Miracles Do Not Happen Every Day

Miracle Toast

Miracle Toast

I suppose first I should define what a miracle is.

When miracles are mentioned in scripture, they are events that defied the natural order. When a man is healed of leprosy or water is turned into wine it is a God who created nature directly intervening within it. He is bending or breaking the rules he created within nature. Miracles are not just unlikely events, they are impossible events. That is why the cross is so amazing, it is not unlikely that a man would rise from the dead, it is impossible. There is no natural explanation for it.

But when I define what a miracle is, I am also defining what a miracle is not. It is not an unlikely event. When a child is born, it is not a miracle. God has created a process and a natural order that makes birth possible. It is amazing, even breathtaking, but it is not outside the natural order. Modern medical treatments with antibiotics, chemotherapy, and medicines are not miraculous. Again, the way God made penicillin in that fungus was designed to kill bacteria. It is amazing, but not a miracle.

So if miracles are simply unlikely, positive events then yes, miracles happen all the time. But if you take the supernatural out of the word miracle, we are left with yet another meaningless positive word. English already has plenty of those.

Now I’m sure this comes off as extremely cynical. Why would I poke holes in other people’s enjoyment of a positive event? God ought to be praised when good things happen. Why would I be such a stick in the mud?

First, I am afraid that the abuse of the word miracle has, in fact, diminished when actual miracles occur. My wife suffers from serious back pain in the not too distant past. She had strained muscles in her back from compensating for the pain. A friend came and prayed for her and her pain went away immediately. It went away and it stayed away. She is not prone to exaggeration and I have no explanation for how she felt better.

I think she was healed miraculously.

So when people abuse the word miracle it cheapens the work God actually did for us that day. My wife’s back problems did not all go away, but the muscle damage she experience did go away. I’m sure that there is a natural process that would explain her healing, but none that would explain how she recovered within a single day. God was very kind to us that day. It is difficult to describe this as a miracle and be heard because so many people are presenting so many events as miracles that simply are not.

Second, we are in a habit of ascribing to God every unlikely happy event but not every unlikely sad one. When a loved one is struck by lightning are dies of a rare disease, we are very reluctant to ascribe these unlikely events to God. Many times, this comes from a commendable desire to not blame God for evil, but it rings very hollow to me to credit God for every good in the world and not have an answer for every evil.

As it is, I believe scripture is clear that he is wholly in control of every good and evil in the world. When Job’s wife told him to curse God and die, Job did not respond by telling her that she had a poor theology and that God would never have done all of these terrible things to him. He said,

“You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Job 2:10

I think we lose a lot of credibility in a scary world when we are ready to call anything a miracle that is good and then sit silently with no response to evil.

Finally, a clarification. When some of you read this, you will think I am saying that every good should not be ascribed to God. Quite the opposite. God has provided food, clothing, heat, beauty, and a host of other goods to us. All of these goods come through a couple of extraordinary miracles. The act of creation, making something from nothing, is an astonishing miracle. The act of changing my foolish heart into someone who loves Jesus is compared to raising the dead in scripture. It is a miracle.

We should be grateful to God for all of these things. But let’s not abuse the term miracle by using it to mean unlikely. God certainly controls whether a coin lands on heads or tails and within that choice, it happens 50% heads and 50% tails. We need not list coin tosses as miracles and neither should we list events that have a one in a million chance either. Someone will win the lottery, but it is not a miracle if it is you.

So point out God’s goodness when you see it, miracles when you see them, but please don’t mix the two up.

-Chip

Photo is by Matt Gibson and is used with his permission

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Affirmation Junkie Seeking Treatment

7392For those of you that know me, I have a secret.

No, I don’t do drugs.

Nope, no secret life of crime.

I’m an affirmation junkie.

But I take comfort that you are one too. You see, we are all affirmation junkies (except maybe some sociopaths). I love to have people’s approval. It’s one of my biggest fears in blogging that I am really just trying to sooth my affirmation habit.

In a real way, I should be an affirmation junkie. I should want desperately to be approved by God. Jesus treats that phrase, “Well done, good and faithful servant” to be a serious and honorable reward to seek. Think about it, how incredible would it be to be patted on the back by the creator of all things.

Unfortunately, I often prefer a much poorer substitute: you.

There is nothing wrong with your praise for me. The best of us are the one’s who praise God and others the most. I am reading a wonderful book by Sam Crabtree called Practicing Affirmation which is about how to wisely affirm others. Please read this book, particularly if you are a crank who never praises anything. To praise others can be wrong, to never praise others may mean you aren’t like God at all. He praises people. We should too.

By affirmation, I don’t mean flattery. If I say something positive about you for the purpose of getting you to do something for me. That is garbage. There are many flatterers out there and the scriptures clearly condemn the practice (Pro 29:5, Job 32:21-22).

I also don’t mean praising the insignificant. “Nice shirt” is praise, but of the smallest variety. These praises are the bulk of the affirming words that we as Americans give to each other. They feel shallow and meaningless because they are. No, there are better praises than that.

As Sam Crabtree argues, real affirmations are descriptions of how a person is displaying an attribute of God. If someone works hard, say that. God also works hard and they are being like God. If someone is kind or gentle or generous or humble, tell them so and remind them that they are being like God when they do these things. How substantive is that!

“It was so good to see you help that lady with her groceries. That looked like something Jesus would do.”

“The way you spoke to that angry customer was very gentle. That took patience.”

The nature of a good affirmation is actually delighting in the way they have imitated God. When people act like their creator, it is a wonderful thing.

But back to the original question, how can I like affirmation yet not idolize it. Jesus had some serious warning about seeking the praise of people. He also had serious promises about the praise God can give as a reward. So what do I do when someone praises me.

  1. Recognize that all the praiseworthy things in me are gifts from God.
  2. Not only are these attributes from God, but they are perfected in him. If I do something well, how much more magnificently does God do it.
  3. The real joy is in delighting in God getting praise. Not in keeping the praise for myself.
  4. Praise from people is to be joyfully accepted. What a sweet thing that someone can delight in my work. But it is not to be kept, as if the good quality were from me.

I recently read an analogy from Corrie Ten Boom recounted from here:

Someone once asked her (Corrie) how she could possibly handle all the compliments and praise that were constantly heaped upon her, without becoming proud. She said she looked at each compliment as a beautiful long-stemmed flower given to her. She smelled it for a moment and then put it into a vase with the others. Each night, just before retiring, she took the beautiful bouquet and handed it over to God saying, “Thank you, Lord, for letting me smell the flowers; they all belong to you.”

I think Tante Corrie is right on. Praise can be delighted in, but only for a short time. The real joy is getting the praise to the one who really deserves it. What is amazing to me is that he is the one who really deserves all praise, yet he takes the time to praise my good works that he caused.

What an amazing God we serve.

-Chip