Fred Macey’s brain waves were flat. A blood clot in his brain was responsible for the massive stroke that had placed him on life support for the past 21 days. The attending physicians were grim, telling Fred’s family that, medically, nothing more could be done. They reminded family members that it cost $1,000 a day to keep him on life support and said that someone needed to sign the papers that would allow the hospital to shut everything off—to “pull the plug.”
The decision to cease life support for a stricken family member is traumatic enough, but when that family member is only 17, it’s unbearable. Fred Macey, a senior in high school, had collapsed after a short jog. When repeated efforts to wake him failed, the young man was rushed to the hospital, where he lay in a coma. Now the doctors were telling his parents to make plans for a funeral. All hope appeared to be gone.
But Fred’s parents were praying parents. “Our family believes in a God of impossible things,” said Fred’s father. In addition to the family, Fred’s entire school and many people across the country prayed to the God of “impossible things” to work a miracle for him.
On the day that life support was to be shut off, medical personnel began removing the tubes that were keeping Fred alive. As the last tube was about to be removed, Fred’s father suddenly pushed past the physicians and grabbed his brain-dead son by the shoulders. “Fred!” he shouted. “Are you going to allow our God to lose? Don’t go!”
At that moment, Fred began breathing on his own. Following this dramatic event, Fred still had some paralysis in one of his arms, and his speech hadn’t completely returned, but there was no question that this young man, who ventured so close to the brink of death, was a walking, talking, bona fide miracle. Fred’s family believed in miracles!
And they are not alone in their beliefs. According to a poll taken several years ago, more than 8 in 10 Americans believe that God performs miracles, and almost half believe they have experienced or witnessed one.
Do miracles happen today? Yes! But . . .
Even those who believe in miracles because of firsthand experience realize that God doesn’t always intervene. The reason miraculous healings, dramatic deliverances from drug addictions, and other supernatural events stand out in our minds is precisely that they are so out of the ordinary. Like many others, I have experienced miraculous answers to prayer. But like most others, I have experienced the other side of the story as well.
For five years, I pleaded with God to heal my mother-in-law of cancer. I knew God didn’t say yes to every prayer for healing, but I begged Him to let her be an exception. I was more than a little shocked when she died. Despite my eloquence and passion, the answer was no.
The truth is that for every story of a miraculous answer to prayer, there are probably 10 or 20 stories—or 100—in which no miracle happened. What does this mean? Is there a particular way to pray that gets God’s attention and His blessing? Is it a matter of believing hard enough? Or praying long enough? Just what should we expect when we pray for a miracle?
the sin virus
Jesus was a miracle worker. He healed blindness, leprosy, paralysis, demonic possession, palsy, and the ultimate disease—death. But even though “the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick” (Luke 5:17), the illness Jesus wanted most to cure was by far the most devastating of all—sin. All other diseases are mere symptoms of this root dysfunction.
Sin, which is rebellion against God’s law, His character, love, and government, results in death for all who have been infected—and “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23). Jesus entered our world as the Antidote for the deadly sin virus that has poisoned the DNA of the entire human race. The healings of flaccid limbs, opaque eyes, and leprous flesh were representative of the real healing He came to provide. They were symbolic of the wholeness of mind, body, and spirit that Jesus longed for everyone to have. Jesus provided temporary blessings to encourage belief in His permanent solution for what doomed the entire human family.
That’s right. The healing miracles of Jesus were temporary. Jesus knew that everyone He touched was still subject to sin’s death sentence (Romans 6:23). This mortal life that we know on planet Earth is marked by a cycle of birth, growth, and death. And even if death is suspended temporarily by modern medicine or a divine miracle of intervention, eventually, the sin virus claims everyone. That is why none of the people whom Jesus cured in Bible times are walking around today.
the miracle of grace
But the good news is that, while not everyone gets the temporary type of miracle described above, every man, woman, boy, and girl can possess the greater miracle of God’s grace that cures sin and provides everlasting life.
“Which is easier,” Jesus said to the skeptical religious leaders of His day, “to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” (Matthew 9:5). If we aren’t careful, in our haste to find temporary relief from our pain, we might say “Anybody can talk about sin and all that spiritual jazz, but it takes a lot of power to make someone walk!”
But Jesus was, in fact, the Creator of everything that is (John 1:3, 4; Psalm 33:9; Colossians 1:16). It was not hard for the Life-Giver to say, “Get up and walk.” He who spoke worlds into existence could surely speak pulsating energy and life into palsied limbs. In other words, this power to heal physically was secondary and inferior to the power it took for Him to say, “Your sins are forgiven.” Why? Because to provide a temporary miracle of healing took just a word—to provide the permanent miracle of grace to forgive the sins of humanity took His life. The antidote and ultimate cure for every hurt and disease of humanity was the precious blood of Jesus Christ. That blood had to be spilled for humans to be saved.
So, comatose kids restored to consciousness? That’s nothing! Cancer remissions or even complete cures? A cause for rejoicing—but still only temporary blessings. The death of the Son of God, providing forgiveness of sin, the ultimate defeat of death, and the gift of eternal life to everyone who believes? Priceless! This is the mightiest and most mind-boggling miracle of all—that the sinless Christ was made “to be sin for us . . . that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, KJV).
what to expect when we pray
Does this mean that we shouldn’t ask to be healed of our arthritis or cancer? Not at all. God cares about the pain we experience in this life. He is a compassionate God, and He does provide miracles of healing, life, and health to us every day. God tells us to pray for healing when we are sick (James 5:14–16). He tells us to come boldly before His throne of grace to receive help and mercy in times of need
(see Hebrews 4:16).
Following are five things we can expect when we pray for a miracle either of grace or of healing:
A God who hears. “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12). God is not indifferent to the cries of His children. His ears are open, and we are the objects of His supreme regard.
A God who understands. “We do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” “He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death” (Hebrews 4:15; 5:7). Jesus knows what it means to be human and to suffer. You can rest assured that when you pray, your appeal reaches the ears of One who understands and has infinite compassion.
A God who stays with us, no matter what. “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ ” (Hebrews 13:5). In joy or in sorrow, Jesus is there with us. We are never alone.
A God who can make something good come from something bad. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). Not everything that happens in life is good. But when bad things happen, God, in His mercy, can bring beauty from the ashes and peace amid the storm.
A God who forgives and, yes, heals—for eternity, if not immediately. “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven” (James 5:14, 15). God can and does heal today. We can ask Him anything, but His ultimate concern extends beyond this temporary life of a few short years to the real life to come. For believers in Jesus, spiritual healing is certain and brings eternal results. When—not if—physical healing will happen is left to His loving discretion.
Unlike Fred Macey, my mother-in-law’s physical healing was deferred. Because she accepted by faith Jesus’ permanent cure for her sin-sickness, she was forever healed of that which could have eternally separated her from the Life-Giver. She sleeps today, but because of the miracle of grace, she will be among the countless millions who will break the bonds of death and be raised to everlasting life!
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed [healed]—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51, 52).
“ ‘ “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ ” (Revelation 21:4, 5).
What a healing! What a miracle! What a hope! What a Savior!
Randy Maxwell is a former book editor for Pacific Press in Nampa, Idaho—the publisher of Signs of the Times®. He’s currently the pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist church in Renton, Washington, and he’s an occasional contributor to Signs.