One of the questions I am often asked when I am out and about speaking on Holy Habits is why are signs and wonders not included in the list? It’s a good question, as they are certainly mentioned in the Acts 2 text, and Luke is not shy of talking about them in both Acts and his gospel.
For my fuller response to this important question, please see the chapter in my book Holy Habits (Malcolm Down Publishing, 2016). Here are my thoughts in a nutshell.
Whenever and wherever we see people being blessed physically, mentally, spiritually or relationally, justice done and truth prevail, selfishness surrendered and generous sharing, or broken lives made whole, there we see signs of God’s goodness and wonders of his love. Whenever these signs and wonders are done in the name of Jesus, they, like the signs and wonders of Acts, have the potential to:
Bestow benefits (physical, mental, spiritual or social) on those blessed by them
Authenticate the identity of Jesus when done in his name
Provide signs of the immanence of the kingdom of God
Form part of the Christian witness and produce faith.
Some of these signs and wonders may be the result of the faithful practising of the ten practices that have been identified as holy habits. I firmly believe that the more we practise these habits, the more we will see signs of God’s goodness and wonders of his love. I also suspect that where signs and wonders are seen as an eleventh habit, they are actually inextricably linked to prayer and, in particular, prayers of invocation that look to God to bestow them.
Other signs and wonders may be the consequence of a miraculous moment. In these instances, they are qualitatively different to the ten holy habits, in so much as they cannot be practised as the ten can. They are received as direct divine blessings.
In the book I tell the story of Anne and Michael,* a couple I know very well. They love being with children. Michael is a church minister and Anne is a teacher. They longed to have a child of their own, but as the years went by, there was no sign of a child being conceived. So the medical investigations began. Tests, exploratory operations, medication – but still no joy. One Mothering Sunday, Anne was in hospital recovering from the latest exploratory procedure while Michael was baptising a baby. The little girl was the mother’s seventh child. She was absolutely beautiful. Michael kept it together, smiling and being professional, but inside his heart was breaking. When everyone was gone, he went to the front of the church, knelt at the Communion table and cried his heart out.
A few months later, a final operation had been arranged. Just three days before it was due to happen, a little blue line appeared in the pregnancy test. Michael and Anne were stunned. That little blue line is now a fine young man and living the adventure of following Jesus for himself.
Despite all of their best efforts and much heartache, Michael and Anne were not able to provide their son with a sibling. Some years later, Anne was diagnosed with a medical condition, undiscovered but present all those years ago, which may explain why there have been no siblings and makes that thin blue line, in Anne and Michael’s eyes at least, a sign and wonder of God’s grace for which they will be forever grateful.
So, in brief, my personal view is that signs and wonders are either something we see more of as we practise the ten habits of discipleship that Holy Habits presents, or miraculous moments that are qualitatively different to the ten practices. But what do you think?
*This story is told with permission, but to protect privacy I have change the names.