Appreciate the Annual Miracles

Blind Faith (No. 40, 2014)
Weekly Devotional for October 23, 2014
Appreciate the Annual Miracles

Oddly, something clearly understood by many people can be
seriously misapprehended by others. Sometimes the results can be disastrous.
At one of Billy Graham’s evangelistic crusades in England, he had his
frequent musical partner, George Beverly Shea, sing one of his most beloved
solos. “It took a miracle to put the stars in place,” he sang, and sat down
satisfied that he had glorified God before his British audience. But an
intensely irate woman who attended the event lodged a heated protest with
Billy Graham. She was incensed that Billy Graham had the audacity to allow a
soloist to come to England and sing, “It took America to put the stars in
place!” She obviously missed the message of a great song of faith,
funneling it through her misunderstanding.

This time of the year, I am amazed that people can experience
the magnificent display of fall foliage, yet fail to be drawn close to God.
The whole process of leaves turning from peaceful green to vivid red,
yellow, orange, and finally sedate brown offers witness to God’s constant
renewal of life. The splendor of the display- and the ensuing raking of
leaves in our yards – lasts only a few weeks, but we know that is all part
of God’s marvelous cycle of life. In nature, the fallen leaves enrich the
ground, a gift of life some people mimic by composting the leaves and using
the fertile results to enrich the landscape. God’s love and grace are
painted in Fall colors for all humanity to see.

Creation’s witness can be misapprehended by so many, while it
leads others to personal relationship with God. One who responded in faith
to Nature’s telling of God’s grace was Brother Lawrence (1611-1692). Born
Nicholas Herman, he admired the priest in the French parish of his boyhood.
He took his name, Lawrence, when he entered a monastery to work as a cook.
Earlier, he had been injured in the 30 Years War, and had worked
unsuccessfully as a footman for a French nobleman. He lacked the education
to become a priest in the monastery, so he worked more than 40 years in the
kitchen, then as a cobbler. He became renowned for his strong, simple faith,
and was sought out by priests, bishops, and laity for counsel in following
his way of “practicing the presence of God.” A member of the order in the
monastery, Joseph de Beaufort, wrote an account of his conversations with
Brother Lawrence and published it along with some of his collected letters
as The Practice of the Presence of God. Brother Joseph tells of Brother
Lawrence’s conversion to faith in Christ: “He told me that GOD had done him
a singular favor, in his conversion at the age of eighteen. That in the
winter, seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and considering that within a
little time, the leaves would be renewed, and after that the flowers and
fruit appear, he received a high view of the Providence and Power of GOD,
which has never since been effaced from his soul. That this view had
perfectly set him loose from the world, and kindled in him such a love for
GOD, that he could not tell whether it had increased in above forty years
that he had lived since. (Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of

Brother Lawrence encouraged all Christians to practice awareness
of God’s presence in every facet of life. The gracious God he had met as he
saw a barren tree in winter, he knew to be loving and gracious every moment
of every day. He said of his personal sense of God’s presence: “The time of
business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise
and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time
calling for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquility as if
I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.” (Ibid.) Such closeness to
God should be the goal of every follower of Christ, and Brother Lawrence
gave profound but simple counsel for seeking that goal: “We need to
recognize that God is always intimately present with us and address Him
every moment. In things that are doubtful we need to ask His assistance to
know His will. And the things we plainly see He requires of us, we should
rightly perform. As we go about this pursuit we should simply offer all
things to Him before we do them and give Him thanks when we have finished.”

God’s witness in the wonders of creation seemed to Paul to be
almost impossible for people to misunderstand. He wrote: “The truth about
God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their
hearts. {20} From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth
and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible
qualities–his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse
whatsoever for not knowing God.” (Romans 1:19-20 NLT) Those who recognize
correctly that the God who lovingly created all things loves them graciously
have praised God for his saving power demonstrated in creation: “You, O God,
are my king from ages past, bringing salvation to the earth.. {17} You
caused the springs and streams to gush forth, and you dried up rivers that
never run dry. {16} Both day and night belong to you; you made the starlight
and the sun. {17} You set the boundaries of the earth, and you make both
summer and winter.” (Psalm 74:12, 15-17 NLT) The ever-changing beauty of
nature in each season can prompt believers to acknowledge God’s presence
with them, and to tell others about God’s saving grace: “It is good to give
thanks to the LORD, to make music to praise your name, O Most High. {2} It
is good to announce your mercy in the morning and your faithfulness in the
evening .. {4} You made me find joy in what you have done, O LORD. I will
sing joyfully about the works of your hands. {5} How spectacular are your
works, O LORD! How very deep are your thoughts! (Psalm 92:1-2, 4-5 GWT)

This brings us back to George Beverly Shea’s beloved song. When
I think of him singing, “It Took a Miracle” is one of the songs that most
immediately plays in my memory. The song, which celebrates creation’s
telling about the grace of God, is part of my most basic understanding of
encountering God personally:

My Father is omnipotent, And that you can’t deny;
A God of might and miracles; ‘Tis written in the sky.
Though here His glory has been shown, We still can’t fully see
The wonders of His might, His throne ‘Till eternity.
The Bible tells us of His power And wisdom all way through;
And every little bird and flower Are testimonies too.
(ChorusJ It took a miracle to put the stars in place;
It took a miracle to hang the world in space.
But when He saved my soul, Cleansed and made me whole,
It took a miracle of love and grace!
(“It Took a Miracle,” John W. Peterson, 1948)

Take a look around you this vibrant but changing autumn at God’s
magnificent creation. Do you see his grace at work? Even amid encroaching
darkness and enervating cold, God is eternally at work creating and
recreating life. Of do you sense the same creative power that is seen in
nature at work in the miracle of Jesus Christ creating new life in you
through faith? As the beauty of the Fall foliage causes you to catch your
breath, breathe in the presence of God’s Spirit that will draw you closer to
him every moment.
Don’t misunderstand what God may be telling you this time of year. The
fallen leaves aren’t just another chore to clean up, they are part of God’s
care for all of life!

- J. Edward Culpepper