« Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. » Hebrews 11:1
I was interviewed on a well known television show and was asked by the host “What is the secret to accessing the miraculous?” My first thought was, “I wish I had 30 minutes to talk about this instead of 30 seconds.” The reason is that I know that many people will dismiss my simple and un-convoluted answer as a corny spiritual cliché.
“The secret”, I told him, “is that there is no secret.” Or at least, it shouldn’t be a secret. The key to accessing the miraculous power of God is the simplest and most basic belief of Christianity. It is what brings us into the kingdom of God, justifies us before God and allows us to please God in the first place.
The key to accessing the miraculous is simply faith in the finished work of the cross. I know no other secret and I challenge anyone to point to anything in Scripture that gives us any other key to accessing the miraculous power of God besides faith.
Remember when the lame man at the Beautiful Gate was healed? Peter said to the crowd of amazed spectators that gathered, “Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.” (Acts 3:12 and 16)
The greatest spiritual discoveries are really simple and basic truths. It is as if everyone were searching for a tip, a trick or a new revelation. The new books keep piling up. Training centres are springing up everywhere. Teachers are a two a penny. Yet it seems that the more we learn about the miraculous the less we experience it.
Perhaps what we really need is to unlearn most of what we have learned – to strip it all back to the utter simplicity of God’s word. I am talking about a simplicity that is so elementary that it is offensive, an insult to our intelligence.
In ancient times writing materials were often difficult to come by. For this reason parchments were often re-used for different purposes. A scribe or an author would simply scrape or scrub out the original text that was inscribed on the parchment and write something else over the top of it.
Believe it or not, incalculably priceless New Testament manuscripts were sometimes recycled in this way, much to the chagrin of anyone who recognised their real value. These came to be known as “palimpsest” manuscripts (from a Greek word meaning “scraped again”). Scholars have gone to a great deal of trouble to transcribe the underlying text of these palimpsest manuscripts using keen eyesight, chemical reagents and, more recently, computer technology.
Perhaps the most famous palimpsest manuscript is known as the Ephraim Codex. It is so called because at some point around AD 1,200 someone copied 38 sermons by the 4th century theologian, Ephraim of Syria, over the top of much of the biblical text! Thanks to the German Bible scholar Tischendorf, who first deciphered the manuscript, the Ephraim Codex is today among the most significant biblical manuscripts in existence.
I am sure the scribe who superimposed Ephraim of Syria’s sermons over the top of the biblical text thought he was doing something important. If he had only understood that the real treasure was the original text underneath! To reach the treasure, great pains were taken to peel back the layers of overlaid commentary to reveal the simplicity and the power of God’s word.
If there is a secret to accessing the miraculous power of God, it is a secret because it has been obscured by the commentaries of a thousand teachers, each one adding to the infinite list of prerequisites, regulations and procedures that are now being taught as necessary. If we can only forget all that and strip it all back to the basics, we would discover the secret has been there all along: “Only Believe”. My friend, if you are searching for the secret, I can tell you already – when you discover the secret, you will discover that the secret is really no secret at all.
Several years ago I ministered at a remarkable event. I had just finished preaching my heart out and it was time to pray for the sick. Little did I know, I was about to learn a new lesson in the subject I had just preached about – faith. Fired up by my own sermon and brimming with confidence, I stepped off the platform and began laying hands on the sick who were sitting right in the front. I approached a severely crippled man in a motorised wheelchair. His hands and legs were twisted, shrivelled and lame. I turned to the ushers who were flanking me and said, “Lift him out of the wheelchair!” and I continued down the prayer line.
I am not sure what caused the misunderstanding that took place next. Perhaps it was the language barrier – we were in Hong Kong. Perhaps it was the noise – it was a very noisy meeting at a huge venue. I am not sure. All I know is that after I had laid my hands on the last person in the front row, I turned back towards the stage and now that man in the wheelchair was sitting right in the centre of the stage in front of over 5,000 people! Apparently, when I told the ushers to lift him out of the wheelchair, they thought I had told them to lift the wheelchair onto the platform.
