man praying

Why Doesn’t God Perform More Miracles?

The recent pandemic has surfaced a theological question that many of us have at least considered.  Will God protect us if we don’t protect ourselves? Are we testing God or trusting God when we ignore recommended precautions and treatments against CoVid19 or other illnesses?  The following is written by my friend Rev. Dr. Timothy W. Ehrlich in his recent book The Long Road to Eternity. In it he lays out the reasoning and experience behind his answer to these questions.


Behold! The Old George Is Gone.

In the summer of 1989, I was invited to provide a communion service at a large nursing home in the nearby town of Norwich. I was to meet with the administrator of the facility at 11:30, get a tour of the facility, and then have time for lunch and come back and perform the service at 1:30. This was to be another amazing mystical day; I woke up that morning feeling spiritually buoyant. Feeling very close to God, I wrote in my morning diary, “I’m ready for another miracle.”

After arriving at the facility and speaking with the administrator, his assistant followed me out of the office to talk about a problem. I counseled her and her husband for an hour and they both thanked me multiple times for relieving their minds. I was happy to be used by God so effectively and marveled at the set of circumstances that brought the three of us together at that time on that day.

The nursing home was located on top of a hill overlooking the city of Norwich. Since I had half an hour before the start of the service and it was a sunny afternoon, I decided to sit outside in front of the nursing home on the side of the hill facing the sun and the city of Norwich to pray and to think about the message I was about to deliver. As I began to pray, I thought about how low my spirituality had been over the previous month and it caused me to begin to cry. I had been so busy moving and doing the Lord’s work over the last month that I neglected the number one job of a pastor – stay close to the Almighty. My tears were because of my failure to pray regularly, and because of my gratitude for the amazing contrast between that low point of the previous month and how buoyant I now felt. I could feel God with me so powerfully at that moment.

As I prayed, I was also praying for my friend George who was the Lay Leader of one of the churches I pastored; he was battling kidney cancer. He also was a saintly person, a salt-of-the-earth, wonderful guy, full of the fruits of the Spirit. Some months earlier he had a small amount of blood in his urine, but instead of getting it checked out, or even telling anyone about it, he decided that faith required him to let God take care of it. Then one day in the end of May there was suddenly a tremendous amount of blood in his urine. He told me what was going on with him as I was packing to move to a new church. I was upset that he waited to seek medical attention, but I was relieved that at least now he was seeing a doctor.

Unfortunately, the blood in his urine was there because George had an aggressive form of kidney cancer in both kidneys and it was spreading rapidly. George was in the hospital and, as I sat overlooked Norwich, I prayed for George and his wife Olive.  “My prayer for George, Lord, is that he recovers if it is your will.” Suddenly, the sun seemed to be extra bright and time froze just for a moment. I had my head bowed in prayer and, looking up, saw the same beautiful transparent golden substance I had seen in my attic room in Fire Island. It rapidly approaching me until it was right in front of me. This time it did not settle on me or pass over and through me. It was like a curtain – about six feet high and six feet wide and a foot thick, transparent yet like a golden shimmering fog. I heard God’s voice speak from the square, “Behold, the old George is gone; the new George is!” and then the golden substance faded away. I looked at my watch; it was 1:10 p.m. I prayed some more and went in and led the communion service for the retirees.

Coincidently my sermon for that service was entitled, “Holy Fire.” When I arrived to preach and serve communion, the altar candles were not lit. No one there was a smoker so I told the group we could not light the candles. A woman in the service said, “You will have to be our fire today.” Little did she know I was filled with holy fire.

That afternoon at about 3:00 I called Olive.  She said, “George died today.” I asked her what time he passed, she said it was about 1:10 in the afternoon. I told Olive what I had seen and heard that afternoon, but she was only minimally comforted as she was already convinced George was going to heaven.

George had been the main income earner in the household and Olive was confronting both the loss of her husband and the economic turmoil she was going to have to deal with. The rapidity of the progression of the cancer caught everyone by surprise – George went from healthy and seeming fine to gone in a little over two months. Heaven’s joy was Olive’s great loss.

