I was teaching the three, four, and five-year-olds yesterday about how four friends put their heads together in desperation and found a way to bring their sick friend to Jesus. The lesson was supposed to be about how God has called us to help others in need, but there was another lesson that jumped out at me. Really, it was more of a reminder, but one I needed for where I’m at and what I’m facing right now.
Sidenote: I love children’s Bible stories! Something happens when you take God’s Word at face value, boiling it down to its most simple terms and celebrating the heart of it. I’m a deep thinker, and I also love to swim in the depths of the mysterious parts, but sometimes we can complicate things that were meant to be easily digested. I have received some of the most powerful and life-changing revelations from reading or watching Bible stories in kid-friendly formats!
Yesterday’s message was a perfect example. In the story of the man whose own legs could not carry him to Jesus (Mark 2:11), he had some amazing friends who made sure he got a face-to-face encounter with the One Who had the power to heal him. But the part of the story that really spoke to me was the moment when Jesus spoke to the lame man who was laying in his bed and told him to get up and walk.
As I sat there in front of four little children, telling the story of this poor man who had been stuck in his bed for who-knows-how-long, the challenge we all face hit me hard. In all of our journeys, there comes a moment where we have to take God at His Word. We’re always waiting and looking for God to do the impossible, but are we willing to do the possible part?
When our legs or our lives don’t work, and Jesus says, “Get up,” what is our response? I heard my own protests over the years ringing in my memory as I taught those children yesterday. Just like I heard the protests of countless others. I even expected the kids to say the same thing when I asked them what they thought the man said or did when Jesus spoke those words to him. I was sure they would echo my own shadows of doubt: “But I can’t.”
Pause here with me and look at your life, at all your hard situations. How many “I can’ts” have you uttered to Jesus? Mine total up far more than I can count. In fact, I still, daily, tell Him how much I can’t do.
Did you know, though, that there’s a “can’t” He blesses and a “can’t” He won’t?
The “I can’t” that is followed by, “But I know You can” is always blessed by God. He grants power to the weak and strength to the powerless (Isaiah 40:29).
But the “I can’t” that follows His command to do anything – if it stops there – will never see what it came asking for, and this, I believe, is one of the keys to answered prayer.
Very often, we beg God to intervene in our most difficult circumstances. He is not a God Who is aloof to our cry or far removed from our crises. I hear many people complain that God does not answer their prayers, and so they become convinced that He is simply not listening to them. Instead, maybe we’re the ones who aren’t always listening.
When that lame man, whose legs did not work, was brought before the God Who made his legs, I’m sure he was expecting Jesus to raise him right up – to do the hard work of fixing his problem for him. At least that’s how most of us come before God. “God, my marriage is broken. Please change my husband.” “God, my heart is hurting, please take away this pain.” “God, I can’t stop this addiction. Please kill the desire for that man/drink/drug/new dress.” “God, my friend needs a job. Please give her one.” “God, my Grandma has cancer. Please heal her.”
There is nothing innately or initially wrong with those prayers. I’m sure that man came to Jesus thinking and expecting that Jesus would do the perfectly obvious: fix his legs and raise him up to walk on them again. I’m sure the crowd expected the same. But when our prayers have an “a+b=c” format to them, and stop there, we unknowingly limit the God Who is limitless. We tell the God Whose ways are higher than our ways that our way is the only way, the right way, or the best way.
I won’t pretend to know why He so often disproves our math, but I will say that true faith will always lead us humbly back to His feet and His throne, even and especially when prayers go unanswered. False faith – faith that is holding on for its own benefits – will throw its hands up and walk away when it doesn’t get what it has come asking for. Just something to think about…
So back to the guy with the broken legs. I know what that guy felt like. I’ve been stuck in my own bed, on more than one occasion. In fact, most mornings start out that way for me. “Good morning, God. Thank You for another day. Thank You for waking me up. God, I can’t today….But I know You can. Please help me.” I’ve learned to stop there, instead of proceeding to tell Him all the ways I think He should help me.
