Becoming Students of Miracles
by Bill Johnson
We must learn to “see” by observing the effect of the unseen world on all that is visible. Miracles provide that opportunity more than any other Christian activity.
One Sunday night a young man in our church fell in the back of the sanctuary and broke his arm. The mother came to me quickly and said, “Come pray for my son.” The healing of broken bones, even the ones from decades ago that healed incorrectly, had become commonplace. I ran back and found him laid out on the ground, his arm clearly broken. I got down on the ground with him, put my hand on his arm, looked at the break-and suddenly fear stole into my mind. I forgot every miracle I had ever seen, and I said, “Let’s call the doctor.” Now, I wouldn’t fault anyone for calling the doctor in that circumstance. For most it would be the proper thing to do. But for me the moment was personally revealing. I had seen deformed bones disappear, bones re-set, hips reshaped, blind eyes opened, deaf ears unstopped-but now, looking at a young man with a broken arm, I forgot everything I had seen. I switched from supernatural mode to natural mode. My experience with miracles hadn’t fully shaped me. I repented and apologized to the mother a week or so later, not because I felt guilty or ashamed, but because I realized I had a long way to go in having my mind renewed.
It’s not enough to put our revelation into practice; we must also become students of miracles. That means the miracles we experience must shape how we think. Miracles can be dazzling and dramatic, but they are not primarily designed to dazzle us. God gives us miracles to train us how to see differently. A miracle is a school. Or think of it this way: Just as there are nutrients in food, so every situation and encounter with God comes filled with the “nutrients” necessary to make us strong as representatives of God on this planet. The problem is that we may go through life experiencing encounters and miracles with God while not extracting what was intended for us in those experiences. We may flunk every test. We may not extract the nutrients. You can see this happen all the time in churches. When God does a miracle, some people say, “Wow, that’s really cool, ” and they leave unchanged. They are thankful, but they have not learned to see differently. They go home and their life continues on in the very same pattern as before, only now they have one more fun thing they got to see God do.
If that has happened to you, don’t feel too bad. It happened to Jesus’ disciples, too. They participated in a mind-boggling miracle of a great multiplication of food (see Mark 6). The multiplication actually took place in their hands, not in Jesus’ hands, and that’s a key point to remember. Jesus didn’t say, “Shazam!” and create a huge pile of food. He didn’t wave His hand over the food and watch it increase. He took the small portion they had and divided it into 12 groups, and as the disciples gave it away, it was replenished. But-and here’s where they flunked the test-later that day, Jesus told them to cross over to the other side in their boat, and He went to a mountainside to pray. There, He saw in His spirit the disciples straining at rowing, almost ready to lose their lives, so He came walking on the sea close enough to check on them. They saw Him and screamed for fear, and He ended up coming into the boat. The winds and the waves stopped. The disciples settled down. They were completely amazed “For they had not understood about the loaves, because their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:52).
That’s an odd ending to that story, but it teaches us this one thing: They had obeyed perfectly when carrying out the miracle of the loaves and fishes, yet their hearts still remained hard. They hadn’t seen through the miracle. It had not transformed them. You and I can obey God perfectly, and be the instrument that brings about the miracle and still have a hard heart through it and after it. It doesn’t mean you’re going to hell, but that you missed the lesson of the miracle. The seed of further transformation could not penetrate and take root in your heart.
The disciples did everything Jesus said to do, and yet when they got to the next problem, it came to light that they didn’t learn the lesson from the previous one.
What was the lesson? They should have seen their role in the miracle. Because they didn’t see their role in the previous miracle, they next time they encountered a problem and Jesus wasn’t in the boat, they had no solution. Jesus had said, “You give them something to eat.” He didn’t say, “I’ll do that for you.” It was at their touch, their obedience, that the food multiplied. And yet they missed the whole point.
Jesus’ goal wasn’t to send them into a storm so He could show up and be the hero. He planned to pass by, but they weren’t understanding the lesson. They did not extract the nutrients from the last miracle. That hardness of heart prevented them from becoming deliverers, and so Jesus had to deliver them once again.
The storms of life, like miracles, can present terrific challenges and opportunities for us to grow. But it makes a great deal of difference which kind of storm you’re in. Some storms, though sent by the devil, can provoke us and invite us to use the revelation we already have. They are miracles waiting to happen as in the passage from Mark 4:35-41:
On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”
But there are other kinds of storms God sends to show us we’re going in the wrong direction, like this familiar one:
But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up. Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep. So the captain came to him and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish” (Jonah 1:4-6)
We see in these passages two storms, and two different purposes for each storm. One was sent by God, the other by the devil. Each situation involved a man sleeping in the boat, one because of depression and a way of escaping his unpleasant reality, the other because He was living from the Kingdom toward earth, and in the Kingdom there was no storm.
