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The Real Miracle

real miracle - simple religionImage: Bryon Lippincott

I love blogging. So often a post will sit in my head and develop for weeks or months as I try to wrap my mind around an idea. This is a post like that. This idea has jumped out at me during Bible study, my reading, sermons, songs, and even conversations. I feel I am still so far from understanding God but I am so glad that He keeps teaching me. It has been in these last few weeks that He has shown me what the real miracle is.

As a Christian we talk and ask for miracles all the time. We know lots of the good texts to quote about ‘asking anything in Jesus’ (John 14:14) name’ or ‘moving mountains with mustard seeds of faith’ (Matt 17:20) or my favorite ‘Elijah was a man just like us’ (James 5:17).  We use these texts to ask for miracles from healing cancers, to safety driving.  Ask most people, Christian or not, about a miracle and they will talk about healing.  There are awesome stories in the Bible and in our current world about miracles like these… but they are minor compared to the real miracle.

We pray for people to be able to give up addictions or for forgiveness from a ‘sinful past’.  It takes a miracle for God to help people break from some of these habits.  God can do it, but this isn’t the real miracle.

You see, with these things above there are steps we can take…often we are powerless to fix the situation but there are things we can do.  With the real miracle there is nothing we can do on our own.

The real miracle is a change of heart.

It is possible on our own to life a decent life, keep the commandments, act loving to other people, and know all about God.  These are all superficial surface things when it comes to actually changing our motives and desires.  This isn’t an area where ‘fake it till you make it’ works.  We can (to varying degrees) change our actions but we can’t change our heart.  We can look ‘good’ or ‘Christian’ but never have the change of heart that we need.

Why is it so important? … Jesus has some strong words for people who could change their actions but never had the miracle of a change of heart.  The whole of Matt 23 is a rant against the church leaders who were only good out the outside.  He called them cups that were clean on the outside but full of greed on the inside (vs 25), then he called them whitewashed tombs… pretty, but full of dead bones (vs 27), then He got pointed and said ‘You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (vs 33).  This was a huge change from the love and happy stories He usually told.  I have a hard time seeing Him with kids on his knee when He gave this sermon.  To the rest of the world these people looked like the perfect church goers, the same people who others wished they could be ‘as good’ as, but Jesus called them out and told them none of it mattered without the miracle of a change of heart.

In a way this is really scary, but at the same time makes beautiful sense.  As humans we want so desperately to be in control, and it makes perfect sense that we should want to ‘make ourselves’ good.  So much of religion preaches this all the time.  “Check off the things on the list and you get an automatic ticket to glory”.  This appeals to our nature.  We want action steps.  We are a ‘doing’ people and there are lots of things listed in the Bible to do.

But this isn’t the theme of the Bible.  The theme of the Bible is that we are all sinners and we all need the Savior.  … savior means we can’t do it on our own and we are desperate for help.  When we look at sin as just a list of dos or don’ts it is hard for some of us to see our need for the Savior.  If we can follow the list, at least most of the time, we seem to be doing just fine – we don’t need help.   But sin isn’t just a list of do’s and don’ts and the idea that there is nothing we can do in this crucially important area is scary.

Sin is this heart issue.  When we see sin as this dirt inside the cup or the dead bones it completely changes the picture.  All of a sudden we realize that all the ‘work’ we do to clean up and be ‘good’ doesn’t even touch the real issue.  We can do nothing to fix our heart…. and this is exactly the realization God needs us to embrace for Him to start working on the real miracle.

It makes me think of the short parable of the Pharisees and the Tax Collector in Luke 18.  Very loosely translated there are two guys who are praying.  First guy is like a pastor who everyone looks up to and no one has ever seen him do anything wrong.  Second guy has a pretty bad reputation and knows it.  Pastor guy prays ‘Thank you God that I am not bad like this other guy here’  — basically  ‘Thank you that I am so perfect and don’t need You’.  Second guy prays ‘God, please have mercy on me… cause I am pretty bad and I really need You’.   In action, or to any human watching it would look like ‘pastor guy’ is God’s favorite, but Jesus said it was the second guy that ‘went home justified’.  Justified means guilt taken away.  Both these men were sinners and deserved punishment, but the second guy received grace and had his judgement erased.

