The Ark

When does a coincidence become a miracle?”

Wed May 17th, 2017

When we pray, some people want to write-off an answer as coincidence, but when is it just a coincidence and when is it a miracle? I would suggest that your attitude and openness to God plays a part in the answer.

Archbishop William Temple replied to his critics who regarded answered prayer as no more than coincidence, “When I pray, coincidences happen; when I don’t, they don’t.”

The fact is that we can pray for someone who is seriously ill who may have only a 10% chance of survival. If they survive it may be that they were just ‘lucky’ enough to be in the 10% who survive anyway.

Is it worth praying?

Firstly, there are different views of God, or ‘theologies’, most of which recognise that God listens to every prayer and that prayer can change his mind. The Bible doesn’t teach that God is personally responsible for everything that happens (although one theology, that of ‘determinism’, would tell you so). When we pray, we are often therefore not involved in changing God’s mind, but solely asking him to change the circumstances of individuals. For example, Betty might have a cancer diagnosis and want to get better, so we pray to God for her healing. If Betty recovers, then we should be grateful to God that he has answered our prayer. Mark tells us that we should always believe that God will answer our prayers:

Mark 11:24 Therefore, I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for—believe that you have received them, and you will have them.

When we pray therefore, we should always be looking for and expecting the answer.

If we believe it is just down to luck, then we should at least remember William Temples words and realise that our ‘luck’ changes when we pray. In fact it isn’t that we are lucky people, but rather that we are ‘blessed’ people. God shows us His grace and kindness and this results in the changes we pray for.

Mark 11: 25 And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing. HCSB

What if we pray and nothing happens?

The truth is that we pray for some things and for some people and we see no change. Firstly, I am going to appeal to the element of mystery here and say that we may not be fully aware of what has changed and just because we haven’t seen something it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. I remember praying desperately for a man to find Jesus as he was dying. I visited him and prayed for him but at no time did I see any change in him or interest in God. After his death, his wife came to see me with gratitude in her heart for the many visits and discussions I had with him. She explained to me that in the last few days as he began to slip in and out of consciousness that he told her that he had asked Jesus to save him and was confident that he now knew his wife’s saviour and could go in peace. I had not seen any of that. But his wife knew it had happened. God had answered prayer!

However, sometimes it really looks like there was no answer!

Jesus told us when we pray to say these words “Your kingdom come, your will be done” (Matt 6:10). Jesus declared the message himself that ‘the kingdom of God has come’ (Mark 1:15) and he told his disciples to go out with the same message (Luke 9:2 & 10:9).

Heal the sick who are there, and tell them, 'The kingdom of God has come near you.' Luke 10: 9 HCSB

Jesus also made it clear that when miracles were happening around Him this was the evidence that the Kingdom of God was coming (Luke 11:20).

There is an onus on us to pray the kingdom of God into our reality. Theologians remind us that the kingdom of God is not fully realised, and John tells us of a future time when:

The kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come Rev 12:10 NKJV

Today we live in a kingdom that is not-yet, but one that Jesus tells us to pray for its realisation. Therefore, we should pray for healings and miracles and expect them too, but we live in the reality that not in every situation does the kingdom of God come!

I don’t believe that we should blame anyone when we don’t see the kingdom come – we must not play the blame game – but we keep on praying that on the next occasion we see the kingdom of God manifested in the area that we are praying for.

Pure luck!

So, when is a miracle pure luck, when is the result of our praying just coincidence?

When a doctor says, ‘your recovery was 1 in a million’, it was either remarkably good luck or the effective praying of those who loved you. Can you prove it was God with odds of one in a million? If not how low do the odds have to be? I would suggest that if you don’t believe in the effectiveness of prayer it doesn’t matter how low the odds are, you will always chalk it down to coincidence.

However, the survival rate of 1 in 2 can be a miracle if you prayed for it! Recovery in a week when normally it takes two or three is an answer to prayer if you asked for it! In my experience, you cannot prove that miracles happen to someone who doesn’t believe in them; in fact, trying to convince them is a waste of time. First of all, you need to introduce them to the Jesus that makes these miracles happen.

The reality is that if someone recovers with the help of the medical profession it is still an answer to prayer and we thank God for Doctors and Nurses for their great skill and help.

Twenty-five years ago, I was dramatically healed in a church meeting in front of everyone, of my chronic short-sightedness. Previously, I couldn’t even make it to the toilet without my spectacles but that night I drove home 23 miles in the dark without them. For twenty years my vision was perfect, until I found that I needed help with the small print in footnotes of academic books. Now with a reading prescription of +0.75 in both eyes, I need my glasses maybe a couple of times a month when reading (although I don’t need them at all for normal sized print). That means that I have become slightly long-sighted with age – all this has done has re-enforced the magnitude of the original miracle!

Some miracles that happen ‘on demand’ are hard to explain away, but even so, those adamantly committed to unbelief will do so.

For those of us who do believe we should be aware of those who are prone to exaggeration and also to those who bring the church into great disrepute by their outright deception. Note every claimed miracle is a real miracle!

As Christians though, let us err on the side of acceptance, because our God is Spirit, but also one who is very physically involved in our existence and when we ask for the kingdom to come He wants to oblige.