The question is, which storm are you in? And are you dealing with it the way God wants you to deal with it? Have you let past miracles “tutor” you to a place of faith adequate for your current challenge?
The disciples’ storm was sent by the devil to keep them from the will of God. Jonah’s storm was sent by God to turn him back to the will of God. Some people face storms because they took a left when God took a right. God brings a storm in His mercy to drive them back. Others face storms because they are in the middle of God’s will. He doesn’t like the storm, but He wants to train you to use tools He’s given you to calm the storm.
Most of us find ourselves in a storm and instantly conclude our job is to cry out to God to intervene and change our circumstance. But that’s not the purpose of the storm; if we only cry out, we are abdicating our role in a miracle. God never allows a storm without first providing the tools to calm the storm. He wants us to use those tools to bring about a miraculous result. Think of the greatest conflict or crisis in your life in the last year. I assure you, with some examination, you can identify the tools God put into your life to take care of that problem. He allows problems into our lives so we can defeat them-not only so we can cry out to Him every time. The tools will be in the boat with us, but the enemy will fan the winds of fear to get us to forget where the tools are.
So many of us see the storm and pray what the disciples prayed when they saw Jesus sleeping in the boat: “Don’t You care that we’re perishing?” Jesus got up and answered their prayer. Most of us feel good when God answers our prayers. We might even applaud the disciples for doing the right thing in this circumstance, but Jesus turned to them and said, “How come you don’t have any faith?” “Wait a minute!” they might have thought. “I had enough faith to come and to talk to You! And You did what I asked! I thought I was paid to pray, and you were paid to do!” No, it is our responsibility to command that obstacle to disappear. Most people’s ministry involves trying to get God to fix problems on earth when we should be commanding the storms to be calm. We should see situations from heaven’s perspective and declare the word of the Lord-and watch heaven invade.
I have tremendous love and respect for the ministry of intercession, as I’m married to a great intercessor. But many intercessors moan and groan and weep and are all depressed all of the time and call that intercession. They never come into a place of faith when they pray. I know what that’s like. There have been seasons in my life when I prayed great lengths of time, very diligently, very disciplined, very impressive if I were to have counted the hours. God never penalized me for it because He knew the sincerity of my heart. But in reality, of the time I spent praying, very little of it was in faith. Most of it was in depression, discouragement or “burden”.
The tragedy is that many believers can’t yet distinguish the difference between the burden of the Lord and the weight of their own unbelief.
The worse some people feel when they’re through praying, the more they feel gratified to be an anointed intercessor. It’s okay to start there, but do whatever is necessary to arrive at a place of faith.
That kind of wayward intercession is the opposite of what Jesus expects of us when we face storms. If Jesus is sleeping in your boat, it’s not because He’s waiting for you to wake Him up with your wailing or earnest prayers. It’s because you have divine purpose. He’s wanting you to use the tools He has given you to bring about the “heavenly” result. Some teachers teach that God likes to wait until the last minute to intervene and show His sovereignty. They think that’s His cute and clever way of showing He was in control the whole time. You hear people say, “God’s never early or late, but He’s always right on time.” But God doesn’t always work that way. If He always intervenes at the last minute, it’s often because we didn’t use the tools we’d been given in the first place!
If you are facing a spiritual battle, it is usually because you have been trained for that moment. It means you have experienced things in your life that should have taught you how to respond to the present storm. When problems come, you should already know the right thing to do. You shouldn’t have to seek God in hours of discouraged prayer. You should be ready to step in and say. “I believe God for a miracle in this situation. That backslidden child will return home. That disease in your body is broken in the name of Jesus. That financial crisis is over.” The time to pray is beforehand, like Jesus did, crying out to God in private times when nothing was going wrong. That’s how to store up power and create an inner atmosphere of peace and faith that you take with you into the troubling situation.
Let’s not waste our miracles. Let’s not watch God do something awesome, then give a little golf clap, a little “amen” and walk away unchanged. Let’s recognize that we are equipped for each storm. We have been trained by past miracles to see present solutions. Let’s allow our revelation and experience of God to forever change the way we approach this life.
(Materials from The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind: Access to a Life of Miracles, by Bill Johnson ©2005. Used by permission of Destiny Image Publishers; 167 Walnut Bottom Road; Shippensburg, PA 17257.)
