For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.” (1 Thessalonians 1:5)
St. Paul is telling the Thessalonians that he knows that they were chosen by God because the gospel came to them not only with words, but with power in the Holy Spirit.
We see in both Jesus’ ministry and that of the apostles that signs and miracles often accompanied the proclamation of the gospel. Peter healed a cripple from birth as he and John entered the temple. (Acts 3:1-10) The Book of Acts reports, “Many signs and wonders were done at the hands of the apostles.” (Acts 5:12)
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 the old 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 experienced 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 an annual 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 our friends and us, 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)
How have you seen a sign of God’s presence in your life?