On Praying for Parking Bays: Does God Intervene?

Posted by on Nov 11, 2020 in Blog | 10 comments

Photo Jack Sharp: Unsplash

In my new book Why Christianity is Probably True I discuss some experiences where God intervened in my life in such a way that I had no option but to conclude that God is probably real and that Christianity is probably true. It caused a reader to contact me and ask: But how often does God intervene in our lives? Is prayer about changing the course of events, or more about our adapting to our circumstances more constructively? These are good questions, and I thought worth exploring in a post.

You have probably heard of the “butterfly effect” (a theory beloved by chaos theorists) where the long-term impact of a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world can be a hurricane in another part. In other words, the smallest deviation from a pre-set plan can have ongoing and dramatic implications that were never considered or intended. For example, what if God answers your prayer for a parking bay, which leads to you entering the shopping center 39 seconds earlier, which means you bump into a friend who you would otherwise have missed, which leads to you agreeing to have coffee together the next night, which means her husband must now supervise their children which means he cancels an appointment with a friend to attend a men’s shed meeting at which he would have (had he attended) said yes to following Jesus. Oops – that’s a rotten outcome from a prayer to pamper your laziness!

Of course, taking this seriously, some have suggested that anything other than a pre-determined world, where each move is carefully calculated and decided billions of years in advance, would be arbitrary, unfair and deeply vulnerable to a hundred thousand unpleasant outcomes. They argue that we are essentially actors in a predetermined play, and while our future actions are unknown to us (and might well surprise us) they are not unknown to the author of all things – and even calling God the author of all things gives weight to this theory. Where then is free will? It isn’t – but who said that it had to be – although feeling responsible for anything is a bit of a stretch if we never had any choice in the matter.

Those with a theological background will already be stifling a yawn. Yup – the old free-will, pre-destination debate. It is interesting the first hundred times you come across it, and then it moves into the “been there, done that” category.

But is that how it works? Those who do theology give different weighting to various building blocks of theology. Usual contributors are the Bible, the history and tradition of the church, the experience of Christian people through the ages, as well as the insights of philosophy, sociology, psychology and contemporary culture. Evangelicals are insistent that the teaching of the Bible should trump all other contributions, but that doesn’t provide a way ahead when the teaching of the Bible is less than clear, and you quickly find yourself immersed in 2000 years’ worth of disagreements about the meaning of proof texts quickly paraded by supporters from each side.

In the light of this, why not listen a little more closely to the actual lived experience of Christian people when assessing if God intervenes in our lives and answers prayer? To go back to our opening question – if we pray appropriately, will God find us the best parking bays? Or from a broader perspective, does God intervene in the world (stopping wars, famine and the like), as well as in the smaller concerns of my personal life (my desire for a rain free wedding day, or a red hot fare deal just as I am about to book a flight). Note that I haven’t limited God’s intervention to something specifically requested in prayer – though perhaps anyone who has prayed the classic version of the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” might consider themselves covered for any eventuality.

I mentioned talking about my a few of my own experiences in Why Christianity is Probably True. Here is a sampler of what I wrote:

Let me explore how the realm of experience works out for many Christian people. In fact, rather than generalize, let me tell you how it has worked out for me. Now I realize that you might dismiss what I am about to write with an “and why would I believe you?” Obviously I can’t make you believe me, but perhaps you will hear the heartbeat behind what I am writing. Like most people, I have needed reasons for both head and heart, to be able to place my trust and confidence in Jesus, and to build my life on his teaching. And I have found them. I would imagine my having been a Christian pastor for well over 30 years would convince you that I have stuck to my calling for this long because I have at least convinced myself that what I hold to is true.

So how does the experience of faith work out for me on an everyday basis?

I can only say that I sense that I am accompanied on my life journey. Yes, I can hear some of my atheist friends’ snort, “You and your imaginary friends! Time to grow up now. There is no one there.” But that is not how I experience my life – and I can only experience it as I experience it.

There are reasons why I feel accompanied. Let me give a few examples.