The Theological Lessons

God Happily Awaits Our Arrival in Heaven

The theological lesson in this experience is to realize how happy God is about us having and receiving eternal life. God’s choice of words and the way it was proclaimed, “Behold!” showed how happy He is to receive us into His eternal home.

God Will Not do for Us What We Can do for Ourselves.

George’s flawed decision to not seek medical help until it was too late, based on the belief that God would take care of it, is also a lesson. It is a reminder of one of God’s operating principles – God does not do for us those things which we can do for ourselves. So, if we have blood in our urine, or some other ailment we need to get medical attention. God gives us brains and he wants us to use them, both to obtain healing or to get anything else we need.

It is not a part of God’s plan to be a cosmic lifeguard, jumping into action to miraculously save every believer from every situation, especially when He has already made a way for us to be saved through science, medicine, or technology. God will not save us if we can save ourselves from whatever situation we are in and God will not save us if we have chosen to reject an already established path to safety from whatever calamity is facing us.

When We Can’t Do It, How Much Does God Do?

That goes together with another one of God’s operating principles – God always does the minimum possible to bring about His desired results. He will not send an angel to save you if He can motivate a person to save you. He will not motivate a person to save you if He can reach you through other means like your prayers, Bible readings or the words of another person.  These may cause you to alter your path, so you don’t need saving in the first place.

Why Doesn’t God Perform More Miracles?

It is clear that God loves us, cares deeply about each of us and especially appreciates those who truly love Him. Considering the miracles God is performing, why does He not just do a few more and do all the things that I ask Him to? Why does God not save all His people all the time? It doesn’t seem very loving of God at first glance. The answer is somewhat paradoxical: God limits the use of His power precisely because God loves us and wants to allow us maximum freedom to choose to love Him in return. (See Longing to Reciprocating God’s Astonishing Love)  Stick with me here for a moment; it is a complex answer, but I will make it as clear as I can.

  • God wants us to have faith, to trust and believe in God.
  • If we knew that God would always save us or always give us what we want, then our need for faith would be removed.
  • Doubt and faith live in the same place inside us. How do we know? You can’t have faith if you are filled with doubt and you can’t doubt if you are filled with faith.
  • God wants us to love Him, and love is not real love if it is not given in freedom. True love cannot be compelled.
  • If we could not doubt or question the existence of God, if we knew for absolute certain the reality of God, including fully recognizing His omnipotence and omniscience, then it would take away our freedom to choose to love God: we would be terrified not to obey God. And love is not real love if it is not given freely.
  • Faith itself is a choice. We choose to either give in to doubt or to push doubt aside and trust “where we cannot see.” Thus, faith allows us the freedom to choose to love God or not to love God. So, when we love God in faith our love is not coming from a place of fear or compulsion but out of appreciation, respect, and admiration.
  • God creates the freedom we need to be able to love God freely by creating a space or distance between us. This space inside us is where both doubt and faith live. The separation or distance between God and us reflects the reality that God is Spirit and we are matter. There is a natural divide between these two.
  • Sometimes the freedom to choose God means God needs to keep His hands off things and allow stuff to happen to us that we perceive as negative. If He didn’t keep His hands off, if he saved us every time,  we would know for sure with no doubt that He exists in all His godliness, and again that would remove our ability to love God freely. The things that we perceive as negative that God allows to happen  includes allowing us to receive and experience the consequences of our bad decisions, the consequences of the bad decisions of others, the impact of natural disasters, and the weakness or fragility of our humanity.
  • But God allows these bad things because they are of a small significance compared to the blessing of knowing, experiencing, and loving God in this life, and to the promise of eternity with God in heaven in our life to come.

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Relevant Scripture

Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah. (Deut 6:16)

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matt 4:7)

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. (Matt 9:12)

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Heb 11:1)

seedlings in pots

How to Grow Your Faith / Spiritual Meditations

We read that ‘faith can move mountains, yet many of us find we are unable to move anything at all.  How do we increase our faith to the point where we can confidently call on God for the good of others, as well as ourselves, and see results?  How do we develop enough faith to trust and follow God’s direction in our lives?

