I started writing this series because some people I love and work with had spiritually crashed and burned. And as bad as things seem for them, there is much hope in the fact that they no longer are able to hide their choices to use deadly sin as a means to comfort their wounds. It is out there for all to see. More importantly, some of them are in a restoration process with mature believers helping them, although some are not. It is those that are not that concern me. As bad as their lives have become, they are headed for worse the longer they try. to tough it out with lateral moves or by playing the blame game.
A few weeks ago I counseled with someone who is separated from her husband. What I noticed is that our conversation paralleled one we had many months before – the same accusations, the same anger, the same tears. She is stuck in the saddest possible way. I have watched redeemed people slipping into dark places with their eyes opened, nailing their flag to the proposition that they have tried everything they can to heal from their wounds, to act better, to be more spiritual, to forgive, but without success. One recounted all the spiritual exercises he had practiced in the hope of being granted freedom by God, but still found himself captured by his inner disquiet and was bitter because God was not holding up His end. The bitterness was affecting all areas of his life.
In John 5, Jesus spies a man by the pool of Bethesda who was 38-years stuck because he had no one to help him into the pool for healing purposes. Jesus’ question was, ‘Do you want to get well?’ Is wellness really your goal and desire, or after 38 years, are you so attached to your identity as ‘the old guy at the pool who’s been here since Herod the Great’ that you are settled on finishing out the rest of your life being sick? His response is interesting. Winnowed down to its essence, he said that he had tried over and over again to get well – get into the pool when the angel stirred it – but failed. It’s just the reality he lived with – year in and year out – as long as he could remember.
His response is the refrain we all sing at some time when confronted with this most significant question that Jesus asks. Do you want to get well? Well, do you? “Yes, but….” And we fill in the rest of that sentence with our failed solutions – spiritual retreats, continual confession, repression of desires, accountability to others, weeping and crying before the Lord. What’s wrong? We were so sure that this time, we would get well. What is so different in this hinted-at offer in Jesus’ question that we have not tried already – and received nothing for our pain? Especially since we now know we are further down the spiritual road towards inward despair and outward disaster. Do I want to get well – what kind of question is that?
It is a question of risk. For the man at the pool, it was about leaving the security of a way of life, of people feeding, clothing, and carrying him daily to his appointed place by the pool. But the risk was more than that. Jesus invited him to risk all to take up his mat and go home. On a Sabbath day. On the day when work was forbidden and carrying a mat in a public place courted stoning by the populous. It was about trusting that Jesus really knew what the man needed to do. And instead of negotiating, he just did it.
Are you willing to risk that you may be wrong about your preferred approach to spiritual health, that it may be part of your problem? That instead of being ruthless, you are choosing a risk-free bridge to nowhere? And as a result, your anger at God has grown? Perhaps you feel hopeless. Certainly you are stuck. What would it take for you to come to the place where you could really experience the healing grace of God?
Let me present two ideas for you to consider. First, if we choose ask Jesus to do two things in us – deliver us from the sin of our heart and heal us from the hurts of our heart – then we must start by coming to end of ourselves. We have messed up. Ourselves, not the people who hurt us, but we personally have made the choices that have bound up our lives spiritually. We must own our sinful choices to comfort our pain. We must admit to the Father we have no wisdom deep enough, no spiritual strategies sweeping enough, no personal resources thorough enough to free us from the lies of the enemy. The first Beatitude is our benchmark – we are poor in spirit because we have nothing in our arsenal that works. Our best strategies and deepest thought have not led us to the life Jesus is giving us. We are stuck because we have thought otherwise. To give up any pretense of knowing how to fix ourselves, even by using the stratagems that we have dressed up in spiritual finery, is freedom, not failure. To say to God, “I have failed in all I tried,” is the kind of humility that God responds to – “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5) It’s the stuff that spiritual rest is made of for the believer.
The second point builds on the first. We need to be aware that the final line of attack by Satan to keep us from getting well is to focus our attention on fighting to get well. As we see what the problem is, his lie is to encourage us to go after it in a misguided belief that resisting the sin of our heart or even healing the hurts of our heart is something in which we must participate. This is misdirection on a scale greater than that of the magician David Copperfield. We cannot fight our way to spiritual health – never could, never will. Paul points to his realizing his own weakness in being unable to change himself as the point when God’s promised grace became effective in him (2 Corinthians 12:9).This is why he boasted in his weaknesses, so that he could see God do in him what he could not do for himself. Actually, when we focus on the problem, we find that we have no attention left for the One who delivers and heals. Healing is only found in intimacy with God.
This is not Devotions 101. It is not a call to more Bible study and prayer. If you are teetering on the brink of spiritual meltdown, you certainly would not find that counsel helpful or hopeful. Why? Because it is about doing more stuff for God and you are already tired out from trying anyway. What I am counseling is spiritual rest in its place. It is about being with God in the way Adam and Eve strolled with Him every evening in the Garden. It is about receiving love and power from Him instead of begging for Him to give you stuff that you have already been granted by belonging. I will pick up on this issue next post.
In the meantime, think about the end of the man at the pool’s story. After the healing, Jesus finds him in the temple, probably giving a thanks-for-the-healing sacrifice required by the Law, and tells him, “Stop sinning! Or something worse will happen to you.” Strong words. What Jesus is saying is that just because you thought you were doing all you could to be healed does not mean you addressed the real issues in your life. So it is for all of us. We may minimize our choice of the sin of our heart to comfort our hurts and even rationalize our choices. Or celebrate freedom in one area so as to ignore the real lies we have hooked our wagon to. Stop rationalizing, for the life that we have been given in Jesus is far more fulfilling than any identity that we have built by comforting ourselves with the sin of our heart.