking down at her as much figuratively as literally. He turned to address the entire congregation.
“Our God is the God of restoration and healing. If we are not healed, the problem lies with us!” Then he looked back at her, “What is it that’s standing in your way?”
“I’ve repented of my sin,” she said. “I have faith and I do believe. But I’m not healed. I don’t know of anything that’s standing in my way.”
He took a couple steps in her direction and looked at her prayer partner, “What about you?” Everyone waited, breathless. But the woman just stood there, saying nothing.
Finally the evangelist took a step back, let his shoulders fall in defeat and said, “Look, people. You must stand before God pure and holy, cleansed of all sin. Full of faith. Ready to receive His blessings! You can’t let Satan rob you of what is rightfully yours!” Then in seeming exasperation he added, “Let’s take some time in worship right now. Band… keep playing. People of God… keep praying. Don’t let Satan have a foothold.”
Within a few minutes, arms were raised and eyes were closed and in short order, people ascended back into a state of fully involved praise and worship.
For a few minutes, I stood among my brothers and sisters in Christ, completely nonplussed. What had just happened?
The boxing match was over, but the woman didn’t budge from her spot. She stood keeping her eye on the evangelist.
At the earliest possible moment, I quietly collected my purse and slipped passed her, out the side door and went home.
The following morning I arrived at work at the church office. The woman who had sparred with the evangelist the night before arrived shortly after. She marched up the steps of the church, directly into the church office demanding an audience with the pastor. She came back the next day and the day after that, too.
I wasn’t privy to the discussions behind closed doors between the two. What I know are these things: I was also not healed that night. Many others said the same. The evangelist/healer never returned to our church. And our pastor never again spoke his name to our congregation.