A desire to be near God, a truly loving spirit to everyone (including the un-lovable or those who have wronged you), humility, trust – all these are things we can’t do for ourselves.

So I believe in miracles, and I pray for healing and safety for those in need but understanding the real miracle and the necessity of it has changed my prayer life a lot.   Sure we need God in every circumstance, but we are most desperate in our need for a change of heart.

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  1. Carmen Carmen

    Good stuff! Thanks for the reminder, my Bible study class starts up this Friday :-)

    • awesome! What are you guys studying?

      • Carmen Carmen

        I think it’s Romans, as part of an intermediate discipleship course, leading on from one I studied last term/semester. Will find out more details on Friday! 😉

      • sounds great. We just finished studying Romans in our group. Loved it!

  2. Kim Kim

    Religion, a subject I’ve been so confused about. It is completely my heart that does have the hardest time with it. I have a feeling a big part of the problem, I don’t really know how to use my heart and my mind together. When I actually get to Church or a Bible Study, sometimes just listening to Klove, it will bring me to tears asking for forgiveness. I recently went for a long roadtrip, I was on a road where I hadn’t seen a car or a house for at least an hour when I realized it was just God and I, I talked till I was crying again. Yet, I can’t get myself to go out and find a Church that works for me. Even my 5 year old daughter keeps asking when we are going to start going to Church, she loves learning about God from VBS & other Faith Oriented Groups I’ve taken her too. I use the excuse of not going to Church because I can’t stand our small community and have no desire to give myself so personally with people who run out and talk about everyone as soon as Church lets out. I hear about it when someone stops me while I’m walking my dogs or picking my daughter up from a friends house. Gossip-Blech! Gossip in a small community of less than 150 people, divided into 4-5 Churches. I knw this is just an excuse. I could come and go quietly, but I want to find that Church that has a large group of people, that large group that does things together. Those churches are at least 2+hrs from here, another excuse. My biggest demon is my mind. I’ve used “Excuses” for everything in life to the point where things don’t get accomplished. Unfortunetly one of the last true conversations I had with my Mom (who passed away from Lung and Brain Cancer last year)was my lack of accomplishmentws because of excuses… I read a scripture, I listen to Klove, I pray and talk of our Lord to my daughter, yet I seem to have an issue to just open up my heart which is completetly coated with excuses to not move forward in my love with God… I believe this maybe where that term Conflicted Heart comes to light…

    • Kim, thanks so much for your comment! I think church is very important… because it is Biblical, but I understand what you say completely. Every church is just a group of broken people. The problems often come because some realize they are broken more than others. Going to church won’t make you any closer to God or any better than not going. Too many people rely on going to Church to feed their personal relationship and you are very lucky you don’t use that excuse 😉 I think, at least one reason, God talked about our need for body/church is because we need to learn how to work with other people… who often think very differently than us. It is hard, but we need more people who don’t gossip in the church. It will improve our reputation :) I will be praying for you.

    • Katy Katy

      Hey, Kim. My sympathies for your mother’s passing.

      Your life with God is amazing! You can be real and vulnerable with Him to the point of tears!

      Yes, Christians can act very unChristianlike. But you’re not alone in this! God loves you and me more than we ever imagine, and He controls everything.

      Your post demostrates that loving and being loved by God does not depend on regularly attending religious functions. I know I personally grow more spiritually in quiet moments than in religious services. Keep that communication with God central; He WILL meet your needs!

      Wish I could help more,

    • Katy Katy

      Your post is right on! I would not trade the miracle of God’s work in my life for anything–to move mountain, to heal the sick, to walk on water…

      Religion has nothing to do with your post, but Kim’s frustration prompted my responce.

