- Thursday, August 11, 2005
The title of my column today strikes me as oxymoronic. Miracles, after all, are defined as acts of God, amazing and marvelous events, and “seals of a divine mission” (Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary). Generally speaking, there’s nothing small about them.
What I’m talking about then, are instances of heavenly intervention in the lives of believers that impact what we would consider “minor” areas of our existence, the things that cause us to make statements like: “It showed me that God cares about even the small things in our lives,” always as if that’s a profoundly shocking proclamation. Nobody ever responds by saying, “Well, duh…”
I think that’s because it never stops being a mind-blowing concept – the Creator of the universe, who hears the prayers and praises of billions simultaneously and loves each one the same, provided, perhaps, just the right amount of money for a struggling single mom to buy her child a pair of shoes. It’s not the parting of the
This Sunday in our Adult Bible Fellowship class, my friend Karen stepped in to teach our continuing series in Mark’s gospel. We were in Chapter Six, focusing primarily on the Feeding of the 5,000. As she began her lesson, Karen admitted that she’d never quite been able to visualize this scene, or understand exactly what the miracle was meant to show. I mean, there is the lesson of provision, but the human body can go without food for quite some time. Jesus Himself fasted in the wilderness for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-4). So it’s not like life and death were hanging in the balance if the people who had followed Him to this “desolate place” went without dinner that night.
It could be, Karen suggested, Jesus just didn’t want the people to go away – He had just suffered the death of His cousin John the Baptist, and recently endured the “amazing unbelief” (Mark 6:6) of those from His hometown of
Maybe, Karen said, that’s why she always tended to overlook this miracle a little bit. “You know how sometimes when God does something that you know was ‘just for you,’ and you tell someone else about it, and they’re like, ‘That’s cool and all,’ but it just doesn’t carry the same meaning for them?”
I knew exactly what that was like, and I liked where she was going. I could see an even greater personalization in mini-miracles, in God drawing delight from blessing our socks off in ways that speak to our individual hearts. The idea also gave me greater permission to attribute to the Lord all sorts of transpirings that I had chalked up to my own efforts, happenstance, or even worse, gone without noticing.
I hope Karen will forgive me, because at this point I tuned her out a little bit and disappeared into my own memories of three times I know the Lord did something “just for me” that neither biology nor physics could explain (you, therefore, are forgiven if at this point you do the same).
The first time I realized “God cares about the little things in our lives” was at 15, when my cat developed feline leukemia, a disease the vet told us was incurable. I didn’t know much about prayer, but my mother did, and she asked the Lord to heal that cat. She would tell me years later that she believed God had told her during her prayers that He intended to make the cat well so I would not grow bitter. I hate to think I would have turned my back on Him over one dead animal, but I sure was excited to see her get better and go on waiting outside my bedroom door to wake me up for years to come. The vet had no explanation, and God received the glory.
Later, in college, after escaping my teen years with mostly good skin, I developed about six or seven (ewww!) warts on my left hand. It just so happened at the same time I was involved in a relationship that was, shall we say, inappropriate. Once that was over, I repented, and the warts disappeared, never to return. Coincidence? Could be, but not for me. I am not saying I was stricken with those little buggers for my disobedience – I don’t see God as in that business – but it did show me what I was susceptible to if I stayed to my own devices, intermingling the tastes of honey and wormwood (Proverbs 5:3-4).
Next, it was Memorial Day weekend 1997. I was helping Valerie, who had just completed graduate school, move from
Maybe you’re thinking the same thing my friend Scott did: “You got lucky, dude.” Yeah, well, that’s why Karen says sometimes these events are “just for us.” I saw those keys, I was astounded, I was humbled. I decided that giving credit to the Lord for things that bless you is never wrong (James 1:17).
I just don’t do it enough.
I wonder how many mini-miracles I’ve missed out on by being impatient, angry, or inattentive. Donald Miller, in Blue Like Jazz, has Moses tell those worshipping the golden calf: “Your problem is not that God is not fulfilling, your problem is that you are spoiled” (92). Romans 1:20 would seem to indicate that the Lord’s hand is evident everywhere – “people can clearly see His invisible qualities.” I like that verse very much, because I like to think of myself as on the lookout for God in nature. Only problem is, there’s this one passage in the Book of Acts that always convicts me of just how NOT sold out to seeing His hand I am.
Imagine you’ve planned a mission trip, and you’re so clear of your destination because not only has God told you where to go (Acts 16:9), the Holy Spirit has also shown you where not to go (vs. 6). Anyway, you’re going along, doing the Lord’s work, and you encounter a woman from whom you cast you an evil spirit (vs. 16-18). Not only is nobody rejoicing over this miracle, this girl’s master is totally ticked at you because she no longer has the ability to tell fortunes (vs. 19). You are stripped, beaten, and thrown in jail (vs. 22-24).
Not cool! God, you sent us here to do your work, and I don’t see it happening right here, right now! You obviously have no clue how to do mission work.
(Oh wait, that would be my response. What Paul and Silas did was…)
Sing (vs. 25). Sing?! Come on now, that would probably be my last reaction. But sing hymns and praises they did, the other prisoners listened in, and wouldn’t you know it? – an earthquake shook the prison to its foundations, all the doors swung open, and all the chains just fell off the captives (vs. 26). The guard, thinking he was in some serious trouble, was about to fall on his own sword when Paul shouted out they were all there (vs. 27-29). That man immediately asked what he must do to be saved, and his whole family accepted Christ (vs. 30-34) that night.
Almost unbelievable. Part of me wants to ask, “Couldn’t God have just sent Paul, in a nice suit and tie, straight to Mr. Jailer’s neighborhood to go door-to-door and achieve the same result?” Probably. Definitely. But He wanted to do it this way, which stung for a while but quite honestly was much cooler in the end.
Which brings me to the other ways to miss miracles – by not accepting them or expecting them, by resenting them or wanting to earn them. I quote from Blue Like Jazz again, where Miller admits, “I love to give to charity, but I don’t want to be charity. This is why I have so much trouble with grace” (84). The other problem with grace is that, as with Paul and Silas, it often, by nature, is revealed when circumstances smell really stinky. They knew that; I hope to. It would certainly make me more pleasant in traffic.
So what is the ultimate purpose of these “just for you” mini-miracles? Well, that’s obviously somewhat subjective. Overall, I think the Lord is trying to say during the Feeding of the 5,000 and even today, “Here I Am, stay here, spend more time, no need to go away, please accept this, put yourself in My hands, keep your eyes open, I love you.”
After all, “If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7:11). Mini-miracles are the treats God brings home to His kids, those who seek him with childlike faith (Psalm 116:6, Matthew 11:25), those who consider themselves “the little things in life.” Well, duh…
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