Do Miracles Happen Today?

By David Feddes

I was asleep in bed when the telephone rang and woke me up. I opened my eyes and looked at the clock. It was 5 o’clock in the morning. Oh, oh. If someone was calling at such an early hour, something must be wrong. The voice on the phone was a doctor friend who is also a church elder. He was calling from a nearby hospital: “You’d better come right away. Things don’t look good for John.” My heart sank. The night before, John had been feeling awful and had gone to the hospital emergency room. I had been informed of this, but I hadn’t realized his life was on the line. John was a big, strong man in his forties, with a wife and a teenage son and daughter. The doctor’s voice continued, “John had to go on life support last night, and the ventilator is breathing for him. It’s not clear what’s wrong, but his body seems to be shutting down, and nothing seems to help. The kids were called in during the night, and we’d like you to come too.”

I got up and hurried to the hospital. I drove my car with a sense of dread. John’s wife met me in the hall. We embraced, and through her tears she told me of his deadly danger and how she couldn’t bear to lose him. Then the family, the doctor-elder, and I went into the unit where John lay prone on a bed, attached to various tubes. Together we prayed and begged the Lord to spare John’s life and make him well. After we prayed, my sense of dread lifted considerably, and from somewhere inside me came the thought, “He’s going to be all right.”

That’s not what the doctors were saying, though. And even after we prayed, nothing much happened. John didn’t move. As the hours passed, others from our church came to the hospital. We prayed and prayed. But John just lay there. His kidneys were failing. He couldn’t breathe on his own. The medical team didn’t know the cause, let alone the cure. They did what they could to keep him alive and gave various treatments in the hope that something would help. One specialist after another spoke grimly. After one especially bleak report, John’s wife said, “If John makes it through this, we know who gets all the glory.”

John did make it. And God did get all the glory.

Throughout that day, John hovered between life and death, his condition so fragile that the doctors would not even transfer him from the emergency area to the intensive care unit. They feared that the slightest move would be fatal. John survived the day and made it through the night. The dawn of the next day was the dawn of joy. John’s condition improved remarkably. He was able to breathe on his own. He awoke and was able to talk. By evening he was able to eat. Faces lit up. Friends and family were smiling and joking. A few days later John left the hospital. Not long after, John was back in church. How our congregation praised God that Sunday!

God answers prayer. It was not just good medical care that saved my friend’s life. It was the healing hand of God. The Lord took a situation that seemed hopeless, and God gave life and health. So if you ask me, “Do miracles happen today?” I could say, “Yes, of course miracles happen. I’ve seen them.”

Still, the healing I’ve just described is not like the miracles in the Bible. I would be the last person to detract from that marvelous healing or to deny God glory for what he did. It was an amazing, joy-inspiring answer to many urgent prayers. But the way God provided the healing was not exactly like the miracles described in the Bible.

Immediate Healing

When Jesus did miracles, the healings were immediate, without delay, without medical treatment, without a process of gradual improvement. In miracle after miracle, the Bible uses the word immediately to describe the result.

A man with leprosy begged Jesus to heal him. “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man [and] said, ‘Be clean.’ Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured” (Mark 1:41-42). One moment the flesh was rotten; the next it was healthy.

Some men carried a paraplegic friend on a mat to Jesus. “He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat, and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God” (Luke 5:24-25). One moment his legs had no strength or feeling; the next he was walking and dancing for joy. No surgery, no physical therapy, just a command from Jesus and instant health.

A woman was subject to bleeding for twelve years. She spent all her money on doctors but kept getting worse.

When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch the hem of his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. (Mark 5:27-29)

A twelve-year-old girl died. Jesus went into the room where her body was lying and said, “Little girl, get up.” “Immediately the girl stood up and walked around” (Mark 5:42). It took only an instant for a corpse to become an active girl.

A woman was bent over, unable to stand straight. Jesus said to her, “‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’ Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God” (Luke 13:11-13).

