Well, he died, and the congregation was, and is, devastated. A young, energetic, bright, gifted, scholarly and promising black male — lost to cancer. Did our prayers make a difference? Do miracles still happen?
The Bible is full of stories of miracles. Elijah and Elisha each healed people. Peter did, too, and even raised Tabitha from the dead. Paul not only raised Eutychus from the dead and healed everyone on the island of Malta but also handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were brought to the sick and healed them (Acts 19:11, 12). Jesus healed more people than anyone else, even villages at a time. But these were prophets, apostles and Jesus. Can prayers made by ordinary people of faith make a difference?
God promised that they would. “The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up” (James 5:15). “And these signs will accompany those who believe: … they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well” (Mark 16:17, 18). When Jesus sent out the 12 disciples, He told them to not only go out and preach the gospel but also to heal the sick (Matthew 10:7, 8). Healing is even listed as a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:9).
If Jesus commissioned His disciples to preach the gospel and heal, if the Spirit gives healing as a gift, and if God promises to answer our prayers, then why do our prayers seem to fail? The truth may be that God does indeed answer prayer but His response may not appear to be the answer we wanted.
Very often we want miracles of sudden healing, constant blessings and instant life. We want no scares, no scars and no struggles. Because we are faithful to God, we feel entitled to have lives void of problems, pressure, or pain. Certainly no death!
It is interesting that, while the Bible is full of miracles, it is also full of stories of people who did not receive miracles. Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda but left behind a multitude of people still waiting for a miracle (John 5:1-15). The woman with the issue of blood was the only one in the crowd that day to receive healing; others went home still wishing (Mark 5:24-34). The apostle named Paul prayed for a miracle in his own healing and was told no (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). In 2002, the Pope, joined by more than 200 religious leaders, gathered to pray for world peace; the miracle of world peace still eludes us.
On the other hand, miracles still happen and are the rare and unusual exceptions to normal life. And it seems to me that the Lord tends to use miracles when they would enable people to recognize Him in a way that they hadn't before. Sometimes the miracle isn't healing; sometimes it's learning to trust God when healing doesn't come.
It could be that God wants us to experience Him in deeper ways every time He does answer our prayers. Answers aren't always about this life. God is up to something bigger. He's preparing us for eternity. So He answers our prayers for our eternal best.
Sometimes that means physical healing, maybe even a miracle. Other times, it means using what Satan meant to destroy, defeat and discourage us in order to, instead, cause us to grow stronger.
People, like the youth pastor mentioned earlier, will still die. Children will have to battle chemotherapy and radiation. Loved ones will, because of dementia, forget who we are and the moments we've shared together. Many times, it will appear so unfair. Why does God answer other prayers and not this one or that one? Why do people who live healthy and good lives become ill? We may seem to have more questions than answers.
We have to remember that we live in a sinful world in which an enemy seeks to destroy us. He'll do that through whatever means he can: disease, despair, discouragement, doubt and, yes, even death. Yet God promises to work in all things for the good for His children. Like Joseph, we can say, “You meant this for evil, but God used it for good” (Genesis 50:20).
God is still healing. God is still working. Prayer still works.
Dr. Walter T. Richardson is pastor-emeritus of Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in South Miami-Dade County and chairman of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board. He may be contacted at wtrichardson@Bellsouth.net. Website: WTRMinistries.com
Photo: Dr. Walter T. Richardson