I saw a new point in an old story today.
A man had been an invalid for thirty-eight years waited for “a long time” by a pool of water which, in his day, would heal any who could get into the pool when the water was stirred. But because he could not move quickly, others got in before him, and he couldn’t make it into the water in time.
One day a stranger came up to this man and asked him if he wanted to be healed. The man explained his dilemma, his inability to get to the pool in time. Perhaps the man thought this stranger would help him get to the pool. Instead, the stranger told him the oddest thing: “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” The invalid could have thought, “Weren’t you listening? That’s exactly what I cannot do.” But before the words even formed in his mind, he found that all of a sudden he could stand! Not only that, but he could walk and carry a load, all impossibilities just a few moments before.
This story, as I am sure many of you know, is from John 5:1-17 and occurred at the pool of Bethesda. Among other things, this incident shows us Jesus’ power. The invalid wasn’t a “plant” in the audience who had been engaged to respond to a healer. The invalid had been lame for a long time and was known to stay at this pool. Anyone who knew him, anyone who hung around that area, would have known the invalid and his condition. The fact that he could stand, walk, and carry his bedding instantly, when his muscles would have been atrophied, when he otherwise would have needed time regain his balance, all magnified the ability of Jesus to heal.
What I had always missed in the story, however, was this: the invalid was fixated on the one solution to his problem, and had been for a very long time. His one focus was to get into that pool, and he kept trying despite repeated failed attempts. He didn’t recognize that the stranger standing in front of him could provide another solution, much less be a better solution. And the invalid did not even realize that the healing of his body was not his primary need. When Jesus found the former invalid later, Jesus told the man to “Sin no more.”
We have a tendency to fixate on our own solutions, too, don’t we? If we can just marry that guy, land this job, get that loan, treatment, or whatever, life will be perfect. We’ve looked at the situation from every angle, and, yes, this is what we need. And we overlook Jesus in the process.
Too, while we’re so focused on that one area of desire, we can miss the greater need: the need of our hearts for forgiveness and a closer walk with Jesus.
There may be nothing at all wrong with what we want. It may, in fact, even be the Lord’s will to provide us with that very outcome. But it might be God’s will to bring that answer about in a different way than we had planned, or to provide a different (and better) outcome, or to withhold the answer we wanted while providing grace to deal with it.
One of my favorite prayers in the Bible is Jehoshaphat‘s in 2 Chronicles 20. When King Jehoshaphat learned that a great enemy was coming, “Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (verse 3). He reminded himself who his God was: “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you” (verse 6). He recounted times of God’s provision in the past and His promises. He laid out the problem. He asked for God’s help. And he confessed, “we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.“
“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” How often I have prayed something like that. “Lord, this is what I think the solution might be. But I don’t know all the ramifications. You know the need. You know the best way to meet it. I don’t know what to do. But I love You, and I trust You. Your will be done.”
Let’s not overlook the Lord in our desperation to get our needs met. Let’s not overlook our spiritual needs while trying to meet our outward desires.
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Matthew 6:31-33, ESV