By Nick Brzozowski
This blog is adapted from Nick's message on this topic. You can listen to it here.
After finishing a round of chemo, Dave, a 39-year-old pastor’s appendix burst. Because his body was so compromised from the chemo, it was impossible for his immune system to fight the infection, but surgery was also out of the question since his blood was not clotting.
He only had hours left to live. Then, he dozed off, thinking about his daughter walking down the aisle on her wedding day without her dad. But, he woke up the next morning, and the morning after that, and the morning after that. By all accounts, he should have died, but he was able to go home safe and sound!
On the morning of December 7th, 2007, Alcedes was washing windows on a 47 story tower, with his brother, when suddenly, their platform goes plunging into the pavement. His brother dies on impact, but Alcedes is induced into a coma. On Christmas Day, three weeks later, he woke up. And a year after that he was able to walk again.
On a Thursday afternoon, October 6th, an Illinois man named Nick opened his pantry to discover that the chocolate bar which was purchased five days earlier had remained in the pantry without being fully consumed. Sunday, there was chocolate. Monday, chocolate. Tuesday, chocolate. Wednesday, chocolate. For five days, neither him nor his wife finished off that sweet treat. And if you came to this blog, skeptical that miracles still happen today, there is nothing more I can say to convince you. If there was ever a modern-day miracle, that would be the one!
Now, maybe you're still skeptical. You’re thinking, there could be another medically acceptable reason why Dave would recover naturally from his burst appendix. Or just because Alcedes was washing a 47 story building doesn’t mean that he fell from the top. Or there must have been extra chocolate for their to be that remaining piece.
David Hume was an 18th century philosopher who asked those very same questions. He read 1 Corinthians 15, where the apostle Paul says that everything hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. Paul states that without that miracle, we are all still doomed in our sins and the most to be pitied. In that same chapter, we read that there were 500 witnesses of the resurrection!
But, David Hume has to go and 💩 on our party. He says - what if the original witnesses only thought they saw Jesus? Or what if what we read in 1 Corinthians 15 today is not what Paul actually said, only a distortion of it? According to Hume, you’d have to be crazy to accept witness testimony to that degree for something as extraordinary as a person coming back from the dead. Maybe, you are like Hume - your commitment to science and logic rules out seriously considering miracles.
You might be a skeptic for a different reason. Maybe you don’t believe in miracles because you prayed for one. In fact, your entire family prayed and prayed with all their hearts that he would recover. In fact, your whole church was praying for his recovery. Dozens, maybe even hundreds of people, praying for something that didn’t happen. You don’t have a problem accepting the logical possibility of miracles. You have a different reason to reject miracles. Your experiences force you to reject them.
So, to all the skeptics, hear me out! Don’t let your logic stand in the way of a miracle. As one pastor put it — Nothing will block the supernatural like our logic. Some of us have educated ourselves out of a miracle. “We are just too smart for God. Too intelligent for heaven. Too brilliant for the Kingdom of God.” And if you are letting your experiences effect you, listen to what another pastor says, “I cannot base my theology off of my experiences” — there’s ups and downs. Build your house on the rock. I can’t explain why some things did or didn’t happen. I’m not going to get caught up in bitterness, questioning whether or not God wants to bring miracles in and through my life, I’m moving forward with faith. I’d rather live with faith than with a cynical heart. Hope than a bitter spirit.”—— We are going to trust God over our logic. We are going to trust God over our experiences. We aren’t waiting on God for a miracle, he is waiting on us. All we need is a little faith and mountains are moved in Jesus’ name.
And those are some examples of preachers inspiring us with half-truths. And some may even cause more harm than good. If you were hoping for a “light-switch” blog where I tell you to shut off your brain for God to bring miracles into your life, you might be disappointed. If you were hoping for a “Mr. Clean easy eraser” article where I tell you to just forget about anything in your life that makes you doubt God, you might be disappointed. If you were hoping that I would blame you and shame you for not having enough faith, then I should just warn you right now, that is not what this blog is going to be.
So, let’s clarify some things.
Yes or No: Does faith require we shut off our brains?
Yes or No: Does faith require we pretend painful things never happened?
Yes or No: Does Jesus want to fill your life with countless miracles?
Yes or No: Does every miracle defy nature?
Nature-defying miracles do happen. Jesus did literally, physically, and historically rise from the dead. The blind receive sight. The lame walk. The deaf hear. And the dead are raised. But, not all the time. And yet, Jesus came to give life abundantly.
And if you want a life full of miracles, you will need to discover how to recognize all three kinds of miracles, not just one.
1. Unexplained Wonders
The first kind of miracle is unexplained wonders. But, even an unexplained wonder does not have to violate the laws of nature.
Imagine, you move from the equator to Canada in the year 500 BC and you see ice for the first time. Before then, you had no categories for ice. You’re truly astounded. For your whole life, you knew for certain that water was always a liquid and never a solid. The laws of nature were not violated, but they appeared to be. This is an example of an unexplained wonder.
G.K. Chesterton wrote about unexplained wonders when he said, “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” He sees wonders everywhere. If you consider it for a moment, you can see his point. We can do a pretty good job explaining how a chicken produces an egg or how a tree provides fruit. But, you can’t explain why these things happen. One and one must always equal two. But, we can imagine a world in which fruit don’t come from trees.