Back in 2002 I was invited to apply for the position I currently hold as Principal of Vose Seminary, in Perth, Australia. I and my family were living in Auckland, New Zealand at the time, where I was happily serving as the senior pastor of Mt Roskill Baptist Church. Actually, I was so content in my ministry at Mt Roskill that the invitation to apply for this post was most unsettling. As Vose Seminary had an outstanding history of training people to be pastors and leaders in the Christian church, it was flattering to be considered for the role, and I also knew that such a position would be both strategic and satisfying. But my wife Rosemary and I were happy at Mt Roskill, and our three children were less than enthusiastic at the thought of possibly moving to another country. Half-heartedly, I let my name be considered for the post, and sent the requested CV and answered a set of candidate questions. That set of questions was followed by many more.

And then there was silence – for weeks and weeks. “Ah well,” I thought, “so much for that. We got ourselves worked up and flustered for nothing.” However, to my surprise, just as I thought nothing was happening, I was asked to answer another set of questions. I looked at the length of the questions asked, and reflected that the process had now been going on for many months. I came to the conclusion that the family had been unsettled for long enough, and if by this stage they still had questions of me, I was presumably not the right person for the job. So I decided to pull out of the process, and did. I settled back happily into my life as senior pastor at Mt Roskill, while doing some part time lecturing for two of the local theological colleges in Auckland.

Months went by. Then one night, I don’t know why and I don’t know how, I suddenly had a compelling sense that I needed to phone the Baptist Churches of Western Australia (who own Vose Seminary, and oversee it as part of their wider ministry) and to ask them about the principal’s post at Vose. I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to ask, but inwardly had a strong sense that I was meant to be the next principal of Vose Seminary, that I should never have withdrawn my application, and that if I didn’t do something then and there, it would be beyond reversing. It was 10.30pm Auckland time. I did the calculation of the time difference between Auckland and Perth. It would be 6.30pm in Perth. Too late, I thought. Their offices close at 5pm, there will be no one there.

But all I can say is that as I decided to delay phoning until the next day an inner voice said very strongly, “phone now. You must phone now.” I still clearly remember walking out of the kitchen and down the stairs into my study to make the call. I phoned – expecting no reply.

The phone was answered within a few rings. Steve Smith, the then Director of Ministries for the Baptist Churches of Western Australia was on the line. As I heard his voice I realized I didn’t have any idea of what I was supposed to say to him, so mumbled a little and said something like, “Hi Steve. Don’t know if you remember me from our discussions about the principal’s post at Vose. It’s been a while now, and I’m just interested to know who you appointed.”

Said Steve, “Interesting that you’ve phoned now. We haven’t made the appointment yet, but I’m just about to go into a meeting which will finalize our short list of candidates for interview. I always felt you were the right person for Vose. Tell me you are willing to reinstate your application, and I’ll make sure you are short listed. Just as well you phoned when you did. Tomorrow would have been too late.”

The rest is history. I got the post – and it has been absolutely the right one for both me, my family and Vose Seminary.

What do you make of that strong sense – a sense almost of compulsion – that I had to phone that night?

You might say, “Frankly, I don’t believe you. I know preachers and their stories. They always exaggerate and make something out of nothing.” And so you might dismiss the account, and think nothing more of it. After all, it happened to me – not to you, so why should you spend much time thinking about it.

Fair point, but to state the obvious, I am me! And it happened to me. And I can’t just ignore it. And I know that on the basis of that clear voice that night, I and my family moved from Auckland to Perth. And I did so with a clear sense that God had called me to be principal of Vose Seminary.

It is one of many reasons I say that I experience a sense of being “accompanied” on my journey through life. I really have never felt alone – God never being more than a prayer away.

Let me tell you another story. For me, a little sad.

My mother died on the 15 May 2012 at the age of 86. In robust good health for most of her life, the end came suddenly after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. For her it was less than two months between diagnosis and death. I guess because she had been in such good health before, I was stunned. I had always thought she would get to be at least 90, and had a sneaking suspicion she was going to live to be 100. Alas, it was not to be.

