[Note; This is a slightly revised and updated blog posting from one of the posting removed by Blogger as “contrary to community standards” last year. More are coming.]
The recent tornadoes that devastated Dallas, Texas, has again brought to fore the perennial question of natural disasters and how to understand them theologically. Much has been focused on God’s responsibility, or not, in such events, and the general problem of evil. None of these are easy questions to answer. Let me suggest the focus of the argument is misplaced. What is lacking in the Church is an understanding of its authority in Christ to command storms to abate, just as Jesus did in the sea of Galilee (Matt. 8:23-28). We should immediately recall that in the Gospel of John Jesus assured his disciples that we can do all that he did (John. 14:12).
However, for most Christians, even Spirit-filled Christians who believe in the active gifts of the Spirit, stopping a raging tornado and storm like the one that destroyed sections of Dallas seems beyond the possible. This is so principally because Christians are just now awakening from the long “cessationsit slumber” in which Protestant Christians were taught that miracles of healing/exorcism, and nature miracles were limited to the Apostolic Age. It took wave after wave of pioneers and prophets (often maligned as heretics) to firmly reestablish the healing/exorcism ministry as a legitimate ministry.
In fact, nature miracles, as in abating storms, are fairly rare in the histories of Christian saints and heroes of faith, but not entirely missing. For example, St. Colomba, a Celtic monk and monastic founder, was famous for several nature miracles, including making rocks float. The following is an account of his praying down a storm.
At another time the holy man began to be in great danger at sea, for the whole vessel was violently tossed and shaken with the huge dashing waves, and a great storm of wind was raging on all hands. The sailors then chanced to say to the saint, as he was trying to help them to bale the vessel, “What thou art now doing is of little use to us in our present danger, thou shouldst rather pray for us as we are perishing.” On hearing this he ceased to throw out the bitter waters of the green sea wave, and began to pour out a sweet and fervent prayer to the Lord. Wonderful to relate! The very moment the saint stood up at the prow, with his hands stretched out to heaven and prayed to the Almighty, the whole storm of wind and the fury of the sea ceased more quickly than can be told, and a perfect calm instantly ensued. But those who were in the vessel were amazed, and giving thanks with great admiration, glorified the Lord in the holy and illustrious man.
Evangelical Christians are too quick to dismiss the Catholic literature of saints’ tales and their miraculous reports, and this is a great loss. Protestants are often convinced that the “wrong” elements of Catholic theology, such as excessive Marian devotion, would incapacitate any Catholic from ministering a genuine miracle. That is a flawed argument, and presumptuous of the perfection of Protestant theology. Miracles are done by disciples of Christ, and do not depend on perfect theology of the disciple. Note that when Jesus first sent out the 72 disciples (Luke 7) it was at a stage where they had little understanding of who He was, an incomplete theology, but they still did healing and exorcisms.
In my four decades as a Spirit-filled believer I have heard of several “nature miracles,” and in fact ministered one myself when I was a new Christian (see below). Let me first recount the story of a contemporary nature miracle told by Mrs. Karen Fegely, NP. (Nurse Practitioner). She and her husband Garry attended the same Pentecostal church that I assisted at several years ago. She was director of the Bethsada Community Clinic, a faith based charity that give low cost and free health care to the poor of Cherokee County, Georgia. The clinic has received much attention for its innovative and cost-effective ways of providing assistance to the poor.
Before they came to Georgia, the Karen and Garry had spent a decade assisting the Geralsd Deretine Ministry and its training camps in Florida and other parts of the country. The Rev. Derstine (b. 1928) was raised a Mennonite, and began his ministerial career as a missionary to the Chippewa Indians in Minnesota. In 1955 his missionary church experienced a full scale Holy Spirit revival, and, like many pioneer charismatic minsters of the time, Deretine was forced out of the Mennonite Church. Providentially he began a wider ministry of training others in the gifts of the Spirit at several camps.
Back in the 1980s, Karen was at a Derstine youth camp in Minnesota. The camp grounds were on the flood plain of a river, and one particularly stormy evening the waters began rising rapidly, and dangerously. A group was at prayer at the chapel when the waters began streaming in and flooding the floor. Crowding at the altar, the group prayed for relief, and the waters miraculously backed up “in a heap” – as describe in the biblical accounts of the Hebrew people crossing into the Promised Land (Joshua 3:13) – and then receded.
I believe such nature miracles are more common than most Christians imagine. The problem is that Christian are shy about these things. Long ago St Augustine of Hippo (354-430), one of the pillars of Western theology, reported that for most of his Christian life he had not believed in the healing ministry of the Church. One of the principal reasons for this was that while Christians like to cite the Gospel healing and exorcism miracles they were reluctant to witness about their own experiences in healing prayer a form of misplaced humility which counters the duty of testifying to the works of God. After he witnessed a healing miracle and became convinced of it authenticity he became active in the healing ministry and encouraged his congregation to witness to any miraculous healings they experienced.
Now, let me relate my own experience with a nature miracle. This dramatic, but local, incident happened to me in 1978, when I recently returned to Christ after a decades of agnosticism and atheism. It is not uncommon that God allows new Christians to experience a special miracle for encouragement. (I am sure readers could supply some similar stories).