Here’s how he puts it: “All the terms used in the science books, “law,” “necessity,” “order,” “tendency,” and so on, are really unintellectual, because they assume an inner synthesis, which we do not possess. The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, like: “charm,” “spell,” or “enchantment.” They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a MAGIC tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched. The sun shines because it is bewitched.”
The Psalmist puts it like this in Psalm 19:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth.
The sun made a grand entrance this morning. And it'll do it again tomorrow and again the next day. And it’s a miracle. At one level, sure, it can be explained. But, at another, it is an absolute mystery why the sun does what it does.
This week, take a look at color on the trees. Hold your child in your arms. Smell your coffee. Then tell yourself, “this is magic.”
Try to discover, recognize and acknowledge the unexplained wonders all around you.
2. Unanswered Prayers
The next kind of miracle doesn’t feel like what we expect miracles to feel like. It doesn’t look like we thought they should look. But, it is still a miracle.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about his thorn in the flesh. We don’t know what that was specifically. It could have been migraines, some sort of disability, or possibly impairment to his vision or some cranky neighbors. He keeps it vague (I think so that we call all relate). And the word “thorn” implies more of a tent peg in the side, than a thumb tack.
We read that Paul asked God three times for it to be removed, which is probably an expression meaning that he asked over and over again for it to go away. He pleaded with God.
Have you ever pleaded with God for anything like Paul did?
But, instead of removing the thorn in the flesh, God says to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Over and over again, Paul cries out: “God, the pain is unbearable. God, I can’t go one more day with this. Please, remove the thorn.” And God says, “No, my grace is enough.” I love what theologian, Redpath says about this verse: “Do you see the humor of the situation? God’s grace: me. His grace sufficient for little me! How absurd to think that it could ever be any different! As if a little fish could swim in the ocean and fear lest it might drink it dry! The grace of our crucified, risen, exalted, triumphant Saviour, the Lord of all glory, is surely sufficient for me! Do you not think it is rather modest of the Lord to say sufficient?”
So, when you go to God and say, “The pain is unbearable. I can’t go one more day with this. Please, remove this thorn!” and he replies, “No.” then you are actually experiencing a miracle. It’s the miracle of unanswered prayer.
As a youth pastor, all I wanted in the world was to grow the youth ministry. I dreamt of doubling it. I did everything I knew to do to reach teens. I followed every strategy. And I prayed at least three times. And in three years, I grew the youth ministry from 60 to 30. Those three years, I experienced a miracle. It wasn’t the one I imagined. It was the miracle of unanswered prayer. You see, if God answered my prayers to double the ministry, my ego would have doubled. I would have also been blinded by success, not realizing how toxic the atmosphere was that I was in and was eroding my soul every day. And I would have never come to Champaign to start Anchor with Hannah. Unanswered prayer was a miracle in my life!
Through unanswered prayers, we become dependent on God. Through unanswered prayers, we become humble. And after our prayers aren’t answered, God shows us his surprising grace — his kindness and patience, his presence which sustains us, and his power to get things done in an unimaginable ways.
3. Unknowable Love
Can you find the last kind of miracle in a prayer that Paul prays in Ephesians 3? He asks God that the Ephesians would “know love that surpasses knowledge.” Do you see the miracle in this prayer? Think about what Paul doesn’t pray.
He doesn’t pray that God would make the Ephesians lovable. For all of my life, that was my prayer. When I was a kid, I had to be the good one who did what he was told and didn’t cause any problems. But, that didn’t make me feel lovable enough. So, I also had to be the kid who got straight A’s. This still didn’t do it. So I got really involved in church and I memorized all these verses. But, that still wasn’t enough. So, I became more than just a great Christian, I wanted to reach all my friends for Jesus. But, I couldn’t save enough people. So, I became a pastor, thinking that would make me more effective, more lovable. But, my ministry doesn’t get big enough.
I’m never disciplined enough.
I’m never a strong enough leader.
My sermons aren’t engaging enough.
In this race to the top, I never truly feel lovable enough.
But, Paul doesn’t pray that I would be lovable. He doesn’t pray that God would love me. You don’t have to wonder if God truly loves you.
You don’t have to wonder if God truly loves you.
Sometimes, it isn’t clear whether or not someone loves us. Sometimes, the people who are supposed to care for us and look out for us, let us down — like a spouse, a parent, or a pastor. The people we have trusted and served and loved have so deeply hurt us that our body’s themselves are holding onto this trauma.
Instead of loving you, they violated you, they neglected you, they betrayed you, they said all kinds of awful lies about you, they broke their vows, they cheated you, or they abandoned you.
But, with God, there is not question what he thinks of you. "For God so loved the world, he gave his son." "For this is love, not that we have loved Christ, but that he has loved us and gave himself for you."
Not that you would be lovable. Not that God would love you. You see — the miracle is the unknowable love of God. Some of us struggle to know the love of God because we have experienced distorted and twisted love.
Don’t pray for God to love you.
Don’t pray that you would be lovable.
Instead, pray that you would have a mind that could comprehend that which surpasses knowledge, love so great, words fail to capture.
Pray for a new heart that may receive the peace that comes with that love, the joy that floods through, the wonder of that love, hope that comes when the powerful God in whom all things are possible truly wants what’s best for you.
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