Like countless others I found myself using the word ‘miracle’ as I watched all 367 passengers and 12 crew escape from their doomed plane when it was engulfed in flames in Tokyo last week.

I suppose I found the incident especially poignant because my son and his family had flown into the same airport just a few days earlier, and I found it a salutary reminder of just how quickly disaster can strike.

But as I listened to both passengers and various sections of the press talking about this amazing ‘miracle’ I couldn’t help thinking that everyone seemed to be using the word in a diluted, even anaemic sense. Yes, miracles are astonishing and in that sense their escape was nothing short of miraculous, but as I understand it a genuine miracle is infinitely more than that; it is an ‘extraordinary and astonishing happening that is attributed to the presence and action of an ultimate or divine power’.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying miracles break the laws of nature, I am simply suggesting that they challenge us to recognise that another ‘power’ has chosen to intervene in a particular situation. This is why the New Testament often uses the word ‘signs’. Viewed this way miracles ‘point us Godward’.

There are those who would doubt miracles ever occur of course, but I am delighted to say that I don’t just believe in miracles, I have had the privilege of witnessing more than a few over the years, not least when I was member of a Christian team that took aid into the former war-torn Yugoslavia in the 1990’s. In fact, I saw so many ‘God incidences’ on those journeys that I ended up writing a book that we aptly subtitled ‘Miracles of Mercy in Croatia 1992-2012’.

I have witnessed miracles on many other occasions too. There was the doctor whose miraculous healing from cancer was so credible for example that a national tabloid was eager to run the story when I offered it, and a well-known publisher was willing to print a book that focused on it too. And then there was the local campsite owner told me a few years ago of “the miraculous event” she and her husband had witnessed when a five-year-old girl on holiday escaped with mere bruising after being run over by the family car. “Later in the day, when I was mulling over what had happened’ she said, ‘I remembered that a group of Korean Christians who had visited us recently had particularly prayed over our camping fields, and I strongly believe that there was a connection between their prayers and the fact that a tragedy had been averted”.

Having said all this though, I believe the former atheist-come-Christian-apologist CS Lewis hit the nail on the head when he wrote ‘The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say God became man. Every other miracle prepares the way for this, or results from this’.

There are times then, when we are invited to believe that God choses to intervene in this mucky, messed up world. The birth of Jesus is proof of it, and faith recognises it. But of course, the greatest challenge comes when God doesn’t choose to intervene in the way we think He should because we are encouraged to trust Him then too, and to be able to do that is nothing short of miraculous. Thankfully it’s a gift that God is willing to give to anyone.