Should you dare to approach God for a supernatural solution?
Adjusting the oxygen cannula and elbowing the IV tubing aside, I pulled Aunt Ruth toward me with the draw sheet to rub her bony back. Inwardly I wrestled with the debilitating effects of her stroke and decisions about extraordinary means of life support. Quietly I prayed, “Please God … why? Won’t you either restore her or take her home? Why must her last days be like this?”
The preacher on television in Aunt Ruth’s room only multiplied my confusion, and I switched off the set. The superhuman kind of faith he proclaimed puzzled me. Did he really mean that “your miracle will happen if you only believe?” Was my faith the miracle-working kind? Was I missing something?
Most of us can point to small victories of faith in our lives—times when we have trusted God for a situation beyond our control and He has clearly acted on our behalf. But sooner or later we face some kind of trouble or tragedy that seems to be too much for our everyday faith to bear. Despite our repeated and earnest prayers, ministries fail, marriages split up, people we love suffer from debilitating diseases. Our faith seems powerless to move the hand of God.
WHEN DREAMS DIE
My first test of faith came when I was a child. As my Uncle Harold lay dying from cancer, one day I concluded that God could heal him. A secret excitement mounted. In my childish imagination, I even pictured his response to a sudden surge of strength as he jumped out of bed. I could imagine him throwing open the windows and shouting, “I feel great today!” Next I envisioned Aunt Laura and Uncle Harold embracing in tears and laughter and then running to phone our house with the news.
One day a phone call from Aunt Laura did come. I stood breathless in anticipation and unwavering faith, my heart thumping wildly. My faith soared as I waited on tiptoe for my miracle. But then Dad’s voice—neither joyful nor excited—broke through my fantasy. The news had come: Uncle Harold was well at last in a heavenly home, but only the angels rejoiced. I wondered then what faith and miracles were all about.
We like to imagine that Jesus miraculously solved everyone’s quest for healing and deliverance while He was on earth. But even Jesus did not heal everyone within His reach. He actually withdrew at times from pressing demands: from children, wide-eyed with pain; from ostracized lepers who yearned for restoration to wholeness; and from sinners whose loads enveloped them in despair. Jesus knew, and I am learning to accept, that until man and earth are restored to their intended place in God’s plan, life will be blighted by tragedy, disease, wars, and natural disasters—in short, the results of sin.
Reflecting now on my childhood’s first venture of faith, I recognize that faith can falter and fall flat on its face. I now realize that all persons are not healed; all circumstances are not changed. I often search with friends for answers to life’s difficult questions, struggle with them through the “no answer” days.
Yet though all persons are not healed miraculously, some are. Though some circumstances do not change supernaturally, some do. What determines whether God will perform a “miracle”? Will it do any good to bolster my faith with continuous feedings of Scripture, discipline, prayer, and sheer guts in spite of all the odds? Or is a better question, How can I recognize a miracle when it happens?
GROUNDED IN GOD’S WILL
Jesus Christ Himself mandated the foundation for miracle-building: the will of God. In His moment of most extreme human and spiritual need He cried out for His Father to deliver Him. But He ended that cry with the relinquishment that changed history! “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Lk. 22:42). Although in His humanness Jesus yearned for deliverance, He received instead the miracle of participating in God’s will for Him and ultimately for all of us. Praise God for that miracle!
Unfortunately however, it is human to extricate faith from its natural habitat in the will of God. It is too easy to cling to the notion that I can work up enough faith to produce the results I want outside of that life-support system. But faith is not a means by which we coerce God to do something He never intended. Rather, it is resting secure in the nature of God, trusting the outcome of every situation to Him.
I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. – 2 Tim. 1:12
Faith contrived to manipulate a specific answer to a human need, without the foundation of accepting God’s will as preeminent, is no faith at all.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF MIRACLE
Although I cannot expect the extraordinary, self-shaped answer to every prayer, nevertheless, I am learning to look for a different kind of miracle. I can give thanks for medical advances that allow a measure of comfort and prolong life. Through His Spirit, I can recognize the presence of a God who understands my feelings and struggles. I can appreciate the miracle of the supportive community of faith that prays for me and uplifts me in my pain. And I can permit the miracle of comfort and strength from the living Word to sustain me:
Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. – Psalm 119:165
These kinds of miracles may be invisible to one who does not see with eyes of faith. But that wealth is mine.
