I was reading, during my morning devotion time, about the Apostle Paul’s sojourn in Ephesis in Acts, chapter 19. This verse jumped out at me:
And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.
~ Acts 19:11-12 ESV
What? Extraordinary miracles? I thought the definition of a miracle included the idea that it was a very unusual and uncommon event. So to call a miracle “extraordinary” seems redundant! Even so, miracles must have become commonplace, at least with the apostles like Peter and Paul. “Oh yeah, healing the sick by laying on of hands. He does that all the time. Last week, he was in prison, the earth shook, the chains fell off, and all the captives were freed.” But this thing of carrying cloth items touched by Paul to sick people and witnessing a healing or deliverance…now THAT is NOT normal!
I became intrigued, so I turned to my systematic theology reference book and read the section on miracles. Wayne Grudem defined a miracle as “a less common kind of God’s activity in which he arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to himself.” Other definitions were rejected because they were inadequate in fully ascribing to God the full credit he deserves. For example, consider this definition:
“A miracle is a direct intervention of God in the world.”
This is deficient because it takes a deistic view of God’s activity. In other words, this definition makes an assumption the only time God is involved is when he does something out of the ordinary, not in line with the laws of nature. This definition does not take into account that God feeds the birds of the air and he clothes the lilies of the field on a daily basis (Matthew 6: 25-33). Here is another definition suffering from the same deistic assumptions:
“A miracle is an event impossible to explain by natural laws.”
I began to realize, had someone asked me to give a definition for a miracle, I probably would have blurted out a similarly worded phrase. It goes to show how our naturalistic culture conditions us to think in such a way as to not give God all the glory he deserves. I heard a challenge from a pastor the other day that I thought was noteworthy. He said we, as believers, should consider removing the word “nature” (and especially the phrase “Mother Nature”) from our vocabularies. Instead we ought to use the word “creation,” because it reveals a Christian mindset that gives the almighty God the recognition he deserves.
Back to the discussion of miracles and extraordinary miracles…in my high school days as a new believer, I recall a friend saying “It would be much easier to believe in God if he would do something miraculous like parting the waters of Buckeye Lake” (our small Ohio town is on the west end of a rather large lake). The problem with this view is that the witnessing of a miracle does not necessarily turn a skeptic into a believer. The Bible has many stories of humans rejecting or forgetting God’s intervention after a miraculous occurrence. In the story of the Exodus, Pharoah refused to believe even after the many awesome and terrible displays of God’s power in the plagues inflicted on Egypt. And, after the children of Israel witnessed God’s hand in their deliverance by way of the parted waters of the Red Sea, they were back to grumbling about their circumstances only a few days later. The miracles displayed in the events surrounding the Exodus were certainly of the “extraordinary” kind, but their effect was not long lasting when witnessed by hard-hearted individuals.
God has allowed his power to be displayed through extraordinary miracles at key times in human history. We may long for the miraculous at times in our day and in our lives because of the comfort a healing would bring, or because we suspect our faith or the faith of others might be increased. Who knows, He might work an extraordinary miracle in your life today. But He is very pleased when we are awed and filled with wonder at the sight of a lily, in the flight of a bird, or when rejoicing in His goodness with our fellow believers. Let’s make it our goal to give glory to our maker when considering the full spectrum of His wondrous works…from the “mundane” to the “extraordinary!”
“Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
~ Exodus 15:11 ESV