When the supply of wine at the wedding in Cana dries up, Jesus’ mother steps in and brings the problem to her son: “they have no wine”. Her example is a foretaste of the power of prayer to supply our needs.
Tim Matthews and his wife Debi planted a new church at St Swithun’s, Bournemouth, in 2014. Tim tells the story of a couple in the church called Mark and Mandy. Mandy had been a nurse but had to give up her job because of an illness which meant she had to use a wheelchair. In order to be around to look after her more, Mark took a less well-paid job doing shift work. That put them in a benefits trap. For a year they were dependent on their small savings to keep them going while Mandy was considered for disability benefits.
Their finances got gradually worse until they decided to ask the bank for help. The bank took Mark through their account, cancelling insurance policies, reducing pension payments and restructuring their mortgage. Then it came to their regular giving to the church. They had always been committed to giving a tenth of their income to the church, which was fine when they were both working but now their changed circumstances put that in question. Mark felt God reassuring him that they would be provided for, so he rejected the bank’s suggestion of cancelling the tithe.
A bit later Mandy went back into hospital for more treatment, after which Mark brought her home. He then realised they had no food in the house, so set off to the supermarket to shop. As he was driving home the car broke down (and was later declared a write-off). He walked home, carrying the shopping. When he came through the door he found the kitchen was flooded with filthy water from the drains. He did his best to clear up and then cried out to God for help.
Two days later a plumber called to say that somebody had paid for the drains to be repaired. Then a friend phoned to say he’d been banned from driving and therefore was offering Mark his car, for only a nominal sum. It was still too much for Mark to pay, except that a few days later some money inexplicably turned up in his bank account. Money continued to turn up as the weeks went by, but things were still very tough.
Eight months later they were still giving their tithe to the church but were now desperate. They went to a foodbank. When they got home there was a letter saying Mandy was entitled to full disability benefits and free car tax; the award was backdated for eight months. Mandy decided an online shop would be a good way to celebrate and fill their empty cupboards. When the delivery arrived they discovered it was someone else’s; it was far more than they had ordered – and far more luxurious. They phoned the supermarket to explain and were told they could keep the order and the cost of their own order would be refunded. A week later the supermarket contacted them to say they had won a large number of vouchers in a prize draw, which gave them enough money to buy a dishwasher and microwave.
There are two reasons for telling this story. The first is the obvious one: as with Jesus’ prodigious gift of wine at Cana, God is generous; he is able and willing to supply our needs beyond our dreams. But the second is less obvious: namely, that discovering the generosity of God takes faith and perseverance. Prayer doesn’t mean we can somehow flick a switch in heaven and get what we want when we want it. There is work to be done. There is a battle to be fought and won, and those who give up too early or too easily may miss out on seeing what God can do. Mark and Mandy stuck it out by faith through some very testing times, and they lived to know by experience the faithfulness of God.
There is a prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake which seems to me an apt commentary on the story of Mark and Mandy: