When should we pray and when should we work? If we try to do something in the strength that God supplies does that indicate a lack of faith? If we pray for God to do something for us that we could do for ourselves does that indicate a lack of gratitude and initiative?

These are important questions that every believer wrestles with at some point or another in his or her Christian journey. Thankfully the Bible does seem to address these questions fairly frequently — in fact, I ran across a passage just today in my Bible reading that touched upon it. In Acts 12 the Apostle Peter is in prison. The Apostle James has just been beheaded and Herod the King appeared to have similar plans for all the main leaders of the Jesus movement in Jerusalem. Things were looking grim and humanly speaking, the situation appeared to be impossibly dire.

That is always a good time to pray. Acts 12:5 says succinctly:

So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. (Acts 12:5 ESV)

The church asked God to do what they had no power to do for themselves — and God did it. He sent an angel who put the guards to sleep and who caused Peter’s shackles to fall to the ground and who opened doors that had previously been locked shut. Acts 12:10 brings that part of the story to a close.

“When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him.” (Acts 12:10 ESV)

And immediately the angel left him. As I read that I couldn’t help but be reminded of the story of the wandering and conquest that I read just a few days ago in the RMM Bible Reading Plan. During the time of the wilderness wandering it would have taken a miracle of God to feed all those mouths in the desert — and so God did a miracle; every day for 40 years he sent the people manna — never too much but always enough and just on time.

But then something very interesting happened.

When the people of Israel crossed the River Jordan and entered the Promised Land — the manna stopped.

“The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.” (Exodus 16:35 ESV)

At first glance, it might sound like they simply chose not to eat manna once they had access to arable land — but that isn’t what the Bible says. Joshua 5 is more explicit:

“And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land.” (Joshua 5:12 ESV)

That’s the connection that immediately came to mind. That sounds a lot like what the Bible says in Acts 12:10:

“and immediately the angel left him.” (Acts 12:10 ESV)

I think the point is that supernatural power and provision are not given for our entertainment or amusement and it is never intended to replace the normal means of effort, thought and human ingenuity.

Miracles are given when nothing else will do. Grace, help and guidance are given when those things — combined with faith, effort initiative will do.

The Bible seems to be suggesting that we are not to expect or demand or become addicted to extraordinary provision. We should be grateful and industrious with what we have — and yet neither should we ever doubt or disbelieve that God can and may do a miracle should it be required — and should it serve his glory.

We need to be capable of both/and thinking. Ordinary means are wonderful. And miraculous provision is wonderful. The LORD has many tools in the toolbox and each tool has its job and function; thanks be to God!

Paul Carter hosts a radio and podcast program called Into The Word that takes listeners chapter by chapter and verse by verse through whole books of the Bible. To find the most recent episodes visit ca.thegospelcoalition.org; to find older episodes and series or learn about the M’Cheyne or RMM Bible Reading Plan visit intotheword.ca. The podcast is also available on iTunes.

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