The reason I’m able to stop, and to accept His help in whatever form it comes, is because I’ve been like the man stuck in the bed with broken legs. Only it was my heart that was broken, and my spirit that was oppressed. I remember well the years that I wrestled through depression and anxiety that finally became crippling. I inherited both from the generations that had gone before me, and I received a few extra measures through the doors of addiction and post-partum hormonal imbalances.
The day of my deliverance, of my life-changing, healing encounter with Jesus, is a beautiful memory that’s rooted in this story, though I never realized it until yesterday.
As I laid in my own bed, feeling literally bound to it – unable to get up – Jesus met me one day. I had been crying out to Him for some time, but He felt so far away. His answer did not come quickly. Certainly, as I waited, I had good friends who were carrying me to Him. Again, I can’t tell you why He chose to work the way He did, not answering the first or second or fifteenth time I called upon Him. I can tell you that those hours, those days, those weeks and those months were sheer agony. Those were days in which the presence of death and the shadows of darkness were almost devouring, as they hovered so closely over me.
But then there came the fateful day when they encountered the God Who is light. The day when He answered my cry. The day when He said to me, “Get up.” The day when I had a choice of how I would respond to His command, because it didn’t look or sound at all like I had thought it would.
I was expecting a different feeling. A magic-wand experience. I had imagined I would wake up one day and it would just be gone. But He didn’t meet me in the morning. He met me in the middle of the afternoon, after I had suffered through most of another day. And when He did, there was no feeling He sprinkled over my head. There was only a clear command: “Get up.”
My response? You got it. I heard myself protest: “I can’t.” Mostly because I was literally – spiritually and physically – unable to move. I was under the weight of a depression so thick it felt like prison doors. And partly because I was trapped in the mindset of victimhood.
In His mercy, He spoke again, this time with a Scripture reference: “John 7:38.” It had to be His grace, because I knew in that moment that I had a choice. I could believe He had given me the power to obey His command, and I could get up – possibly even be healed. Or I could continue to argue what I saw and what I felt, and stay the way I was.
Again, it had to be His grace, because I jumped up out of the bed. I broke free from the power of what had been holding me down for longer than I could remember. I ran to get a Bible and look up the verse He had spoken to me, and in that instant, He carried me into a vision of my healing. That day, I was set free. That day, I was truly healed. That day, I learned not to argue with God when He says anything to me. And that day, I learned that God’s ways don’t always look like I think they will. But they are always good, because He is truly good.
All the questions I had wrestled with in the months when I was waiting for Him to help me, they melted under the fountain of His love that day. When His help finally came, it healed not only my depression, but my doubt.
Dear Woman of Breakthrough, I don’t know what you’re wrestling with or afflicted by today. But Jesus does. I don’t know what your “I can’t” is, but He does. And what I want to tell your heart and your spirit today is simple, but life-changing:
If Jesus says so, it is so. Your feelings don’t have to agree. Your thoughts may not be able to agree (although I hope and pray we are moving toward that goal). Your feet can agree with Him. Your body can agree with Him. Your life can agree with Him…if you will just, like a little child, embrace the faith that says, “He can, and because He lives in me, I can.”
The children I taught yesterday surprised me. They didn’t follow my broken logic and tell me they thought the man would say “I can’t” back to Jesus. Their simple little hearts believed the simple truth of the gospel, and with wide-eyed wonder – as if it was perfectly logical in their little worlds -they declared that, in response to Jesus’ command to get up, that man was going to get up.
They were right. And they were so certain in their simplicity that, although I was assigned to teach them yesterday, they ended up teaching me what true faith looks like. It doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to agree with whatever Jesus is saying.
Beloved Sister, if there’s an “I can’t” in you today, make sure you follow it with a, “But I know You can, and would You please help me – however it is You decide to?”. I believe He is anticipating our invitations, eager to show us the amazing God He actually is, if only we will let go of the God we would like Him to be.
I can, you can, and we can, dear Woman of Breakthrough. Because He can.