How and why to pray for miracles

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How and why to pray for miracles

April 20, 2023 -

Hands clasped in front of him with his elbows on a wooden table, a man earnestly prays. © By BillionPhotos.com/stock.adobe.com

Hands clasped in front of him with his elbows on a wooden table, a man earnestly prays. © By BillionPhotos.com/stock.adobe.com

Hands clasped in front of him with his elbows on a wooden table, a man earnestly prays. © By BillionPhotos.com/stock.adobe.com

Dr. Gary Cook was elected president of Dallas Baptist University in April 1988 at the age of thirty-seven. The school was in dire financial straits. Many wondered if it would survive another year.

Dr. Cook is one of the most committed believers I have ever met. His prayer life is foundational to all he does, so he began his leadership at DBU by instituting a prayer ministry. He asked people all over Texas to pray for the school to survive and thrive.

Then, one day in his personal Bible study, as he was praying about ways to solve DBU’s financial crisis, he came upon this text: “Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham his father, which the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham” (Genesis 26:18).

The Holy Spirit used this event to prompt in Dr. Cook’s mind the strategy of approaching donors who had given to DBU in years past but had stopped due to the school’s recent challenges.

He followed the Spirit’s leading, asking longtime donors to help save the school they had supported in the past and explaining that without their help the university in which they had invested might not survive.

This strategy saved the school.

It has ended every year in the black since Dr. Cook began there. Over the twenty-eight years of his presidency, student enrollment quadrupled, graduate enrollment grew tenfold, net assets grew eightfold, and the campus expanded by 50 percent. Texas Baptists refer to this as the “miracle of DBU.”

Dr. Cook is now chancellor of the school and was recently awarded an honorary doctorate by the university. He is one of my dearest friends; I have served on the DBU board, taught in its doctoral program, and spoken often on campus, so I attended the chapel. Dr. Cook told the students the story I just told and encouraged them to believe in the power of prayer. He invited them to pray for miracles, asking God to do what only God can do.

He told them that the university they attend is proof that God is still omnipotent.

He was right.

“You do not have because you do not ask”

We live in a day when we need the power of God on every front. From a looming recession to pandemic threats, violence in our cities, escalating suicide rates and drug and alcohol addictions, and deep partisan divides, our nation needs a great movement of God’s Spirit.

You and I should take these facts personally. Jesus taught us that we are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13, 14). This means that there is no other salt or light but God’s people. If the world lacks the purification of salt or the illumination of light, we are not doing our jobs.

Our first responsibility in seeking the spiritual movement we need is to pray for the spiritual movement we need: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). “Pray” comes first.

Conversely, Scripture warns us, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2).

All Jesus did in his body, he is ready to do in our bodies. Pope St. Leo the Great observed: “As we have died with him, and have been buried and raised to live with him, so we bear him within us, both in body and in spirit, in everything we do.”

“The power of prayer and the prayer of power”

Is there a biblical template for praying for miracles?

In Acts 12 we read: “About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (vv. 1–5).

In his classic book, The Power of Prayer and the Prayer of Power, R. A. Torrey unpacks verse 5 this way.

  1. The early Christians prayed passionately with “earnest” prayer.
  2. They prayed specifically “for him.”
  3. They prayed continually: their prayer “was made to God.”
  4. They prayed collectively: such intercession was offered “by the church.”

As a result, God sent his angel to free Peter from prison and enable his continued ministry. He went on to defend the conversion of the Gentiles and their inclusion in the church (Acts 15:6–11) and to preach in the regions of Pontius and Bithynia (cf. 1 Peter 1:1; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.1.2). He eventually became pastor of the church in Rome (1 Peter 5:13) and wrote two New Testament epistles from that central place of ministry.

Early tradition states that he was martyred for his faith (1 Clement 5.4; Tacitus, Annals 15.44). He was made to watch his wife’s execution first (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.30.2), then his crucifixion followed. According to Eusebius, “He was crucified head-downwards, for he had requested that he might suffer in this way” (3.1.2). He told his executioners, “I am not worthy to be crucified like my Lord,” so, “having reversed the cross, they nailed his feet up” (Acts of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, Ante-Nicene Fathers 8.484).

St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican stands over the place where Peter’s tomb is believed to be located. The Roman Catholic Church believes it discovered his actual remains during archaeological investigations in 1941.

“He is a literal miracle”

Why do you and your church need more of God than you are experiencing these days? Where do you need his help, healing, patience, strength, courage, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, or grace? Where do you need him to be God in your life?

Pray earnestly. Pray specifically. Pray continually. Ask someone else to pray with you. And remember: All of God there is, is in this moment.

I’ll close with this example: Sammy Berko, a teenage boy from Missouri City, outside of Houston, went to a rock climbing gym recently where he suffered a cardiac arrest. Paramedics and doctors administered CPR for two hours, then told his mother, “He’s gone.” She and her husband sat with their son for a few minutes to say their goodbyes.

Then, as his mother later told reporters, “As I started praying, my husband said, ‘Oh, my gosh, he’s moving.’” The couple shouted for the medical team who raced back and began administering aid. Since Sammy was without oxygen for so long, doctors feared he would suffer from major brain injury, but he has so far experienced only short-term memory loss. He is undergoing physical therapy to regain strength in his legs and in response to a spinal injury.

A Houston doctor told a reporter, “We do see kids all the time here who have had CPR, but with very prolonged CPR, we typically see very severe global anoxic brain injury, so to me, he is a literal miracle.”

All that God has ever done, he can still do. This is the promise, and the invitation, of God.

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