What would you say if I asked you about the last time you experienced a miracle in your life? Would you have an overwhelming testimony of this-and-that or would you have to sit for a moment to think of something that qualifies as miraculous?
A lot of us view miracles romantically as something that only happens during a special season like Christmas or when God has just enough pity for our situation. Sometimes, we think, miracles only happen to those who are lucky enough to be graced by the crumbs of God's love when it seems like he's feeling generous or in a good mood.
What are miracles anyway?
Any quick search on miracle would return a defined understanding to be:
1 : an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs the healing miracles described in the Gospels. 2 : an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment
I'd hazard to say that for most of us when we think of miracles we think about favorable adjustments to things in our lives that seem just outside our ability to control. The worldview around miracles that we've formed seems to frequently come from a place of lack, need, or desire.
"I don't have enough money and deadlines are approaching quickly. I need a miracle!
My mom is sick with cancer and it seems like she's going to die. I need a miracle!
My relationships are falling apart and nothing I do seems to be working. I need a miracle!"
It's understandable why we'd hope for miracles during times of distress. We've done everything we can and we're at the end of our rope hoping that someone or something would just throw us a bone. It's in these moments, however, where desperation for a different circumstance begets a sense of expectation of what we believe would improve our station.
And so we turn to "whatever forces may be" to do what we can't do in hopes that it fulfills our expectation of what we think we would like to have happen. Unfortunately, things don't always work out the way we'd like. Moms die, homes get foreclosed upon, and relationships end.
It's easy to think to ourselves, "Could I get at least ONE miracle in my life, PLEASE?!"
Where do they even come from?
Whatever forces may be is a general term for the agnostic view that someone or something out there is benevolent and also capable of giving us the supernatural mercy and support that we hope for. It's that nebulous itch in the back of our mind where we question what's holding everything together and nudging our consciousness along.
Do miracles exist in a manner that coincides with their originator's intent on our lives?
If so, what's the impetus that puts them in motion?
Is the volume of realized miracles based on some formula of faith + works + reason + fun + sadism + mercy?
Are miracles actually the result of serendipitous coincidence and that's why they appear to be so rare?
I think it's tough to adequately define the origin of a miracle if we don't fully understand how miracles are actually defined beyond a vague, romanticized concept of miracle magic.
The danger here, for most people, is to believe that God exists and that Jesus gave up his life for us because we are valuable and loved. Personally, I believe that miracles are the direct result of God showing us fatherly love. All miracles come from that. It's him providing, securing, protecting - all the things a father does - me when I'm not paying attention. And sometimes when I am.
Biblically we are taught that when giving we aren't supposed to let our "right hand know what our left hand is doing". In fact, there were several times where Jesus performed miracles of healing and promptly told the person healed to tell no one. The really cool thing about learning about my Father is that, while he desires glory, he doesn't flaunt himself in my life by demanding credit for the things He's done for me. Regarding love, Corinthians says that one can't insist on their own way and act in love - even God.
My Father leaves the process of discovery and appreciation up to me. This is where the danger comes in. If we aren't careful we can overlook what God is doing and what authority of Jesus is being realized because it's not happening the way we expect that it should.
"If you love me, then you'd..."
In my experience as a consultant I've discovered that a vast majority of issues in relationships develop from unrealistic or selfish expectations.
Using the phrase, "If you love me, then..." followed by something we would like to have happen has a tendency result toxicity. This shouldn't be confused with communicating how we feel in a healthy way or drawing boundaries. Both of these relationship tools require risk and should be navigated with a posture of invitation. The difference here is that by quantifying someone's level of perceived love for us by the sum or quality of their actions we take from them their creative ability to choose us. We essentially make their decision to love us for them and the only action left on the table is compliance.
For instance if a husband says to his wife, "If you love me, then you'd do the dishes," the wife no longer has the option to do so freely of her own will. Instead, the subliminal agreement is that she either loves him or doesn't based on whether or not she does the dishes - which is all based in assumption.
Any act of love made from a position of compliance isn't true love - it's a transaction.
