It's a miracle!

The difference between miracles and divine providence

By Mark King

When something unique or unexpected happens, you may hear someone exclaim "It's a miracle!" There used to be a TV show called It's a Miracle. It explored incredible and unexpected events. Someone's life may have been saved, they may have recovered some very meaningful item that they lost years ago, or may have been reunited with a long-lost family member. For instance, a pet pig lay down in the road until a driver stopped, and then the pig led the driver to his owner who had suffered a heart attack. On another occasion, an owner had a medical emergency and could not get to the phone, but her cat knocked over the phone and stepped on the speed dial for 911 and rescuers were dispatched. These are incredible events, but are they really miracles?

As I think back over my life, I have had some things happen that might make someone say, "It's a Miracle!"

When I was a student at Moody Bible Institute, I had a ministry assignment that took me downtown to Pacific Garden Mission every Sunday afternoon. Our ministry team rode the subway, and we had to pay our own way. As I recall, one way was 90 cents or a round trip was $1.35. On one particular Sunday, I was a little short on change and only had $1. It would not have been a big deal to get 35 cents from a friend or one of the guys on the team, but for some reason, it seemed that the Lord was saying to my heart, "Trust Me. I will provide." So I didn't ask anybody for money. When the time came, I went to our normal meeting place on the sidewalk in front of the school. As I waited for the rest of the team to arrive, I paced up and down the sidewalk. I happened to look down, and there, in the gutter, was a subway token. It was good or a one-way trip and I had enough money for another. It was a miracle!

As a student at Moody, I had planned to give $10 per week in the offering at church. This was not a problem as long as I was working and getting a paycheck. Partway through my second year, I became an RA. For this position, I received credit on my school bill, but I did not receive any money that I could spend. As my reserve ran out I began to question if giving this amount was something that I should continue. I prayed about it and finally told the Lord that if He would provide the money, I would give it. At that point I was 2 weeks ($20) behind on my giving. That afternoon I went to my mailbox and there was a check for $20 from a lady in my home church. It was a miracle! The Lord continued to provide money for me to give and to pay my school bill. When I started, I paid for the first semester up front and had $600 left. Three years later I graduated debt free, I had continued to give $10 per week, and had I $600 in my checking account. God had miraculously supplied all my needs!

When I was a pastor in Chicago, a couple who attended our church met with me to ask for some help. The wife was expecting and the baby was due in the next couple of weeks. She had just received news that the baby was in the breech position and that a C-section would have to be performed. She was concerned that she would not be able to care for her other children while she was recovering. She asked if the church could help with meals and child care. I told her we could work on something but the first thing we needed to do was pray that the baby would turn around and that a C-section would not be needed. We prayed and about two days later she called to say that the baby had moved and a normal delivery was planned. It was a miracle!

A young couple who met at our church was getting married one summer Saturday afternoon. I was conducting the ceremony, and the whole church was excited and involved. However, when they picked the date, they had overlooked the fact that it was the same day as the Chicago Air and Water Show. Our church was about a mile from Lake Michigan, and all day long planes would be screaming overhead. It would be almost impossible to hear anything going on inside the church. The bride prayed. We started the preliminaries and the noise was going strong. Then about the time that the actual ceremony was to begin, the noise stopped and did not resume. It was a miracle! Later that night watching the news, I found out that a piece had fallen off one of the airplanes on maneuvers and they shut down the show while they figured out what went wrong. This happened at just the right time so that we could conduct a peaceful wedding.

Just a few years ago, I began selling insurance in order to support my family while I was continuing my education. This was a very difficult transition. Sales is not my natural gift. I really struggled. In fact, I wondered if I was where I was supposed to be and I got pretty discouraged. One day I went in to work and was already worn out. I asked the Lord to "just give me something." I didn't have anything specific in mind but I felt desperate and was looking for a sign, some encouragement, just something — anything! That day, the sales department was running a promotion — a $25 gift card for each homeowner's policy sold that day. At that time, it was normal for me to sell about two homeowner's policies in a month, so I didn't get much encouragement from the promotion. However, in a few minutes I got a call from a customer who said, "I already have a quote on file for a homeowner's policy. I just want to put it in place." I didn't even have to "sell" the policy, just collect payment. A short time later I got another call from a customer who said the same thing — they already had a quote on file, they just wanted to get it started. Not only did I sell two home policies on the day that the company was running a promotion, but I didn't even have to work for them. I was greatly encouraged. It was a miracle!

Now, I want to ask you a question: Were these events just recounted truly miracles? Couldn't a skeptic easily call these things into question? Don't people drop things out of their pockets all the time and don't other people find them on the street all the time? Don't people get money in the mail all the time? Don't babies turn around in the womb all the time? Don't airshows have safety delays all the time? And given enough calls, wouldn't you expect that a salesman might get two people who had already gotten quotes for policies and now they simply wanted to put them in place?

I read an article by an atheist who had attended a lot of churches and was giving his impressions of them. In the literature from one church he attended, the pastor proclaimed that God had miraculously provided the church building where they held services. The atheist said he expected to find a story about how the building had descended from the sky and landed on an empty lot, but instead he read about how people had worked and given sacrificially to pay for the building. To him, it didn't seem like a miracle at all.

I think that in the Christian community, we may throw the word "miracle" around a little too much. I have no doubt that God was behind each of the events that I mentioned above. The timing and the specific details are just too much to be coincidental. But I don't think they are properly called miracles. I believe this type of event falls into a category that Christians don't use enough — Divine Providence. Providence is God's provision for our needs through "natural" means. God is providing for us all the time, but occasionally He does it in such a way that we catch a special glimpse of his care for us.

When you compare the things I have mentioned above with the miracles in the New Testament, you will see a qualitative difference. No matter how many times you pour water back and forth between two jars, it will never become wine. No matter how many times you spit on the ground, make mud, and put it on the eyes of a man born blind, it is not going give him his sight. No matter how many times you tell a man crippled from birth to get up and walk, he won't be able to do it. No matter how many times you break up five loaves and two fish, will they never begin to multiply. You can line up a thousand people to try to walk across a lake and they will all sink every time. No matter how many graves you watch, you will not see a dead person wake up and come out, even if you should their names over and over. When confronted with the miracles in the Bible, no one could say "this was bound to happen sooner or later."

People who are skeptical of the resurrection of Jesus often protest that this sort of thing is just impossible. "Dead people simply do not rise from the dead." If their contention is that dead people do not normally rise from the dead, then we would have to agree with them. The Easter claim is not that Jesus somehow just came back to life. The Easter claim is that a genuine miracle happened — God raised Jesus from the dead in a unique event that would never have happened in a billion years on its own.

So the next time you catch a glimpse of God in what He provides for you in answer to prayer and in a way that you know only He could, please don't say "it's a miracle." That may give unbelievers and skeptics the wrong impression. I encourage you to say "this is the way God has provided for me" and then share with them the miracle — the resurrection of Jesus!

Published 4-13-17