If you have seen the film “Breakthrough,” I’m sure your heart was touched by the miracle Joyce Smith received during a 2015 January winter for her adopted son John, who fell through a frozen Missouri lake that was 25 feet deep.
All the odds, medically and scientifically, were stacked against John. He was not expected to survive through the night after he was rushed to the hospital. The doctors told Joyce and her husband Brian that if John did pull through he would be neurologically impaired, but the medical research pretty much pronounced a death sentence for him. Shaken but not shattered by this devastating news, Joyce cried out in prayer for her son. Suddenly, the doctors detected a faint pulse.
I took a couple of prayer and faith lessons from this phenomenal story that I would like to share for encouragement. Regarding prayer, most people are familiar with the latter part of James 5:16 which says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” When you look up “effectual” in the Greek translation it means to be “active” or “mighty in showing forth.” I can think of many “seasoned saints” that I know who can “pray heaven down.” From observing their Christian walk, I have witnessed that they have an effectual, active prayer life and communion with God. They frame their words in prayer by decreeing the promises in Scripture and affirming their identity and authority through Jesus Christ.
The first thing that caught my attention in Breakthrough when Joyce prayed for John was that she called on the Holy Spirit to breathe life back into him. She was asking God to do what is recorded in Genesis 2:7, when He breathed “the breath of life” into Adam. She framed her prayer with words of power!
As heartfelt as Joyce’s faith was in this trying situation, it was also helpful to see that she had some inward struggles that she was forced to face.
Like all of us, she had some faults, so even though she was in full prayer warrior mode for her son, God showed her specific areas in her life where she needed to grow in love and humble herself. One fault that was the most obvious in Joyce was that she was extremely judgmental of her pastor, Jason Noble, and her husband.
With Jason being much younger, there was a generational difference in his ministry that Joyce did not like. She opposed the way he was changing things in their church, which included adding a more contemporary sound to the praise team. Her husband Brian was an avid church goer, but his faith was a little weak. He was not strong enough emotionally to sit in John’s hospital room and greatly feared the doctor’s diagnosis.
Joyce came to realize that she needed to show more compassion to Brian. He admitted that he was scared and he was ashamed of it when John miraculously recovered. Jason and Joyce had a tepid relationship, and he actually surprised Joyce when he stood by her side. Seeing Jason’s genuine love for her family during John’s most critical stages, Joyce apologizes to her pastor for disrespecting him. Reflecting on that scene, I thought about the verse in I Corinthians 13:2, which teaches us that we can have all the faith in the world – faith that can remove mountains – but this means nothing if we do not love others.
Some criticism of “Breakthrough” has been that it does not go in depth on why some receive physical healing through prayers and others do not. One of John’s teachers asks him why God healed him but did not restore her husband who died from an aneurysm. At the end of the film during a worship service, John says that he does not know why God saved him. Sometimes we don’t know why, and sometimes those who pray with ardent belief like Joyce do not receive what they ask for. Yet, I have heard testimonies from people who prayed and still lost a loved one, but drew closer to God rather than turning from Him. The beautiful thing about the journey of faith is that if we believe that God gave us life then we will entrust everything to Him, even when we don’t have all the answers.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. She is a member of Vision of Breath with Life Ministries in Columbus. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. @JjSmojc