I'm a firm believer that all of my relationships, ideally, should be resemble my relationship with God and vice versa. There is a slight difference, however, in that God is perfect and people are not. Therefore, people require more grace while God requires me to not 'lean on my own understanding' if he truly loves me perfectly. I constantly have to remind myself, "Oh, that's right... my dad loves me. What am I not seeing the right way right now? Dad, what are you trying to show me that I'm not understanding?"
Philippians says that we should "not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."
Transactional requests to God are simply prayers with the expectation that God will follow up in a specified manner - or else he doesn't love me. They ignore what God has done, is doing, or what God has promised to do electing to focus only on the magical concept that God is a prosperity vending machine.
However, God isn't as concerned about what we think he should do as much as having a relationship us. Relationships require us to ask questions, pursue healthy conflict, seek to understand, and remind ourselves of the good - what has been done and is being done - so that we can encourage the other.
God wants encouragement too! He wants recognition for what he's done just as much as you want him to do more. Likewise, he wants to encourage you for who you are, what you have done, what you are doing.
It's a two-way street.
The formula for a miracle
Entertain me for a moment.
Take something in your life that could have been resolved by a miracle. For instance, I'll take my example of my mother's battle with breast cancer. A quite reasonable perspective on it could be, "Jesus, if you love me or my mom, you'll do what your own freakin words say and heal her from cancer." In fact, that was my perspective at the time. I was hoping for that miracle to happen. I prayed, I hoped, I worshipped, I claimed God's word, I fasted. I went through all the religious hoops I could short of sacrificing a goat or something.
In my mind I saw the following equation:
Circumstance + Expected Result = God loves me
which translated to:
My mom is dying + my mom being cancer free and in good health = God loves me
And then she died.
It would be easy to conclude, "Well, it didn't happen the way that made the most sense to me. Ergo, Jesus must not love me, must not be good for his word. What else is he gonna lie to me about?"
Placing our expectations on a situation when it involves a relationship with someone can quickly deteriorate into a series of doubts regarding their character when our expectations aren't met. I've seen this not only in my relationship with God but also relationships with friends, coworkers, old ladies at the grocery store, and even my wife. Heck, I've seen this with my own inner monologue and how I view myself!
The truth is that there is no formula for miracles to happen. We can't manufacture or fabricate them because they're a byproduct of our relationship with Jesus. They require a constant heart position of thanksgiving for what is... a constant pursuit of what God is doing instead of what he's not doing.
As I mentioned earlier, our personal relationships should be governed by the same position. Healthy relationships are birthed from realizing and appreciate when is good and true about a person - constantly reminding them of their value - and aspiring to encourage and believe the best about them.
Hidden in plain sight
Recently I met a guy who was comparing the occurrence of miracles in the West to those in less affluent parts of the world.
He recalled, "I was talking to this guy who told me that he was having a difficult time understanding why God only answered 9 out of the 10 prayers. I was thinking to myself, 'What?! He answered 9 of your prayers? It's like a miracle here in the West when God answers just 1 of our prayers!' "
In our country (the US) we have readily available medicine, hospitals within reasonable distance, access to healthcare, vehicles such as cars, ambulances, and helicopters, and 24-hour drugstores with over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. If we get a cold or the flu it's quite common to hop in our car, go to the store, grab a few drugs, take a few days off from work, lay on the couch, and recover.
In Christian circles we pray for healing, in Jesus' name and recover 7 days later wondering why it didn't happen sooner.
"Man, why did it take so long for me to get through this? I prayed for healing but I had to spend $50 on medicine, had to use PTO, and am now super behind in work. Why didn't it happen sooner? Why wasn't it cheaper? Why wasn't it more convenient?"
The same circumstance in more remote regions of, for instance, Africa would be viewed differently.
Access to medicine is a miracle.
Access to $50 discretionary is a miracle.
Having a vehicle available or owning one is a miracle.
Having a job is a miracle.
Having a job with PTO is a miracle.
Not dying from the flu is a miracle.
How crazy is that?! Personally, I've never considered surviving a sickness a miracle. It's just something that've I've come to expect. And over time, my expectations for how I navigate difficult or uncomfortable circumstances have improved to include convenience.
