Miracles Happen

Jun 08, 2010 |George Halitzka

God created natural laws for a reason and doesn't violate them lightly. But, sometimes, He does violate them.  

Imagine you're standing in front of the stage at your local sports arena. The atmosphere's electric, like a rock show is about to start. But the main attraction isn't U2 — just an ordinary blue-collar, goatee-wearing guy who's giving a speech.

However ordinary he might look, he's been drawing a crowd wherever he goes. You had to line up at 3:00 this morning to get a seat, and when they opened the doors, you immediately elbowed your way up to the stage. You want to know if the rumors are true:

This man is a miracle worker.

Some say he turned water into champagne at a hoity-toity wedding. Then he made this hurricane off the Gulf Coast drop off the radar ... with nothing but a word. Plus, people are whispering that he heals incurables all over the country — inoperable cancer and advanced-stage AIDS and multiple sclerosis. No wonder he packed the place!

There's just one problem: Since admission was free (and to be honest, a lot of the folks in here look like they live under bridges), the management hasn't opened a single concession stand. The guy with the goatee has been talking since 8 am, and it's almost 1:00 now. Your stomach is growling out loud.

Suddenly, your hunger pangs are interrupted by some commotion onstage. You push closer to hear what's going on, and the first words that catch your ear are from the goatee-wearing guy.

"I'm serious," he says to a dozen tough-looking men around him. (They must be his bodyguards.) "People camped out all night to get in, and they're broke. You need to give them lunch."

Feed all the people in the arena? One of the bodyguards laughs out loud. "Look," he says, trying to reason with his boss. "There's 20,000 people in here. If I had five grand, maybe I could get everyone half a sandwich."

The guy with the goatee just shakes his head.

But then another guard leads some teenager onstage carrying a picnic cooler. "Boss," says the bodyguard, "this kid brought lunch with him. A couple turkey sandwiches and five cans of Coke. I know it won't go far with this crowd — but if it'll do you any good, the kid says it's all yours."

You can't help chuckling: Yeah, that oughtta be enough for two people. Only 19,998 to go.

Yet the "boss," the guy with the goatee, takes it seriously. He steps to the microphone and says lunch is about to be served. He lifts the cooler towards heaven, then tells his bodyguards to start handing out food.

This could start a riot, you think nervously.

The bodyguards humor their crazy boss, even as one of them mutters, "We won't make it past the first row." They start passing Cokes. Meanwhile, the boss reaches into the cooler and pulls out sandwiches.

Wait — didn't the kid say he only had two? That's six sandwiches in his hand!

The man with the goatee reaches into the cooler again, and again, and again. Every time, more sandwiches come out. Somehow, he's taking four slices of Wonder Bread and a six-pack and making it into a 20,000-person picnic!

One of the bodyguards thrusts a sandwich and Coke into your own hands: You're in too much shock to take a bite. All 12 of the bodyguards are spread across the arena now, tossing sandwiches like peanut vendors at a ball game. Everybody's taking one — or two, or three. The guy with the goatee just keeps pulling more out.

You saw that cooler; it was maybe two feet square. The stage is open underneath, so it's not like sandwiches are hiding somewhere. But they just keep coming!For the biblical story of Jesus feeding 5,000 men (plus women and children), see John 6:1-13.

This is incredible: Nobody will ever believe what happened. In fact, you're not sure you believe it yourself.

Unbelievable?

What would it be like if Jesus landed in your city and did a miracle?

Maybe you'd be amazed: Arenas full of people don't often pluck Cokes from a single picnic cooler, and 5,000 men (not including maybe 15,000 women and children) never get a free lunch.

But maybe ... you'd have trouble believing your eyes. If you're like me, your Inner Skeptic would be tempted to look for the trapdoor where Jesus was hiding extra sandwiches.

So what if God did something truly extraordinary, even more astounding than feeding 20,000 people from a kid's picnic lunch? What if He burst through your doubts and did a miracle in your life?

After all, you've been begging God to provide your needs for months. Nothing big — just a new job, since you've been laid off since Christmas. Just a relationship that — for once — doesn't end in a breakup to rip your heart out. Just a solution to the medical bills that have been stressing you out, or the depression that won't go away, or the addiction, or the chronic pain ...

Jesus is in the miracles business, or that's what it says in the Bible, but nobody's stepping up with five loaves and two fishes, and besides, you're not sure that Jesus can really provide for you like He did that crowd of 20,000.

It's hard to have enough faith to believe in miracles. Sometimes, it's tough to imagine God could bring you an extra hundred bucks for the rent.

The $9,000 Hospital Bill

Two days after Christmas last year, my stomach started hurting. I figured it was gas and I'd sleep it off, but the cramps only got worse.

I hated to deal with something like this on vacation: I just wanted to just enjoy the time with my family. So I was planning to see my doctor once I was back in Louisville. But the pain finally got so bad I couldn't ignore it.

