Sustained by the Ordinary

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In Mark 5:21-43 we have the account of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead. It is a remarkable account in many ways, and one that brings glory to Christ and encouragement to our souls. The Lord Jesus compassionately responded to the pleas of a parent for his daughter. One can only imagine the extraordinary joy that was experienced in that home! This event has many relevant applications for us but I want to highlight a particular one that has grabbed my attention.

The words with which the story ends are interesting: “But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it [i.e. the miracle], and said that something should be given her to eat.”

The miracle of which they were to be silent concerned her being raised from the dead. Jesus gave this commandment because He wanted to avoid a wrong-headed popularity. The cross needed to precede the crown.

Technically this was a “revivification” rather than a resurrection, for this girl would eventually day die again. Regardless, what strikes me is that, though she was revived by a miracle, she was to be sustained by the ordinary: Something was to be given her to eat. As I read that phrase the other day it struck me as an illustration of the way in which the believer is called to live. Let me explain.

We were once dead in our trespasses and sins. But, by grace, God miraculously raised us from the dead (Ephesians 2:1-5). He quite literally revived and resurrected us. We played no role in this. It was all of God. As Jonah reminds us, “Salvation is of the LORD” (Jonah 2:9). But when it comes to our spiritual growth, we must, like this young daughter, be given something to eat. The miraculous must be sustained by the ordinary.

Jairus’ daughter was miraculously revived but would need to consume common means in order to survive. There is a very real sense in which believers must follow the same course. I understand that it is God who works in you both to desire and to do of His good pleasure (see Philippians 2:11-13), and yet I dare say that our doing requires the grace of grit more than the miraculous spurts of growth. We have been made alive in and through the power of Christ, but the same Lord has ordained that our growth will come about by responsible, personal effort.

Now, the Scriptures speak quite clearly that even our efforts are rooted in God’s sovereign and gracious power. We can take no more credit for the means of grace our exercising of them than Jairus’ daughter could take for the nutrients in the food that she consumed. Nevertheless, if her parents did not supply the food, and if she herself did not partake of it, she would have starved to death. The same principles apply with regard to our spiritual growth.

For instance, pastors must prepare the spiritual meals, the local church must work at setting the table with sound, healthy doctrine as well as providing the vehicle for the ordinances. And yet if believers do not partake of the meals then they too will find themselves spiritually starving to death and in need of another miraculous revival. Of course, we have no guarantee that one will be forthcoming! For Jairus to have withheld food from his daughter—just so that they could all experience another miracle—would have been presumption of the highest order; not to mention an act of heartless cruelty. What guarantee did they have that the Lord would repeat His visit and to revive her?

I hope that you can see the point that spiritual growth towards Christlikeness begins with a miracle and is sustained by God’s ordinary means. We do not live from miracle to miracle but rather from providence to providence. God has provided what we need for the sustaining of our spiritual life and it is up to us to partake of it.

Let me flesh this out further. We must daily feed on His Word; the Word which He has graciously provided and preserved for thousands of years. We must daily partake of the privilege of prayer; there is nourishment awaiting us at the throne of grace. We must daily apply the Word of God to the many temptations in which we find ourselves. We must exercise our minds to think on those things that are true. We must exercise the self-discipline to gather with the saints in fellowship and in instruction from the Word. In short, we must take personal responsibility for our spiritual health.

When Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone” (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4) He was indicating (among other things) that it is not the grain behind the bread that alone sustains our life, but rather it is the life-giving power that God has put into the grain which nourishes us. The same is true when it comes to the spiritual disciplines. These, like bread, are gifts of God, but they must be exercised by us. And when we do so—with faith in God—we can rely on Him to empower us for growth. Again, as with Jairus’ daughter, we must eat what God has normally supplied for the sustaining of the miracle of our new life in Christ.

Revival is a wonderful experience, but let us not despise the day of small things. Rather, let us daily eat what the Lord has put before us and go forth in His strength, making sure that indeed others know it! Yes, in this dispensation we are allowed to shout the miracle of His resurrection power from the rooftops! But the empowerment for such proclamation is dependent upon grabbing our forks and partaking of what God has given for us to eat.

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