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Saturday, 25 January 2020

A Prayer of Despair - And Hope.

The armchair felt very comfortable as I felt myself sinking into it at this particular branch of Costa Coffee located just inside the doors of the Royal Surrey Hospital in Guildford. It was so soothing, after two turbulent days when nothing went right for both my wife and myself.

Costa Coffee at Royal Surrey Hospital, Guildford.

Having no car of our own, the threat of exorbitant taxi fees emptying our joint bank account, and the sheer awkwardness of train travel to Guildford from Bracknell with a wheelchair and platform change at Wokingham, the only option left was the NHS Transport service to cover the twenty miles from door to door. A brilliant idea on paper, as there are plenty of infirm senior citizens who would need this mode of transport. But on the first day, after we had received more than one phone call from them that they will arrive to collect her in good time, Alex sat at the kitchen window looking out at the unusually quiet and deserted cul-de-sac without seeing even a pussy-cat sniffing around to add some life to the environment.

I managed to get hold of their office phone number and after some effort, succeeded in getting through to them, only to receive an apology and an explanation that one of their drivers had phoned up sick. As such, we were left stuck at home and the radiotherapy department had to cancel her appointment and a new one made for the next day. The let-down caused Alex to develop chest pains, so sharp and severe that she insisted on a 999 call. Next to no time, an ambulance whisked her away, alone, to Frimley Park Hospital, while I waited for the right time to cycle to my own appointment at Heatherwood Hospital in Ascot for a cardiac assessment. She didn't arrive home until late that evening, tired, and a taxi fare out of pocket.

The next day, the NHS transport service arrived in good time. But after waiting at the radiotherapy department, her severe chest pains returned just as she was called in. The staff were alarmed and insisted that she be sent to A&E for a CT scan to find the cause of the pain, resulting in a second cancellation of her radiotherapy appointment. One possibility is that she has a blood clot in her lung, which would require an overnight stay in the hospital to initiate proper treatment. It was during the five-hour wait at A&E for her scan when we agreed for her to remain in the waiting room, as her call was imminent, and I went just outside, into the Costa Coffee cafe, and sunk into the comfortable armchair with a large Cappuccino and croissant on the table in front.

And a time for prayer.

Rather than moaning over our lot, I first gave thanks to God for everything we have, including each other. Then I expressed my longing for a far greater presence of God in our lives, to feel the love of Jesus embracing us, and our desire for a more intimate relationship with God, as well for a strengthening of my weak faith. Although in my heart I felt particularly at peace with him, I went into a tirade about the global threat of this coronavirus, with the UK a sitting duck for a pandemic invasion of the pathogen. Then I pleaded with God that if we become infected, then let us die together in each other's arms. Our lives are committed in his hands. Let the virus kill as together at the same time. I was able to visualise us as a couple lying on the bed in a tight embrace - dead. 

O, come quickly, Lord Jesus! Redeem and restore your beautiful, beautiful Creation!

It was a moment when I couldn't care whether I drew attention or not. And that despite the instruction to enter the closet and close the door behind me and pray to my Father, and my Father, seeing me pray in secret, will reward me (Matthew 6:6). Really, at that moment I couldn't care less about what other people were thinking. If they thought I was a bit of a nutter, so be it. I just wanted to be in the embracing arms of Jesus, right there and then. At least a third appointment for the same radiotherapy has already been made for next week. Third time lucky, perhaps?

We were hardly home from the hospital when going through a daily browse on Facebook when a flame-coloured box scrolled onto the screen from below. On the coloured background and in large white lettering this message read:

You're absolutely free to reject God's mercy whilst you're alive.
You're absolutely (sic) won't be free to escape God's judgement in hell.

This was a direct quote from an online friend who was with us at Ascot Life Church but since left to join a smaller, more local fellowship. Yes, Biblically and theologically speaking, he's absolutely right. Reject God's mercy and it's a lost eternity. But this kind of loveless warning is from a typical Arminian* whose faith for a believer is merely to escape eternal punishment rather than enjoy a love-relationship with God.

I have been contacted via Facebook by the pastor of this local fellowship, who asked for online friendship and I was happy to oblige. He looks to be a charismatic whose main brunt of his ministry is to heal people of both physical and mental illnesses. Did he find out about the ailments both of us were suffering? Is he trying to persuade us to join his group, or at least to have a look around? However, I have reservations. I have seen this sort of thing before, more than once. Starting as a small home group, rather than new converts being made, these leaders tend to persuade regular church-going Christians to "try out" the new group and if they like it, to join as permanent members. One late Elder once said to me that this practice is known as "sheep-stealing".

