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When God doesn’t heal…

Eleven years ago our family celebrated Thanksgiving in McDowell County, West Virginia, one of the poorest places in the country. We visited families in five different homes, took them food, heard their stories, and prayed for them. The visit that impacted us the most was with with Elmer, …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Eleven years ago our family celebrated Thanksgiving in McDowell County, West Virginia, one of the poorest places in the country. We visited families in five different homes, took them food, heard their stories, and prayed for them.

The visit that impacted us the most was with with Elmer, an old, blind
man and his wife Raythee. Raythee had lost her leg to diabetes and had a stroke after that. They live together in a little coal miner’s shack. It’s
rickety front door opened into a living room dominated by a coal stove.
The whole place needed a good cleaning. Immediately to the right as
you walked in was Raythee’s room. She lay in bed, staring up at the
ceiling. It fell on Elmer to care for Raythee and somehow provide for their
As we visited, we were struck by what a prayer warrior Elmer was. He prayed intensely over Leah several times. Each time he would
ask Leah to speak, which she would obediently do. It is always moving
to me when someone prays for my daughter, but his tenderness and faith
was particularly touching.
Elmer made a point of praying for each
child. As we started to leave, Emily asked if she could pray for him.
He said, “yes, I’d like that.” She then proceeded to pray the most
beautiful and heart-felt prayer, pleading with God to restore his

When she had finished, Elmer paused before opening his
eyes, blinked them a few times, and realized he was still blind.
suppose if I were in his shoes, I’d have been disappointed, but Elmer
had words of encouragement to speak to Emily. “Now, don’t you let this
hurt your faith. Even though God didn’t heal me just now, that doesn’t
mean that he won’t heal others. I’ve prayed and seen Him heal many.
God’s going to use you to pray for others just as He’s used me.”

we walked out onto his front porch, I felt as though I’d been party to a
supernatural experience. It hadn’t played out exactly as I’d hoped.
Leah still struggled to speak and Elmer couldn’t see. But on that cold,
November night, we could all see and hear the glory of God fill that
little coal miner’s shack. We didn’t leave disappointed.

home, our passion for God and for His people seemed more intense. Our unity
as a family was greater. Our children journaled what they’d
experienced. Emily continued to pray for Elmer and Raythee.
I don’t understand why God doesn’t heal people who pray with faith. Then again, I don’t really understand why he heals those he does. Over the years, I’ve learned that I probably never will. Whatever happens, it won’t shake my faith – he doesn’t owe me an explanation. I’ve learned to rejoice when healing does occur and to be comfortable with mystery when it doesn’t.
So many people, like Raythee, feel broken and need healing. We serve a God who heals, but who does so in ways that don’t meet our hopes and expectations. In light of that, I continue to be inspired by Elmer’s faith in a God who, though he may feel distant, still draws near. That’s the God I worship.

Comments (10)

  • HIS ways are not ours. They are past finding. Thanks Dad. It’s a good reminder to calm our nerves when things don’t turn out as we expect.
    Sure the impact of that visit remain indellible on the minds of every member of your family. Thanks for been autentic.

  • My Brother-in-law is a pastor. There is a mighty man of prayer in his church that has been fighting leukemia for 5 years now. It most likely will kill him. Whats more he is also diabetic.

    Last week, against drs orders, he fasted/prayed for 3 days for a another man who was going into surgery to have a brain tumor removed.

    When the brain tumor guy showed up for surgery on Monday there was nothihng to remove. The tumor was gone. No surgery needed.

    Why some and not others? Like Paul who couldn’t pray away his own “thorn in the flesh” but was instead was to cling to God’s all sufficient grace.

    1 Peter 1:6-7 “In this you greatly regoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that our faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

    This what I have learned to pray for folks that their faith would prove genuine and that would bring honor, glory and praise to Jesus regardless of the outcome.

  • It is ALWAYS in the heart of God to heal. Jesus said yes to EVERYONE that asked. Is it always in our hearts to persevere in faith and earnestness? And keep peace and faith in the process? I can say this as one who appeared NOT to be healed after prayers for years. But the story isn’t over…..

  • thanks for addressing this, seth.

    god is still god of mystery. he is still himself and tamed by no one.

    and if by suffering his son accomplished much, i wonder why we protest so much when we suffer.

    and i hate pain & losing the people & dreams that i love.

    i still believe in the goodness of a god i cannot see.

  • Thank you for posting this. It may indeed make some feel sad rather than happy, but you speak truth and are equipping people for what they will encounter in life. The beauty of all this is that though we don’t understand all of God’s ways (Duh, He’s God, we’re not), both you and I know to pray in faith for healing, and as a result have seen miracles. Bottom line, neither you or I or any human controls those miracles… God does. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers, and who amongst us fully understands that? But we have peace in our hearts because though we may not ‘get it all’ and certainly don’t control the dispensation of miracles, we know that we know that God is good and that is a firm foundation to stand and pray on.

  • I remember that evening well, and I remember Elmer and Raythee. In spite of their situation, they were both a blessing. I distinctly remember his sense of humor. One day previously, I was working with a group replace his floor and cure a leak under his sink. I remember asking him if he had a flashlight and he said that he didn’t. when he asked my why I thought he didn’t have a flashlight, I, in my “thickness” said I didn’t know. Elmer responded, “Because I’m blind and have no use for one” after which he and my entire group laughed heartily!!! Dah!
    Thanks for reminding me of them!!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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