I handed out a small piece of paper to everyone in my class and told them, “You’ve got 60 seconds to list as many miracles as you possibly can. Go!” Some students had a hard time until I told them to think about all the miracles Jesus performed and then their pencils were writing furiously until I told them it was time to stop. The class came up with an impressive list (I’ll only mention a few):
- Parting of the Red Sea
- Walls of Jericho Falling down
- Ten Plagues
- Widow of Zarephath’s food (meal and oil) never failing
- Jesus walking on water
- Healing lepers
- Healing the blind
- Calming Storms
- Feeding 5000
Defining the Word “Miracle”
I asked my students to work with someone in the class and come up with the definition of a miracle – to really ponder that word and what it meant. I was inspired by the beautiful definitions they came up with:
- A blessing directed to you out of love to miraculously strengthen you and lift you up spiritually.
- God’s help (something man can’t do)
- A personal and individualized blessing
- Anything that lifts you spiritually
- A blessing that strengthens you
As we discussed each of these definitions, I emphasized the fact that a miracle doesn’t have to be a huge, spectacular event such as the walls of Jericho tumbling to the ground! Miracles can be a very “small” and personalized event. One of my all-time favorite definitions of a miracle is this:
“A miracle is the evidence of the hand of God in your lives.”
–Celeste Witt, Professor at Brigham Young University
Now, when the children of Israel were trapped between a huge sea and an Egyptian army, the parting of the Red Sea was pretty big evidence that the hand of God was in their lives!
Just a quick side note: I’ve always wondered who could be dumb enough to follow the Israelites into the Red Sea! I mean, if you were charging full-speed ahead to kill some Israelites and were suddenly, and miraculously, stopped by a pillar of fire, don’t you think a light bulb would go off in your head saying, “Hmmm, maybe God is protecting these people?” Who on earth follows after unarmed people after watching a sea part in two? Not the brightest people I’ve read about…
Truly, this was a hand-made miracle for the children of Israel, but miracles aren’t necessarily always that dramatic. There are so many other “ordinary” events in our lives that are just as miraculous.
David A. Bednar taught this concept beautifully. He basically described a miracle as a Tender Mercy. He told about his experience of being called into a new leadership position (one of 15 men who lead our entire church worldwide!). He felt the weight and responsibility keenly. Just before he was to address the entire church in a world-wide conference, a hymn was sung entitled “Redeemer of Israel.” Elder Bednar described this event as follows:
“Now, the music for the various conference sessions had been determined many weeks before—and obviously long before my new call to serve [as a leader over the entire church]. If, however, I had been invited to suggest an intermediate hymn for that particular session of the conference—a hymn that would have been both edifying and spiritually soothing for me and for the congregation before my first address in this Conference Center—I would have selected my favorite hymn, “Redeemer of Israel.” Tears filled my eyes as I stood with you to sing that stirring hymn of the Restoration.
Near the conclusion of the singing, to my mind came this verse from the Book of Mormon: ‘But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance’ (Book of Mormon, 1 Ne. 1:20).
My mind was drawn immediately to Nephi’s phrase ‘the tender mercies of the Lord,’ and I knew in that very moment I was experiencing just such a tender mercy. A loving Savior was sending me a most personal and timely message of comfort and reassurance through a hymn selected weeks previously. Some may count this experience as simply a nice coincidence, but I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are real and that they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Often, the Lord’s timing of His tender mercies helps us to both discern and acknowledge them.
I have reflected repeatedly upon the phrase “the tender mercies of the Lord.” Through personal study, observation, pondering, and prayer, I believe I have come to better understand that the Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ.
–David A. Bednar, “The Tender Mercies of the Lord,” April 2005 General Conference
Tender Mercies are NOT random events or coincidences. God knew that Elder Bednar would be asked to fill this leadership position and He knew that his favorite hymn was “Redeemer of Israel.” The Lord had arranged this Tender Mercy long before Elder Bednar was even asked to speak!
It was a tender moment when the Lord reached down from heaven to show His son that He was there, He understood, He would help, and that things would be okay. No one knew about this miracle except for Elder Bednar and God himself. And that’s how most of the miracles have been in my life. I knew they happened, and the Lord knew they happened, and that was enough. Most modern-day miracles are not broadcast to the world. They happen in quiet, ordinary places to very ordinary people.
Modern Day Tender Mercies
My brother related the following experience shortly after his wife delivered their fifth child:
“While delivering our latest bundle of joy, in the final minute before delivery, I could tell from the look on Deborah’s face that she was in extraordinary pain — she later said that it was much more painful than the delivery of any of our other five kids. She called out repeatedly for help, and I remember feeling so powerless and helpless. I said some silent prayers asking God to help her. Afterward she received the distinct impression that God had helped her through it. I was very grateful.
