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The Empowered Christian Life, by J. I. Packer

Our expectations about seeing the power of God transforming people’s lives are not as high as they should be.

When the Reformation broke on the church in the sixteenth century, there was a tremendous amount of superstition regarding the saints working miracles. I am not denying that God may well have worked many miracles through many saints before the Reformation, as it seems he has worked miracles through his saints since the Reformation. But the reformers looked around and saw a great deal that seemed to them unmistakably superstitious, so they reacted against it.

Packer’s Proverb, however, is that the reaction of man worketh not the righteousness of God. If you are walking backward away from something you think is a mistake, you may be right in supposing it is a mistake, but for you to be walking backward is never right. You know what happens to people who walk backward in the physical sense. Eventually they stumble over some obstacle behind them they never saw, because they fixed their minds and eyes on what they were trying to get away from, and then they fell. We are meant to walk forward, not backward, and reaction is always a matter of walking backward.

I believe the reformers’ reaction against the supernatural in the lives of God’s people in this age of the Holy Spirit was, frankly, more wrong than right—as have been many subsequent attempts to rule out the present-day reality of the supernatural.

It has been necessary to recover this theme in the twentieth century, and we should thank God that expectations of supernatural healing and answer to prayer have risen during this past thirty or forty years. I would caution that there is a danger in undervaluing the natural and the ordinary. There are people who want every problem solved by an immediate miracle, a display of the supernatural, a wonderful providence that will change everything. That is a sign of immaturity.

Repeatedly the Lord leads us into painful and difficult situations, and we pray—as Paul prayed regarding his thorn in the flesh—that the Lord will change the situation. We want a miracle! But instead the Lord chooses to strengthen us to cope with the situation, as he did with Paul, making his strength perfect in our continuing weakness.

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Category: Living the Faith, Pneuma Review, Winter 2008

About the Author: James I. Packer is a British-born Canadian Christian theologian. He currently serves as the Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. He received a Ph.D. (Philosophy) from the University of Oxford, Oxford, England. As an Anglican theologian, Dr. Packer has played a major role in British and North American evangelicalism. He has written numerous books and scholarly articles, including the best-selling book, Knowing God.

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