When Daddy is Sick
by Paul Anderson
There are a lot of good things going on in the ELCA. I rejoice with every sign of life. Here’s a sample:
- I was paid a visit by Dr. Kathryn Bradley-Love, the Associate Director for Evangelism in the ELCA. What a delightful lady, and what a mission she has! She’s praying for revival in the church, and she solicited our support. Hey, she got it! I thank God for the friends we have in Chicago. She is teamed up with Brent Dalseng, who appreciates what we’re doing in renewal, and I appreciate what Brent is doing in the Lutheran Church.
- Luther Seminary has some great teachers, two of whom teach at The Master’s Institute, the seminary started in St. Paul out of Lutheran Renewal.
- Our LR team recently met with four ELCA pastors who have shared in our ministry. We asked them to help us work smarter within the ELCA. They are all doing effective ministry, and we want to stay connected to pastors and congregations like theirs.
- I recently called the ELCA office to check on a youth director position for one of my sons. The staff there went out of their way to assist me. People sometimes have felt that “headquarters” can be self-serving, but I was certainly waited upon graciously.
- A friend of mine who recently led his church out of the ELCA wanted to do it in the best way possible, because he had so much respect for his bishop, who had shown him nothing but understanding.
At the same time, we have been getting an increasing number of calls from concerned pastors and congregations. The recent decision that came out of the Human Sexuality study has many troubled about the direction of the ELCA and the health of its leadership. When peace trumps truth, we’re in trouble, but that sometimes happens in our family when Daddy is sick. (When I say that Daddy is sick, I mean that a religious system has gone awry, and its impact on the institution is toxic). For me, it all boils down to leadership. We’re fragile, so we sometimes attempt to keep the peace by avoiding conflict. Underneath, we feel the tension-and not a little anger.
At Lutheran Renewal we are not recommending that people either leave or stay. If they stay, they need to learn to live with Daddy and still be healthy themselves. It can be done. There are a lot of wonderful people in the family and a lot of good things going on. Just because the system is sick doesn’t mean that everybody’s sick. We don’t think that changing the institution is an option, but we’ll root for those who choose to stay in. If others decide to leave, we won’t shame them into thinking they are disloyal. Kingdom focus must trump denominational loyalties in either case.
Lutheran Renewal exists to help individuals, pastors, and congregations transition into a renewal-based community that is committed to the Great Commission and kingdom advance by the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. About five years ago we moved from blessing to building. When you build, you make structural changes. As we considered either working with an existing seminary or starting from scratch, we were told, “You cannot start a new paradigm out of an existing one,” and we believed it. So instead of continuing to work within the system, we chose instead to step outside and build an alternative, The Master’s Institute (MI). That was our answer to the frustration of not being able to raise up leaders in the way we wanted. In virtually every country I go to, seminary training is a major problem, because the seminaries are usually more liberal than much of the constituency. So when we tell them about our seminary that we hope to plant around the country and around the world, it gives them courage.
The denomination is another example. Some are tired of connecting with church leaders that are not where they are. The Alliance of Renewal Churches (ARC), a new way of doing church that includes church transformation and church planting, gives people an alternative body. The ARC is a seed that is becoming a tree. It was planted with prophetic potential. It is a relationally based network of churches and ministers. It is not a denomination in the traditional sense of the word; it is more decentralized in structure.
Whether people leave the family or stay in, several things are clear:
- You must deal with your anger and cynicism. We are not fighting the church; we’re fighting the enemy. That keeps us pro-active rather than reactive.
- You must avoid co-dependency. It is better to obey God than man. Loyalty to a sick system is a distorted loyalty. Maybe you’ve heard it said, “You are free to stay when you are free to go.” Call it health.
- You must develop a positive agenda. Just talking about the sickness is not that
compelling a vision. It is not going to win people to Christ, start a renewal movement, or get many following you, except for the grouches.
- You must not let your heritage drive your vision. The Lutheran Church in Scandinavia, for instance, is strong on heritage and weak on vision.
- You must understand the need for structural change. Transformational change that doesn’t somehow impact structures will be short-lived. As a conference speaker recently told us, “We can’t pray for something to happen and have a structure that doesn’t allow for it.”
We understand that it is difficult for some to embrace the options of MI and the ARC. They seem radical in light of our family background. Self-preservation is a huge issue. It takes courage to move from old wine to new wine. As Jesus said, “No one after tasting the old wants the new.” LR has been a birthing mechanism. It has given hope to people struggling in a less than perfect system, wondering if they should stay or leave. We use to encourage them all to stay, but we don’t say that anymore. Our gift is to give live options and prophetic possibilities. May you walk with blazing hope in these days of great opportunity!