When this event took place I already had the baptism of the Holy Spirit and had ministered a few healing (and one exorcism) but was still young in my faith and barely begun in the journey of sanctification – several serious habits and attitudes were still present. But I was also rapidly reading, in fact devouring, the charismatic literature of the era.
I had just purchased an old, run down, Victorian house in central Atlanta, and was in the process of renovating it. It had two brick chimneys. On a summer night a severe storm passed through. My chimneys began to creak under the force of the wind and I was worried they might topple. During a very sever gust I exclaimed, “Oh s—t! They’re going down!” Then, without thinking, I raised my hands and called out to the storm, “Damn it! In the name of Jesus, stop!” I felt a huge flow of energy through my arms and hands, The wind subsided into a normal rain storm – and the chimneys stayed put.
Now, I don’t commend this wording as either a liturgy or a prayer to stop storms. Rather, it represents God’s gracious acceptance of me at that period in my life. But my prayer had the essential elements of praying against a negative natural event that I learned about later when I began studying the works of Agnes Sanford, specifically her book Creation Waits. In fact, that book was the first ever work in Christian literature that was dedicated to the theology of praying nature miracles. It is one reason I believe that Mrs. Sanford deserves to be ranked as one of the greatest theologians of the 20th Century. (I would be delighted to receive information on any previous reflective works about nature miracles.)
Mrs. Sanford spent most of her adult years on the East Coast, first at Moorstown, New Jersey as the wife of Ted Sanford, Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, and later at Westborough, Massachusetts. This was an age when the Episcopal Church was orthodox, although some of the seminaries were already being corrupted by liberal, anti-supernatural theology. It was at Moorstown that she developed a powerful healing ministry, and began propagating it among mainline churches. After the death of her husband in 1960, Mrs. Sanford moved from Westborough to California where she fully developed her nature ministry. This involved praying for the created order such as plants and the earth itself.
The dominion that Christians should have over nature was demonstrated in Jesus’ stilling of the storm in the sea of Galilee, and his pronouncement on the fig tree (Matt 21:19-20). That nature participates in worship of its creator is an obvious theme of scripture – but rarely understood or preached by Christians. The prophet Isaiah gave us a glimpse of nature and man worshiping together:
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands. ISA 55:12
Psalm 96:11-12 would support this also:
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;
they will sing before the Lord, for he comes, (NIV)
A few notable Christians (and certainly countless unknown ones) have entered into cooperation and ministry with nature such as St. Francis of Assisi, and George Washington Carver, the famous African-American botanist. Carver’s method of praying over, and talking to his plants, is perhaps the best known among Christian who have communed with plants. This was considered by many Christians to be eccentric, “mystical” and un-scientific, in spite of the fact that he accomplished tremendous discoveries with limited and improvised scientific equipment.
Like so many things, this biblical insight of the consciousness of plants was brought to popular attention with the secular best selling book, The Secret Life of Plants. When this work came out many Christian promptly concluded that such unusual activity was occultism – a sad misunderstanding.
In any case, Mrs. Sanford had a Washington Carver like understanding of, and communications with plants. In a story related to me by Mrs. Barbara Schlemon, a noted inner healing minister, Barbara tells of an incident in, Agnes’ California home. Agnes was scheduled to give a healing lecture in a near by town, and Barbara came to drive her there. She found Agnes amidst a circle of her house plants with arms upraised and deeply in prayer. She asked Agnes what she was doing and she said “I’m praising the Lord with my prayer group, and they are doing a better job!”
Mrs. Sanford’s Creation Waits, was her last book. The title comes from the passage in Romans 8 in which Paul exclaims:
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Rms 8:19-21.)
In Agnes’ view, the secret to prayer power in this area is standing in the authority of the Christian:
“It is far more effective to talk directly to sea or sky, wind or storm, than simply to ask God to do this or that. We are God’s agents upon this earth. When praying for people we ask in His name and by His power, because we so often lack the necessary understanding of the people for whom we pray. In praying for nature, however, it is more effective to speak directly to wind or storm or tempest. That, after all is the way Jesus stilled the storm. “Peace, be still!”
Recall that in a previous blog posting I discussed the advances made in the effectiveness of Christian healing prayer made by the couple, Charles and Francis hunter. They had discovered that the Bible was serous when it described healing prayer in the New Testament as done by commands, such as “Get up and walk!” etc. This was modeled by Jesus, but done by all the disciples, as shown in the Book of Acts. Mrs. Sanford’s discovery of commanding nature falls under the same category. That is, of Christians rediscovering their authority in Christ, and utilizing it through commands to cast out demons, heal diseases and speak to nature.
Agnes developed a confidence and authority in this “nature ministry” not seen often even among the famous saints of the Lord. She recounts a bout she had with a threatening wild fire near her home in Monrovia:
One night I awoke after midnight and went out to my upper balcony where I could smell the smoke, and already knew from the papers that the winds were blowing directly towards me. So I called aloud to the wind, muting my voice just a little lest I wake my neighbors: “Hear me, wind!” I said, holding out my hand in its general direction. “You are to swing around now and blow from the west, bring in mist and rain from the sea. Come now! It may take you a little while to do so, but by morning let it be accomplished! …In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I give you this order, and I rejoice, believing it will be so!”