I wanted to find the Greek meaning of the word we translate as ‘faith’, so I turned to Greek scholar,  W. E. Vine.  He writes that:

The main elements in ‘faith’ in its relation to the invisible God, as distinct from faith in man, are especially brought out in the use of this Greek noun. The elements are (1) a firm conviction providing a full acknowledgement of God’s revelation or truth (2) a personal surrender to him (3) the conduct inspired by such surrender. Emphasis is given to one or other of these elements according to the Biblical context. All this stands in contrast to ‘belief’ in its purely natural exercise, which consists of an opinion held in good faith without necessarily reference to its proof.

In the Old Testament the word ‘faith’ occurs only twice.  It is never just acceptance of a set of doctrines or outward acceptance of the law but is utter confidence in the faithfulness of God and a loving obedience to his will.

The New Testament tells us that the promised Messiah had come, and that Jesus of Nazareth was that Messiah. To believe him meant to become a Christian and was pivotal in the experience of the individual.  Jesus offered himself as the object of faith and made plain that faith in him was necessary for eternal life. He promised to send faith as a “fruit of the Holy Spirit” after he went to the Father. This may be seen in the reborn person’s spirit even at difficult times, not just on their best days.

‘Faith’ may also refer to the body of truth which constitutes the whole of the Christian message, such as in Jude 3:3.

Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed

Like us, the disciples wanted more faith to be able to forgive as they should. Jesus responded by saying that the faith the size of a mustard seed was enough to move a tree into the sea. His response made it clear that only a small increase in faith was required to forgive as He commanded. (Luke 17:1-4)

The same is often true in our own desire to grow in faith. We think we need a giant increase in faith to obey God, but He indicates that simply obeying Him with small steps of increasing faith is more than sufficient.

How Do We Increase Our Faith?

Read the Word

We receive a measure of faith from God, through receiving the Word of God — by studying the Bible.

So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. (Rom 10:17)

Reading or hearing God’s Word is like planting a garden. God’s Word is the seed that grows our garden of faith. Knowing His promises, what God says about you, about life, and about Jesus’ plan for eternal life are the Biblical basis for your faith.  Meditating on its contents will give you the groundwork for growing your faith.

Practice the Word

If we fail to implement our Bible teachings and ignore what God is telling us, then our faith grows stagnant. It took faith for us to become children of God in the first place. Therefore, to grow and increase our faith, we need to use that “measure” of faith, the Bible, which God gives to everyone, and apply it.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:22)
What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food,and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2:14-17 NIV)

We increase our faith by how we serve God. In Hebrews 11 we read of many great biblical leaders who were known for their faith. In each case, they faithfully served God. Abraham was willing to leave his homeland for a place he did not know. Moses returned to Egypt to free the Israelite slaves. To increase our faith, we are called to serve God in both large and small acts.

Look for practical ways in which you can increase your faith by applying what you know is true.

Associate with Other Christians

Being surrounded by others who are also seeking to grow in faith and recalling examples such as the people mentioned in Hebrews 11, can be of great help to increasing our own faith. Hebrews 12:1-2 says,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Earlier, the writer of Hebrews exhorted, 

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Pray to Increase Your Faith

Prayer is a great way to increase our faith as it helps us maintain an active relationship with God. In prayer we can also ask God to increase our faith. God knows our heart and longs to answer according to His will. Our growth in faith is certainly His will for our lives and a prayer He will grant.

Martin Luther shared some very useful insights on how prayer is more effective when supported by faith and how prayer increases faith:

Prayer is a special exercise of faith. Faith makes the prayer acceptable because it believes that either the prayer will be answered, or that something better will be given instead. This is why James said, “let him who asks of God not waver in faith, for if he wavers, let him not think that he shall receive anything from the Lord.” This is a clear statement which says directly; He who does not trust will receive nothing, neither that for which he asks nor anything better. 

Jesus himself has said, “therefore I say unto you. What things so ever you desire, when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them.” (Mark 11 )

James said ”you ask and you do not receive because you ask amiss“ (James 4: 3). For when this faith and confidence is not in the prayer, the prayer is dead.

Refer to post on unanswered prayer & waiting on God.

No one can believe how powerful prayer is and what it can affect, except those who have learned it by experience. It is important that we have a need to go to God in prayer. I know, whenever I have prayed earnestly, that I have been heard and have obtained more than I prayed for. God sometimes delays, but he always comes. 