So on December 30, I was sitting in an exam room with my parents' doctor when he delivered the bad news. He was all but certain I had a "hot" appendix. I'd better head straight for the hospital, he emphasized, to get it taken out immediately.

Julie and I whipped out our phones and started frantically calling my family and all the people in Louisville who needed to know. Honestly, I wasn't too worried about the surgery — I mean, appendices come out all the time. But the hospital bill ... that was another story.

"How are we going to pay for this?" I kept muttering to Julie. "Our insurance stinks."

"We'll figure it out," she said, with irritating optimism.

Before long we were driving to the hospital. I checked in and got stuck with multiple needles. In no time at all, I was dozing off under anesthesia for a routine procedure.

Unfortunately, four hours later I was still under anesthesia, and the surgery had become a lot less routine. Turns out the doc was wrong: It wasn't my appendix. It was a blockage in my large intestines that was causing the pain, and they had to slice out a foot of it. I spent the next week in the hospital drugged up on really good painkillers, getting dizzy and nauseous if I tried to stand up, with plastic tubes running out of almost every orifice. (You fill in the blanks.)

Now, considering I had a four-inch incision in my belly, my healing was fairly smooth. But watching the bills come in probably set back my recovery: over $27,000. Even after the insurance paid their share, we still owed $9,000.

I don't know about you, but we didn't have nine Gs to spare for emergency surgery.

So that's when God started to work. Anonymous donors from our church; family and friends — they all pitched in. Checks just started showing up. Then the hospital cut us a break (basically because we're poor). Uncle Sam owed us a good-sized tax refund, which is not the normal state of affairs for freelance writers. Plus, January and February were good months for my business (which they never are).

In short, money was coming at us from all directions! So we began paying the doctors, and three months later, our $9,000 in hospital bills were gone. Paid in full.

God provided — just like he did for 20,000 people who wanted lunch.

Fish Story

Of course, the skeptics among us — like me — are thinking, "Paying those bills wasn't a real miracle, George. Maybe it wasn't God at all. Maybe you just found some nice people who decided to donate to a good cause."

Well, maybe — but don't be too quick to write God out of the equation. Who says He can't intervene in our lives by "natural" means?

In Matthew 17, Jesus and Peter needed to pay their taxes, but they didn't have the money. Peter was worried — apparently, auditors were already scary in the first century. So Jesus told Peter to go fishing.

Wouldn't you know it? The first fish he caught had a coin in his mouth — just enough to satisfy the IRS.See Matthew 17:24-27.

That chain of events might have been completely natural. Someone just happened to drop a coin in Lake Galilee, which just happened to be swallowed by an overgrown carp, which Peter just happened to hook when Jesus sent him to the shore. But does that make it any less an act of God?

Maybe you're walking around in my shoes right now, looking at insurmountable medical expenses or an insurmountable diagnosis or insurmountable emotional pain and wishing God would toss you a miracle. "It would sure be nice if God paid off $9,000 of my bills," you mutter.

Well, God isn't a genie — He doesn't act just because we rub the lamp (or the offering plate). But He does respond to faith. During Jesus' ministry, there were times when He didn't work miracles because people didn't believe — and other times when He went out of his way to help, because their faith was remarkable.Compare Matthew 13:58 and Luke 7:6-10.

So are there ways you can put trust in action when you have a desperate request for God? Hey, the Bible says that Jesus delights in responding to the requests of dust mites like you and me! So if you're asking for God's provision, try applying these three ideas.

1. Pray with Persistent Faith

Have you ever said a prayer like this one?

"Lord, please give me the funds to pay off my bills. But I know You won't, because You enjoy making me miserable. So instead, just keep me from killing my parents when I get evicted from my apartment and have to move back in with them."

OK, seriously — when we ask for God's help, why do we pray like we don't expect Him to do anything?

Our Mamas didn't raise no fools. We don't want to get our hopes up! Our theology tells us (and rightly so) that God doesn't always intervene in a dramatic way. He created natural laws for a reason and doesn't violate them lightly.

The problem comes when we let that knowledge get in the way of faith, and start praying to a God who doesn't want to bless us.

I remember sitting in Men's Bible Study years ago and asking folks to pray that God would bring me a new job. I did not want to spend another year as a Professional Spitball Dodger (read: substitute teacher).

One of the guys commented sadly, "Well, George, we'll pray — but God's probably trying to teach you something." He might as well have said, "Why should we bother? Jesus wants you to suffer!"

As it turned out, God did make me sub for another year, and I think He was trying to teach me something. (More on that in the next section.) But does that guy in my Bible study worship a God so uncaring that He desires our misery?

