Monday, July 21, 2008

More On Miracles...

On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “...Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

This passage from Acts chapter 4 was the text of a recent message at the church where I attend.

I don't think it was what he intended, but somewhere in his message the pastor shed a light on my difficulty with the miraculous. In a recent blog entry I talked about this, and since then several people have responded in different ways. Some have tried to tell me of "miracles" that happened in their own lives. Without exception, these have been either "medical miracles" ("the doctor said X would happen, but it didn't"), or they have been subjective "inner miracles" ("God touched my withered heart and it was healed" or something like that). Others have given me the “miracles are not for today” line (i.e. dispensationalism). In all cases, they seem to miss the point. It's not that I want to see a specific type of miracle. It’s more a kind of interaction with God that I’m looking for.

During his message, the pastor urged us several times to pray for boldness. He talked about our need for boldness to speak God's word. He spoke of the amazing boldness Peter had had, some hours before this prayer was lifted up, to declare the Gospel to the rulers and the High Priest, mere weeks after these same men had taken part in Jesus' crucifixion. He talked about the boldness Peter had had a few days before, when he stretched out his hand to a cripple saying "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you…”

However, at no time during the message did the pastor urge us to pray for "miraculous signs and wonders" to be done through the name of Jesus. Why not? It seems to me that the prayer for boldness and the prayer for miracles are one continuous thought to those speaking in Acts 4. The miracles feed their boldness, and vice-versa. Am I the only one who sees a direct connection between Peter’s involvement in the healing of the cripple and Peter’s subsequent ability to boldly proclaim the Gospel before the antagonistic Jewish leaders in the next chapter? The things that were happening around Peter gave him a confidence that was more than just wishful thinking, or hoping for the best. Peter was seeing God work in powerful, incontrovertible ways around him, in real-time concert with his own actions and prayers.

At the end of the service, the pastor had us all stand for a closing prayer. He offered a stirring prayer patterned off of the one offered up in Acts 4, ending with "...and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus." I waited for something to happen. I'm not kidding, I did. I wanted something to happen. Everyone lifted their heads, opened their eyes, and began to stir. People immediately started filling the aisles, and milling about in the general direction of the exits. The place where we were was not shaken.

People will probably think I’m crazy for talking like this. Of course the building isn’t going to shake just because we prayed a prayer. Millions of people all over the world are praying – is God going to shake every building where people pray? Of course not. But… it’s not just that I want a building to shake. That’s not the point. It’s not that I want God to do something amazing just for me. That’s not the point at all. A child might be criticized for asking for candy and doughnuts all the time, but who will be critical of a hungry child who just asks for something to eat so that he might not starve?

The more I think about it, the more I like Thomas. Thomas didn’t say “I need Jesus to come bodily with me everywhere I go so that at any moment I can touch the scars in his hands and side, and reassure myself that he’s really there.” That’s what some people hear me saying, I think. Like I’m a whiny child always demanding special favors. It’s not true.

Thomas needed something, and Jesus gave it to him. Thomas didn’t want to be healed, or to be given wealth and riches, or an easy life, or anything like that. Thomas’ faith was in peril, and he needed something from Jesus or it was going to die then and there.

According to Luke 24, when the Mary Magdalene and the other women initially informed the apostles that Jesus had risen, they all disbelieved her! When Jesus appeared to the apostles the first time (when Thomas was absent), it was to a room full of doubters. It wasn’t until they had seen something that anyone believed. Even the women who initially came to the empty tomb first thought that someone had stolen the body (John 20). It wasn’t until angels appeared to tell them the good news that they believed.

So who’s Jesus talking about when he says “blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed”?

I suppose he might have been talking about people like me, but I'm not feeling the blessedness. I guess it's good that I'm not "feeling" it, because then the feeling of blessedness would be a kind of "seeing" and I wouldn't be blessed anymore!