I often look at other Christians and marvel at the attitudes of joy and compassion and contentment that seem to dominate their lives in spite of overwhelming odds. In them, too, God is opening my eyes to a different kind of miracle. In my church I notice Sandy and Rob, undefeated by their twelve-year-old son Teddy’s severe mental and physical handicaps. Pushing Teddy’s wheelchair toward the Sunday school class they teach, they pause often, perhaps to hug Grandma Murry, or to encourage a bereaved person, or to welcome a stranger.
Then I spot bearded Bruce, in heavy boots, on his way for a cup of coffee. Clothed in layers of sweaters and coats even on the hottest days, he chooses to live on the street. He is a man ravaged by serious, long-term effects of drug experimentation in his high school years and seems inextricably bound in a twisted body and mind. But his godly parents pray on, sometimes believing, at other times doubting, that he will be restored to wholeness. And as they wait through the years for that miracle, they seem to outdo everyone in spreading faith and hope.
Bruce’s mother, still struggling from the effects of a stroke, is likely to be the first to arrive at the early morning prayer meetings. Afterward she drives handicapped persons to appointments and activities and volunteers her time in the church office. And she and her husband enrich our community with a creative prayer ministry that makes them the first to be called when a need occurs. Just observing persons like these makes me believe in miracles.
Through the eyes of faith, I continually see God’s “quiet miracles.” So, should I ever risk integrity and intelligence to ask for the blatant miracle that stretches my faith muscles? Around me I hear a hauntingly persistent and familiar hesitation when it comes to asking for the miraculous. “I feel presumptuous in the light of the world’s ills to ask God for favors,” one woman told me. “I feel embarrassed because I went out on a limb to believe for a miracle but nothing happened,” another tearfully explained.
How do I know when to ask for a miracle, and what kind to ask for?
CRIES OF THE HEART
We do not need to predetermine whether the request for a miracle is valid, sensible, or wise. Any heart-cry that invokes the Almighty for the miraculous can be expressed in faith, without embarrassment or assessment, by the child of God. That childlike faith, based on the willingness to accept the Father’s will, allows us to appreciate the miracle of His choosing.
One of the miracles resulting from that kind of freedom may be a profound sense of joy. That joy enables me to understand in a new way the miracle of grace, not only for forgiveness and regeneration, but also for comfort and strength in every need.
Though suffering will always be part of our lives, we can overcome despair, if not questioning, through our faith in a God who knows our weakness, understands our dilemma, and who experienced our pain Himself. We shall be delivered ultimately through our faith in Him. “Not only [creation groans], but we ourselves … groan inwardly as we await … the redemption of our bodies” (Ro. 8:23). My dying loved one may not be spared suffering; the Uncle Harolds in my life may not be healed; Teddy may never run and play with other children; Bruce may not change. My faith may waver because I forget the One in whom I trust, or fail to ask for a miracle, or to recognize the miracle that is already mine. But a maturing faith in God reverberates the ancient prophet’s affirmation in spite of a bleak situation:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. Why? How can we rejoice in such circumstances? The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights. – Hab. 3:17–19
As I choose to trust God in every situation, I feel the exhilaration of faith. A supernatural freedom and joy invade my life, since I know that whatever the outcome, the God of the universe is in loving control. My faith can stand up to life’s big questions after all as I discover that there is more than one kind of miracle!
This article was originally published in issue 41 of Discipleship Journal. Martha E. Chamberlain participated in missions work in Mexico and ministers to the mentally and emotionally handicapped through the United Methodist Church in Springfield, Virginia, where her husband was pastor. In addition to free-lance writing and church activities, she volunteered for Amnesty International and inner-city ministries.