Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The Gift of Miracles

The gift of miracles is the special ability that the Holy Spirit gives to certain believers to perform powerful acts that alter the ordinary course of nature. Of all the gifts of power this is the one that often commands the most attention when it is displayed. For that is exactly what it does. It displays the power of God in a way that inspires awe and wonder in all who witness the event. Rather than just look at the miracles recorded in the Bible I want to explore the context surrounding how they took place. Some helpful keys emerge that allow us to be better positioned to see miracles happen through us.

The most outstanding miracle in the Old Testament to my way of thinking is recorded in Joshua 10.12-14. Joshua is in the midst of a fight. He is winning, but he needs more time. So he does one of the most audacious things ever recorded in scripture. He commands the sun and moon to stand still. And God responds. Scripture tells us that there has never been a day before or since when God heeded the voice of a man. Astonishing!

But what is truly astounding are the circumstances leading up to this event. The battle was about Israel defending the Gibeonites from the five kings. They too were from the land of Canaan and strictly speaking should have been destroyed with all the other inhabitants of the land. However, they shrewdly dressed in old clothes, took mouldy bread and worn wine skins with them and pretended to the leaders of Israel to come from a distant country. Joshua and the other leaders were taken in. They made a covenant with them. This was a binding agreement that obligated Israel for all future generations. It wasn’t simply a commitment that effected Joshua’s generation. It would affect all future generations.

Later in 2Sam 21.1-14 we read of David inquiring of the Lord as to why there was a famine in the land. For three years it had gone on. God spoke to David. Saul had not honoured this covenant. He had tried to destroy the Gibeonites and so the curse of the covenant had come into play. Retribution was made and the curse was lifted. Such was the power of a binding covenant. All this took place hundreds of years after Joshua. The covenant was still in force and God recognised its binding power.

The scripture tells us that when Joshua made this agreement with the other leaders, ‘they did not ask counsel of the Lord’, Josh 9.14. I consider this to be a momentous failing on the part of these men. They entered into a covenant that would have binding force for all future generations without asking the Lord first. It’s almost unbelievable. What were they thinking? Clearly they were taken in. Perhaps the flattery of knowing that their reputation was known in distant lands seduced them. Perhaps they were glad to find at last one ally; someone who would stand with Israel and fight with them. Whatever the reason it was a colossal failure.

Yet when the Gibeonites are attacked Joshua is true to his word and comes to their defence. How that must have rankled with many of the Israelites. And in those circumstances this leader now stands in front of all Israel and commands the sun and moon to stand still. Now if you were God what would you do? If someone you had commanded to utterly destroy all of the inhabitants of the land had not only disobeyed but done the exact opposite; bound Israel to protect them for all future generations. What would you do?

I think I would be tempted to say to Joshua, ‘Don’t push your luck son, you’re on probation ‘til you can learn how to fully obey’. But God doesn’t do that. He responds. And there hasn’t been a day before or like it ‘til Jesus showed up. Here’s my point. Joshua did not allow the past to rob him of the future. He dealt with his sin and moved on. His boldness indicates to me that his conscience was clear. He wasn’t living with any uncertainty over this issue. It was dealt with. He moved on.

I am certain that many believers do not dare to ask for miracles because they are caught up in the mistakes and sin of the past. 1John 1.9 gives us an amazing promise. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The word ‘confess’ literally means, ‘to say the same thing as’. We need to agree with God’s verdict about our sin. We say the same thing He does – it is wrong and we agree. We need forgiveness in order to move on with God – we agree. Confession realigns us with God Himself and so realigns us with His purpose. That’s what Joshua did and look at the miracle he walked into.

James 5.16-18 says Elijah was a man just like us. That’s hard to believe, but it’s true. 1Kings records great victories he accomplished in the name of the Lord but it also records his weakness. Intimidated by the threats of Jezebel he ran away until he eventually found himself at the Mount of God, Horeb. There he asked to die! All this took place after his outstanding defeat of the prophets of Baal. Now he struggles with loneliness, self pity and doubt. No wonder James says he really is just like us.

Human weakness is a fact of life. What is important to understand is that God is not limited by our weakness. Rather He works through it, 2Cor 12.9-10. Elijah prayed it would not rain and the heavens were shut up for three and a half years. He prayed again and it rained. James says he ‘prayed earnestly’. This is an interesting phrase. It can be translated, ‘in praying he prayed’. Many times we don’t know how to pray. Paul speaks of this in Rom 8.26 That is why the Holy Spirit has been given to us to help us. He is as Jesus said ‘the Helper’John 14.16. He helps us pray when we don’t know how to. But we have to get started!

I’ve discovered that many times I am circumstances where I have no idea how to pray. Someone has a need; a situation develops; crises occur and I feel at a loss to know how to pray. The temptation is of course to pray a nice, religious, safe prayer. Yet if I just begin to pray, revelation comes. I usually start with praise focusing on the greatness of God and speaking out His attributes. I declare His goodness and begin to address the problem. Before long I find myself saying things I had never planned to say; things that take me way beyond the level of faith I had at the beginning of the prayer. In praying, I pray. Despite Elijah’s weakness He saw God do amazing miracles. He went on to other things too. His task was not finished and God relaunched him into useful service. Don't let weakness rob you of beleiveing for a miracle. Elijah got past his weakness – so can you.

