Catskill, NY, c.1996. It was a Sunday night service. My pastor was away on one of his frequent jaunts to minister to churches in far-flung corners of the world. As usual, he left the oversight of the home church to me.
I stood near the front entrance. It was my habit to greet the people before each service. I welcomed a visitor from the mountain top, an old-timer in his eighties. We were acquainted, but I did not know him well. His guest was completely unfamiliar to me. Dressed in camo and not well groomed, he was much younger than his companion–in his late twenties, or early thirties, I would venture to say. I was not surprised to hear that he was a homeless man, found on the road near Woodstock.
His elderly escort had brought him to us because he was desperately in need of prayer. The senior saint knew this was not the sort of church where the young fellow would be judged for his appearance. (John 3:17) They simply asked for prayer for a health issue.
Of course, I agreed to pray. Jesus said, “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name…they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” (Mark 16:17-18) He did not qualify the promise. It’s just part of “Go ye…”
But I felt in my gut to delay, and they agreed to wait a short while. I knew that the power of God flows in the anointing–the manifest presence of God’s Spirit. I also knew that the anointing is most dominant at the height of worship.(Ps 22:3) We call it the corporate anointing, because the whole congregation is involved to some extent. The power of the Church is greater than the sum of its parts.
Worship was intense that evening. As I stood on the platform, it took little discernment to realize that “…the power of the Lord was present to heal…” (Luke 5:17)
So I stepped down toward the unlikely pair from the mountain top, who were seated on the front row. I got permission to lay my hands on the young sojourner, and spoke a simple prayer for his healing.
It was a common occurrence in that place, that people who received prayer in that way would “fall out under the power.” I had seen it many times, as well as similar reactions. But it did not happen that night. To all appearances, nothing happened when I prayed. Nor was I disappointed or concerned. After all, I did not pray in my own name, but in the name of Jesus. In fact, I was so unconcerned about Jesus’ ability to heal, that I had not even inquired about the medical condition for which the man needed prayer. (I couldn’t heal him anyway, and Jesus can unscramble an egg.)
So I returned to the platform. The music stopped. I preached a while, and dismissed the service.
I never gave the matter another thought until a few weeks later. The old man from the mountain returned to one of our services, and pulled me aside. He told me that the young stranger had come, disheveled and homeless, because he was dying of AIDS. Though there was no hope for his condition, he did not want to be judged. He saw Jesus as his last, best hope. He made the 40-mile drive down the mountain, through pain and weakness, to a place where he could find respect and compassion–a place of rest. (Matt. 11:28)
When I prayed, as the church worshipped, it seemed that nothing happened. But the young fellow returned to his doctor with all of his symptoms gone. There was no more evidence of HIV anywhere in his body.
We serve the God of the second chance!