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How To Make A Coincidence Happen

Today Chad is a robust college graduate.  But shortly after his birth he was a dying baby.  "He will not make it through the night," his father sorrowfully informed me.  The same fatal problem as took the life of the third child of President John F. Kennedy, afflicted him.  It was something impossible involving the lungs and a hyaline membrane.  Quick reasoning concluded that if the Kennedy's failed to find a way to save their baby with all the resources available to the President of the United States, then certainly this infant entered life doomed.

That night I prayed, in a particularly urgent way, for this newborn baby's life.  Dozens of others also called out to God that night; the family and friends, the father's classmates at Calvin Seminary, church prayer teams near and far.

Early the next morning the telephone rang again.  I expected to hear the worst, that the infant had died as was inevitable. Instead, "He's a lot better.  He seems to be gaining strength," his father said excitedly, "It looks like he might make it."  And he did!  It was hard to believe.  Even the most positive pray-ers were incredulous.  A full and complete recovery followed.

The life-saving turn around stunned me.  Then the startling reality gradually receded.  Nevertheless as time passed I came to know, without doubt, that prayer had saved Chad's life.  There had been much prayer, sent by many people, but I also knew my own had effectively connected in a special way that helped save Chad. I just felt it in my heart.

For some unknown reasons the phenomenal healing did not change me into a world class prayer warrior.  The power of prayer was strongly impressed on me but almost with reverse effects, more like a high regard for the fire department - CALL ONLY IN EXTREME EMERGENCY.  Awed by the potential, my faithless instincts instructed me to ration such fervent requests lest the, no doubt, limited supply of God's favors be used up too early in life.  To this day I live as if I need to save a few of God's big IOUs for later urgencies, thereby imposing my personal spiritual poverty on the unlimited Creator.

Over the years anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of prayer has continued to pile up around me.  The stories range from the truly outrageous, like a car running for miles with an empty gas tank, to the surprising but believable recovery from illness or injury when common sense says hold no reasonable hope.

Most Christians tip-toe carefully through this territory.  We thrill and celebrate the unexpected. We praise God for the miraculous.   At the same time we offer perplexed acceptance of events which flow relentlessly and painfully toward unwanted conclusions.  Weaving both these threads into one fabric of faith is our challenge.  Can I celebrate the surprising joys of others even when the distressingly ordinary happens in my own life?

Now, in addition to the anecdotal proof of the power in prayer, evidence gathered through careful scientific research mounts.  In these studies, carried on in hospital settings, some patients were secretly prayed for, others were not.  Neither those prayed for nor those who were not the objects of special intercessory prayer were aware of the project. The conclusions of one study done with cardiac care patients is reported by Chaplain Larry Vander Creek in an article in "Chaplaincy Today":

"After discharge from the hospital, two positive results were discovered for the "prayed for" group.   First, they suffered less congestive heart failure, pneumonia, cardiopulmonary arrests, and required less intubation, ventilation, diuretics, and antibiotics.  Second, using a grading system to evaluate the hospital course they did significantly better." 

Careful studies like this offer a terrific boost to praying people.  But first person accounts, stories, while lacking careful scientific scrutiny, may always be the primary inspiration for both searching and unwavering Christians.

Recently I was asked to offer pastoral care to a young man severely injured in a motorcycle accident.  Most of his body had recovered, but his badly damaged right lower leg defied healing.  Rejecting skin grafts and bone grafts, the next move appeared to be amputation.

Since Mark was hospitalized two hundred miles way I made contact by telephone just before a third attempt at leg-saving grafts was to begin.  Mark had slipped deeper every day into discouragement and pessimism, I learned in listening to him.  He figured "three times and out."  His dispirited attitude certainly retarded recovery.  Nothing works well in the body when despair permeates the heart. Such defeatism is often a self-fulfilling prophecy.  We talked of this and I prayed with him.  The dark clouds seemed to part a little, I thought, and rays of sunlight broke through.  I sensed that a thread of hope was being grasped.

In concluding I suggested he begin to pray for himself in a very special way: "As you talk to God inviting his healing touch on your leg, visualize the injured area being bathed with God's healing presence.   As you pray this way, at least once or twice every hour, also mentally picture healthy blood, corpuscles, enzymes, flowing from all over your body toward the injured leg.  Then, when the grafts are completed, be sure to continue this way, talking to The Great Physician and visualizing the healthy tissue taking hold."

Mark's leg was saved.  The physicians, nurses, and medical technicians rejoiced over a job well done.  Mark, his heart and mind changed, praised God and warmly thanked his medical team.

No one can prove that prayer saved Chad's life and Mark's leg.  Rational people always doubt.  Steeped in the measurable miracles of science modern people do not easily leave room for the unexplainable.  So scientific proof of the efficaciousness of prayer helps us science - awed folks.  The study Rev. Vander Creek reports on delivers a great blessing.  But the stories of God's people have their own personal persuasive power.  We need a lot of both in this age of creeping disbelief.

Someone of great faith and ironic wit once commented - "when I quit praying coincidences stopped happening."

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