Now, it is one thing to pray for a person on the front row but it is another to pray for them while 5,000 people are watching every move. My legs felt a little wobbly, my palms began to sweat and my heart rate went up.
All that faith that I thought I had was suddenly missing. I am sure you want to know what happened next. I have to warn you – this is not what you were hoping for. I prayed for the man and nothing happened. No healing. No miracle. No manifestation. Nothing.
I want to be very honest with you. Sometimes the most important lessons are not learned on the mountaintops but down in the valleys. I want you to understand something about faith that is very valuable and if you will receive what I am telling you now, it can set you free.
After I prayed for that crippled brother and he was not healed, I have to admit that I felt humiliated, embarrassed, ashamed and depressed. I think that I actually felt worse for myself than for the crippled man! In that moment, the Holy Spirit shone a light on my own heart and I saw something I had never been aware of before. I suddenly realised that I had hitched my reputation and ego to the train of God’s glory. If he did a miracle, I felt gratified. If he did not do a miracle, I felt humiliated – as though I had some stake in his wonders.
In my view, this is the most common mistake that people make when expecting miracles to happen. Miracles are not about us. Miracles are all about Jesus! People are amazed to see the miracles that happen at our campaigns but I truly believe that I could stand my seven-year-old son on the platform in my place and if he prayed in faith in the name of Jesus, he would also see mighty miracles. Miracles are the easiest part of my job because I do not perform them!
Most people reading this text will never have to pray for someone on a platform with 5,000 people looking on but many have the same fear and it has often kept you from stepping out in faith. “What if I pray for someone and nothing happens?” is the question.
Years ago I asked Evangelist Bonnke that same question, “What if I pray for someone and nothing happens?” This was his answer, “If you have to pray for 100 people in a prayer line and the first 99 don’t get healed, pray for the 100th one as if everyone before him had been healed!” My friend – that is faith! It is unmoved by what the eyes see. It rests on the promises and power of God.
Someone once said to me, “Faith is spelt R-I-S-K.” I know what they meant by that and there is certainly truth in it. But I would like to express it differently. I say faith is spelt R-E-S-T. Or perhaps to put it a better way, T-R-U-S-T.
If you are always afraid of what will happen if you pray for someone and they are not healed, you will soon stop praying for people. Faith and fear are at opposite ends of the spectrum and fear is bondage (Hebrews 2:15). Fear enters in where there is a feeling of personal risk. So if you are afraid of what will happen if you pray for someone and they are not healed, it is a good indication that you may have claimed personal ownership of something that does not belong to you in the first place – God’s glory.
Until you are able to rest in the finished work of the cross, you do not understand faith. Until you are able to be unmoved by what you see, you do not understand faith. Until you have unhitched your reputation from the train of God’s glory, you do not understand faith. Until you understand that it is not about you, you do not understand faith.
I do not claim to know all there is to know about faith. In fact, the longer I am enrolled in the School of the Holy Spirit, the less I know. But there is one thing I am sure of – once I had unhitched my ego from the train of God’s glory, I experienced a freedom that I had never known before. Now I could pray for the sick without feeling any pressure or anxiety. If they were healed it was not my doing and if they were not healed it still was not my doing. I relinquished both the credit and the blame. What was important for me to do was simply to obey and to believe and the rest was his responsibility. Do you know what I discovered? I discovered that faith is rest! What a liberating truth!
The more we try to make miracles happen the less we will see them. The more afraid we are of what might not happen, the less we will pray, obey and believe. The more we rest in faith and move forward in obedience, the more we will experience the miraculous. Our job is not to be the saviour, the healer, the wonder worker or the deliverer. Our job is to lay our hands on the sick, to pray for them in Jesus name and to believe God’s word no matter what. The rest is up to God.
So, in answer to the question “What if I pray and nothing happens?”, here is my advice: