Martin Luther famously said that God feeds the hungry through the baker and heals the sick through the doctor. I’ve always struggled a bit with that. (I’m not alone.) God’s sovereignty over history and human development has led to great good and is a major way that God blesses both the righteous and the wicked. Provision through “natural” means is a true blessing.
But what about miracles? What about the times that God provides bread (Matt. 14:18–21), or oil (2 Kgs. 4:1–7), or flour (1 Kgs. 17:7–16) without a baker?
More troubling, what about people who don’t have access to bakers or doctors? How does God answer their prayers for bread or for healing? Should we celebrate God’s provision by “natural” means when so many are left out—when, for so many, it doesn’t seem like enough?
I don’t have good answers, but I do have a new appreciation for God’s natural provision, since God supernaturally answered two of my prayers in just that way. And I see some good reasons why he did.
Like many, we’ve had some challenges at church around COVID and racial unrest, and many congregants were not making the problem easier. At one point, I was overwhelmed by rage and anger. It was unbearable. My physiology changed and my emotions were stretched. Leading a church is always hard, but this was more than I could take.
“God, you say I’m your friend, but I don’t feel like it,” I prayed during a bike ride. “God, I need to know that you are my friend.”
Should we celebrate God’s provision by ‘natural’ means when so many are left out? When, for so many, it doesn’t seem like enough?
When I got home, I saw a text from my older, wiser friend Elizabeth asking if we could talk. The text had come within minutes of my earlier prayer. I told Elizabeth what I was feeling, and she prayed and brought some peace to me in that moment. But that wasn’t all. She came by to spend time with my wife that night, and we all ended up talking in our backyard. Elizabeth encouraged me to check out Pete Scazzero’s books on emotionally healthy spirituality and leadership.
More significantly, she shared that she had felt the Holy Spirit prompt her to call me earlier that day. I wondered how her call, and our time in my backyard, was God’s answer to my prayer. I started reading Scazzero’s books and quickly realized I had work to do. But I also knew I needed help. I asked Elizabeth if she would provide some informal guidance, and she agreed.
God could have miraculously changed my temperament, my emotional health, my thinking, and/or my approach to church conflict—not to mention changing the situations at church. He didn’t. But he did provide miraculously. God miraculously prompted Elizabeth to call me as I was praying, and she ended up being part of the way God is healing me.
The second time I cried out to God, it was for physical relief. I wanted healing for my hips, my back, my knees, my shoulder, my jaw. Physical therapy hadn’t worked, and I felt helpless. The physical challenges felt small compared to the spiritual issues—but when I was honest, they were my greatest source of hopelessness.
The day after I started praying and fasting—before I even knew what I was asking for—our friend Julie, a physical therapist, invited our family over for dinner. She immediately figured out why my previous therapy hadn’t worked. She gave me new exercises to do––and they work! She offered to see me every two or three days, voluntarily committing to helping me get better.
More than Answered Prayers
God supernaturally answered my prayers by using natural provisions. My experiences seem to be evidence that, at least some times, God provides for us using natural means. And I think there are some good reasons God would do that.
First, God’s provision through Elizabeth and Julie built community. If God had healed me in my bedroom, my family wouldn’t have deepened our friendships with these two women we admire and respect. God’s natural provision strengthened our church.
God supernaturally answered my prayers by using natural provisions.
Second, God didn’t only provide for me, but for them as well. Elizabeth and Julie received the gift of using their talents to build up God’s body.
Third, God provided beyond what I had prayed for. Elizabeth’s counseling showed me more was going on than I knew, and she equipped me to handle more than just church conflicts. While following her advice, God spoke to me in a quiet moment about how to parent my son. Now my relationships with my wife and kids are better off, too, not just my relationships at church.
And Julie’s care provided much more than physical healing. When we offered to pay Julie for her help, she outright refused, saying, “This is what living in community is about. I know how hard you and the other elders work for the church.” (She would know; her husband is also an elder.) “This is the least I can do to care for you.”
I was surprised. It felt like Julie was doing the most anybody could possibly do to care for me. Her words specifically addressed the conflicts that led to my prayers on the bike. At that time, I felt like nobody in our church saw or appreciated the challenges the leaders were facing. But that wasn’t true. God saw the challenges in our church, and he saw the work of the elders, and through Julie he made that known. I never would’ve realized that so clearly had God healed my body alone in my house.