If you need God to provide, pray and don't give up — even when it seems like there's no hope! Pray, even when you have another year of the job you hate before God comes through. Then when you're sick of praying, get some other people to pray with you. God may not answer in the way you had in mind. He might even change what you're praying for over time. But Jesus said we have a Father who delights in giving us good stuff!See Luke 11:9-13.

Do you believe that — enough to keep praying until God answers? Enough that no matter what God gives you, you'll trust Him to use it for good?

Or will you mutter "Your will be done" in funereal tones, positive the Almighty's about to mess up your life?

2. Ask God if He's Disciplining You

We live in a screwed-up world where lousy things happen to decent people. Sometimes when your life is a train wreck, the hard truth is that there's no discernable reason for it.

But other times, God allows problems in our lives to turn us away from sin.

Hebrews 12 says we should be honored when we experience God's discipline.Uh, yeah ... I'm still working on that "honored to be disciplined" thing. (See Hebrews 12:7-11.) That's because the Spirit is forming us into better people, just like our parents did when they spanked our behinds. God loves you too much to let you keep messing up your life.

This principle isn't something you should ever use to accuse other people. ("George, I think God made you a Spitball Dodger because you're a huge jerk, so repent already!") But in the privacy of your own heart, ask God if your hard times are just the product of a fallen world — or if there's a lesson in here somewhere. Personally, I think God was trying to teach me about finding my worth as His beloved Creation (instead of as a cool writer).

So God did make me miserable for a while, but He had a good reason for it: I had to scrub some of the sin out of my soul before I got His provision. That may not be true of you ... but it can't hurt to ask.

3. Make Giving a Habit

God's economy is upside down. You pile up a fortune (spiritually speaking) by giving stuff away. So if you're asking God for help with your rent, you may need to provide for somebody else first.

Jesus doesn't need your mammon — He can print off crisp new Benjamins any time. But He uses our resources for miracles so we can have the honor of joining His work. Remember, He didn't create loaves and fishes from nothingness. He didn't give a stadiumload of people a supernatural IV drip of energy. No, He multiplied the sacrificial gift of a kid who had nothing but mini-lunch and mega-faith. When we donate out of our own need, it's one way we demonstrate trust.

In fact, I only know of one place in Scripture where God gives you permission to put Him to the test — and it's about giving. In Malachi 3, God says, "Bring your whole tithe to the temple. If you do, I'll pour out such a huge blessing that you won't have room for it. Test me and see."See Malachi 3:8-12. (Quotation paraphrased from the NLT.)

So have you ever wanted to give God a midterm? This is your chance! Sure, it takes faith to give 10 percent of your paycheck when you're down and out. But consider this: When Jesus finished feeding everyone tuna sandwiches at Lake Galilee Arena, He sent the disciples around to pick up leftovers. And guess how much was left?

Twelve basketloads — one for each follower. God provides for His servants.

If you have student loans and medical bills, if you're ticked off at God, if you can barely spare a quarter for the offering — try donating anyway. Why? Because investing in Kingdom of Heaven, Inc. pays better dividends than Microsoft stock. Oh, sometimes the payoff is joy and peace, not cold cash. But if you offer your meager fish and chips to Jesus, you might be surprised what He does next.

As for me, I have to wonder: Would God have paid my debt to the doctors if I didn't tithe?

I don't know for sure. But He definitely dumped blessings on me when I did.

Don't Give Up!

There was a corrupt magistrate in Podunk who didn't care about anybody (except himself, of course). He had a pretty good racket, receiving little "gifts" from any lawyer who wanted to win a case. He hadn't lived off his salary in years.

In the same town, an old woman made do with Social Security in a sketchy trailer park near the landfill. Somebody hauled her into court with a frivolous lawsuit that might get her thrown out on the street.

She was desperate. So over and over, she hitched rides to the county courthouse and pled her case. "Give me justice," she begged the dishonest judge. He kept putting her off, hoping for a little something to grease his palm. But she kept banging on the door to his chambers every day, until finally His Honor was thoroughly sick of her.

"The old girl's driving me nuts," he finally mumbled to himself. "I'll do whatever it takes to make her leave me alone!" So the next day, he ruled in the woman's lawsuit: Case dismissed; she was off the hook. Anything to make her go away!

When Jesus told His disciples that parable, He also gave them the moral of the story. "Even a dishonest judge provided justice to that woman in the end," he said. "How much more will God give His Chosen People justice when they cry out day and night?"Luke 18:1-8. (Quotation paraphrased from the NLT.)

If you have a need, be like the old woman: Don't give up. God may take His time. God may answer in a different way than you thought He would. Keep asking anyway. Have faith that God isn't a dishonest judge, but a loving Father who longs to see your desires aligned with His.

Remember, He doesn't shape your desires to make you miserable. It's because once you see things through His eyes, He loves fulfilling your needs.

And that's when God might just do a miracle.

Copyright 2010 George Halitzka. All rights reserved.

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