Francis Schaeffer was one of the most respected evangelicals of the twentieth century. His wife, Edith, recounts the following event that took place early in his ministry.
Francis and his young family faced a crisis. They needed temporary accommodation during a time of transition, but they had very little money. One day, while Francis was praying about this, he said to God, ‘where can we live, Lord? Please show us!’ Immediately, in response to his prayer he heard an audible voice. It wasn’t simply a voice in his mind, it was if another person had spoken. The voice simply said, ‘Uncle Harrison’s house.’
The thing is Uncle Harrison had never given the Schaeffer’s anything. It seemed very unlikely that he would offer his house to them to live in. Yet, because the voice had been so startling and direct, Francis felt that he had better obey it, and so he asked his uncle.
He wrote to his uncle, asking him what he intended to do with his house the next year. To his astonishment, Uncle Harrison replied that he planned to live with his brother for the next year and would like the Schaffer’s to live at his house, free of charge.
This prayer proved to be a turning point in the Schaffer’s lives, and later Edith would say that the clarity of that voice helped them through one of their most difficult years.
What are miracles?
In the Bible we are given three different terms for miracles: ‘signs’ (pointing to a deeper truth), ‘wonders’ (causing people to be amazed at what God has done) and ‘miracles/mighty works’ (where God works in an unusual and powerful way). Tim Chester defines a miracle as, ‘amazing acts of power, through which God reveals his power and rescues his people.’
But is there a danger in focusing on miracles?
Yes, there can be. For example, we can be so obsessed with the unusual acts of God that we forget the more ordinary, but equally amazing, acts of God.
I have read credible accounts of people being raised from the dead. That is spectacular. But it is no more amazing than when God brings a person to new life in Christ. The apostle Paul tells us that before we have a living relationship with God through Jesus, we are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1). It is a wonderful act of mercy when God raises the physically dead to life. In fact, given that God created the whole universe, we shouldn’t be all that surprised. The apostle Paul asked King Agrippa, ‘why should anyone consider it incredible that God raises the dead?’ (Acts 26:8). But those who are raised from physical death to physical life will physically die again. Whereas being born again means that we live, even though we physically die (John 11:25). Let’s rejoice with the angels at the mighty work of God bringing sinful people like us to repentance (Luke 15:7).
So often God answers our prayers in ways that simply don’t stand out. God may choose to heal through the hand of a surgeon. But that does not mean that he is any less merciful or powerful than if he had healed without the hand of the surgeon. In Psalm 136, the psalmist speaks of the God, ‘whose love endures for ever’. This God does great wonders (verse 4a), including the wonder of creation (verse 5-9). This God preformed wonders as he delivered his people from slavery in Egypt and gave them the Promised Land (verses 10-24). But this God also does a wonder in ‘giving food to every creature’ (verse 25a), therefore we are to give thanks to the God of heaven (verse 26a). Don’t forget to see the gracious hand of God in all his spectacular and seemingly ordinary ways!
I think that those Christians who spend all their time talking about miracles, can have the same problem as those Christians who are sceptical of any claim of God’s miraculous activity—their God is too small! We need to see God in all his everyday acts, and also not doubt God when he acts in very unusual ways.