A short while later, after the placenta also came out, the doctor came to show it to us. She explained to us that our daughter’s placenta had a “velamentous cord insertion”, which apparently means that sometimes part of the blood vessels in the umbilical cord are attached to the placenta in an unusual place and don’t have the gelatinous protection layer that the rest of the umbilical cord does. The upshot is that those vessels can easily rupture without that extra protection. A normal delivery is apparently quite dangerous for such cases, because even the mom’s water breaking if not the rest of the process of birth can rupture those vessels and cause the death of the baby (and maybe even make the mom bleed a lot too). Even if they don’t rupture, they can get heavily compressed and send the baby into distress, and then they’ll need to do an immediate C-section. As the doctor was explaining this to us, she referred to our daughter as a “miracle baby” multiple times. She also said that in her 30 years of delivering babies, this was only the second case of a velamentous cord insertion that she had ever seen.
Later when I got home, I remember thinking that not only had God saved my wife from who-knows-what, He had also miraculously saved my baby daughter — but I never would have known of the second miracle had the doctor not noticed something highly unusual about the placenta and pointed it out to us. As I prayed that night, not only did I thank Him for helping, I remember even commenting to Him that I almost didn’t even notice the great miracle He had done for me in my life. After those comments, the thought was impressed upon my mind that if I had completely missed the second miracle that it wouldn’t be a unique event by any means.
I guess it goes to show that God is aware of us and helping us far more than we tend to realize.”
My brother and his sweet wife would have never known a miracle had occurred if the doctor hadn’t told them! They just would have thought it was another delivery, albeit a more difficult and painful one. After we pass into the next life, I think we will be astounded when we find out about all the behind-the-scenes work our Father in Heaven did just for us.
This miracle wasn’t recorded in scripture for millions of people to read about, but it was just as miraculous and humbling. Only a handful of people knew about it which just goes to show that God is not just a God of the entire Universe, but a God of individuals – His children, that He very personally cares for and deeply loves.
Christ didn’t go around to large crowds of people, wave his hand, and cure hundreds of people at the same time. He went to them individually, one on one, and healed them. Large crowds were waiting to hear His message, but he was never too busy to stop and help one individual (see 3 Nephi 11:15, Mark 5:21-24, Mark 5:25, 29-34, Mark 10:46-52)
A God of Miracles
Some may ask, “Do you really believe God plays such an individual role in our lives?” Absolutely! What good is a God that doesn’t – a God that just does a few, fantastic miracles once in a while for His children? What good of a mother would I be if I checked up on my kids every few weeks to see how they were doing?
God is a God of miracles. That is who He is and what He does for His children. The scriptures are filled with examples of the miracles He performed.
But if God performed so many miracles in the Bible, where are those miracles today? Has He stopped doing them now? My testimony to you is that he has NOT stopped performing miracles. They are happening all around us. We just have a problem RECOGNIZING them for what they are. I repeat: the problem is not a LACK of miracles. The problem is the lack of our ability to see and recognize them for what they truly are!
The prophet Mormon understood this principle and was frustrated that his people were no longer believing in a God who still performed miracles for His children.
15 And now, O all ye that have imagined up unto yourselves a god who can do no miracles, I would ask of you, have all these things passed, of which I have spoken? Has the end come yet? Behold I say unto you, Nay; and God has not ceased to be a God of miracles.
17 Who shall say that it was not a miracle that by his word the heaven and the earth should be; and by the power of his word man was created of the dust of the earth; and by the power of his word have miracles been wrought? (Mormon 9:15-17)
Mormon argued that if God performed miracles since the world was created, and if God is an unchangeable being (see Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ the same yesterday and to day, and forever”), then why would God simply stop performing miracles? There must be a reason. Does He love us less today then He did back then? No! Has he lost His power? No! Then we must have simply grown too smart, solved all the world’s problems, and don’t need Him anymore. No! Of course that’s ridiculous! (See “Profile of a Prophet,” by Hugh B. Brown for further reading on this argument).
18 And who shall say that Jesus Christ did not do many mighty miracles? And there were many mighty miracles wrought by the hands of the apostles. (Mormon 9:18)
Christ performed miracles to show us what He can do for us in our lives if we will only let Him. If He could heal a leper by touching Him, what can He do for you in your life? There is not any tragedy He can’t heal you of. There is no wound He can’t heal, no heart He can’t mend, no life He can’t repair.
