For those who have yet to see the enchanting movie, The Princess Bride, that’s where the funny video clip came from, starring Billy Crystal as “Miracle Max.” This timeless, feel-good film has been captivating audiences since the days when a clunky collection of VHS tapes took up most of the space in your TV room. So, no matter what device you use to watch movies, do yourself a favor and rent, buy, borrow or stream it today! You seriously have no excuse to not watch it.
I love the line, “There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.” It speaks of clinging to the very last shred of hope when imminent disaster is brewing, an expectation of good rather than a resigned acceptance of crappiness, and a conviction that it’s never too late for a miracle, even in the face of our most dreaded enemy: death. It echoes the truth that with Jesus, there is always hope.
Guess what? You probably experienced some “mostly dead” miracles today: Your tube of toothpaste seemed hopelessly flat this morning, but you were able to squeeze out enough to chase away your nasty morning breath—and then you found some gum in your pocket; a crummy traffic jam made you late for work, but your boss ran into the same crummy traffic jam and arrived even later than you did; your near-empty fridge offered really lame dinner options, but then you found those last few eggs in the carton, and your kids squealed with delight when you served them breakfast for dinner. Are these mere coincidences? Possibly. But I’d rather take them as brilliant acts of compassion, compliments of a God who personally cares about you and me.
Over and over we see evidence of God’s personal care in the stories we read in the Bible, and even some “mostly dead” miracles. There’s an especially peculiar story about a little girl found in three of the gospels. Mark tells it like this:
“He [Jesus] went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.’ But they laughed at Him. After He put them all out, He took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with Him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old).”
Fabulous story, right? Everyone loves a happy ending, especially when we’re talking about the well-being of an innocent child. But here’s a glaring problem: This little girl was clearly dead, so why would Jesus tell the people she was “only sleeping”? Was He joking? Was he trying to cover something up? Is there a Princess Bride-ish term akin to “mostly dead” in Greek or Hebrew that doesn’t translate cleanly to English? Or was Jesus lying?
Jesus is the incarnation of our omnipotent God, God’s power in the flesh. He really didn’t need to say anything to help this little girl; He could’ve made her well with a quick flash of His healing eye beams, His supernatural touch, or some other secret spiritual formula. So why did He decide to say, “She’s only sleeping,” to the mourning onlookers, which clearly wasn’t true? He knew He was going to raise the dead girl back to life, so why wouldn’t He just say, “She’s as dead as a door nail, but never fear, Jesus is here!”?
For a long time, this theological conundrum really bugged me. What’s the deal? I kept asking myself every time I read it. This was a lie, but there’s no way Jesus—the Embodiment of Truth—can lie, so there must be something to this. I’ve wrestled with this passage many times over the years, and I think I’ve got an answer as to why Jesus would say a dead girl was only asleep, or at least part of an answer: it has to do with our view of God and how we approach Him in prayer when we face a hardship in life.
Agreeing in prayer with statements and promises found in the Bible is a common practice, at least in my circles of praying people. I believe there is a lot of merit in agreement with biblical truth; Philippians 4 has a lot to say about the importance of how we even think about life, our experiences, and our circumstances and surroundings.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Phil. 4:8
But the story of this “sleeping” girl shows us a different approach to prayer that I think we can call, “rejecting the finite to make room for the eternal.” Let me explain: Often when we receive bad news about something, we accept the news at face value, which shapes our view of what’s happening in our life and hinders our faith for how God might plan to intervene miraculously to change the situation. We expect the worst, wallow in self-pity, and we speak about our life with a resigned hopelessness. We become so filled with doubt that we don’t even see the point of praying about the matter, and we fail to remember that God is an all-powerful Being who loves us and is always ready to do a miracle for us and others.
Interestingly, lack of faith is the one thing that hindered Jesus from doing miracles (Matthew 13:58 and other verses). Think about that: God Himself, the same Person who simply opened His mouth and created the entire universe, was thwarted by the doubters surrounding Him! It appears that undaunted faith, even in the worst of circumstances, is a key to effective prayer. Faith doesn’t let bad news deactivate our trust in God; rather, it squares itself against the bad news, holds its head high, and presses back the tumultuous grey clouds of faltering trust and negativity before they can start robbing us of our opportunity to see God do miracles on our behalf.
In our mortal, finite realm, death is the absolute end—but we have an eternal God on our side! With our God, not even death has the final say. That’s really incredible news, but sometimes we have a hard time applying this truth to our lives, which is why the story of this “sleeping” girl is so important. Rather than accepting the hopelessness of the situation, Jesus rejected the pronouncement of death. At the risk of seeming a bit rude and insensitive, Jesus refused to join the mourning crowd and instead decreed words of faith and exercised His power as “The God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.” (Romans 4:17b) Bottom line: He knew what He was going to do, and He spoke of the finished miracle as complete before it actually happened.
What do you think would happen if we chose to speak with that kind of faith regarding our hardships? Just a simple example: What if instead of stating, “I lost my job—I’m unemployed,” you said, “God is moving me into a better job—He has employment for me.”? Do you see the difference? One is a proclamation of loss and a negative description of yourself; the other is a faith-filled statement declaring a hopeful perspective of a difficulty in your life. Maybe it seems kind of “Pollyanna-ish” to you (That’s another old movie reference, in case you’ve never heard of Pollyanna), or just plain fake. Ok, maybe so. But, here are your choices: You can do what most people would expect and grumble about your bad news with negativity and doubt, or you can speak words of faith over your life, trusting in God’s ability to do the miraculous, even if you run the risk of seeming fake to those around you. I’d rather be an annoyingly positive Pollyanna than a depressingly negative Nancy any day.
Faith doesn’t let bad news deactivate our trust in God; rather, it squares itself against the bad news, holds its head high, and presses back the tumultuous grey clouds of faltering trust and negativity before they can start robbing us of our opportunity to see God do miracles on our behalf.
Now, I don’t mean at all that we should never grieve or mourn when something challenging happens to us. God made everything about us, including our emotions, so He understands better than anyone else when we’re hurt, frustrated, or grieving a loss. But in your grieving, don’t give in to despair; in your sadness, maintain hope in God. We can’t allow ourselves to get so stuck in a place of grief and doubt that we start to lose sight of God’s goodness, His desire to help us, and His ability to deliver a miracle that will raise us from a dead state back to life.
Ok, so you’re dealing with devastating news, you want to trust God and embrace faith for your situation, but you don’t know where to start because your problem seems too big, even for God. I recommend focusing on Bible verses that highlight the promises of God for your good. Here are a just few of my personal favorites:
Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Hebrews 13:6: So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
Romans 8:31: What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Ephesians 3:20: Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.
Psalms 30:5: For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Psalms 30:11-12: You have turned for me my mourning into m dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
Hebrews 11:1 says this: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Cling to Jesus and lay hold of that blessed assurance and conviction, even when the things you’re hoping for and waiting to see unfold are still seemingly far off in the distance. God sees your heart, your pain, and your desires, and He cares for you. Keep remembering His promises, because God never fails.
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