There is no Christian who does not have time to pray without ceasing. But I mean the spiritual praying, that is no one is so heavily burdened with his labor, but that if he will, he can, while working, speak with God in the heart, lay before him his need and that of other men, ask for help, make petition, and in all this exercise and strengthen his faith.

Praying to God with humble, sincere and heartfelt words and thoughts;  Praying throughout your day as you have reasons for praise, guidance or help.  This is when you will see your prayers answered and thus experience a great boost to your faith. The following 2 posts will be help you deepen your connection with God.

Why Doesn’t God Answer My Prayers

3 Steps to Successful Prayer.

I like to keep a journal of the times God has directed me or answered prayer.  If you do the same, you can look back and see the tracks of God’s faithfulness. He truly keeps His Word.  Trusting Him with smaller problems builds our faith and gives us confidence in Him for the harder issues.

Conclusion

As believers, our desire to grow in faith should be accompanied by actions that match this desire. We can grow through applying what we do know, growing in God’s Word, serving God, surrounding ourselves with others who are growing in faith, and prayer. Even a small increase in faith is significant and worth the effort in our walk with God.

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Relevant Scripture

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11:1)

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. (Luke 17 5-6)

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment. (Matt 15:28)

Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, (2 Cor 10:15)

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. (Heb 4:14)

References

Three Ways to Increase Your Faith (crosswalk.com) by Rebecca Barlow Jordan

What should I do to increase my faith? (compellingtruth.org)

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.

young man and baby girl

Your Joy in Loving A Little Girl! /Spiritual Meditations

You love our children, but what was your first thought when you heard you were going to have one…or another?  It may not fit into your life as you planned it; adjustments need be made; it may not be convenient.  My friend, Rev. Dr. Timothy W. Ehrlich describes this struggle with God in his book The Long Road to Eternity, now available on Amazon.  Here is that excerpt:


Anna waited to break the news until halftime of the Superbowl when the Giants, my favorite team, were winning. She hoped I would be in a good mood for what she knew I didn’t want to hear. “Tim,” she said, “I have something to tell you.” I took one look at her and somehow, I knew. I said, “You’re pregnant!” She said, “Yes, how did you know?” I didn’t know how I knew, but I did know that hearing that news made me angry; the football game was forgotten.

I was angry for several reasons: this was the third time Anna had gotten pregnant faster than I wanted. I had wanted to wait two full years after we were married to make our first child, but Anna got pregnant 5 months ahead of schedule; then I wanted to wait a full two years before she got pregnant a second time, but she got pregnant 9 months ahead of schedule. This time I had not wanted another child for a long time, if at all.

These were some reasons, but the main reason was that I was convinced we would have another boy. I dearly loved our boys, but it is a vast understatement to say that they were ‘very active’. They never stopped moving, and they were strong willed, which is a polite way of saying they were frequently a giant pain in the posterior.

So, I was really angry. I was angry at Anna, and at myself, because I had something to do with it; but mostly I was angry with God. I felt very strongly that this was His doing because we were using two kinds of birth control and this pregnancy had defeated them both. So, I got up, left the Super Bowl in the living room, and went into the spare bedroom of the house to pray.

I gave God an earful. I said, “God I am really upset, why did you do this to me? I only wanted to have two kids, and now I won’t be able to sleep past 6:30 for the next five years. Now I have to worry about college for three kids! I am so angry; I know you were behind this. It had to be you. Why did you do this to me?”

I continued to complain to God about the same things but in different order. Finally, after at least half an hour of pouring out the reasons for my anger and concern, I stopped. Knowing I should not be angry with God and remembering to accept whatever He had in store for me,  I apologized to God, but was still hurt and upset. However, with acceptance my tone changed; instead of asking God, “Why did you do this?!” I reverted to trusting God and asked with genuine curiosity, “Why did you do this?”   

As soon as my question was asked not with anger but with humility, I heard His clear deep voice speak clearly to answer me. He said, sounding slightly angry or impatient with me, “Because I wanted you know the joy of loving a little girl.” Instantly I went from hurt and upset to thankful and overjoyed. I said, “Wow, I’m going to have a daughter!” As funny as it sounds, it had not occurred to me that the baby could be a girl.

