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Wednesday Walk Through the Bible, John 11:1-45, particularly verses 29-45 (NIV)

#WednesdayWalk, an exploration of what unknown people might have seen or felt when they witnessed the events in the Bible. This post is from the perspective of a person who went to mourn with Mary and Martha after the death of Lazarus.

I arrived at the house to help console Mary and Martha about the loss of their brother Lazarus. A somber mood greeted me as I entered the crowded home. As I made my way through the front room, I tried to locate Mary and Martha. A few minutes later I spotted Mary near the doorway and watched as she quickly left the house. The room emptied out as everyone followed Mary. It appeared she was going to the tomb where her brother was buried.

I followed the crowd for a ways when suddenly everyone stopped. That’s when I spotted Mary bowing at the feet of a man. I asked the person next to me who Mary was bowing to and was told the man was Jesus. I had heard about this man and his miracles, but had never seen him in person.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I heard Mary say to Jesus. She began to weep. Indeed, if it was true he could heal the sick, he could have prevented the death of Lazarus. But now it was too late for him to do anything. Tears welled up in my eyes as I saw the pain on Mary’s face. “Where have you laid him,” I heard Jesus say with a troubled look on his face. There was murmuring in the crowd as some responded, “Come and see, Lord.”

For a moment we all stood stood still, silent as we watched the tears stream down the face of Jesus as he wept with Mary. It was obvious that he loved Lazarus. Some people in the crowd were saying, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” I thought the same thing, but now there was nothing he could do. Who could overcome death?

A moment later we made our way to the tomb. I noticed it was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. That’s when I heard Jesus say something that shocked us all. “Take away the stone,” he said. Martha being the practical one advised Jesus, “But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” To which Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

What did he mean, “if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” Then, to my surprise, against Martha’s advice, they actually took away the stone. I held my nose as I watched it roll away, prepared for a strong stench. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

For a brief moment we all stared at the open tomb. I would not have believed what happened next if I had not seen it myself. To my amazement Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Then the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. I stood frozen as Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” I could see it was indeed Lazarus as the cloth was removed from his face.

I whispered to myself the words Jesus said only moments ago, “that they may believe that you sent me.” Could this be the Son of God as some people had told me before this day. How could I not believe in him after seeing him raise Lazarus from the dead?

The news was not surprising, yet it was still hard to hear. Hospice was being brought in because it looked like the end was near for my wife’s stepmom. In the last few months she had told me not to visit because she was not feeling well. I suspected her cancer was getting worse and she did not want me to see her.

As I thought about the inevitable, I reflected on how this feisty woman in her 80s had been such a blessing to me. She could be offensive at times, full of insults, swear words and anger toward people, particularly religious people. Yet she taught me so much about God’s love; taught me that God’s love and grace is even for the so-called unlovable.

Because of her temperament, my wife’s stepmom did not have a good relationship with the family. Over the years, her sharp tongue didn’t help bridge that gap. As it turned out, by God’s design, my wife and I were the only ones with her when her husband died six years ago. Afterwards I felt compelled to visit her at her home more than just around holidays. She lived a few hours away so I would visit her maybe 6-8 times a year. Usually when I was in town on business.

Eventually her health declined to the point where she had to move to an assisted living facility. With each visit I saw my heart transformed from being a bit scared of her to a genuine love for her. When I first started to visit her, I thought maybe I could change her to becoming a follower of Christ. Instead I was the one changed by her.

During each visit she would share stories about her life over the last 80 some years. As her tough exterior veneer began to peel back, I learned about the pain and abuse she had suffered at the hands of others. I began to understand why she was so bitter and angry, I started to empathize with her. I learned that God knows people from the inside out. He sees through our exterior veneer and knows our true self and our pain. He wants to heal us if we’re willing to let him. God is the one who equips us to offer his love and grace to people who desperately need it.

I’d like to say she eventually came to Christ, but I do not know for sure. She never expressed it to me, that is between her and God. Occasionally we would talk about God and religion, but she never showed an interest in going deeper. But at the end of each visit I would give her a hug and tell her, “love you.” It was sincere and from the heart. Ultimately I felt she was the one teaching me about God’s love, teaching me how to love the so-called unloveable. Showing me that he is the one that gives us the strength to do what we often see as impossible. Demonstrating that sometimes all an unsaved person needs is to feel God’s embrace and the words, “love you.”

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8

This past week I was once again shown how much I take for granted the little things in life. A week ago I had surgery on my right hand — the hand I use to write and type. Subsequently I was unable to use my right hand for several days for even the simplest of tasks such buttoning a shirt or opening a jar. I quickly discovered how much I depend on my right hand for many tasks throughout the day. Blogging had to wait until I could get enough movement back in my hand to cradle my phone and type on the touchpad with my thumbs.

It gave me pause as I contemplated the many things in my life that I take for granted each day — the many things I owe to God. Even the simplest movement of my hand is because God gave me that ability. The fact that a surgeon had the ability to operate and fix my hand — the fact that it is now healing — I owe to my Creator God. He knows every fiber of my being because he “knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).”

God is evident in the smallest of details in my life. Yet too often I get distracted by struggles and suffering instead of being in awe of God’s miraculous work, his love and grace. Today I only need to look at my hand and see my fingers moving to remind me of his marvelous deeds; to remind me of the healing I have experienced in the past week. I should “declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all people (Psalm 96:3).”

The very breath that gives us life should call us to vocalize our gratefulness to God. The movement of my fingers should remind me type praises to our Lord.

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being (Rev. 4:11).”