I read a portion of the Bible every day. My reading takes two forms. A systematic reading through different books of the Bible, one book at a time, and a more devotional reading from a compilation of Bible verses in a book titled Living Light.[1] It gives a different mix of verses around a theme for each day of the year – 366 sets of readings in the book as it wants to make sure the scriptures continue to speak daily, even in those years which have a 29th of February.

I have read from this book almost every day since my wedding (when I was given it) – over 37 years now. As I turned to the reading that day, the 15 May, these were the verses…

“He will wipe all tears from their eyes” – Rev 21:4; “There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever” – Is 25:8; “He will swallow up death forever. The Lord God will wipe away all tears…” Is 60:20. And so it went on.

Did it speak to me? Of course it did! Did it reassure me that God knew exactly what had happened and was in control of the process? Naturally.

“That’s nice, but just a co-incidence,” you say. The book was bound to look at death sometime, and it just so happened the author selected the 15 May – and it’s a happy co-incidence that is the day your mother died.


I can understand that you might say that – because it happened to me… not to you. But because it happened to me, I can’t be so quickly dismissive. At one of my lowest points, I yet again experienced that deep reassurance, “you are not alone. You are accompanied through life’s journey.”

I could continue telling you stories. So many, many of them. And you may or may not believe them. But I believe them – because they happened to me. Put differently, as I have lived my life trusting that God’s presence will break through at key periods, I have experienced that this is just what has happened.

No, I am not claiming that I have never been disappointed, or that nothing has ever gone wrong for me. But I am saying, and saying very emphatically, that at the deepest level of my being I believe in God – not simply because my head tells me so (though my head convinces me that there are sound reasons to believe), but because my lived experience provides this as the most convincing explanation. I have chosen to live as though God exists. Having made that choice, I have a narrative that makes sense of the full range of my life experiences. My choice has explanatory power. It does not leave me constantly perplexed and asking endless why questions. (Pages 119-123)

Several readers of the book have told me how closely they identify with the experiences I described, for though their experiences reflect their life circumstances, in principle, they are much the same – God’s presence being felt not to find parking bays but to help navigate genuinely difficult and perplexing seasons. One man was so moved by the description that he purchased 21 copies of the book – so I guess he was telling the truth! Another, now in his seventies, said that he calculated that he had between 12-15 such experiences in his life – experiences that mattered so deeply to him that he could never contemplate abandoning faith, yet they were experiences which only happened ever few years. To be clear then, we are not talking about events that happen every second Tuesday – but ones which when they happen, speak deeply to us. Actually, this was the experience of the biblical authors. Because their special encounters with God are the focus of the different stories, we sometimes forget that they happened only a few times in their lives. Sometimes it is a long time between drinks, and we need to keep faithfully following, regardless of the experience of the last few weeks – sometimes even the last few years.

So what do you think – not in your head, but from your lived experience? Have you sensed that God has intervened in your life? How often has it happened? Do the experiences continue to sustain you?

And whatever you think of the free will, predestination debate, do you think that God intervenes in the lives of individuals, and does God intervene in the life of the world. And do our actions impact the actions of God?

Always interested to hear your thoughts and experiences…

[1] Edythe Draper, Living Light: Daily Light in Today’s Language (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1972).


  1. My own experience is that God intervenes on many levels, but does not override our free will. I’ve prayed for little things like a car park (when I desperately needed one), and for healing (still in the ‘waiting’ period in one or two areas, but lots of positive testimony). My grandchildren arrived after many years of prayer and after my daughter was advised she had many contraindications that she could fall pregnant. Theologically, I find it hard to believe that the sovereignty of God extends to our individual decision making (to believe in full determinism is to believe that God causes child abuse, rape, torture, etc). I prayed for a certain outcome in recent elections, but I did not believe that God would force anyone to vote a particular way. I think God convicts, but He doesn’t force us. Without taking up too much space, I see Gen 1 as the record of God delegating royal power and authority to humankind, Gen 2 as establishing our accountability for how we exercise ‘dominion’, and Gen 3 as confirmation that God ‘walks’ with us and ‘talks’ with us (prayer is the analogue of God walking with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the evening). Our freedom exists in the dominion delegation. Thanks for your wonderful book and erudite blogs Brian.

