Part I – A Brief Study I
Like many of you I’m sure, I go into each new year with a special word to serve as a sort of theme for the next 365 days. The hope is that these words will help guide our decisions, define our steps, and set some intentionality behind everything we do that year. Going into 2017, the word I felt God put on my heart was MIRACLES. At the very end of 2016, our little family made a giant move, literally, from Texas to Tennessee and in the months leading up to our transition we saw God do a number of miraculous things both in our own personal situation as well as in the lives of several people around us. I had tasted a new level of the “supernatural” and I wanted more!
What I wasn’t ready for was the testing and stretching that would come with this request to see more of the signs and wonders we read about in the Bible. So the further I got into the year, the more I began studying a little more about those moments of divine activity that occur all around us whether we choose to see it or not.
Now, I’ve never been a proponent for putting God in a box or thinking that we can somehow figure Him out this side of heaven. But I do believe that in studying His character and then correlating that with His handiwork, we can and will pick up on different patterns that might help us know how better to look for the miraculous in the everyday and even position ourselves to experience the unexplainable first-hand.
The topic of miracles is inexhaustible and I in know way pretend to understand even the tip of the iceberg, but I’d love to share with you some of the things I learned as I journeyed through 2017, paying just a little more attention to what God was doing in my life, the lives of those around me, and in the world as a whole. To spare your poor eyeballs from oozing out of their sockets, I’ll break it all up into four parts. These first two posts will be a simple break down of the kinds of miracles we read about in God’s Word and still experience today, and how to look for them every day. In the other two we’ll unpack two very personally convicting pieces to this MARVELous (see what I did there?) puzzle . . . pieces I’ve endearingly named “pre-miracle tension” and “post-miracle hangover”. So let’s dig in, shall we?
One thing I think we can all agree on when it comes to God’s activity in the world is that He will never 1) do, 2) not do, 3) allow, or 4) prevent something unless it is for His glory and our good. Whether it’s in the life of a believer or someone far from Him, every move He makes or doesn’t make is always fueled by this singular motivation. For Him to conduct Himself any other way would go against everything He is. This foundational truth served (and continues to serve) as a comfort whenever things turn out differently than I might have hoped.
From this cornerstone, I believe we see and experience two kinds of miracles – the Expected and the Unexpected. Expected miracles are those situations that you’ve been praying for and expecting a breakthrough in for a given amount of time, while Unexpected Miracles are those events that occur with little to no warning, and perhaps even without your knowledge, that you may or may not have ever even prayed for.
From these two “categories”, if you will, branch all the different types or forms of miracles we see occur. I believe that the “sub-categories” of miracles that stem from these two points are the same, but due to the nature of them being either anticipated or a complete surprise, they play out far differently from one another.
Before proceeding, I’ll reiterate one last time that I’m not a Biblical scholar and this post is simply my feeble attempt at expressing what I believe the Lord revealed to my heart last year as I sought specifically for more wisdom regarding the Lord’s supernatural movement both in the Bible and today. So please don’t take this article as the be-all and end-all for breaking down this mystery-laden subject.
Moving on . . . Most miracles we read about in the Bible and see or hear about today fall into one of five sub-categories – Nature, Healing, Protection, Provision, and Salvation/Spiritual. Let’s break it down further and look at some examples, both Biblical and current, and then I’ll share the most life-altering lesson the Lord showed me as He revealed to me a new layer of His wonder-working power. I’ll start with a little of the unexpected in this post and will cover the other pieces in the next post. Okay . . . everyone strap in, because here we go!
NATURE: A few from the Bible that come to mind are the burning bush (Exodus 3), Jesus calming the storm while on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4), or when he walked upon those same waters (Matthew 14). A current example is one I experienced first-hand while on a song-writing trip to Scotland a few months ago. You can find the back story here – https://shelemah.com/bible-dripping-oil/. Trust me, if I had not seen it with my own eyes, I’d tell you this story is probably bogus, but on two different occasions, our tour guide and teacher pulled out a vial of this oil to anoint us, and both times the vial was fuller afterward than when he began. And since our trip, several of those who were with us have received their own vials of this special oil and continue to experience the same phenomenon.
HEALING: In the Bible we read about Jesus healing 10 lepers who had simply asked for pity as He walked past them (Luke 17). I would even say that Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11) would fall under Unexpected because by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, any hope for a miracle in Mary and Martha’s eyes was gone. One of my favorite stories of unexpected healing took place in someone close to me. My best friend from college received that dreaded call after a routine annual exam saying that they had found pre-cancerous cells in her cervix. With very little time to even process it all, they scheduled a procedure to remove these cells; however, on the day of the procedure, they told her they would not be able to move forward because, unbeknownst to her and her husband, she was pregnant. Then through the course of pregnancy and delivery, all of the pre-cancerous cells were sloughed off and removed completely. So not only did He heal and protect my friend from a battle with cancer, but He gave them the beautiful gift of a baby girl in the process (which by the way was a mother small miracle for this couple).
PROTECTION: The interesting piece to the miracle of protection is that many times we don’t even know it’s happening, and oftentimes may never know. We’ve all heard (or even been the subject of) those stories of people being 5 minutes late to work or missing their flight by seconds and escaping disaster because of their tardiness, right? Then there are those who have walked away from terrible accidents unscathed. Even in the scriptures we read about things like Paul’s nephew overhearing the Jews’ plot to kill his uncle and so he was able to help get him out of town in time (Acts 23). And how about Peter’s miraculous escape from prison (Acts 12)? Something tells me he did NOT see that coming.
PROVISION: There is no need on this planet great enough that God is unable to supply above and beyond for. The story of the fish and loaves (Matthew 14) is a great example from the Bible. I don’t think anyone in that crowd of thousands would’ve guessed that was coming. Growing up in a youth minister’s home, I got to see first-hand the Lord provide, down to the penny, for our family over and over again in the most astounding of ways – from families gifting us cars to checks showing up in the mail just in the nick of time. Over time, I think you grow to expect His provision; but what was and is always unexpected are those times where He provides before you even know the need is there. To me, that’s a miracle of grace that He extends to us in order to spare us the anxiety of wondering what will happen.
SALVATION/SPIRITUAL: Perhaps the greatest of miracles is that of salvation and spiritual breakthrough. One example from scripture is the thief on the cross who hung next to Jesus (Luke 23). In the final moments of this man’s crime-ridden life, God saw fit to draw his heart to His own. Another one of my favorites is the story of Zaccheus (Luke 19). He’s such a great example that no one leaves an encounter with Jesus Christ the same. We also read a number of stories where Jesus and his disciples miraculously drove out demons with just a few words (Mark 1, Luke 8, Matthew 12, Mark 7, etc).
These examples only scratch the surface and I’d be willing to bet each of you could add a slew of stories from your own lives – in fact we’d love to read about some of them in the comments. But all of these would be considered unexpected because either they seemed to come out of nowhere to the people involved, or perhaps the outcome of the miracle was somewhat expected, but the means by which the Lord intervened was completely surprising.
Anyone ready for a break?
Let’s stop here for now and let our brains rest. We’ll pick back up with Expected Miracles in our next post. For now, keep your eyes and ears open for little signs of Kingdom activity around you and share about it in the comments below!