The thing about miracles is that we can’t control them. I believe in them, I’ve seen them, but I can’t say that I’ve ever controlled when they took place. I’ve prayed for one person and they got well, I’ve prayed for another and they didn’t recover. Was it a lack of faith, the sovereignty of God, punishment for sin, or just the way of this broken world? People offer all these reasons and more. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I see a miracle at work in the midst of these doubtful times. I see the miracle of community. I would like to use an illustration from my wife’s childhood to explain.
When my wife was a child she had a brother who contracted spinal meningitis at only 7 weeks old. From then until the day he died, at the age of six, Sean was in need of 24/7 care. The care he received was more than medical. People would come by regularly to pray for him and encourage the family in some way. “The house was always full of people” my wife would tell me. The suffering experienced by her family resulted in a non-stop display of faithful love and community to this family for six years! The community that existed around, and because of, Sean brought joy in spite of sorrow and comfort in troubling times. It made this overwhelming burden possible to bear.
There were some, however, that made the burden heavier, those who said, “You don’t have enough faith.” What good is that to a family in desperate search of God’s intervention. All a statement like that really does is make things harder. In fact, it does the opposite of what those who say such things hope for. It causes people to look at themselves rather than God. I think if you want to increase someone’s faith you should magnify God, who He is and what He’s capable of, not belittle the faith of those hanging on with what faith they have. Besides, the truth is that in this present age we will experience death. All the Apostles, who did amazing miracles, died. Lazarus, who was raised from the dead, died again later on in life. We can’t hold off death forever, until that day when Christ tramples death underfoot once and for all.
Anyway, as I thought all of this over I realized that my wife and her family received something greater than a miracle – they received community. Through this experience, people were brought together and God was glorified. He was glorified because his people came together in love and bore one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). He was glorified because prayer was answered. Not the prayers of my wife’s family, but the prayer of Jesus when he prayed that we would be one (John 17).
I believe my in-laws, who at that time were new Christians, were taught the most important truth about the Kingdom – love. This came at a crucial time in the development of their faith. Perhaps they could have learned how to have faith that could move mountains, but they would have missed the greater truth: “If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love I am nothing.” They learned how to persist in faith in spite of not seeing their prayers answered the way they wanted, they learned how to journey with others through suffering, and to this day, they remain examples of compassion, steadfastness, and community. These are what Jesus desires more than miracles and displays of power.
Jesus confirms this when one day the disciples came back from their ministry assignments rejoicing that the demons submitted to them. Jesus responded by saying, “Do not rejoice because the demons submit to you, rather, rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” In other words, don’t rejoice that you have power, rejoice that you are part of the heavenly community. That is not to say there is no power, but that there is something greater than power. For the power to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, and so forth, is only available to us because we belong to the heavenly community, remove the power and the community still exists, but if you remove the community, everything else goes with it.
I am now to a place in life where I get to experience the same thing. My parents recently revealed to us, children, that my Dad’s cancer has become more aggressive. So much so, that the doctors have given him a 25% chance of living beyond two years. We have been praying for his healing since we found out about the cancer, and yet here we are. But this reality of community is the one good thing I find in all of this. For my brothers and I, along with our families, have been spread out across the globe and yet on hearing this news we have all decided to leave our respective areas of service to move back home to be with Dad. It’s been a long time since we were all within close proximity of each other for more than a week. But when hardship arose, I witnessed love bring us together again showing that, in spite of distance, our community remains intact.
Honestly, I’m still expecting my Dad to be healed and to live to a ripe, old age. In the mean time I’m looking forward to sweet times spent with my family and friends back home. I’m also looking forward to the way Jesus will build our community for the sake of His name and our own good. “Let your Kingdom come!”