Have you ever had the experience of trying to figure some mystery out, where you're trying and trying to figure it out, and an explanation suddenly dawns on you from left field -- an explanation that goes against your most basic assumptions about the matter? I remember once when I was building a computer system from scratch for my son. I had a motherboard and other parts that I had purchased off eBay and other places. I'd put it all together, but couldn't get the thing to start. I took it all apart and put it back together several times. I worked at it, trying different configurations, all the while worried that one or other of the parts I had bought might be bad, or worse, maybe I had broken something. Maybe I'd messed it up somehow. Suddenly, it just popped into my head out of nowhere that the wall outlet I had plugged the system into was controlled by a switch at the door. Suddenly all my worries, all my stress and anguish vanished as if they had never been. I flipped the switch and everything worked.

In a way, I feel like I'm in that place again, but I haven't yet discovered the "lightswitch" solution.


At 11:11 PM, Blogger Zurc Darkstar said...

i agree with you completely... part of me believes that church prays in the name of the future of the church rather than in the name of God. Its not an uncommon mistake though. I think people often pray in the name of their own personal well being. Prayer is a convorsation with God not a request.

Me and a friend were doing some work awhile ago we have this huge test tommorow and we decided to study together. The product of that interaction was the improvement of my ability to speak in tagalog. In the same way i think that we pray and a product of that prayer is a better relationship with him. But like i said people get confused they forget that we are in an active relationship with God and they focus on what God is able to give them instead of God. in the same way I focus on a positive relationship with my friend and from that we are able to improve our abilities to speak tagalog

get what im sayin?

At 9:19 AM, Blogger Tim said...

Wow, thanks for your comments Zurc!

This is very, very thought provoking for me. I've got a lot of different responses bouncing about in my head -- some of them contradictory to one another...

I'm gonna think about this a bit today, and respond more fully later.

You've made my day today! Thanks!

At 11:04 PM, Blogger Tim said...


Lately, I've been having a big problem reconciling what seems to me to be a great gulf between the way God interacted with people in the Bible, and the way he seems to interact -- or rather, to NOT interact -- with people today.

That's why I say that more and more I like Thomas -- so-called "doubting Thomas". What he wanted is exactly what I want -- what I really feel I need.

There was really no difference between Thomas and the other apostles. NONE OF THEM believed upon first hearing that Jesus had risen, they all doubted the initial report of the women. Thomas was just more articulate and honest about what he needed.

That real-time interaction. Where you really know that what you're saying to God when you pray is being heard and responses are coming in real-time. The Bible is FULL of that, from beginning to end. But I don't know that I've ever experienced it in my life, except for isolated incidents that have been so rare, they could easily be coincedental, statistically speaking. Like a guy who asks his dice for sixes, and sometimes gets them -- of course he will, but the dice aren't listening nevertheless.

I know at one time, at least for a short time, you considered yourself an atheist. I don't think I could ever be an atheist because to me the very existence of the universe is proof that some intelligence must be behind it. However, that idea that the Bible is a reliable source of truth regarding him -- how to say this? --- it's not that I'm leaning toward some other source, like some other religious book -- it's just all up in the air.

Thanks again for your comments,
See you next month!

At 9:20 AM, Anonymous Mike Lopez said...

Hi Tim,

I admire you for your "boldness" in speaking out your thoughts. Hopefully, you won't get bashed by the "more faithful believers" who might think that you're riding the wrong train. To me, you're simply asking. Trying to compare the biblical promises to what you are seeing today.

I once was a Christian and now an atheist. I think I'll be an atheist until I encounter some sort of evidence that a god does really exist. Opposed to what you say, I don't think the universe is the creation of some intelligent being because in that sense, this being would have been more awesome than the universe and therefore would also merit for another creator - one who created the creator of the universe. Anyway, that's another topic....

Back to miracles. The present day world have more doubting Thomases than before and I think most (if not all) of us do need to stick the finger into the wound. Sad to say though, I think god chooses to be silent this time around.

Mike Lopez
The Filipino Atheist

P.S. Keep on asking. Then for each question you ask, try to find an answer. Sooner or later, you'll come across the correct one.


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