Elisha followed on from Elijah. He was mentored by him for about sixteen years before he replaced him. When that happened it was a traumatic period in his life. In 2 Kings 1-2 we read about all the sons of the prophets who reminded Elisha what was about to take place. His grief was so deep he told them to be quite. Every time Elijah told him to stay behind he refused until they finally crossed the Jordan together and the moment of truth arrived. Elijah then asked Elisha ‘what may I do for you before I am taken away from you’, 2Kings 2.9. Without any hesitation Elisha asked for a double portion of his spirit – and he got it!

Elisha had to overcome his sense of personal grief and loss in order to embrace something bigger. His desire for a double portion was bigger than his personal sense of loss and grief at Elijah leaving. How easy it would have been for him to look at Elijah and say, 'don’t go, don’t leave me.’ Some times in life, in order for us to be positioned for a miracle we need to get over our own grief and sense of loss and reach out for something bigger. That’s what Elisha did. And as he returned to the Jordan he struck the water with Elijah’s cloak. His next words are almost like a challenge, ‘Where is the God of Elijah?’ 2Kings 2.14. This was the first of fourteen miracles, exactly double that of Elijah. But this one was for him – for Elisha. No-one else was there to see it. Heaven answered his challenge. We too need to let our longing for God’s power be greater than our personal seasons of grief and loss.

Another incident in the life of Elisha is instructive. 2Kings 4.27-37 records the incident of the widow whose son became ill and died. She came to Elisha, fell at his feet and held on to him. Gehazi tried to push her away. This was no way to treat a man of God. Elisha’s response is telling, ‘Let her alone for her soul is in deep distress and the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me’, 2Kings 4.27. Elisha was a prophet. He was used to moving in revelation. But on this occasion he was in the dark. He did what he thought would work. He sent Gehazi on ahead with his rod – the symbol of his authority. Specific instructions were given. It reads like he knows what he is doing but it doesn’t work. It failed. Eventually Elisha arrives.

Elisha entered the room where the dead body lay, closed the door and prayed. He then climbed on the child, eye to eye, mouth to mouth, hand to hand until his body became warm, but still no life. He came down, paced back and forth and then went and repeated the process. This time the child sneezed and opened his eyes. Imagine that. Elisha knew how to persevere in order to see a miracle. The first two things he tried just didn’t work. I wonder what went through his head as he paced back and forth in that room. We don’t know. What we do know is that he didn’t give up.

Here is the lesson for us. Often in life things don’t work the first or second time. I remember listening to John Wimber who said that the first one hundred people he prayed for to receive healing didn’t get healed. In fact some got worse! Yet he persevered and went on to have an amazing healing ministry that equipped thousands of believers all over the world. He persevered. Whatever failures we may have behind us, God is still God and He wants us to press in. We are in a spiritual battle. Who knows what unseen forces are at play? Who knows if it will only take one more try? Don’t give up, despite failure. Try again. Like Elisha, you just might see a miracle.

In Acts 8.4-6 we have story of Philip doing many miracles among the Samaritans. What positioned him to move in the same authority as the apostles? In chapter 6 of Acts we read that he, along with Stephen and five others, was appointed by the twelve to serve tables. They were to take care of the widows and apportion food and provision for them, daily. By serving he developed his gifting. That’s how it works. If you want to be used to work miracles then begin by serving. It cultivates character and positions us to see more of the gifts of the Spirit released. Philip went from serving tables to being an awesome Evangelist. His friend Stephen also did great signs and wonders among the people, Acts 6.8. Like Philip he began by serving and it released him into his gifting. Miracles followed.

Finally in Acts 19.11-12 we have the record of the unusual miracles that God worked through the hands of Paul. Aprons and handkerchiefs belonging to him healed people and even delivered them from demons. These appear to me to be sovereign acts of power. Paul is doing God’s work. He is a pioneer in a City that is deeply held by occult power. God does unusual things to break that power. It is more rooted in His goodness than anything else. Like Peter whose shadow healed people, Acts 5.15, there are times when God releases the miraculous and it has very little to do with us. It has more to do with the expectation of the people.

I experienced this on a trip to Pakistan eighteen months ago. About two thousand people attended the meeting. Some three hundred responded to the gospel. But then I gave an invitation to receive prayer for healing. Hundreds more came forward. I felt completely out of my depth. People pushed to the front so I could touch them. My prayer was simple, ‘be healed’. And many touched my feet as I stood on the stage. Later the pastor told me that over one hundred and eighty people were healed. All kinds of diseases were cured. It was God’s goodness being extended to these needy people. Sometimes miracles happen not because we ask for then, but because He responds to the faith of the people.

Let’s continue to align ourselves in the way these men did. God can work miracles through us. Each one of them had to deal with something that potentially could rob them of a miracle. They overcame and miracles followed. Paul says in 1Cor 1.24 that Christ is the power of God. As we remind ourselves of who we are in Christ and walk in that reality, we will see more of God’s miraculous power released in the world, through us. Expect a miracle. It’s part of God’s gift to the world, through the church.