So this guy in a lunatic-fringe cult finally discovered the secret to being just like Jesus, and all it takes is a good bathtub. He used to turn on the faucet, put in the stopper, and in the comfort of his own bathroom, try to walk on water. True story–I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
He was convinced that Super-Spirituality lay just above the water line. Unfortunately, he slipped on the soap one night during his Jesus Act, and the fall killed him. 1
Now, I won’t deny this guy was a few verses short of a Bible (if you know what I mean). If you really want to walk on water, there’s always a pond in January. But my twisted mind can’t help but consider the big “what if.” You know . . . What if the miracle had worked?
What if one night, he levitated over the lavender bath salts and become an instant celebrity? When Bathtub-Man went on The Tonight Show, would he glorify God for the miracle? Or would he talk about the struggle to squeeze practice in between his wife and daughter’s makeup sessions? Would he hit all the networks and take the applause for his “amazing talent,” completely forgetting about God? Would he join Barnum and Bailey and show off in the center ring; sell videos teaching water-walking in five easy steps; take all the flowers and handclaps and compliments for his astounding talent?
It must be hard to remember God instead of self-promoting when you’ve just done a good miracle. Hey, it’s hard not to self-promote when people think you’re kinda cool. Not that I’d know.
For three years, I talked in front of teenagers for a living. When a youth pastor-friend first asked me to speak to a bunch of public school kids, I expected it to be a one-shot deal at best. Teenagers? Right. And the airport’s opening a new runway for pigs.
But three years later, I’d spoken to more than 10,000 kids all over Cleveland. I told them how I was Target Number One for bullies in junior high. I used to dread school because I knew somebody was going to make me miserable on a daily basis. Some of the taunts have stuck with me up to the present day. When half your classmates are pushing you into walls and the rest of them ignore it all, it kind of sticks with you.
The first time I told my story, I was amazed by its power. Rowdy junior highers shut up and listened. Every kid paid attention because it was every kid’s story. Later that month, sixth graders wrote letters telling how much the story impacted them. A high school principal called to say one of his bullies reformed after hearing me speak. Kids would see me at the mall; kids I didn’t remember among all the faces; and yell “Hi, George!” It was all kind of flattering, to be honest.
But flattery or no, I was profoundly grateful to God for the way He was using me. “Lord, this is so cool!” I prayed. “You’re taking all my trash from growing up and using it to impact teenagers! The stuff that used to make me cry myself to sleep is transforming lives. Who could do a miracle like that but You, Jesus?” I was honestly moved to tears of awe for the way He was using me.
Unfortunately, the tears diminished as the compliments became commonplace. Sharing the applause with God got old; I started planning my future speaking career and mentally writing my first bestseller. Who needs the Lord when you have speeches that work? I was on the road to a swollen head before I was out of my twenties.
Of course, God was tapping me on the shoulder; whispering, “Um, George . . . last I heard you were supposed to be doing this thing called ministry. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It usually involves glorifying me.” But I brushed him off: I was on the road to greatness!
Then one night when all that success wasn’t quite making me feel as good as it was supposed to and I was lower than a snake’s belly in a ditch, God tapped me on the shoulder one more time. This time, he was harder to ignore . . . because he came with joy.
Maybe you’ve had one of those weeks, when everything goes wrong and you’re tempted to lock yourself in a room and never come out and the most positive statement you can manage about the whole state of affairs is “life sucks and then you die.” You’re mad at the world and mad at God and you’d probably throw something at the Almighty if you could–but you can’t seem to find him. That’s the hardest part of a hard week, especially when you’ve been studiously ignoring God’s nudging for a while. Just when you finally decide you need him is the moment he feels a million miles away.
Last summer, I had one of those weeks. Sunday night, when I wanted to retreat to my apartment and lick my wounds, I found myself at the ritzy home of a friend-of-a-friend with a dozen other people. Our host said he had a surprise. He led us into the living room, where a professional string quartet was tuning up to play an intimate concert. I saw a good evening ahead–one of my neuroses is an unhealthy interest in classical music–but nothing could prepare me what happened next.
It was a miracle.
I don’t know any other way to describe it. When I closed my eyes and the musicians began to play, I wasn’t sitting in a living room anymore. I was swept away by rushing, laughing streams of beauty. The music made me cry for joy, then turn flying cartwheels in my soul.
Somewhere during the concert, I found my missing connection with God. I wept inwardly as heartbreaking melodies brought me to the presence of the Giver of all good gifts. For a few moments, I was a true spiritual being; a resident of the Kingdom of Heaven! “If beauty like this music can inhabit our pain-filled world,” I remember thinking, “maybe things aren’t hopeless. I can face tomorrow. And if heaven can top this–I can only imagine!”
When the concert finally ended, I applauded, of course. But then instead of feeling like I should praise the composers or ask the musicians for autographs, my soul had an entirely different response. I wanted to pray.
I found a quiet spot and thanked the Master Musician who came into my heart and wrought a change that night. I praised the One whose splendor I experienced through four unattractive men and four blocks of polished wood strung with catgut. Quite an unlikely way for God to show up. But then, he came to earth packaged in baby fat 2000 years ago. It’s not much less of a miracle that he arrives through such humble vessels today.
In the midst of the joyful afterglow, God spoke in my heart. “George, those guys are really good, aren’t they?”
“That’s an understatement, Lord! I’ve heard some great orchestras, but nothing that ever moved me like this.”
“Yeah, they have a lot of talent. But you don’t want to get autographs. How come?”
“Well, they showed me you, God. You used their playing to heal my heart and point me to heaven. What can be cooler than that?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said God–as I pictured a smug expression on His face. “How about teenage fans at the mall and thank you letters and thousands hearing you speak and people telling you how great you are? Aren’t all those cooler than leading somebody closer to me? It’s pretty hard for me to get in when your life’s already so full, y’know?”
“Oh,” I said, a little embarrassed. “Uh, I see what you mean.”
Don’t you hate it when God sneaks up on you? The whole thing kind of reminds me of a story about six stone jars.
Jar of Miracles
If you were a church brat like me, you’ve heard John, Chapter 2 at least 278 times. Jesus was at a wedding when they ran out of wine. In the days before cash bars, that was a big deal–in fact, it was a major embarrassment for the bride and groom. But you know how it ends: Jesus fills up a half-dozen jars with water, and when the servants pour the next glass, it comes out as the best wine anybody’s ever tasted.
Have you ever thought about the story from the perspective of those jars?
One minute they’re sitting in the corner being ignored. The next minute they’re home to a miracle! They weren’t the fancy stoneware you used to set the table. They were big ugly hulking things; 20 gallons each–the bathroom sinks of the day; the place Dad sent you to wash your grubby paws before dinner. But when Jesus needed a place for a miracle, he looked around and decided to make those nasty pieces of clay into Jars of Miracles. They had nothing to commend themselves for the task. Except . . . they were empty. 2
Oops. That’s what I was missing.
I realized Bathtub-Man and I had something in common. He wanted to walk on water so everybody would see how amazingly spiritual he was. I wanted to be a great speaker instead of a place for God to work. The problem is that miracles don’t come in full bathtubs; they come in empty jars. The string quartet knew that. Their CD insert reads, “Without God, nothing matters.”
They brought a miracle into my life: It was a miracle of healing and a miracle of seeing God. They also helped me make a decision. See, I don’t want to be a great speaker anymore. Instead, I want to wash out the dirt of my heart and become something greater.
I want to be empty. That way, maybe I can become a Jar of Miracles, too.
Copyright © 2005 George Halitzka. All rights reserved. Published at Boundless.org on May 31, 2007.