      Yes, we Christians need church. Church. The body of Christ. Other Christians. People who experience intimacy with God delight in sharing that joy with others!

      Kim’s post raises the question of the importance of religion (the system of buildings, services, and clergy) in the Christian journey. When religion fosters healthy relationships, praise God! When it doesn’t, many believe we should regularly attend religious services regardless of whether or not they do more harm than good. …That maybe it’s OUR problem the system isn’t working–we just need to deal with it.

      But most Christians agree that how we worship (in a crowd/in a closet, listening to a sermon/listening to His voice)–not to mention where and when–are practically unimportant compared to whether or not we do seek His presence. And with whom we worship God is also just a detail compared to the importance of connecting with Him.

      Though situations like Kim’s have no simple solution, we shouldn’t feel guilty for not following tradition and/or “should” when we are following the true God!

      I’m way off topic, I know. Thanks, Lorilee, for letting me share my two cents.

      • Katy,

        Your two cents is always welcome :) I think that you are right in that a spiritual experience is one that is created in private with God. It is not created by following traditions or hanging out with other religious people. However, the idea of going to church is very clear in the Bible. Both Jesus and the disciples went to the synagogue. It is clear that the Christian church met and were united together and helped each other. Jesus prayed strongly for unity of believers(John 17:20-23). I have considered just staying away before because of frustration and politics and personalities, but I really think we need each other. The church also gives us the ability to help others. I don’t think we can have a private relationship with God (even though that is where it needs to come from). If we are really moved and changed by Him, He will use us to reach and help other people. Maybe these people are people who have been in the church much longer than us but still don’t understand, maybe these people are new members who need help or people to talk to, maybe these people are no where near the church and we can show and bring them.

        It is hard and maybe there isn’t a good church to go to in every area. I have always been lucky and have had a few choices (and made changes) because we have been in bigger areas. However, no church is perfect… I just believe that church is an ideal we should seek prayerfully :)


  3. Laura Laura

    Starting in my 20’s, this seemed to be on my mind a lot. At first, I thought “CHURCH”, it must be a sign I should go back to church. (note: I’ve never stopped believing in God, I was just young and “busy” and wasn’t attending).

    Church taught me a little more about the bible, which I find interesting and inspiring, as it should be. But the church attending didn’t last. It just wasn’t “my thing” The Priest was great- very wise and understanding. The church was beautiful. The choir was heavenly- echoing off the walls of the chapel. Meeting people was nice. Activities were fun.

    Something was missing for me…


    Don’t get me wrong, It was a very Christian atmosphere with wonderful and truly GOOD people, but I found it a bit distracting from the reason I was there. I didn’t have a focus on God, it was about the rituals, traditions and social aspects. I tried going to service much (MUCH) earlier to have time to sit and reflect and pray. I found myself distracted by the choir practicing, people preparing the alter- all the normal things that take place to prepare for worship.

    When I say distracted, I don’t mean ADHD distracted, I mean in thought. I’m watching all the thing going on, and while I find them wonderful, I didn’t feel like it was real. I felt exactly as you described in your blog today.

    Do’s and Don’ts of being a Christian. Checklist of things to follow and (I’m sorry if I offend anyone here, not my intention) if you stray from the checklist, just pray about it or confess it and you’re back on track.

    Now I’m nearly 30, almost a decade later of my Spiritual “questioning”, and I’m slowly getting it:

    Love everyone (truly. Not fake. Have patience, be kind, and LOVE)

    Forgive and Forget (For your OWN sake, forgive and forget. For the sake of your heart and relationship with God, let go)

    Live and let live (you don’t have to agree with everyone, everyone doesn’t have to agree with you)

    What you watch/read/listen to reflects what kind of person you are. (watch/read/listen to things that HELP you live the peaceful Christian life, not goes against it)

    Don’t just ask of God, thank him. (And when you do ask, make it sincere! Don’t ask for the light to turn green!)

