At the start of Chapter 4 of the second book of Kings, a widow comes to Elisha and begs for help. She is in debt, and a creditor is threatening to take her two children to sell as slaves unless she can repay him. All she has is a jar of oil.
Elisha instructs her to borrow all the containers she can, close the door and start filling the containers from her one jar of oil. The oil continues to pour until all the containers are full, giving her enough oil to sell and pay off all her debts, with money left to live on.
Miracles of plenty occur throughout the bible. The Israelites are miraculously fed with manna in the desert as they leave Egypt. Elisha’s fellow prophet, Elijah, is fed by a widow whose small supply of flour and oil never run out. Jesus feeds the multitude with a small amount of bread and fish. In each case, these are miracles of multiplication – the original small amount is stretched beyond possibility in response to need. In his book on Miracles, C.S. Lewis points out that such miracles take what normally happens in the created world and speeds it up dramatically. No natural laws are broken, but the process of multiplication is speeded up to remind us that God has made a world of plenty.
The idea that God will provide has led some people into what is known as a ‘prosperity gospel’, where God’s provision is asked not for necessities but for luxuries, and the influx of money to an individual or a ministry is seen as a sign of God’s blessing. We need to remind ourselves that these multiplication miracles are in response to need, not greed.
Working mainly online, it’s easy to be caught up in consumerism. We’re all used to the built in obsolescence of technology – the computer I had fifteen years ago could not attempt things I do as a matter of course on today’s laptop, like watching video clips or posting my own photos to social networking sites. Because of this, it’s easy to assume that digital ministry needs to be resourced with big money. Yet most of the people I know who have persevered with online ministry aren’t resourced to any great extent and manage without expensively designed websites or the latest equipment, and in many cases without any payment for what they do as well.
A lot of people expressed unease recently about awards and prizes for Christians working online. I have no objection to prizes and awards – in fact I accepted the invitation to be a judge in the recent Christian New Media awards. But I do think when a lot of people express unease we need to think about what is causing that. I wonder if partly this unease springs from a recognition that God is working through a lot of people in the digital world – through unnoticed bloggers as well as the ‘Christian celebrities’, through badly put together websites which still manage to proclaim the Gospel as well as the ‘best in class’.
Yes, we should celebrate outstanding achievements but we should also remember that very often miracles occur at the margins where nobody notices them.