Paul, as he wrote in Corinthians, remarked, "You were indeed concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this out of need, for I have learned to be content regardless of my circumstances. I know how to live humbly, and I know how to abound. I am accustomed to any and every situation— to being filled and being hungry, to having plenty and having need."
I think one of the disadvantages of living in a first-world country is that there is so much distraction from what is good that we get focused on the better.
There is so much good in the world around us!
It's easy to lose sight of this because we get so absorbed in comfort and finding our identity in the pursuit of happiness. It's easy to focus on what we don't have, the way relationships didn't work out, and how the world seems to fall into entropy around us. We can feel as though life is all about us and, especially as Christians, we can fall into the trap of believing that we deserve some special treatment due to some weird form of entitlement that comes with a relationship with God.
It's easy to allow how we feel to dictate how we see.
We have a responsibility to reign that in. Of course we can choose not to do so and live bitter lives of always wanting someone or something to do our part for us. But like a muscle, we have to work on understanding that growth requires intentionality, a bit of pain, time, and the right sustenance (thankfulness).
We have to discipline ourselves to challenge what we are looking for and what we allow ourselves to believe about our circumstances. Miracles are abundant. We just have to choose to see them!
Lookin' for miracles
It's freaky how things just seem to work.
I put a seed in the ground and give it water. A vine that I didn't take the time to design sprouts in a way I couldn't imagine and produces a melon that tastes delicious.
I flick a light switch and BOOM there is light in my room at night.
I take a breath and my body takes invisible air and converts it into whatever my body needs to function.
I get a cut and somehow my body knows how to coagulate the blood to form a scab and the skin patches itself back up.
I kill a chicken, skin its body, hold its muscle tissue over a fire until its properties change, put the flesh in my mouth, chew it up, and somehow, not only is it delicious, my body figures out how to turn that into energy.
Water gets used, is capable of naturally filtering itself through soil, changes form into a gas to float thousands of miles through the air, falls on a mountain to freeze for a season, then starts the process all over again without me doing a thing.
Us simply existing is a miracle. There are so many mechanics at work, precisely woven together, to simply keep us alive and supported in our journey through life regardless of whether or not we appreciate or acknowledge them.
If we just sit and think about the how and why things work, we start to see that there is so much working in our favor. Granted, some things are easier to understand and appreciate than others, but you have to remember that God enjoys complexity just as much as he enjoys simplicity. And he's not above you trying to understand his character behind the mechanics of whatever circumstance you're navigating.
In fact, that's what relationship with him is all about. He loves us enough to create all these ridiculously awesome things for us to discover. A lot of them we'll never even consider or think twice about and yet the production quality of the world around us is top notch.
As a gamer friend once joked, "I love real life. The graphics are amazing."
Have you ever tried making pancakes? I almost always burn them or make them look sloppy. But I receive a certain level of satisfaction by providing my wife with something edible that tastes kinda good and looks somewhat presentable.
We as humans get so excited to show off our often mediocre ability to succeed by creating or fixing things. And yet we overlook the insane amount of consideration it took to for God to design a starfish - a living organism - capable of not only reproducing on its own but doing so by being cut in half.
I wish I could make my pancakes could do that.
"We are on a giant rock floating through the void of space,"
and somehow I'm able to sit here eating pizza.
Take some time to think about the circumstances of your life and try to identify some things that you might be taking for granted. Your relationships, health, vocation, living situation, life season, etc.
What are you not seeing that, if you actually consider it, you're thankful to have?
What are some of the possible positive transitions you're experiencing through a difficult circumstance?
What is something that's maintaining its health, position, or place in your life without you actively trying to do so?
What doors are still open that could technically be closed?
What doors are now closed that could technically be open?
In what ways are you being loved right now that you might be taking for granted?
In what ways are you receiving mercy for the dumb stuff you might be doing or grace for the things you might not be doing?
If we take the time to look we'll find that even the most jaded, bitter, and hopeless situations are actually clothed in miracles not for the sake of miracles being done but because God loves us so much that he has poured everything he is into the world for our benefit.
It just takes little bit of time, some grace, and a bit of humility on our part to see it.
Oh, what do pizza, Jesus, and miracles have in common?