Again, notice that this series is rooted in biblical studies, although it is illustrated through the lives of the saints and informed by pastoral experience. Furthermore, this series as a whole was intended for cell group teaching, not as a polished, footnoted article. Some illustrations used in the oral presentation have been left out to preserve the privacy of those they involve. Little literature is cited.
The gift of miracles
As we conclude this series, we will say less about miracles, for in some ways it is a more general category under which healing is a specific instance. Therefore, there is a certain amount of “see above” that is assumed in the discussion of miracles.
- There are times when one is in a situation in which God wants to act visibly, and normally he acts through a person. He may choose us to do be the person.
- These are times when the rightness of the kingdom breaks through and overcomes the wrongness of a this-world situation and does so in an observable manner.
- There are (at least) three ways that we may receive the gift
- We are seeking the Lord about a situation and God tells us (with an inner impulse in most cases) what to do. Think of Hezekiah facing the Assyrian army, and God’s speaking to the praying Hezekiah through Isaiah. Perhaps Peter’s walking on the water is similar case.
- We experience a situation, usually unsought, and, in that situation, God gives us an inner impulse to act. I think of David upon seeing Goliath. Or Paul with the demonized girl in Philippi.
- We have an inner knowing (or perhaps a clear vision) that we are to do something, perhaps because we know what Jesus would so in that situation, and act, perhaps without knowing what God will do or is doing. Think of Zechariah going home (after first asking for evidence) and having sex with his wife and then naming the infant son according to the vision. Or think of Mary saying, “Be it unto me . . .”
- Healing is certainly related to the working of miracles, for we as Christians normally exercise care of the sick, and sometimes in doing this we are called by office or divine impulse to pray for healing. But most of the time the healing impulse is shown in ordinary medical care. The same is true in many of the other circumstances in which miracles take place.
- We should not demand or even necessarily expect a miracle. God normally works through his people as they demonstrate his love and show the fruit of transformed lives. God also works through nature and angelic intervention. God is sovereign, so he determines when he will work within the “natural” and when he will reveal the underlying “realer real” through what we call miracles. We should expect a miracle when God has indicated to us that he chooses to work that way. The demand of the miracle reveals either underlying mistrust of God or a trying to get the universe to revolve around us.
- One interesting example in Scripture is two prophets who were both dealing with the situation of an overwhelming foreign invasion.
- Hezekiah is told by Isaiah to trust God and expect God to intervene to defeat the Assyrian army.
- Zedekiah is told by Jeremiah to surrender to the Babylonian army (and Jeremiah had told the people numerous times earlier that surrender was the proper course) – no miracle would be forthcoming.
- Both men had heard God accurately.
We have argued several theses in this series on the Holy Spirit:
- All followers of Jesus have the Holy Spirit, but they are often not quiet enough to experience the Spirit nor uncluttered enough from passions to hear him over the noise nor courageously obedient enough to follow his direction
- The best way to experience the Spirit more is to go into quietness and, in holiness of life and submission of spirit, request needed tools for tasks God has given you or laid on your heart. This reception may come in a peak experience, but no peak experience is needed.
- There are (at least) three dangers in seeking the gifts of the Spirit
- If they are sought without holiness of life, one may indeed experience them, but they have “twist” in them that damages the Church and others and usually leads to pride and a moving away from God.
- If they are sought by though the use of “means,” such as repetition of nonsense syllables to get one “started” in tongues or intense prayer until some phenomenon happens or “prophecy” that forces one into the mode of the group, then they are likely pseudo at best and possibly abusive. We are trying to force God into our mode rather than fit into God’s mode. We saw that earlier in the evangelistic methods that did indeed bring some people to true faith, but also left a sea of “born again” people with no signs of having been born again and no lasting faith commitment. Yet these were inoculated against later faith commitment since they had “had the experience” or “prayed the prayer.”
- If they are sought to validate one’s ministry or to confirm one’s commitment to Jesus as Lord or for public validation, they actually weaken true faith, which is based on knowing a person, not on having power. We are looking at the wrong “world” and often want power in the wrong “world.” [This is why Thomas Aquinas was not impressed with the eucharistic miracles of his day, “Quiquam esse, non es corpus Christi” – they might point to the reality of transubstantiation, but the real body of Christ was “under the species of” bread, not flesh – it took trust in Christ’s words, not sight.]
- We have seen that the gifts of the Spirit fade into one another, that the line between prophecy, discernment of Spirits, knowledge, and wisdom is rather fluid – indeed the line between prophecy and teaching is rather fluid and vague. The fact is that all the gifts come from a relationship with the same God and Christ through the same Spirit. We categorize them, or try to, but in fact they are simply a following of the direction and guidance of Jesus through the Spirit, so the categories are artificial, to help us understand what the Spirit is doing through us. Some gifts in particular seem to come and go: e.g. Paul’s ability to heal through sweat bands or whatever was “extraordinary,” unusual in the church as a whole and unusual for him in particular. A person may raise the dead once or so, but mostly presides at funerals.
- We have seen that some people are characterized by certain forms of the working of the Spirit, often forms that become vocations. So, some are evangelists and others are prophets and others are teachers and others are pastors (although there is a discussion as to whether teachers and pastors are separate). Some of these gifts seem to be associated with certain offices, such as that of presbyter and episcopos. Some gifts are not so associated, so none are said to be healers or tongues speakers or miracle workers. Some gifts are never said to be remunerated, such as prophecy, and others may be in some cases, such as teaching.
- While because we are experiencing the divine in an immediate manner there are dangers in spiritual gifts, especially those of pride and seeking power, we need these gifts for the good of the church and of humanity. Therefore, seek God, seek Jesus, seek intimacy with the Trinity, and simply expect spiritual gifts. They should be a “well, of course, for he wanted to do x,” not something that is sought. If we seek God in all humility and are open to his acting through us, then spiritual gifts will manifest through us, whether or not we notice it happening.