    • Fabulous insights there. Thanks so much Rod.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with Rod’s post above. The tree in the Garden of Eden was the first choice given to man – follow me or follow yourselves? In a very basic sense, it was there to allow for free will to exist. If it did not, what was the point of the tree?

    I have seen God interrupt my somewhat self-focused walk in the most beautiful ways. Most often it’s through a thought… text this person, see this person. One such time was a deep sense of “go visit this person” …I kept driving… and as I drove past their turn off, so strong was the pull, that I turned around and went to them. It was a poignant moment in their life and mine.

    I’ve also seen car parks appear at the most stressful times – but not every time!

    Our God is amazing. I’m glad we cannot say “he is xyz” definitively or else he is too easy to explain to be God!

    • Thanks Amy. I can relate to the sense of, “change your plan a little and do this”. Sometimes it is very strong and at times the reason becomes obvious – at other times less so, and you just have to leave it in the hands of God.

  3. When sensing the urge or need to be somewhere or do something is easy to ignore but so often when we listen/obey, the outcome surprises or comforts and even guides our future. My husband Ellis had died of brain cancer and 5 weeks later I was going to bed. Although it was late I felt “Phone Alan”, (Alan, the younger brother of Ellis). No it is too late to start a conversation with someone living in another country 9 hours behind my time. I felt the urge again and decided to phone. After a lovely conversation of catching up and feel wonderful connection and love we said our goodbyes. About 18 hours later I received a phone call that Alan had died of a sudden heart attack. I was in shock. His daughter told me that her Dad had shared with her how much that conversation had meant to him and he had also been widowed recently. You can imagine just how pleased I was that I had listened to the nudge to phone. Alan was a dearly-loved brother-in-law and I drew comfort from that my phone call had meant so much to him in his last hours. God is good to us in so many seemingly small ways which sometimes turn out to be important ones – for which I am very grateful.

    • What a wonderful story Ruth. As someone who knew and greatly valued Alan, I am so glad you made the call.

  4. Thank you, Brian. It’s a really interesting reflection.

    I tend not to pray for parking bays. ? But, yes, I have had some clear “interventions” from the Holy Spirit over the years, but as you say, not every week or even every month.

    In one case, our pastor spoke on one topic but what I heard from the Holy Spirit was the (compelling) instruction to seek professional help on a matter that had bothered me for many years. Decades later, I remain astonished at the strength of that conviction; it was enough to overcome my own strong reluctance to act upon it. I remain grateful for the Father’s loving intervention at a significant time in my life.

    In another case, I was walking fast down the office corridor at work, heading for home, but mid-step felt a strong compulsion to defer my departure and knock on a colleague’s closed office door. A long conversation ensued. I don’t know what was going on in the fabric of that person’s life, but I knew what I had to do at that moment.

    Although those occasions have happened infrequently, the accompanying and unexpected strength of conviction has marked them out for me as “extra-ordinary” and “to be acted upon”.


    • Thanks Ian. I am noticing that a fair number of people (both here and on Facebook) have mentioned a strong inner conviction to do something they usually would not have and which had a significant outcome.

  5. I’m heartened to read both your article and the comments above Brian. I’m really delighted as well that you find Living Light such a blessing and a compulsive read. I’ve also been reading it a long time, 48 years, and heard the distinctive voice of the Lord at crucial moments. Ian and I are both looking forward to reading the new book… and as we’re still enjoying “Could this be God?” we’ve decided to give it to a whole bunch of our close (non-Christian) friends for Christmas. That’ll be interesting!
    Hope to catch up with you again before too long. All the best.

    • Good to hear from you Shelly and glad you also use Living Light. Hope your friends enjoy Could this be God. Tell Ian I say hi.


  1. On Praying for Parking Bays: Does God Intervene? - Vose Seminary - […] post On Praying for Parking Bays: Does God Intervene? appeared first on Brian […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.