One of these home groups I became involved during the mid-seventies was led by a Pentecostal pastor, married and with a young son, who had a dispute with the church he was in, and decided "to start my own fellowship" at his home, into which a handful from different churches met. One of his main preach was about how easy a believer can lose his salvation, using the classic Hebrews 6:4-6 as his text. At first, its growth was successful, and the group eventually moved into a small chapel near the town centre, where it continued to grow, that is until its founder slept with another man's wife and afterwards was defrocked by the rest of the congregation before he disappeared, never to be seen or heard of again. Since then, this church remains a shadow of its former self with just a small number meeting. It too had an emphasis on healing.

The second occasion, in the 1980s, concerned another church member who had a falling out with his Elders. Proclaiming himself to be an apostle, this married couple also met in their own home, drawing in a few other members, including myself, from different churches. Another member who happen to be also from Bracknell Baptist and being the only one who had a guitar, thus providing the only source of worship music, declared his belief in Once Saved Always Saved. Immediately a discussion got underway, with the apostle, his wife, and another member, refuting such an idea and insisting that salvation was conditional on ongoing faithfulness. With myself deciding to stay quiet, the wife eventually lost her temper and shouted at the member not to contradict her husband. The turbulent atmosphere in the room was the beginning of the end to this group, which disbanded a short while after.

Whether this local fellowship has followed this same kind of sheep-stealing as the other two groups did, I cannot be certain. But that isn't what's bothering me. Rather, what bothers me is that bold Facebook poster which popped up whilst scrolling. Although Biblically true, nevertheless, I found the attitude behind the message very disturbing. It was as if written in anger or frustration and entirely without love. And what was it to prompt him to write such a poster? If it was to frighten people to commit themselves to God, then no, that's not true Christianity. Rather, such an attitude has levelled his group to any cult, on the exact level of Jehovah's Witnesses or any other Arminian-based group.

As Charles Spurgeon once said,
No one should talk about hell without having tears in his eyes.
He was absolutely right. Whenever I think of hell, I too feel for the lost around me. Indeed, I want my heart to reflect God's feelings concerning the afterlife when he says that he is patient, and he is not willing that anyone should perish but all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Or again, that God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). Hell was initially prepared for the Devil and his angels, and it wasn't intended for humans. Indeed, these threats are the sort of messages which would drive the unbeliever into the arms of Charles Darwin instead of into the arms of Jesus Christ.

The Lord wants to draw all men to himself, as if like a courtship. Just as with a groom and bride, likewise, the Church is or will be, the Bride of Christ. I have never known a boyfriend threatening a potential girlfriend to go out with him! She would run a mile if he tried.

In Genesis chapter 24 there is a beautiful story which reflects the love of the Father to his Son and the role of the Holy Spirit. Abraham gives an order to an unnamed servant to go to his own kinsmen to find a wife for his son Isaac. The servant was cautious enough to ask his master what if the potential candidate refuses to return with him. Abraham then answers that he would be free from any responsibility. No threat, no punishment.

And off the servant goes. Thoroughly loyal to his master, he makes sure that the beautiful Rebekah is the one. When he perceives that she was, he then barters with her family for her to return with him. She was willing, and so she returns with him to Abraham's camp. There his son Isaac takes delight in her straight away and the two married that same evening. What a picture this is, of Christ, the Son of God, and the Church, the Bride of Christ! It is the Holy Spirit who shines a light into every man (John 1:9, 16:8-11) to draw him to Christ in a husband/wife love relationship. As for conviction of sin, that's the work of the Holy Spirit, and he knows when and how to apply this without using threats.

I'll be truthful here. My beloved may not be quite the long-haired, slim pretty girl I married two decades ago. Instead, due to her recent chemotherapy, she has lost her hair and gained weight. But to me, she will always be beautiful, the apple of my eye, the unity of soul and spirit. I will continue to love her to bits. Once married always married. I think this is a wise and true saying.

Therefore whenever she's in pain, then I'm in pain. her poor health causes me to live daily on a knife-edge, and visits to the hospital so frequent, I'm beginning to wonder just when we can stay away for a longer period. But by this experience, we have learnt a lot. And I thank God for us being together and trust him for our future.

*Arminian: A Christian believer who embrace the teachings of 16th Century Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius, who has repudiated the theology of imputed righteousness of Christ into the believer's account, for forfeitable salvation which can be lost if the believer's faith fails.


  1. Dear Frank,
    Thank you for this beautiful post, reflecting the love of Christ in your marriage and in your style of witness. An evangelist spoke at our church tonight and vividly described the horrors of hell and the mandate for all who are saved to witness, so that the lost can come to a saving knowledge of Him. May we be bold in our witness and yet speak the truth in love.

    God bless,

  2. Hi Frank, I see nothing wrong with asking the man who contacted you to pray for Alex, it may be an answer to your prayer. If he prays over Alex and she is healed, then he has the gift of healing. If not, then he does not have that gift. I have had a miraculous healing instantly in the past, and other healings, so I would say you have nothing to lose from asking for that prayer. All things are possible with God.