“We’ve had a ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’ now we have a miracle on the Hudson.” That’s how New York Governor, David Peterson, summed up the dramatic rescue of ditched USAirways Flight 1549’s passengers.
I am always happy when secular leaders ascribe good outcomes to God.
It was a miracle, but only with a small ‘m’. In theology, a true Miracle occurs when God temporarily suspends the laws of nature to accomplish his sovereign purposes.
Wrap your mind around this wonderful definition of “miracle” from Easton’s Bible Dictionary (Thos Nelson, 1897).
“An event in the external world brought about by the immediate agency or the simple volition of God, operating without the use of means capable of being discerned by the senses, and designed to authenticate the divine commission of a religious teacher and the truth of his message (Joh 2:18 Mt 12:38).
“It is an occurrence at once above nature and above man. It shows the intervention of a power that is not limited by the laws either of matter or of mind, a power interrupting the fixed laws which govern their movements, a supernatural power…
“‘The simple and grand truth [is] that the universe is not under the exclusive control of physical forces, but that everywhere and always there is above, separate from and superior to all else, an infinite personal will, not superseding, but directing and controlling all physical causes, acting with or without them.’
“God ordinarily effects his purpose through the agency of second causes; but he has the power also of effecting his purpose immediately and without the intervention of second causes, i.e., of invading the fixed order, and thus of working miracles.”
I believe in miracles. I believe that Jesus literally walked on water and raised the dead. I believe that God parted the Red Sea and then sent it crashing back over the Egyptian army. I believe in miracles.
The safe water landing of Flight 1549, however, was not one of them. It was a wondrous rescue, an answered prayer, a heartwarming story, a monumental relief, a divine act, and a measureless blessing. But it was not the suspension of the laws of nature or physics. It was not a true Miracle. It was, instead, something far better. Something far more instructive for our lives and our churches.
It was an undeniable validation that God uses prepared people.
Hats off to veteran pilot Chesley B. Sullenburger III. Can I request him next time I fly? This former fighter pilot now runs a safety consulting firm on the side. Years of training and experience prepared him to make the split-second decisions and to execute the precise maneuvers required to glide to a safe touchdown on the Hudson River. Pilots prepare for bird strikes. Thank God.
As a freshman at Wheaton College, I was awed when Billy Graham spoke at our chapel service. The media treated him like a celebrity. Reporters hounded him and photographers snapped shots of him. I sat in Edman Chapel to hear his brief message, in which he spoke one sentence that has stuck with me these many decades.
“If I knew that Jesus Christ were going to return in five years, I’d spend my next four years preparing for my ministry in the fifth.”
We may not fly aircraft, but we pilot our own lives. Are we prepared? Are we ready for adversity? Have we deliberately built into our souls the divine resources God has provided for every trial? Are we mature? Veterans?
Or, are we content to remain in kindergarten, repeatedly crashing, requiring constant rescue?
Heb 5:12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.
I would ask this especially of pastors and ministers. It seems we have increasingly reduced the preparation time and intensity for ministry. Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Chas Spurgeon, William Carey, even D.L. Moody, in one way or another, prepared for their lives’ work. Perhaps not academically, but each was a scholar in his own right.
They didn’t glibly assume the mantle of leadership. They toiled in obscurity before providence thrust them into celebrity. They studied God’s Word. They taught children. They shared Christ in private settings long before they hit the public stage. They did not promote themselves at conferences and on the Internet. God exalted them. They flew flight simulators long before they entered the cockpit. They were prepared.
And so God used them. God promoted them. And through them, God saved countless lives.
The Apostle Paul, who received more revelation than any other, did not glibly rely on his gift of revelation. He trained at the feet of Gamaliel. Then, after receiving Jesus, he spent three years in the desert, doing no public ministry. Rather, he studied, he prayed, he prepared for a lifetime of fruitful ministry.
I do not despise anyone’s youth; I love to see young men and women step into leadership in the church. At the same time, I do despise the current disdain for theological training among our church leaders. God help us. Should we, who pilot people’s souls, be less prepared for our jobs than C. Sullenburger III was for his? God forbid. I challenge my preaching class students to master their craft. To know as much about the soul as a doctor knows about anatomy. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.
W.H. Griffith-Thomas advised young preachers: “Think yourself empty, read yourself full, write yourself clear, pray yourself keen — then enter the pulpit and let yourself go!”
Calling the salvation of Flight 1549 a “miracle” is understandable, but wrong. It was an act of God, in accordance with laws of nature, through a well-prepared man. It was an invitation to each of us, to pilot our lives, our families, and our churches, with equal preparation (laborious, uninteresting, costly, time-consuming, a pain-in-the-butt), and therefore equal skill. God uses prepared people.
Ready for takeoff?