Have you ever wanted to do greater things than you are currently doing? Maybe you wanted to have a larger audience for your writing, a better showcase for your artistry, a more exciting career that used all your hidden talents, more elaborate adventures, more mastery of the supposedly simple things like being married and raising kids. In the church context—especially in Pentecostal/charismatic contexts—we can hear lots about doing greater things. Greater depth with Christ, greater clarity of direction, greater effects from our prayers, greater.
I believe Paul when he says that God has given the church gifts, and we are to use these gifts to edify or build up the body. This is important but not the whole picture of what God wants us to be doing—and I discovered this when preparing a message several years ago on the famous but often misunderstood passage from John 14:12: “…whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these…”
As any good teacher of Scripture knows, it is important to establish the context for any passage that you read. In this section of John’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that they will do the works be has been doing, and they will do greater works. So, the first order of business is to determine what works Jesus was doing—we assume they were the miracles because our 21st century mindset equates “greater things” with “miracles,” especially when we are talking about Jesus. Flip back to John 13, however, and read about the works that Jesus was doing right before he said this to the disciples—this totally changed the point of my message that day.
John 13 is the story of the last supper…Jesus washed Peter’s feet…Jesus broke bread as a symbol of his soon-to-be-broken body…Jesus shared wine as a symbol of his soon-to-be-shed blood. What a letdown this was, to think that the greater things Jesus was talking about were not miracles at all, but instead acts of humility. Really? Then again, when asked about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, what did Jesus say? Oh right, the one who is the least. Again, nothing about miracles. Rats.
The prophet Micah touches on this idea of humility as well—“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
I still firmly believe that God does and can work miracles through you and me. His word confirms it and our present experience of miracles affirms it. But, miracles are things that God does of his own sovereign will to display his greatness. We do not own miracles, we do not create miracles, and we cannot replicate miracles. We should expect, anticipate, and even pray for God to move miraculously. However, what can we do that depends on us to achieve greatness and live the kind of life that says to God we are ready for him to move through us?
You guessed it. Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly. This is the stuff of greater things.