Miraculous Answers to Prayer
by Pastor George Van Alstine

In some primitive religions, worshipers pray every day, in the early morning dark, that the sun will rise from its night-long sleep. Lo and behold, a faint light begins to appear in the east, then more light colors in the sky. The excited worshipers pray more enthusiastically. Finally, the sun itself peeks over the rim of the horizon. God has answered their prayers! As he has every morning for as long as the ancestors have been praying these early morning prayers.

Of course, we know that the sun rises because of the 24-hour revolution of the earth in its orbit. It’s a law of nature. The sun would rise whether or not the worshipers prayed. Really? How do we know that for sure? There has never been a morning, in anyone’s memory, when the worshipers from these religious groups have not prayed for the sun to rise. Maybe every new day is a direct answer to their prayers.

Modern humans know a lot about the laws by which the natural world functions. Christian believers accept the fact that God normally runs his universe – and our lives – through the regular operations of these laws. We depend on this, and we live our lives on the assumption that God will not break his own laws.

When we pray about a problem we’re facing, a sickness, an overdue bill, an unruly child, are we asking God to break his laws, or to work within his laws on our behalf? When we rejoice in answered prayer, are we thanking God that he has operated above the laws, or that he has brought our lives into harmony with those laws?

There are times when God seems to act without any reference to the laws of nature he created. We refer to such purely spiritual interventions of God into the physical realm as miracles. I believe events like these occur; in fact, Jesus himself performed* a few miracles that helped establish his divine origin. But I personally have never experienced or even been close to one of these.

In my experience, God answers prayer without overruling or disregarding the laws by which he normally runs his universe. The answer to prayer comes, not from changing the laws, but by fitting the one praying or the ones prayed for into those laws.

Here’s the most striking example in my life. In 1980, my wife Judy suddenly had pain so severe it drove her to the floor. It turned out to be caused by a stone that had developed in her gall bladder. In a routine surgery, the doctor removed the offending organ. Later that night, the lab report came back: there was extensive cancer in the removed gall bladder! Even more alarming, the cancer had gone through the organ wall where it was right up against the liver. The presumption was that it was already in the liver, and her prognosis for recovery was very poor.

You can be sure we prayed hard and often – you might say, continually.

The doctor recommended a second surgery as soon as possible. It was done about two weeks later. They removed the lobe of liver that had been next to the gall bladder, as well as several nearby lymph nodes. To the doctors’ surprise, lab reports showed absolutely no cancer in the tissues removed.

Over the next few weeks, Judy underwent some precautionary radiation treatments. It’s been thirty years since then, and there has been no cancer recurrence. Doctors at that time told us that there was no recorded case of anyone recovering from primary gall bladder cancer.

Was this an answer to prayer? For sure! Was it a miracle? Not in the sense of a purely spiritual intervention in the physical realm. Everything was scientifically observable and verifiable.

But think about this: A deadly cancer formed and grew in Judy’s gall bladder. Meanwhile, a gall stone had been developing for some time in the same small organ. These were totally separate diseases. Now comes what we have referred to as the miracle of timing. Just as the cancer goes through the gall bladder wall and is about attack her liver, the stone shifts its position and strikes a nerve that causes so much pain she has to be rushed to the hospital. The gall bladder is removed to get rid of the offending stone. Oh, by the way, that little bit of cancer tissue, which was causing no pain, was removed as well.

God doesn’t do this for all people in all circumstances. Judy believes that he did this in her body so that she could serve him and others in a new way. And since then, she’s lived her life as having a second chance from God.

God’s answers to our prayers always seem to give us more than we asked for. Maybe that’s the miracle.

(*Interesting choice of words. Do we think of miracles as performances?)