A blind man said, “‘Lord, I want to see.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God” (Luke 18:42-43). One moment, darkness; the next, 20/20 vision. Instant, total healing with no medical help.

Do you see the difference between those biblical miracles of Jesus and the healing of my friend John? When a group of us prayed over John and laid our hands on him, he didn’t even move. Hours passed before he began to improve. Meanwhile, medical teams were doing their best. Our prayers worked in partnership with medical help, not apart from it. When John did begin to recover, the speed of his progress amazed the doctors, but he did not recover in an instant. It took some time. Jesus, on the other hand, healed people immediately, without any delay. Jesus’ miracles happened through a word or a touch, without any medical help. Each healing was complete, not partial or gradual.

Setting Expectations

Do miracles of that sort still happen today? We’re not asking if God still answers prayer—he does. We’re not asking if God still takes apparently hopeless situations and makes them turn out amazingly well—he does, and we should praise and thank him every time that happens. What we’re asking is whether God might do today the kind of miracles he did through Jesus: instantaneous, complete healings apart from ordinary processes.

If we use the word miracle somewhat loosely, then any answer to prayer could be called a miracle. But what about miracles that go beyond being delightful answers to prayer and are direct, supernatural demonstrations of God’s power? Should we keep our minds open to the possibility that such things might happen in our own time? Should we go even farther and not only allow for the possibility but expect with certainty that a miracle must happen any time we pray with enough faith?

This is not just an abstract question for scholars to debate. It is urgent and practical. If someone is paralyzed in an accident, should she try to accept her condition, or should she first ask God to do a miracle? And if she does ask for a miracle, should she expect God to heal her paralysis on the spot? Would it wrong for her to think that God might not do the miracle she prays for? Would it be lack of faith for her to expect anything less?

The consequences of an error in either direction would be serious. If she expects too little, she might miss out on a miracle and a healthy body that could have been hers. But if she expects too much, if she looks for a miracle where none is promised, then she may either blame God for not coming through or she may blame herself for not having enough faith to make the miracle happen.

This is also an urgent question for pastors, teachers, parents, and all who lead others. When we read about biblical miracles, what should pastors tell hearers? What should parents tell children? Should we just use the stories to illustrate doctrinal truths or moral insights, while sending a clear message that we should not expect such miracles today? That might be the best approach if we’re sure that God never does such miracles in our own time. But if such miracles could in fact still happen, wouldn’t pastors and parents be robbing God of glory and shortchanging people of blessings that might become theirs if only they sought them?

On the other hand, if miracles never happen anymore, then it would be misleading and cruel to urge people, including children, to seek miracles. It can be devastating for people, especially for children, to get their hopes up, only to have them shattered. If miracles never happen, it would be best just to say so and help people cope with their condition and have reasonable expectations, rather than leading them down a trail of false hopes.

Do miracles happen today? In studying the Bible, I don’t find anything in Scripture which says miracles couldn’t still happen. At the same time, I don’t find any guarantee that miracles must happen in every era and for every person who has enough faith. Miracles are very special acts of God, and God is not bound by any human idea of what he cannot do or what he must do. If God wants to make a paralyzed person walk or heal someone of blindness or even raise someone from the dead, he can do so. On the other hand, God is free not to do a miracle if that is what his wisdom decides, no matter how earnestly people of faith pray for a miracle.

I believe that miracles can happen today—but only when God chooses. We can’t make miracles happen by how much we want one or by how strongly we make ourselves believe it. Miracles today are not impossible, but neither are miracles guaranteed in every situation.

Desiring Miracles

Some Bible-believing people think we should not desire or expect miracles today of the sort described in the Bible. They believe that the biblical miracles really did happen; they’re not like secular skeptics who deny that miracles are ever possible. These earnest Christians don’t deny the supernatural signs and wonders recorded in the Bible; they just deny that such things could happen in our own time. They think those things were meant for a particular time and purpose. Miracles were signs to validate the message of the prophets and apostles and to demonstrate that Jesus is God as well as man. But now that Jesus has revealed God in human form and done everything necessary for our salvation, and now that God’s written revelation in the Bible is complete, there is no further purpose for signs and wonders.

