Let me also point out that it’s not merely that God operates in different ways in different people. God also operates in different ways in our own lives, entirely apart from other people. At one point in your life, you have a particularly thrilling experience. Things just seem to go so well for you. You’ve been testifying to God’s grace to a neighbor, and the neighbor becomes a Christian. And not only is the neighbor a Christian, but the neighbor testifies to their family, who also become Christians. And you invite them to your church and everybody is so pleased with what is going on.
But then the next month things really begin to go badly. You’re now sharing the gospel with the neighbor on the other side, and they aren’t responsive at all. They make fun of you. They talk about you to the other neighbors. You’re shunned by the grocer who lives down the block. And then in addition to that, things go wrong at work. You’re on the verge of losing your job, or you don’t get your commission. And now you say to yourself, “Well, God stopped working with me. I don’t know what happened. A month ago, things were going great. What in the world is going on?”
Sometimes God will use a thing like that to get our attention because when things go well, we don’t look to Him quite as often as we do when things go badly. But it is not necessarily the case that when things go badly, God is no longer at work. God also works through the bad times. God works through the struggles. God works through heartaches. God works through disappointments as well as joys and triumphs. And He works through others, both inside and outside the church. God works in the city and in the country. God works through the wealthy and through the poor. And He does that even when He’s working in our own life. If God always worked in our lives in precisely the same way, we would come to assume that we can always count on that. But that is not what God is like. He approaches us with all the variety that we associate with persons in order that we might relate to Him on a personal level.
That is what He did here in the case of Joshua and the Jewish armies as they were trying to attack Ai. Now, not only does this teach us that God uses different means, but I think it also teaches us that the non-miraculous is normative. Of course, that’s almost true by definition. If miracles happened all the time, they wouldn’t be miracles. A miraculous event is something not only contrary to nature but something that is unusual. It doesn’t happen all the time. So by definition, the non-miraculous is normative. But maybe after the conquest of Jericho, the Jewish armies were thinking that the way they were going to take this next city is to do something similar to what they did at Jericho. What they were having to learn, however, is that God wasn’t going to operate that way. The bulk of the conquest was going to be through the very normal means of warfare.
That’s true for us. I suppose we often think that in the Christian life if we’re really close to the Lord, really living by faith and not by sight, well then, miracles are just going to be part and parcel of our everyday life. But, in fact, God generally works in our lives through very ordinary means. Faith is believing the promises of God and acting on them. If you study what the Bible teaches about God’s promises, you discover that, generally, the promises do not attach themselves to what we would call the miraculous. Rather, God promises to operate in normal means in response to very simple obedience on our part. If you want to grow in the Christian life, the way to do it is by studying the Bible, praying, and fellowshipping with God’s people. That’s the way it happens. The real growth in the Christian life does not come by a miracle, or even by what we might call a “mountain top experience.” Instead, growth comes by both good and bad times, when we feel like we are high on a cloud and down in the pit of discouragement. Obedience in all circumstances is how we grow and make progress in the Christian life.