In Spite of Their FailingsPosted August 14th, 2012
by Ray McAllister
Would you like to witness a really great miracle from God?
Many of us read the stories of Moses and Elijah and imagine how exciting it would be to live in a time when rivers divide, when people are healed of deadly diseases, when food appears out of nothing. But as I have studied the Hebrew Bible—the Old Testament—I have become convinced that the stories we read there can help us understand miracles in our own time. Following God is certainly more than just watching for fun parlor tricks. The reality is that God still makes His power available to all who seek Him.
When I look at the New Testament I find amazing accounts of Jesus healing thousands of people. Now of course Jesus was perfect. Everything He did was marked with an excellence that can be inspiring—but also intimidating—to fallen, sinful human beings.
one step at a time
The Old Testament, on the other hand, is filled with stories of imperfect people who were used by God to work miracles in spite of their failings. The way God worked through them is how He can work through you and me. Let us look at a few stories in the Old Testament as examples.
The foundational books of the Bible are the books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Jesus spent most of His teaching energy discussing these books. In the book of Exodus, we read of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery to enter the Promised Land. God worked through him to divide the Red Sea, drown an entire Egyptian army, and bring drinking water from a rock.
But that’s not where God began with Moses. We read, beginning in Exodus 3, that God trained Moses step by step for his work. In the wilderness, with no one watching to laugh at him, Moses threw down his rod at God’s command and watched God turn it into a serpent. Moses was taken aback when he saw this the first time; a greater miracle would have been too much for him.
However, Moses soon stood before Pharaoh to show this sign. The rod turned into a serpent again but now God raised the difficulty level. Nowhere does the text say that God told Moses the Egyptian magicians could also turn rods into serpents. However, Moses trusted God and God enabled his rod, now a serpent, to do more than just wiggle on the ground. It devoured all the serpent rods of the magicians!
As time passed and the ten plagues unfolded, the miracles became greater and greater until Moses stood before the Red Sea and the waters parted. As Moses’ experience of faith grew, so did the miracles. Eventually, Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments directly from God’s hand.
God expected the faith of the Israelites to grow also. In Numbers 13 and 14, we read of the twelve spies reporting on the wondrous land of Canaan. All but two of the spies made the people afraid. The land, they said, was filled with giants.
Caleb and Joshua, the two faithful spies, tried to encourage the people with the truth that God would work greater and greater miracles for them. However, the people wouldn’t listen, and when all was said and done, they were sentenced to spend forty years wandering in the wilderness. It would be their children who would enter the Promised Land.
If the people had not previously seen God destroy the Egyptian army and grant victory over the Amalekites (Exodus 17), they would have had every reason to be afraid. God wanted, step-by-step, to lift the people to the point where they would see Him effortlessly give the whole land of Canaan to them. But the people rejected God, and so God gave them what they wanted: apparent safety—albeit boring safety—for forty more years.
a troubled strongman
Moses was not the only person in the Hebrew Bible to experience small wonders before greater ones. Look at the story of Samson found in Judges 13-16. Samson was used by God to defeat the Philistines who were threatening Israel’s liberty and existence. Consider how many opponents Samson killed in each of the following situations.
Samson killed a lion with his bare hands. Then he killed thirty Philistines when he lost a bet about a riddle. Later he killed one thousand enemy soldiers with the jawbone of a donkey. Finally, in his death, he pulled down the entire temple of Dagon, killing more as he died than during his entire lifetime.
Even though Samson was often getting into trouble with unwholesome relationships, God used him for increasingly powerful feats.
only a sling and his faith
Now let’s consider the story of David and Goliath. In 1 Samuel 17 we read that David decided to go against the mighty giant Goliath with only a sling and his faith. But, at this point, David was not completely inexperienced. When he was working as a shepherd, a lion attacked the sheep, and he used his sling to defend the sheep against the lion. Because of that experience, David was able to trust God for something greater. So David slew Goliath and Israel gained a great victory.
And then there is Elijah. During the famine described in 1 Kings 17, Elijah saw God work increasingly powerful miracles. First, ravens brought him food every day as he camped by the brook. When the brook dried up, he went to stay with the widow of Zeraphath. Even though her flour was about to run out, she gave Elijah what little food she had—and the flour barrel never emptied during the entire time Elijah was there.
Food brought by birds. Food appearing out of nothing. Yet this wasn’t the greatest miracle God would work through Elijah. When the widow’s son died, Elijah prayed and the child’s life returned out of nothing!
let go and trust
So what does this mean for us today? If I need God to do a really great miracle for me, I may start by praying for smaller miracles. Maybe a big miracle can be broken into smaller steps. If my ultimate desire is to see someone healed of cancer, I might start by praying that one or two symptoms be eased. When I see that happen, I’ll pray for something more.
This is also how we can grow in the physical world. Becoming a concert pianist or a marathon runner takes years of time and practice. The difference is that in the world of faith and miracles, the skill to be learned is that of letting go and trusting. It is not easy to stop trusting in my own strength and let God work. This also takes time and practice. That is why I need to start with small things that will allow my faith grow.
Here is a story from my own experience—one in which I could watch, and even measure, the growth of my own faith.
In the year 2000 I was single and lonesome. It became clear to me through prayer that the main reason I hadn’t found the right woman was that I just didn’t believe it would happen.
I started claiming small miracles by faith. One day I asked simply to have a one-hour conversation with someone that day. This wasn’t easy, as I was living in a nearly vacant college dormitory during the summer. However, that evening, after a conversation with a stranger, I checked my watch. The conversation had lasted almost exactly one hour.
Next I asked God to help me enjoy a two-hour conversation, and the next day that happened. Soon I asked for things to work out so I could have a conversation with a female, and that happened.
Eventually, as Moses followed God’s lead on his miracle journey, I sensed God telling me to pray specifically to have a deep, promising relationship with the woman I would marry by Christmas of that year.
Two weeks before Christmas, Sally, with whom I had been good friends for more than three years, told me she loved me. She had no idea this was an answer to a very specific prayer. More than ten years later, we are still happily married.
So, here’s my challenge for you: Think of the miracles you have seen God do in your life. We can usually think of something, even if it is small. Then consider a miracle you need that seems larger. Bring that to God in prayer—always remembering to pray, as Jesus prayed, that ultimately God’s will should be done.
Finally, remember the other thing that great miracle-workers in the Bible did: When you witness God’s wonders, praise Him—and tell others of His power and His love.
Ray McAllister, who is blind, earned a doctor of theology degree (ThD) from Andrews University, focusing on the Old Testament.