A new baby was born at our church today – Baby Audrey. From what I know, she was born with no complications, completely healthy, and hopefully we will see her soon in the next few weeks. I think there is a sense that this is not very remarkable, as healthy babies are born every day – especially in some churches where I think the implicit model of church growth is “Procreation”. In some churches, and in some age groups, announcements about new babies almost become commonplace, and difficult to keep track of…
“What, they had their baby?? When did that happen? And didn’t so-and-so just have their baby last week too? Too many babies, yo…”
So pretty unremarkable news for many churches…but not for ours. I, and many of our folks, rejoiced deeply at her birth announcement, and maybe even breathed a sigh of relief. We have actually seen very few uncomplicated pregnancies in our church. There have been pregnancies at risk of severe complications, with high chances of birth defects and abnormalities. Some pregnancies were followed with postpartum depression, and in some pregnancies, the children did not make it safely into their parents’ arms, only into the arms of their Heavenly Father. I have discovered that there is nothing more terrible than committing a tiny baby into the hands of God. So Baby Audrey’s birth is not unremarkable – it is nothing less than a miracle, a cause to shout in joy and relief. Maybe not for some, but for us, because we are painfully aware of what can go wrong in those situations as well.
And this has made me think about God, and the nature of miracles in general. Perhaps like in the above example, miracles of God surround us, as they did in the early church, but we cannot perceive them, are not aware of them. And perhaps the reason we are not aware of them is that our definition of a miracle is “a great blessing we experience on top of the blessings that we have come to expect every day”. For us, miracles are like icing on a cake – we already have good jobs, health, friends, relationships, love, joy, and very rarely experience true life-threatening hardship. And so in that type of life, the space that a “miracle” occupies is the very top, an additional blessing that we experience on top of the amazingly blessed and rich life that we already live. And in that context, a miracle has to be truly supernatural and crazy for us to become aware of it or affect us in any real way. If it is not, then it becomes mundane, lost and ignored.
We long to experience the spiritual dynamic that is seen in the book of Acts – “God, be the same God you were in the early church, where they witnessed awesome miracles daily!” But we completely forget that they were a church that also witnessed terrible violence daily. Believers in the early church were fed to lions, lit on fire to light the Coliseum, boiled in brass pots. Their every day reality was one completely opposite of our own, one filled with intense suffering and persecution and conflict. We forget that the disciples, as miracle-filled as their lives were, nearly all were martyred for following Jesus. That is the context of the book of Acts, miracles set in juxtaposition with suffering. And in that context, a miracle was not icing, but anything that differed from that dominant reality. It was a miracle when people were released from jail after being whipped and tortured, because they knew from first-hand experience that often people were never seen again, or seen in bloody pieces.
For us, as people so removed from a life of pervasive persecution, that is no miracle. That is a cause for complaint, a cry of “Why did you let me suffer like that, God?? How could you?” and then, almost certainly a lawsuit against the police.
No, I am certain that like in the early church, miracles surround us, and angels intercede for us, daily. God is still a God of miracles, as active as He has always been…it is just that our context of stifling comfort has relegated those amazing works of God into the tiniest portions of our lives. We look for miracles that resemble magic, and have forgotten the very real miracle of provision – but how can God provide if you do not lack for anything? And the true miracle of protection – how can God protect if you are not first under attack? And the amazing miracle of salvation – how can one be saved if they are not dying first? These too are evidences of God’s power and love and willingness to step into the filth of our lives, but we too often ignore them because, after all, what need do we have for provision, protection and salvation, when we already have our job, our health care, and our education? But for those who have none of these layers of blessing, like the early church, the persecuted church in China, the church in Africa devastated by AIDS, they have no doubt that God still performs miracles.
And so how does one become aware of this supernatural God of miracles, the God of the Bible, the God of the early church? Yes, through prayer, fasting, and asking the Holy Spirit to move…but also by living lives that allow us to touch suffering more closely and commonly. If we live fat, and comfortable, and with wide margins, and with no connection to individuals and communities who truly suffer, then miracles will be rare. What chance do we have to see the God of the book of Acts if we do not LIVE as the people of the book of Acts did? But if we live…
if we are familiar with suffering, and hold hands with those who suffer, then we will see miracles every day, I guarantee. ALL of his miracles, not just the ones that outshine the brightness of our already blessed lives. And I, for one, am willing to fly closer to the sun if it will enable me to see the same God of the book of Acts.