Since March, members of our church and others in the Christian community have been praying to the Lord for a miraculous healing of one of our members who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The only treatment the medical profession ended up having for her was for quality of life.

With the medical profession's diagnosis that her cancer would shortly bring her life to an end, both she and her husband had me help plan her funeral. And then, at her most recent appointment, the doctor gives her the amazing report that there is a 99 percent chance the tumors are inactive.

A few years ago, another member of our church was healed of hepatitis C. Over the years of my ministry, I've been aware of other miraculous healings when the medical profession had done all it could, but only God could have brought the healing. These miracles are truly amazing, but also have posed some interesting questions for me. Two questions have caused me to deal with their purpose.

One is with inconsistency: Why do they happen sometimes, but other times not? A standard answer is to attribute it to a lack of faith, which I'm sure is true of a number of people. But I'm not sold that this is true in a lot of cases. In fact, there are people who have had very little faith and the miraculous happens for them (a biblical example is in Mark 9:14-29).

However, the most compelling question for me has been: What is the purpose of people being miraculously restored to physical health if their health is eventually going to fail and they end up dying anyway? In the Bible, Jesus raised a man named Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38-44). After the resurrection of Jesus, the Bible says that Jesus ascended into heaven, but with Lazarus, no ascension is recorded. If Lazarus had avoided death on his second go-around, it would seem likely it would have been acknowledged. It's quite evident that Lazarus is not around today, so, for me, I'm quite convinced he ended up dying again.

From the Bible, one purpose for miracles is that God uses them for a sign. In fact, the miraculous is quite often called "signs" (Acts 4:30 is an example). A sign does not point to itself. I have never seen a sign that says, "My message is all about me." Such a sign would be a waste of someone's resources. Therefore, if a miracle is a sign, then the miracle has a message that does not point to itself, but to something else so as not to be a waste of God's resources.

The miracles performed by Jesus and done in his name all point to the power and authority He has. In Mark 2:10-12, Jesus healed a paralytic to show that he has authority on earth to forgive sins. In Acts 4:29-33, the early church prayed for and received great miraculous power to heal people as a sign to testify to the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, when I and others who are members of Christ's body pray in Jesus' name for something miraculous, he grants enough of these miracles to keep it as a sign to focus on him rather than on the miraculous.

If I were to receive a miracle every time I asked for one, I know I would have a problem with using them to exalt myself, as Paul mentioned concerning himself in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. God will not waste his power for us to exalt ourselves. However, we have the assurance of the Bible that the power that is in the name of Jesus, which is above every name (Philippians 2:9), will not be wasted, for it gives forgiveness of sins and eternal life to those who call upon his name (read Romans 10:9-13).

Jerry Sprock is pastor of First Baptist Church, Hays.