He was smelly, cheeky and noisy – so when he asked me to pray for him, I felt like saying ‘no’. It was the end of the meeting and I felt tired and grumpy. Most of the rest of the young teens had left the venue and I was about to go myself. In a tone, which betrayed my annoyance, I asked; “What do you want me to pray for?”

“Veruccas! I want you to pray for my veruccas to be healed,” he replied, then promptly removed his overheated trainers and peeled (yes, peeled is the right word) off his socks. I’d never seen so many warts before – they looked revolting. To my disgust he prodded the black hills on his feet to underline just how big the problem was. He then began picking his nose with the same prodding finger. Urgh! This lad was putting me right off my supper. I really didn’t like him and I wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else.

I briskly ordered him to put his socks back on and then asked a team member to come and join us. Lacking any courtesy I didn’t introduce my colleague to the lad or even ask verucca boy for his name. I then prayed that God would heal the veruccas – the prayer lasted less than 20 seconds. I rose and was saying my goodbyes when verucca boy started removing his socks again – about to turn my head to avoid the expected aroma – I caught sight of his feet, which were pink. No swollen mounds, no black spots, just healthy flesh!

I couldn’t believe it – God had healed this lad. Despite my lack of faith, my lack of care, my lack of respect, my lack of time – God had moved and I saw a miracle. I felt elated, humbled and confused. How come God had done this? Why this lad? And what about me – I hadn’t had a good attitude and certainly was not ‘in faith’? Surely this was all wrong?

Although that happened many years ago - I’ve never forgotten it. I’ve seen more dramatic and dare I say significant healings than that, after all no one dies of veruccas do they? But the more I’ve prayed for people, the more I have studied healing in the scriptures, the more preachers I’ve heard and books on the subject I’ve read – the more I am aware this is a mystery. It’s not that I don’t believe God heals, He has and He does. I’ve seen miraculous healings with my own eyes. I’ve also had plenty of occasions when I have prayed and had faith for healing and the expected answer has not come through. One thing I have learned is the importance of listening to God and trying to sense what He wants to do in a situation, before blundering in with a well-meaning prayer. I have no time for those teachers who reduce healing to a simplistic formula – do ‘this’ and ‘that’ will happen and then load people with guilt by suggesting they didn’t get healed because they lacked faith.

It seems that God is unpredictable when it comes to healing. My other observation is that I’ve seen a far higher percentage of answered prayer for healing among people who are searching for God, but who haven’t committed themselves to following Christ yet. That’s why I am so excited at the way many churches are taking healing outside of the four walls of a church building onto the High Street. ‘Healing Rooms’ – places for the unchurched to experience prayer from Christians on their behalf is reported on in this issue (p 18). God wants to heal – but His agenda may be different to ours. God may heal the unbeliever so he becomes a believer. Not that this explains verucca boy. And before you ask – no I didn’t lay hands on him.

John Buckeridge is the senior editor of Christianity magazine.