Some of the wisest and godliest teachers of the Christian church have held this view, so let’s not dismiss it too quickly or fail to note what is good in it. This approach is right to emphasize the uniqueness of Jesus, the special status of the prophets and apostles whom God used to lay the foundations of the church, and the completeness of the biblical revelation. It’s wise not to be too impressed by every person who claims to be a miracle worker, especially those who use miracles for publicity and fundraising. Also, it’s wise not to believe any supposedly miraculous “word of knowledge” which goes against the Bible or claims to add something to the Bible. People who believe that miracles ceased when the Bible was completed are right about many things, but they may still be wrong to rule out any miracles in our own time. They may be shortchanging the freedom and power of God.

In the New Testament, Jesus and the twelve apostles were not the only ones who did miracles. They had powers beyond everyone else, in keeping with their foundational place in God’s plan, but some other Christians also did miracles. Once Jesus appointed 72 people and sent them out two by two with orders to heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God (Luke 10:9). After Jesus died and rose and returned to heaven, miracles continued by the power of the Holy Spirit. “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people” (Acts 5:12), including some amazing healings and even a few resurrections from the dead (Acts 9:40; 20:10), but the apostles weren’t the only ones to do miracles. Stephen was not one of the twelve apostles, but he was “a man full of God’s grace and power [and] did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). Philip was not an apostle but did “miraculous signs” (Acts 8:7-8). God worked miracles among the Galatian Christians (Galatians 3:5). The Bible itself shows that miracles were not restricted to Jesus, the apostles, and biblical writers. Church bodies included “workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing” (1 Corinthians 12:28).

God does not say that he limits miracles and healings only to Bible times. The God who did miracles back then is still the same God today. Even if there haven’t been many miracles in your own place and time, that is no proof that miracles can’t happen. Indeed, remembering miracles of long ago may awaken fresh hope for new miracles and demonstrations of God’s power.

A man named Asaph was living through a hard time in Israel’s history when he wrote Psalm 77. At times it seemed as though God had given up on his people. Their situation looked hopeless. How did Asaph respond? First, he looked back in history and said, “I will remember your miracles of long ago” (Psalm 77:11). Then he reminded himself that the very same God who did those miracles was still alive and well. “What god is so great as our God?” he marveled. “You are the God who performs miracles” (Psalm 77:14). Asaph didn’t just believe in a God who performed miracles long ago but in the God who performs miracles any time he chooses.

The Bible says, “Eagerly desire spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 14:1). Miracles and healings are among the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so shouldn’t we earnestly desire them instead of trying to explain away the very possibility of miracles in our time? Miracles and healings aren’t the only gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Scripture—there are others, and some rank higher—but miracles and healings are still possible and highly desirable. Let’s not stifle our desire to see God’s mighty acts. Instead, let’s appeal to the Lord and say, “You are the God who performs miracles” (Psalm 77:14). Like the early church, let’s pray, “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:30).

Accepting God’s Will

Some Christians not only desire miracles and think they’re possible, but they think a miracle must happen every time a person believes strongly enough. They think that God guarantees miracles to anyone who is on the right track spiritually, and the only thing that can prevent a miracle is lack of faith. If your church isn’t bursting with miracles, something is wrong. If you have an illness and don’t get healed, you or someone close to you must not have enough faith or must be hiding a secret sin that prevents you from receiving the miracle God would otherwise give you.

I appreciate the emphasis on God’s power and on the fact that he is alive and active right now. I appreciate the call to be stronger in faith and to expect great things from God. But too many people, in their zeal for miracles, have gone to extremes that are unbiblical and harmful.

