Do you wish to get well?
John 5: 1-9 Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.] A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, "Do you wish to get well?" The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me." Jesus said to him, "Get up, pick up your pallet and walk." Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk.
There are so many important messages in this little story, I hardly know where to begin.
When I first read this miracle of Jesus', I was moved by His yet-again compassion for the poor guy who's been ill for so long. But then I heard a sermon that caused me to look at this story again. It changed my perspective and my counseling approach. Watch this...
First of all, the guy had been there for 38 years, hanging out with the sick people, waiting for a miracle cure. He'd become "The lame guy in the corner" so to speak. He identified with his illness. It was no longer what he suffered from, but who he'd become.
Jesus said to him, "Do you wish to get well?" At first, it looks like compassion. But why would Jesus ask him that? Of course he wants to get well. It's a silly question. Or is it?
Why would anybody want to be sick? When we are sick, what happens?
Believe it or not, there are a lot of very good motivators for us to stay sick. People take care of us, have compassion for us. Sometimes we feel loved when we're sick in a way we never feel loved otherwise. People generally have low expectations of us and our lack of functioning isn't interpreted as irresponsible behavior - after all, we're "sick." We don't have to stretch ourselves and take risks. Good and loving and well-meaning people will actually encourage us NOT to take risks. "You don't want to get worse..." they will advise us. Although the misery is very real, our motivation to get out of it is challenged by the motivators not to.
Jesus knew that. He wasn't asking "Do you wish to get well?" He was asking "Do you WISH to get well???" And the man's answer betrays his heart.
Excuses... "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up..."
Blame... "but while I am coming, another steps down before me."
Deflection, excuses, blame, irresponsibility condoned. Why on earth would the man want to get well, in reality? Clearly he's being taken care of or he'd be dead. He doesn't have to work and people have no expectations of him. If he got well, then suddenly he'd be thrust into a world he doesn't understand, having to fend for himself, and that frightens him. Notice that the man doesn't ask Jesus to heal him.
But Jesus doesn't take no for an answer. "Get up, pick up your pallet and walk."
(I need a disclaimer here: Note that the man had been ill for decades. This concept does not apply to persons who's illness is recent, recent losses, traumas, etc. There is a process of healing that one will typically go through in those cases, and should not be rushed. Later posts will address the 'process' of healing.)
Remember when Peter healed the man at the temple steps? What did he do? He danced around like a crazy man for the joy of being able to walk. What did this man do... he "began to walk." I wonder if he felt any joy, really. Scripture doesn't tell us one way or the other for sure, but I wonder. Did he really wish to be well?
The very first Mental Health counseling session. Short and sweet. "If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?" And then the warning that if he doesn't get a handle on what he does (not on what he feels), then his life will deteriorate more and more. God warned him to master it. What was the "It" he was supposed to master?" Sin. How was he supposed to do that? By "doing well."
Genesis 4:3-7 So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the LORD said to Cain, " Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? " If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it."
Our society (and especially the Mental Health community) is all about lifting up our countenance first, and then we believe we will do well naturally. God says not so. We have it backwards. Do well first, and then your countenance will be lifted up naturally.
Try it, gang. Believe me, I'm not minimizing your pain one bit. I know it's hard. I know you're hurting, and I know it takes a lot to rise above the pain and to function. But you can do all things through Him who strengthens you. He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world trying to tell you that you have a very good reason for being sick. Resist him, firm in your faith. Pray for the power - not to feel better - but to do good. And then be obedient to the promptings. The feelings will follow. God promises that.
The real question is, "Do you wish to get well?"
All my love and God's blessings on you and on your hard work,