During my time as a minister I received some strange requests for prayers but none quite so odd as those which began very soon after I arrived in one of my several different appointments. I never actually met the person involved. She was only ever a voice on the phone but she always spoke as if she knew me.
“Robert,” she said, “will you pray for me...” The requests at first were quite ordinary, if naïve, pleas for help with the normal difficulties of life and I soon discovered that a colleague had for a long time been the recipient of these requests. Until, perhaps, his prayers began to lose their efficacy, or maybe he just became impatient with her or began to suspect it was all an elaborate wind-up.
After a while the requests moved on from pleas for divine assistance with day-to-day living to something akin to prayers for healing. “Robert, will you pray for me? I've got a terrible headache so I've taken some paracetamol. Will you pray for it to start working?” And from then on it seemed that the normal routine for taking medicine was to follow the instructions on the packet and then phone the minister to ask for prayers for it to have the desired effect.
Until what was, I suppose, bound to happen sooner or later. “Robert, will you pray for me?” she asked one Saturday afternoon. “I've got terrible constipation so I've taken some Dulcolax. Will you pray for it to start working?”
The next morning I announced the hymn following the sermon and preceding the prayers of intercession. “Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways.” It was one of a small number of hymns that I was still reasonably comfortable with singing, being fairly light on doctrine and strong on poetic imagery. It was one which I used to choose quite frequently so there was no great coincidence that I had chosen it that morning. So, no, I did not pick it especially for the verse:
Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of they peace.
The final prayer request I had from that person was one which, had it not been for all the others, I would have been sure was a wind-up. The phone call came through at two o'clock in the morning and, assuming there was some sort of emergency, I jumped out of bed and rushed to the phone. “Robert,” said the familiar voice, “I can't get to sleep so I've take some Nytol. Will you pray for it to start working?”