A man had cancer. He and his loved ones believed in miracles. Even when treatments failed, they kept praying for God to do a miracle of healing. The miracle didn’t happen. The man got sicker. Finally he died. He went to his grave blaming himself. The fact that he didn’t get the miracle must mean he didn’t have enough faith. The man’s daughter became distressed to the point of mental illness. At first she blamed herself for blocking God’s healing power. She didn’t know of a particular sin, and she had believed her hardest in a miracle, but if her dad died, it must mean somebody was out of tune with God, and she figured it must be her.

I’ve known paralyzed people whose relatives were fanatics for miracles. These paralyzed people were godly and prayed for healing in faith that God could do it. But God allowed them to remain paralyzed, so they accepted it as God’s will. They figured that the ultimate healing would come only when Jesus returned and gave them their perfect resurrection bodies. I think they were right. There is a time to pray for a miracle, and there is a time to take no for an answer and make the most of the condition God has placed you in. But these people had relatives who insisted that they could still walk again if only they would have enough faith. These relatives kept nagging them to believe harder or to chase after various faith healers. This is wrong, and it is cruel.

The Bible does not guarantee a miracle for everyone with enough faith. The Bible does not guarantee immediate healing for everyone who is in tune with God. Even people who have miracle-working power at certain times may not be able to do a miracle at another time. Consider the apostle Paul. Scripture says, “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul” (Acts 19:11). Paul healed people of illness, made cripples walk again, and even resurrected a young man who was killed in a fall from a window (Acts 20:9-10). But Paul had a problem of his own when he preached in Galatia, and he couldn’t heal himself (Galatians 4:13-14). Paul had an affliction which he called “a thorn in my flesh.” Three times he asked God to take it away, but God didn’t. God gave him grace to cope with it, but he did not get rid of it (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

Paul’s friend and fellow pastor, Timothy, had stomach problems and frequent illnesses that were not healed by any miracle (1 Timothy 5:23). Paul’s friend Epaphroditus nearly died of an illness, and his recovery came only gradually, not by a miracle (Phil. 2:26-27). When Paul was traveling, he had to leave his colleague Trophimus behind due to illness (2 Tim. 4:20). It’s clear from all this that sometimes God did miracles for Paul, and sometimes he didn’t. And when God didn’t, it was not because of Paul’s lack of faith or failure to pray, but simply because of God’s choice. We may believe that God still does miracles today, but let’s not think miracles are automatic for anyone of great faith.

Let’s also not confuse great faith with psyching ourselves into feeling sure that what we want is going to happen. Sports psychologists teach athletes to believe in themselves and to visualize themselves succeeding. A basketball player must picture himself over and over making the game-winning shot. A gymnast must picture herself again and again performing a flawless routine and sticking a perfect landing. These mind tricks can make athletes more successful by avoiding the problems that come from nerves and lack of confidence. But such visualization and self-psyching is not faith. Faith is trusting God to do what is best. Faith is being sure of God’s power and wisdom. If God gives a sense of certainty that a particular miracle is about to happen, that faith will be fulfilled. But faith is not a mind trick. Faith is not pumping up your own level of certainty that God is going to fulfill your wishful thinking if only you wish hard enough and believe firmly enough.

A time is coming when all tears will be wiped away and all hurts will be healed. Until then, God gives some wonderful healings through gradual means, and he may even do astonishing miracles that give a foretaste of the final healing. But we are not yet living in heaven on earth. True faith is convinced of the final outcome, even when it’s not always sure of the immediate result. True faith trusts in God’s will, even when it’s not always sure what God’s will is going to be.

For a healthy walk with God and a balanced attitude toward miracles, we should avoid setting our expectations below what God opens up to us, and we should also avoid presuming that God has to do miracles on demand if we feel strongly enough about it. True faith is confidence that God can do anything he chooses, and willingness to accept whatever he chooses. If we’ve been expecting too little, we must say to the Lord what the apostles once said: “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). If we think that God must do any miracle we want to spare us from pain, we must pray as Jesus once prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.