One of the “issues” (okay, sins) I have struggled with much of my life has been the issue of overeating and dieting. My dad was a basketball coach so we often ate out and I can remember many days when I would spend far too much time wondering about where we would eat dinner that night. I read once that what we worship is what we THINK ABOUT all or most of the time. Sigh. This can be a job or a car or a relationship, and yes, even a ministry–but for me it has so often in different seasons of my life been food and dieting. Since this blog is not only about building a house of prayer but also about BECOMING a house of prayer, I want to also write about this “journey” to be free from everything that hinders me from being a “dwelling place” for God, a vessel of honor totally abandoned to Jesus. I have so far to go but recently I found that I am tired of “sitting by the pool of Bethesda”. I want to be made WHOLE.
For the past couple of weeks I have been meditating on the story in John chapter 5 about the crippled man who sat by the pool of Bethesda for 38 years. I keep hearing Jesus ask me the same words He asked that man that day….”wilt thou be made whole?” One translation says, “Do you really want to get well?” In Mark 10:51, He asked the blind man, “what do you want me to do for you?”
I worked for many years as a sign language interpreter for the Deaf and to be honest, if Jesus asked this question to many of them, they would likely answer something other than wanting to be able to hear. Most hearing-impaired people lead normal lives and do not view themselves as handicapped in any way. As intercessors, we need to recognize that while someone may ask for prayer because they have an illness or a financial need, there could be more serious heart issues that Jesus must address in order for them to be “made whole.” We often take prayer request cards and go for prayer walks during our youth meeting and I am trying to teach the kids to “listen” to the Holy Spirit because though the card may say “healing from arthritis”, the deeper issue might be for a sense of purpose or financial provision or restoration of a broken relationship.
What do you want?
I was at a workshop once and we were to pair off and ask each other this question “what do you want” over and over and over again. The point was that at first we often name off material and surface things such as “a new car, new carpet, new house, to write a book, to go on a cruise, etc.” If we keep asking the question, though, it is like peeling the layers off of an onion or the petals off of a rose until we finally get to the core issue….what do you WANT?? Peace of mind, a sense of purpose, to feel alive, a burning heart, INTIMACY…..
I feel a bit like Jesus was “peeling off the layers” so to speak even just by showing up at the pool that day. There was a festival going on, after all, but Jesus went straight to the pool ofBethesdawhere the lame and “impotent folk” lay waiting for the angel to come and stir the waters.Bethesdameans “house of mercy” and I love that about Jesus—that He went there first to the seemingly forgotten.
Like most of us often do, the man by the pool began to name off his excuses… “I have no one to put me in the pool, etc….” I recently had a “moment” at my house when I started naming off excuses and blaming others for my weight problem. “If you would not buy the candy and chips, maybe I could lose weight,” I whined…..but in the secret place, I saw the eyes of Jesus burning into mine….”do you really want to get well?” Then, moving past all my excuses, He said to me firmly but with great love, “Rise up, pick up your mat and walk…”
The man by the pool had to make SOME sort of movement to simply get up from the place he had been sitting for 38 years. For someone starting a business or ministry, maybe it means taking the step to open the bank account or establish a non-profit organization. For someone wanting to travel to another country it might mean signing up for a foreign language class or simply getting a passport. What is one positive step toward the thing that you want? My daughter Savannah and I sat down last week and wrote out a few measurable goals for the next eight weeks in each area: Physical—ride bikes to RHOP or to the library at least twice per week and plan ahead by creating a menu (with healthier food choices) each week; Spiritual—She will study Jeremiah and the Sermon on the Mount and I will finish my Beth Moore “Jesus One and Only” Bible Study; Mental—go to the library every two weeks and read at least one book per week. Okay, what about you? What is one step—a positive effort or step forward–that you can take toward what you want? A woman called me last week to ask what hours the prayer room was open. “The Lord has been dealing with me about my prayer life,” she said with a sigh. She had many excuses for not praying, but was making an effort to “rise up” and take a step toward her calling as an intercessor.
Pick up your mat
Jesus wanted the man to pick up his mat. This means eliminating any option to return to the place of bondage or brokenness. This man likely had no home so even though I’m sure he was thrilled on one hand to be healed, the challenge then becomes “what now? Where will I go? What will I do?” When I used to interpret for weight loss meetings, I would occasionally hear the group leader counseling one of the members who remained just short of reaching their weight loss goal for an extended time. “What are you afraid of?” she would ask. “Is there a reason you might be sabotaging yourself so that you don’t reach your goal?” This is a valid question that leads us right back to Jesus’ question, “do you really want to be well?” For me, “picking up my mat” meant not getting re-certified as a sign language interpreter so that when money is tight I will not be tempted to go “do a job” to earn money and thus, leave the wall of intercession where God has posted me as a “watchman”. In order to lose weight, it means throwing out the left over Easter candy and giving away the “fat clothes” as I lose weight. What does it mean for you to “pick up your mat” so that you will not return to a “yoke of bondage” or place of brokenness that you have been delivered from.
This man also had to deal with criticism from religious leaders because he was carrying his mat on the Sabbath. There will no doubt be naysayers who will criticize and find fault with your decision to be “made whole.” For someone trying to lose weight or quit drinking, there will be the family members or friends who continually tempt or criticize the decision. The same will be true for the one wanting a closer relationship to Christ, who now must say no to certain movies or invitations so as to draw closer to the Lord.
The word in this passage is the Greek “Peripateo” which means “walk; make one’s way; progress; make due use of opportunities…” It is the same word used in Matt. 4:18 when Jesus was walking by theSea of Galileeand called out His would-be disciples. He had spent forty days in prayer in the wilderness and was walking with purpose. Jesus was essentially saying to the man by the pool: Rise up (do the next thing), pick up your mat (burn the bridges and don’t look back) and walk (find your purpose and walk it it.)
As I would interpret in weight loss groups and drug and alcohol rehabilitation groups, the question was often asked, “what do you want” and “WHY are you doing this?” The group leader knew that if they were there to lose weight in order to please a spouse or to stop using substances in order to satisfy the judge, they would not likely reach their goal. The next question was always, “what are you willing to do to get there?” If you want a closer relationship with Christ or a more vibrant prayer life, are you willing to get up earlier or cancel dates with friends or turn off the television? Are you willing to schedule daily prayer and study of the Scriptures to have intimacy with Christ? One weight loss group leader said that she was willing to exercise more but she was not willing to totally give up chocolate. I am willing to stop drinking sugary pop and by the grace of God stop snacking so late at night.
Make it personal. Grab a journal and set aside a block of time to dialogue with Jesus about this issue of becoming “whole”:
1) What do you want?
2) Why do you want it?
3) What are you willing to do?
Wilt thou be made whole? Then, rise up (do the next thing toward your goal)….pick up your mat (burn the bridges and ignore the naysayers) and walk (with purpose in every step).