In several of St. Paul’s letters, he often begins with encouraging words to the recipients and thanks God for their faithfulness to the gospel he had taught them. To the Thessalonians, he says that he knows they were chosen by God because the gospel came to them not only with words, but with power, the Holy Spirit, miracles and strong conviction. (1Th. 1:5, CCB)
We see in both Jesus’ ministry and the ministry of the apostles that signs and miracles often accompanied the proclamation of the gospel. Mark, at the end of his gospel sets forth various signs that will accompany believers including the casting out of demons, speaking in new tongues and the placing of hands on the sick that get well. (Mark 16:17)
We might ask ourselves if we experience the gospel as only words or do we experience it with power through the Holy Spirit, and with miracles and signs. Ironically, Jesus criticized those who came to him to see miracles, but he nevertheless performed miracles throughout his ministry. He forgave a cripple his sins, but to show that he had the authority to do so, he visibly healed the cripple of his physical condition. (Luke 5:17-26)
In the late 1970’s my wife and I were prayed with for the baptism in the Holy Spirit. We each experienced a renewal of our faith and the presence of God in a way we had not before. A year later we attended a Jesus ’79 rally in Shea Stadium in New York along with several friends from our parish prayer group. After listening to a talk on healing, the speaker asked the 30,000+ people in attendance to turn to one another and pray for any needs of healing.
Our friends, said, “Let’s pray for Bill’s eyes.” (I had been previously diagnosed with glaucoma and the loss of about 30% of my field of vision.) They laid hands on me and prayed that my vision would be restored. The following Monday morning, I just happened to have one of my quarterly examinations with my ophthalmologist and he just happened to conduct a yearly field of vision test. As he conducted the test I began to hear him say “hum” repeatedly. After about the fourth “hum” I asked if there was something wrong. He said, “Well, you seem to have a full field of vision.” I said, “I thought you told me I could never recover the vision I had lost. He said, “Yes, I did.”
I then told him where I had been on Saturday and how some friends prayed with me for healing, and he said, “I will take all the help I can get.”
To me, my wife and friends, it was a physical affirmation of God’s presence in our lives, a sign of the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and the world today. We weren’t looking for a sign in order to believe. We believed and would have continued to believe even without the sign. But it built up our faith, and affirmed the reality of God’s presence and love for us.
Signs of God’s presence can take many forms. Perhaps the most powerful and lasting is a changed heart. Jesus’ self-invitation to Zacchaeus’ house was not accompanied by a physical sign of healing, but it did result in a changed heart with a far more enduring effect on Zacchaeus and no doubt the people in his life. (Luke 19:1-10)