19 And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles. (Mormon 9:19)
Mormon does caution us that miracles can cease among the children of men, but it is NOT because God’s character has changed. It’s because ours has!
20 And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust. (Mormon 9:20)
Whether or not we are receiving miracles is not so much dependent upon God as it is upon ourselves and the condition of our faith!
Did You Know God Just Saved Your Life?
When I was in college, I was driving home after hanging out with some friends and, having stayed too long, raced home to finish my insane amount of homework! I drove along the back roads which were very dark. All I could see was an occasional headlight of another car or a light on a house.
I came to an intersection where I needed to turn left and saw a car coming. If I turned left quickly, I could beat it and get home sooner, but then the prompting came, “Wait, just wait.” As I hesitated, I had another very strong feeling to slow down and wait. I did. I slowed down and let the other car pass. As I turned left onto the next street, my headlights caught the shape of a man who had just finished jogging across the street. Had I turned any sooner, I could have hit him and seriously injured or even killed him! I was so shaken I could barely drive the rest of the way home. I wanted to get out of my car, chase him down, grab him by the shoulders and say, “Do you realize that God just saved your life?”
That man will never know that God saved his life that night. He will think that jog was just another ordinary run. He would have left his wife and kids, gone jogging and come back – a very uneventful evening – or so he thought.
He didn’t know that God saved his life, but I did. I am so grateful for this experience. I got to see the hand of God in action and I have never forgotten it. Since then, I have often wondered how many times God has literally saved my life and I’ve been totally oblivious! How much behind-the-scenes work does He do for me every day that I’m totally unaware of? I came away knowing that God watches over all of His children. I had experienced it first hand. I had this sacred experience of witnessing the love of God for a man that was out late jogging – a man I didn’t even know, but a man that God was actively protecting and watching over.
A Change in Perscpective – How To Recognize A Miracle
How do we recognize the miracles all around us? Henry B. Erying gives us the keys:
“When our children were very small, I started to write down a few things about what happened every day. Let me tell you how that got started. I came home late from a Church assignment. It was after dark. My father-in-law, who lived near us, surprised me as I walked toward the front door of my house. He was carrying a load of pipes over his shoulder, walking very fast and dressed in his work clothes. I knew that he had been building a system to pump water from a stream below us up to our property.
He smiled, spoke softly, and then rushed past me into the darkness to go on with his work. I took a few steps toward the house, thinking of what he was doing for us, and just as I got to the door, I heard in my mind—not in my own voice—these words: “I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.”
I went inside. I didn’t go to bed. Although I was tired, I took out some paper and began to write. And as I did, I understood the message I had heard in my mind. I was supposed to record for my children to read, someday in the future, how I had seen the hand of God blessing our family. Grandpa didn’t have to do what he was doing for us. He could have had someone else do it or not have done it at all. But he was serving us, his family, in the way covenant disciples of Jesus Christ always do. I knew that was true. And so I wrote it down, so that my children could have the memory someday when they would need it.
I wrote down a few lines every day for years. I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day. Before I would write, I would ponder this question: ‘Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?’ As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.
More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers. I felt more gratitude for the softening and refining that come because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. And I grew more confident that the Holy Ghost can bring all things to our remembrance—even things we did not notice or pay attention to when they happened.
The years have gone by. My boys are grown men. And now and then one of them will surprise me by saying, “Dad, I was reading in my copy of the journal about when …” and then he will tell me about how reading of what happened long ago helped him notice something God had done in his day.
My point is to urge you to find ways to recognize and remember God’s kindness. It will build our testimonies. You may not keep a journal. You may not share whatever record you keep with those you love and serve. But you and they will be blessed as you remember what the Lord has done. You remember that song we sometimes sing: “Count your many blessings; name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
–Henry B. Erying, ‘O Remember, Remember,’ General Conference October 2007
I have kept a Tender Mercies journal and it has been life-changing. It was different from a regular journal or even a gratitude journal because I was purposefully looking for how God had blessed me THAT DAY. Some days were rough and a million things went wrong, but there was NEVER a day where I couldn’t think of at least one thing the Lord had done for me that day.
It started to open up my eyes to how much the Lord is in the little details of our lives. And I realized, that if I hadn’t taken time to actually ponder about my day, I would have missed many of the miracles He did for me because I didn’t see them for what they were as I was rushing about my day.
Scripture Pancake: So, the question really isn’t “How can I get more miracles?” but “How can I recognize the miracles that the Lord is already sending my way?” That is our great challenge, opportunity, and blessing.