By Irvin Himmel
Jesus Christ worked miracles, wonders, and signs, thereby demonstrating that He was approved of God (Acts 2:22). The apostles of our Lord were endowed with miraculous powers to confirm their teaching (Mk. 16:17-20). Many baptized believers received supernatural gifts through the laying on of hands by the apostles (Acts 8:15-17; 19:5,6). Paul taught that these gifts would cease with the coming of “that which is perfect,” namely, the completion of God’s revelation (1 Cor. 13:10).
Having the perfect revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures, twentieth-century Christians have no reason to expect miracles or supernatural gifts. This poses a question about prayer: Why should I pray in an age of no miracles?
The answer to this problem is simple. God can answer our prayers without working miracles. It is not necessary that natural law be set aside or suspended, and divine law revealed in the Bible does not need to be by-passed, in order for our prayers to avail.
In Bible times when miracles were being performed, prayers often were answered without miraculous means.
David’s Prayer Concerning Ahithophel
Absalom’s rebellion prompted David to flee Jerusalem. The conspiracy against David was strong. Two hundred men from Jerusalem had rallied to Absalom at Hebron. Among the defectors was Ahithophel, David’s counselor. As more and more people turned their loyalty to Absalom, it was not regarded as safe for the king to remain in Jerusalem.
As David and his household and all the people with him made their way up the mount of Olives, they had their heads covered and were weeping. It was a sad day. Someone told David that Ahithophel was among the conspirators. David said, “O Lord, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness” (2 Sam. 15:31).
God answered that prayer by providing a man who could offset Ahithophel’s advice. No miracle was necessary. When David reached the top of the mount, he worshiped God. An old friend, Hushai the Archite, met David and offered his services. The king urged him to return to Jerusalem and make himself available to Absalom. David realized that Hushai might well be the answer to his prayer.
twelve thousand men and pursue David immediately, Hushai urged him to wait. His counsel was that more men would be needed, and Absalom should lead the fight in person. “And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” The same verse (2 Sam. 17:14) explains that “the Lord had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the Lord might bring evil upon Absalom.”
Ahithophel went home, put his house in order, and hanged himself (2 Sam. 17:23).
God answered David’s prayer in a providential manner, but no miracle was wrought to overthrow Ahithophel’s counsel.
Elijah’s Prayer For Rain
The prophet Elijah prayed that it might not rain, and it rained not on the earth for the space of three years and six months.” The land of Israel suffered an awful drought. “And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit” (Jas. 5:17, 18).
Elijah’s prayer for rain brought a cloud and a rainstorm (1 Kgs. 18:42-45). On top of Carmel he “cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees.” He commanded his servant to go and look toward the sea. The servant saw nothing. This was done seven times. At the seventh time, the servant said, “Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand.” That is how a cloud looks when it is far distant. Soon the heaven was black with clouds and there was wind and rain.
In his famous sermon on “Prayer: Its Efficacy,” J.W. McGarvey points to God’s use of the laws that govern weather to answer Elijah’s prayer:
How did the rain come? If it had come without the cloud, that would have been a miracle. If it had come, from over the desert, that would have been a miracle. How did it come? The clouds came up from the sea, as every rain cloud does, The wind blew it eastward, and when it came in contact with cooler volumes of air, its vapor was condensed, and the rain fell. It came just as any other rain comes. It came in answer to prayer (McGarvey’s Sermons, pp. 322-323).
Hezekiah’s Prayer During Sickness
A contemporary of Isaiah, Hezekiah was one of Judah’s good kings. He became “sick unto death.” Later, when Ahithophel advised Absalom to send out Isaiah told him, “Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.” The king then turned his face to the wall and prayed to God, and he wept sore
Before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court, the Lord told him to go back and tell Hezekiah, “I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up into the house of the Lord.” Furthermore, God promised to add fifteen years to the king’s span of life.
Isaiah instructed, “Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered” (2 Kgs. 20:1-7).
There is no doubting that God could have healed Hezekiah miraculously, but the evidence is that God blessed the natural means used in this case. God could have healed him immediately so that he could go up into the house of the Lord that very day. But this is not what took place. He did not go until the third day.
Adam Clarke says the poultice of figs “was the natural means which God chose to bless to the recovery of Hezekiah’s health.” God can heal today by making our bodies responsive to medical treatment, or by enabling our bodies to throw off disease. A prayer for the sick does not mean that one is asking for a miracle.
Nehemiah’s Prayer Concerning The Wall Of Jerusalem
Some of the Jews had been back in their homeland for nearly a century when word came to Nehemiah at Shushan in Persia that the wall of Jerusalem was yet in ruins. This distressed Nehemiah. He prayed fervently that he might be granted mercy in the sight of the king (Neh. 1).
God granted Nehemiah’s petition He could have done it by miracle. He could have miraculously rebuilt the wall, or provided supplies in some supernatural way. But God did it without miraculous means. The Persian king took note of Nehemiah’s sad countenance. This gave opportunity for explanation. Nehemiah asked for permission to go to Jerusalem long enough to build the wall. “And the king granted me,” he said, “according to the good hand of my God upon me” (Neh. 2:1-8). Furthermore, the king was disposed to lend assistance. It is another case of prayer and providence.
“Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”
Jesus taught the disciples so to pray (Matt. 6:11). How is such a prayer granted? God could work a miracle as He fed the Israelites with manna in the wilderness if that were His will. But when we pray for our daily bread we do not expect God to send ready-prepared food from heaven and set it on our table.
The work condition is understood (2 Thess. 3:10). But someone may ask, “If I work for my bread, why pray for it?” We should pray that God will bless our efforts and make our work fruitful. “. . . The world shortly before harvest is only a few weeks from starvation; and, however faithful a man may be in toil and planting, a million changes intricately interwoven rule and threaten his daily bread” (Geo. A. Buttrick, Prayer, p. 71).
The cases which we have studied show that God can utilize natural laws and manipulate in human affairs to provide according to His will. Prayer is not limited to an age of miracles. God’s response to prayer is not limited to miracle working.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 15, pp. 462-463
August 1, 1985