31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
Jesus performed many miracles, but it seems like Christ hardly ever did things the same way twice. Chuck Smith (1927 – 2013), in his Word for Today Bible, saw this as an important point.
Why did the Lord use such complicated and varied approaches? Because he didn’t want to create a magic ritual and didn’t want to start a new tradition for doing things. It should never be about a formula; it should be about the Lord and relying on Him. He is God, and he does whatever He wants, in whatever way He chooses.
I had to learn this early in my Christian experience. Growing up Catholic, we had a lot of set forms and traditions. Some were helpful, most all were harmless, but some could be quite misleading, especially in the way we practiced them. One of these potentially misleading practices was the Novena, special prayers repeated for nine consecutive days or weeks, which were often accompanied by a specific prayer request.
Of course it’s fine and often necessary to pray for the same thing day after day, week after week. The point is that the form – the novena, in this case – does nothing to help or hinder God’s answering of that prayer.
So here I was a teenager, newly awakened to the Christian faith. A novena was scheduled in our local parish and I took part, putting my request out there before God and whatever saint or saints were seen to be of special help. And God answered in a wonderful way. My faith was encouraged.
Some time, a few years later, another big need arose. Convinced that the novena was the cause of my past blessing, I took part again. This time, however, no answer. Not even to this day, almost 40 years later, now that I think about it. My dire (or so I considered it) need went unmet. The novena didn’t work.
As Chuck points out, God doesn’t want us to fall into magic rituals. Jesus healed often, but when he did, he did so in different ways. He didn’t want us to imitate his method. God still answers prayer, sometimes in absolutely convincing, remarkable ways. And sometimes he doesn’t, or so it seems. I suppose we should say that sometimes his answer is no. But none of this depends on the method. We don’t spit on our finger and touch someone’s tongue to make God work. Nor do we say special novenas for nine consecutive days. But we do cry out sincerely and with perseverance, while constantly seeking his will, so that our prayers might be perfectly in line with it.