    Try to find the positive in everything (It makes for a much more peaceful life, for you and those around you)

    These things are hard at times and they are not meant to be a do and don’t checklist- more like a change of heart!

    The most important thing I’ve learned: Religion is what you need it to be. In otherwords, I don’t think anyone is wrong. Those kind devout Catholics (waves at Dad) are not wrong. Loving Mormons (hi gram!) are not wrong. Peaceful Buddhists (no personal shout outs here), not wrong! You get my point. It works for THEM and thats what they need. That isn’t wrong.

    I’ll stop highjacking your blog now, Lorilee. ☮

    • Laura, thanks for your comment! You are totally not highjacking my blog :) I love discussion. It makes me think of when Jesus was here on earth. He didn’t agree with the church leaders… and they hated and eventually killed Him, but he still attended and participated. I think it is okay if we don’t agree with everything and are searching deeper for God in it all. It was then, as it probably is often now, that church is mostly tradition and rituals – people wanting to invest in the afterlife by following rules but not seeking deeper for God. That was what Jesus kept trying to show. (and in the old testament He talked a lot about it too). I believe in all the do’s and don’ts and if God said it I will do it, but I want so much more out of my relationship.

  4. tinygrammy tinygrammy

    Thank you for todays insight. My husband and I were both brought up in very active church families and almost never missed a service. We began our married life this way and brought our children up the same way. It seemed like we were at church for services or other activities on most days of the week. The problem was, it was so superficial. It was ALL about doing. We were both Christians and still didn’t see it. Then, we began to look around at the other people and their “service”. What we thought we saw was a huge bunch of hypocrites! So, we quit going all together, for 15 years. But God never quit working on us and on our hearts. You see, what we finally realized is that, yes, maybe some of those folks were hypocrites, but we were the biggest ones of all. I began to realize that serving and loving God is way more than doing. We are going to church again now, but with a complete change of heart. I no longer look at others and try to figure them out. I continue to look inward and pray for a heart and life changed for God’s glory. I still serve God as He leads me, but I’m now more focused on the God that I serve.

    • amen! I grew up in church and learned all of this in the last few years too. I know I still have so much to learn :)

  5. I would have to disagree that a change of heart is a miracle, but rather comes about from a series of tiny changes. Changes of heart often come around after large paradigm shifts. Changes of heart can be learned through mindfulness techniques. I’ve had many changes of heart throughout my years, but all have come through my openness and willingness to see things in a different way. In my opinion, it just comes down psychological prowess. For example, The Hubs was desperate for a divorce about a year and a half ago. It was pain-staking to say the least. I wanted a quick & easy “change of heart miracle” like you describe. But what I learned is that we have to teach ourselves to think differently about situations/people and refute the old way of thought. His change was nowhere near over night, but was ONLY possible by this method of training. Just wanted to put a non-religious perspective on this.

    • So glad you guys were able to stay together :)

  6. Great post! And great comments, too. I won’t get into the discussion about the church, but I will say that I agree that miracles are often all around us in the little things (or the huge, foundational things, however you want to see it). For awhile this year I was asking God to see a miracle. I desperately wanted to see His power in a supernatural way…and still do in an awesome way, but I’m not fixating on that. The change in my own life and in the lives of people around me should be enough of a miracle– that I have gone from dead to alive purely from God’s grace should leave me breathless. Too often I’m like the scribes/Pharisees in Mtw. 12, who ask for a sign _just after_ Jesus had healed a withered hand and healed a blind/mute. It was right there in front of them and still they demanded more of a sign. May it not be so in my life!

    Thanks for this reminder, Lorilee.

    • love this “that I have gone from dead to alive purely from God’s grace should leave me breathless.” thanks for your comment :)

  7. “We can do nothing to fix our heart…. and this is exactly the realization God needs us to embrace for Him to start working on the real miracle.”

    Yes, yes and yes.

  8. […] Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Graceby Jan Johnson. And I owe the Lord all for the real miracle of changing my heart and empowering me to let go of what doesn’t matter to embrace the more that […]

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