A day later the wind unexpectedly changed direction, and rain came in from the Pacific Ocean.
But Agnes was called by the Lord to pray against something more far reaching than wild fires. It began while she was still living in Westborough, Massachusetts. She felt a strong leading that she had to pray for some part of the earth.
“Lord, where is it?” I asked, and listened. There came to my mind the northwestern part of the United States, and it seemed that some calamity threatened that region.
“May I pray that whatever is to happen may be averted?” I asked, and listening heard a negative response. …
“May I pray for it to be minimized?” I asked and quite distinctly I heard, “Yes.”
So for three days I prayed for the Northwest, for the land and area itself, and when not in active prayer I held it as an undercurrent to other thoughts. And then there came the earthquake in the state of Washington which just missed being a really destructive one. And my burden was lifted,…
The Lord called her to pray for the same intention in California. Agnes home in Monrovia was right along the San Andres fault.
I began to pray, with particular emphasis on the section of this fault in southern California, that it might accomplish its work by relieving the tension in the earth’s crust quietly, with sufficient small tremors, but without destructive earthquakes.” 
In fact, in the years that she lived in Californian there were no serious earthquakes on that fault line.
This nature ministry has been slowly coming into acceptance with charismatic and Pentecostal groups. Pat Robinson, the famous Televangelist received much publicity for praying against a hurricane that was threatening the Christian Broadcasting Network complex at Virginia Beach – and was much ridiculed for it in spite of the fact that the hurricane veered off and did not hit Virginia beach.
We now return to the recent tragedy at Dallas, Texas. Natural disasters like these cries out for the Churches to learn the prayer of command over nature and direct the tornadoes to non-populated areas. Loosing several hundred acres of corn is certainly lest costly than loosing a hundred homes and scores of lives. This may be among the last prayer frontiers that the church in the 21st Century needs to recover, and again it was Agnes who led the way.
Now, I have no stories relating to the dissipation or veering away of a serious tornado. I have no doubt that such things have indeed happened as faith-filled and non-cessationist Christians have had to face emergency situations.
I believe that the abatement and dissapation of even a EF-5 tornado such as ravished Moore, Oklahoma years ago, is not only possible, but should be common within the American Christian community. Prayer is multiplied in its effect when there is agreement among Christians, and with cell phones, smart phones and the social media such as Twitter and Facebook, Christians have the ability to rapidly communicate and agree on prayers for an impending natural disaster.
Imagine the next severe weather front passing through “tornado alley.” Imagine that pastors and lay leaders have already preped their congregations to the use of Twitter or Facebook to mobilize their congregations to agree with the following type of prayer:
In Jesus’ name, we command this weather front to pass by without damage to buildings or persons. If a tornado cone is needed to release energy it may alight on cropland and woods, but we forbid, in Jesus’ name, that it injure or destroy persons or any populated area. We command that the moisture contained in this front be released regularly and not in the form of large hail, but rather that the moisture refresh the crops, and give water to the wildlife and cattle. All this we agree and command in Jesus’ name.
If a tornado has already alighted the twitter prayer might read like this:
In Jesus’ name and in agreement, we command this tornado to lift now, and do no further harm to buildings or people. Amen!
Is such a thing incredible and impossible? Well, one hundred years ago every proper and orthodox theologian (except for the Pentecostals who were considered “loonies”) would have said that praying of a miraculous cure in illness was impossible and a thing only Jesus and the Apostles could do.
I would love to hear your comments, and especially any of your “nature” miracle stories. Do we have a tornado story to share?
 This is one of the themes of my books, Quenching the Spirit (Lake Mary: Creation house, 1992.1996), and Agnes Sanford and Her Companions (Eugene: Wiph & Stock, 2015).
 Adamnan’s Life of Saint Columba, Founder of Hy, ed. William Reeves. (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1874) Book II. Section 11.
 This is the core argument of the tragically effective and influential classic of cessationism Benjamin B. Warfield’s Counterfeit Miracles (New York: C. Scribner’s, 1918). The definitive critique of this book is the work by my friend, Jon Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Carismata. (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993).
 See Gerald Derstine, Following the Fire, (Plainfield: Bridge-Logos, 1980).
 The account was related to my wife and me by Mrs. Fegely at her home picnic on Memorial day, 2013.
 Augustine, City of God, Bk 8, chapter 2.
 Agnes Sanford, Creation Waits (Plainfield: Logos International 1978).
 Glenn Clark, founder of the CFO (a para-church summer camp) had the insight and discernment to see there was a great spiritual truth in Carver’s interaction with his plants, see Clark’s, The Man Who Talks with Flowers, (St. Paul: Macalester Park, 1939),
 Peter Tompkins, The Secret Life of Plants, (Scranton: Harper Collins, 1973).
 Conversation with Mrs. Barbara Schlemon-Ryan, circa, 1985, at St. Philip’s Cathedral, Atlanta GA.
 Sanford, Creation, 16.
 Ibid., 17.
 Ibid., 23.