“Everything is gone, every single one of our family homes. The entire Lahaina Town and the entire subdivision of Lahaina—gone.” This is how Jordan Saribay described the Hawaii wildfires that engulfed his hometown on the island of Maui this week. People were diving into the sea to escape the inferno; one resident called the scene “apocalyptic.”
This tragedy is especially painful for my wife and me since we were privileged to visit Maui in June. We spent an entire day in Lahaina, one of the most scenic and historic places we’ve ever been.
Once the royal capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the town became a whaling village in the mid-nineteenth century. Herman Melville was one of the sailors who docked there. The village is on the National Register of Historic Places, with fifty-five acres set aside as historic districts. Maui’s oldest living banyan tree spreads across an entire park, just one of the town’s amazing sites.
Now Hawaiian Gov. Josh Green estimates that “upwards of 1,700 buildings” were destroyed by the Hawaii wildfires. The death toll stood at fifty-five as of last night as firefighting efforts are continuing. The full extent of the devastation may not be known for weeks or months, but it is clear that Lahaina is gone.
As Saribay fled what “looked like a war zone,” he wondered what would be left to go back to. “Just praying that a miracle happens,” he said.
What I did not ask God to do in the Hawaii wildfires
I need to make a confession: when news outlets first began reporting on the Hawaii wildfires on Maui, I should have done the same but did not.
I watched the videos, listened to reports from the scene, and read articles on the unfolding tragedy. I prayed for the safety of those affected by this devastation and for the families of those killed by the inferno.
However, while answers to such prayers could be classified as miracles—extraordinary events manifesting divine intervention in human affairs—I did not ask God to do what Jordan Saribay prayed: to intervene by stopping the wildfires themselves.
I did not ask God to supersede the laws of nature as Jesus did when he stilled the stormy Sea of Galilee. I did not ask him to calm the hurricane-force winds fueling the conflagration, send torrential rain to douse the flames, or otherwise act to stop the wildfires.
A self-fulfilling prophecy at work
It’s not that I don’t believe God can work in such ways. I believe his testimony: “I the Lᴏʀᴅ do not change” (Malachi 3:6) and the biblical assertion, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Anything he has ever done, he can still do.
In fact, I have witnessed miracles personally on occasion: bodies healed beyond medical or natural capacity, occurrences that have no logical or natural explanation, people radically transformed by God’s grace. Why, then, did I not immediately ask God to intervene miraculously by stopping the wildfires in Maui? If you didn’t pray for such a miracle, why didn’t you?
Upon reflection, I realized that I don’t pray for miracles as often I should because I don’t experience them often enough to be confident that God will grant them when I ask.
If you call a friend but they never pick up or call you back, you’ll probably stop calling them. However, your response then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: your decision to stop calling guarantees that they won’t respond to your calls.
Something similar can happen in our relationship with God. He honors the freedom he has given us (cf. Revelation 3:20), so that “you do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). The less we ask, the less we receive, until we stop asking.
Experience is conditioned by expectations
None of this is God’s fault, though we blame him. The fact is, as with all relationships, our experience of God is conditioned by our expectations of him. If we expect him to answer our prayers for miracles, we are more likely to pray for miracles and thus to experience them.
Of course, this does not mean that God must do what we expect him to do. Expectant prayer does not obligate the King of the universe to do what we ask. But when we pray with expectant faith, we position ourselves to experience God’s grace as he gives us what we ask or what is best. As with Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” he either removes our “thorn” or redeems it (2 Corinthians 12:7–10).
There will be times when, as with a parent relating to their child, his no is better for us than his yes. We may not understand the reasons until we are with him in glory (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12). But at such times, when we cannot see his hand we can trust his heart.
The alternative is to live in Nazareth, where Jesus “did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58).
“That is why you do not get souls saved”
I am convinced that God would be more visibly and miraculously active in our post-Christian culture if Christians were more zealous to pray for such miracles.
Charles Spurgeon told about a young minister who complained that he had been preaching for several months but had not seen a single conversion. “And do you expect,” said Mr. Spurgeon, “that the Lord is going to bless you and save souls every time you open your mouth?”
“No, sir,” the young man replied.
“Well, then,” said Mr. Spurgeon, “that is why you do not get souls saved. If you had believed, the Lord would have given the blessing.”
What do you expect God to do in response to your prayers today?
NOTE: If you have children or grandchildren, I highly encourage you to request Marked by Prayer right now. This resource from Christian Parenting (a brand of Denison Ministries) always runs low on stock because it’s been such an encouragement to parents and grandparents in the past. Marked by Prayer will help you pray for your children throughout the school year, provides a short devotional on a relevant topic, and includes space for you to journal what you’re grateful for and what you’re praying over your children. Don’t wait to request your copy today.