When I was a kid growing up in Key West, there was a young guy in our church, Charlie (not his real name). Every time someone greeted him with, “How you doin’, Charlie?” his response was always, “I’m tired.” Maybe he had a legitimate reason to be constantly exhausted, I don’t know. All I can tell you is, to this day the only thing I remember about that guy is he would always say he was tired.
I shake my head at that now, but I have to wonder, how many times do we – all of us – refer to ourselves in ways that are negative and, over time, allow them to become part of our very identity?
“Tired” seems minor compared to some labels we allow. We accept certain traits about ourselves as unchangeable or certain troubles as inevitable and we miss the truth that we often have a choice.
This morning, my pastor made this specific statement: “God is hard at work in your hopeless situation.” And I started thinking, “What in my life seems hopeless? And if God is hard at work, is it really?”
I was immediately reminded of an interesting story in John 5 about a paraplegic man sitting by a pool of water in Jerusalem. It was said that an angel would come and periodically “trouble the waters” and whoever got into the water first after it was stirred up would be healed. Well, obviously it wasn’t going to be that guy, since he couldn’t walk. He had been sitting there for 38 years.
Interestingly, the guy doesn’t immediately respond, “Yes!” as you might expect. Instead, it sounds like whining when he replies, “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up and while I am going, another steps down before me.” The implication is: he’s a helpless victim of his circumstances and he’s become used to it.
But Jesus hadn’t asked him, “Why haven’t you been healed in all these years?” Or “Whose fault is it you’ve had to sit here for so long?” He didn’t say, “Bless your heart”, give the poor guy a sympathetic hug, and then rebuke the selfish people around him for not being more helpful to their invalid brother.
He asked the man if he wanted to be healed.
I actually think Jesus’ question had more to do with identity than physical health. And I think it applies to us today.
- If God could heal your marriage, would you want him to? Or has being in a difficult marriage become part of who you are?
- If God could give you a different perspective on your job, would you take Him up on it? Or has working for a challenging boss or earning minimum wage made you bitter?
- Do you want God to redefine what it means to be a mom or dad raising your children alone? Or have you become resigned to living a life of frustration and constant worry as a single parent?
My Dad is fond of saying, “Any dead fish can float downstream; it takes a live one to swim upstream”. I think we can easily become “dead fish” here; getting swept away in the negative, “I’m broken” current. Then it’s almost impossible to change direction on our own. We need new life.
That’s why the question “Do you want to be healed?” is so hard to answer.
On its face, of course anyone would say yes, I want to be healed. But what if that healing doesn’t look like what they envisioned? And what if it takes more effort than they’re willing to put forth? Honestly, they may just choose to stay broken; after all, it’s familiar. But how about this:
- What if instead of being “the one with the difficult marriage”, you could become “the one whose marriage God is healing”? Your spouse may not change but perhaps your heart toward them will. God can do that for you.
- What if instead of being “the one who is always underemployed and has a lousy boss”, you could become “the one whose work ethic is a constant inspiration”? Instead of a better job and kinder boss, your healing could be a new, more Christ-like attitude.
- What if instead of being the “disadvantaged single mom” or “maligned single dad” you could become “the strong, Godly parent who models faith to their kids”? Instead of longing to be rescued from your difficult life, you could partner with God in creating a faith-filled family.
By the way, Jesus did heal the paraplegic man. He did it by requiring the guy do something that was not a part of his former identity. He told him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk”. The Bible says, “And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” He was no longer “the invalid”; he was the man Jesus restored to wholeness.
There is always hope when we make the choice to allow Christ to heal us.
(I’d like to think Charlie chose to stop being “the one who is always tired” and maybe became “the one who never tires of serving”. That would be cool.)
How about you? Do you want to be healed? Who do you want to be?
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