One thing to keep in mind is that the Bible seems to show us that there are two different kinds of miracles, not just one.
The first kind of miracle is where God supernaturally removes or resolves a problem, like when someone is physically ill and God removes the sickness. I call these “instantaneous miracles” because they happen in a moment’s notice. The apostle Paul performed instantaneous miracles. “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul” (Acts 19:11). These miracles were immediate. Presto, chango—it’s done. Cancer’s gone. Sight’s restored.
I once volunteered to be a fifth- and sixth-grade boys’ counselor for a week of church camp. At registration a mother approached me and mentioned that her son suffered from extreme migraines. She handed me his medication and said, “At some point this week he’ll suffer an attack. When he does, give him two of these pills and call me; I’ll have to pick him up and take him home.”
Sure enough, the next day he tugged on my arm and said, “It’s time.” I walked him to our dorm, and as I was taking the lid off the bottle, I said, “This may sound crazy, but can I pray for you?”
“I guess,” he said.
I gently placed my hand on his shoulder and prayed for Jesus to take the migraine completely away. When I finished, the boy looked up at me and said, “What did you do? It’s gone!”
I said, “I think Jesus just took it away.”
That’s an instantaneous miracle. They’re amazing when they happen, but it’s important to remember they were extremely rare in biblical times and are just as rare today. In twenty years as a pastor, I can remember witnessing only four such miracles.
The second kind of miracle is the kind where God chooses not to supernaturally remove or resolve a problem. Instead, God gives his ongoing, miraculous strength to us to enable us to persevere through the problem. This kind of miracle happened routinely in the Bible and it still happens as frequently today. I call these “perseverance miracles” because the “miracle” does not occur instantly. James 1:3 tells us that “the testing of [our] faith develops perseverance.” The Greek word for perseverance is hypoméno. It’s formed by the combination of two Greek words: hypo, under, and meno, to remain. To persevere means to stand up under a heavy trial, the way a bodybuilder lifts three hundred pounds over his head and stands up under it—arms shaking, knees ready to buckle, shoulders splitting with pain—without dropping the weights.
There were times in the Bible when God chose not to instantaneously heal people. Paul ends one of his letters by saying, “I left Trophimus sick in Miletus” (2 Timothy 4:20). Sick? Trophimus was Paul’s coworker. Doesn’t the Bible say God performed “extraordinary miracles” through Paul? Surely God could have healed Trophimus, but he didn’t. Instead, God chose to give Trophimus the strength to persevere through his sickness.
When I think of miracles of perseverance, I think of my dad. The same day I was offered a contract to write this book, I found out my dad had kidney cancer. I was struck by the irony of it all. I e-mailed my editor and said, “I guess we’re going to find out if I really believe this stuff after all.” As I began to write, I was convinced God was going to instantly heal my father. Everyone in my church was praying. Everyone in his church was praying. All our friends and their churches were praying. A Christian neighbor visited him the day before the surgery and said, “Don’t be surprised when the doctors go in there and can’t find anything. Our entire church is praying for you.”
As it turned out, God had another miracle in mind. Instead of instantly removing my father’s cancer, God chose to leave the football-sized tumor in his abdomen until it was removed by the doctors. As I tried to sleep on the hospital lobby couch that night, I was reminded of how often we pray for one miracle but receive a different one.
Paul describes the miracle of perseverance in 2 Corinthians 4:7-11:
We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.
“Jars of clay” is a powerful analogy. At the time Paul wrote this passage, clay pottery, dishes, and cookware were common. Clayware was common because it was so inexpensive to make—clay from the ground and fire to harden it were all that was needed. “Jars of clay” were also very brittle. Our minds and bodies are a lot like those jars of clay. We’re frail. We break. We crack and fall to pieces. Clay pots don’t hold up real well under extramarital affairs, depression, and bankruptcy. When we manage to keep our lives intact when they should be scattered across the floor in a million pieces, we—and others—realize that something supernatural is holding us together.
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