As soon as I heard that we were having a little girl my mood underwent the kind of miraculously rapid and thorough transformation that only a direct intervention from God can do for you. In an instant I went from angry to joy filled, and from unhappy to thrilled. I was caught up in the great good news that I was going to have a daughter, and in the amazing miracle of being spoken to by God again. The passing of time has not decreased my appreciation for the experience of being spoken to by God, and for the good news that he had chosen to bless my life by giving me a daughter. My daughter Hansie has been and continues to be a huge blessing in my life; and I thank God daily both for speaking to me and for the gift that Hansie has been and continues to be for me.

I did not realize it at the time, but God speaking to me was also equipping me to face a huge challenge in my life. As Anna’s pregnancy progressed, she developed preeclampsia, but her doctor somehow didn’t catch it. Anna delivered Hansie by caesarean and while we were still in the delivery room, as soon as the baby was born and before they stitched her up, Anna’s blood pressure began to shoot up until it hit 240. I was watching the monitor; the doctor was not. I said to the anesthetist – “Look her blood pressure is spiking!” He said, “The machine is broken.” I said, “No its not, I have been watching the monitor, it has gone up and up and up!” He gave Anna a shot of something and her blood pressure came down quickly.

A little over two hours later we were in her room, they brought in the baby for her to nurse, and Anna said, “I don’t feel good.” She started nursing anyway; it seemed to be going well. This was the third time we had been through this and a baby breastfeeding was not new to me, so I started reading the newspaper. Just two or three minutes later I heard something hitting the metal side railings of the bed; I looked up and saw that the noise was made by our baby. Anna had dropped the baby because she was having a grand mal seizure.  Scooped up the baby, I quickly pressed the nurse call button about 10 times, and then put my finger in the back of Anna’s jaw to keep her from swallowing her tongue.

Putting my finger back there turned out not to be the right thing to do, both because there was a newer procedure, and because I had a nasty bite mark on my finger for about 2 weeks. Anyway, they called a code on her and the room filled with doctors and nurses. They took the baby from my arms and issued me out the door. Within a few minutes Anna stopped convulsing, but she was unconscious and she remained in a coma for three days. During that time, her kidneys and liver shut down.

At one point I asked the doctor if she would recover and he told me he didn’t know if she would pull through or not, but he said, “she is young and was very healthy before this so her chances of recovery are very good.” I guess if there is anything worse than hearing the doctor say your wife might die, it might be hearing this just after she has given birth. So, I was potentially a widower with three children under 5. But I was completely calm and at peace. The experience of having heard God speak to me so clearly just a few months before and knowing that God had sent me this daughter because he wanted to bless me made me trust in him completely. Whatever he had in store I was going to trust him. I prayed  that God would heal Anna, and said that I was trusting in Him and putting Anna and everything going on with her in His hands.

Fortunately, after three days Anna’s kidneys and liver started working again. First the catheter that had not produced anything for three days suddenly came to life, and soon Anna came out of her coma and became oriented again. Anna quickly recovered from that point. I was so grateful that God blessed me with the wonderful experience of speaking to me which helped me so much in that terrible time. Our baby Hansie is living a wonderful life and we are so proud of her. 

Conclusion

The theological lessons from this experience were:

  • God desires to bless even his most imperfect servants if they are fully committed to giving their life to Him.
  • Trust God especially when we don’t understand what He is doing.

How ironic that not only did I not trust where I did not understand, my first response was anger in the face of this huge blessing that God was giving to me. As I sat in the hospital room with my unconscious wife, whose prognosis was uncertain, I was completely at peace because God had spoken to me, and what a great gift it was.


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Relevant Scripture

And God said to Abraham, “As for Sar′ai your wife, you shall not call her name Sar′ai, but Sarah shall be her name.  I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her; I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “O that Ish′mael might live in thy sight!”  God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. As for Ish′mael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.” (Gen 17: 15-21)

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechari′ah,[b] of the division of Abi′jah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechari′ah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechari′ah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John….

And Zechari′ah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:5-20)