September 12, 2012 in Simple Religion
Image: 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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