There are people in my life that I have know for years, but who are no closer to experiencing redemption through Christ. Month after month I pour myself into their lives, but I feel as if I am trying to create a lake by pouring one bucket of water each day onto a vast desert. It’s discouraging to watch the dry sand quickly soak up the water as if it was never there.

Then I read Isaiah 43:18-19: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” This verse is a good reminder that even if I do not “perceive it,” God is still at work “doing a new thing” in the lives of these people. The process of a heart change has begun, even if I do not notice.

On the surface, each bucket of living water I pour out quickly disappears into the dry sand, but below the dry surface the moisture continues to collect, creating the beginnings of a stream of life-giving water. While it seems my efforts to build Christ into the lives of these people is futile, the love of Christ is at work healing past hurts even if I cannot see it. My faith in God tells me he is making a new way, a stream of living water in a dry and parched land.

In the last chapters of the book of Ezekiel, Israel is in exile and the prophet Ezekiel is given a detailed vision of the restoration of the temple and Israel (chapters 40-48). In 47:8 there is a description of water flowing from the temple into the Dead Sea. The result is that “the salty water there becomes fresh.” Verse 9 tells us that “where the river flows everything will live.”

This is a compelling picture of how God’s living water brings life to formerly dead things. Because of the water from the temple of God, plants bear fruit for food and “leaves for healing (verse 12).” As believers in Jesus Christ we can do the same for people in our lives. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them (John 7:38).” 

In the course of our day we can let living water flow from the temple within us (1 Cor. 3:16)  to touch people we encounter with the Spirit of God. We can bring fresh water to people who are wading through the saltwater swamps and marshes of life (Ezekiel 47:9-11).

I laid on a bed in the emergency room as the doctor asked me multiple questions about my condition. I answered each question as best as I could, hoping it would help her find what ailed me.

“Does it hurt here?” She finally asked as she pressed the area where I was experiencing discomfort in my abdomen.

“Yes,” I replied as the pressure from her hand made the pain worse.

She paused with a brief look of concern, yet a look that expressed knowledge of what was going on inside of me. The doctor’s patient dialogue with me helped identify what was wrong inside my body. She now had an idea of the potential source of the pain that prompted me to go to the hospital. A subsequent CAT scan enabled a look inside of me that confirmed her suspicions.

Later, after we left the hospital, I thought about how much faith I put in the doctor. I knew something was not right inside of me and I turned to the doctor in the hospital to figure out what was ailing me and to find the right remedy. She gave me a prescription to fight the infection and further instructions to help me get well.

It made me contemplate why I don’t always have the same faith in God or even my church to help me with my struggles in life. Usually the barrier is that I refuse to dialogue with people in my church or even God about the emotional pain deep inside of me. No one can help us if we don’t first open up about the hurt we feel inside. We must be open to prayerfully seeking God for help; open to dialoguing with him. Then we must trust that his instruction is for our own good. 

There are many instances in the gospels where people pursued Jesus for healing. In Luke 8:43-48 a woman reaches out to touch Jesus for healing. In Mark 2:1-12 men lower a paralyzed man from the roof in an effort to reach Jesus for healing. Then there is the blind man in Mark 10:46-52. 

In this passage the blind man hears that Jesus is walking by and he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus then asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replies, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Verse 52 tells us that Jesus responds, “Go, your faith has healed you.” The man then received his sight.

What if the blind man had not reached out to Christ or not told him what he wanted Jesus to do? It is the dialogue with God that is important; our faith in God to come to us with the right approach to what ails us inside. As Jesus said in John 14:14, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” 

I sat with her in her living room as she talked about her life. Somehow she managed to keep her frail body upright in the chair. A small plastic tube by her nose fed her oxygen as she spoke with a raspy voice. I could sense the bitterness as she told me about past injustices done to her from decades ago. Over the years I had known this aged woman it seemed the grip of bitterness had only grown tighter on her life. It seemed to cripple her to the point where she was hunched over, eyes pointed toward the floor. I longed to free her from the bondage of unforgiveness with the loving touch of Jesus Christ, but she would have nothing to do with it.

Days later I came across Luke 13:10-17 where Jesus healed a woman crippled “by a spirit for eighteen years.” Toward the end of the passage Jesus remarked that she had been kept bound all those years by Satan. What is interesting about this passage is that the woman does not seek healing from Jesus. She was there in the synagogue listening to Jesus teach and he called her forward. Jesus told the woman, “you are set free from your infirmity.” He placed his hands on her and then she, immediately “straightened up and praised God.”

It reminded me of my aged friend I visited a few days earlier and how she chose to let Satan hold her in the grip of bitterness — choosing to let past injustices keep her bent over and unable to straighten up. She was emotionally and now physically crippled, refusing to even enter a church to hear the teaching of Christ. She refused to hear Jesus call her forward so he could touch her with his grace and release her from the grip of Satan. She chose to remain hunched over in bitterness instead of letting Jesus set her free from the grip of Satan.

In this life we are often struck by emotional and physical events that can cripple us for years. Satan wants to bind us with these infirmities so that we remain crippled, hunched over with our eyes to the ground so we are unable to stand and raise our hands to praise and worship God. Jesus calls us forward to touch our lives, but the grip of the injustices of this life hold us back from receiving his freedom. Instead we listen to those, like the synagogue leader in this passage, who don’t want us to receive Jesus Christ and his healing touch. We remain hunched over in bitterness with eyes pointed to the ground instead of Jesus.

When someone close to us is sick or injured, we tend to pray for healing. When we struggle with emotional or difficult situations, we desire release from the pain. When tragedy strikes, we yearn for the time before life was ripped apart. We cry out to God for healing; to take away the pain; to relieve the suffering. But when there is no response we wonder why he has abandoned us. The real question, however, is whether we have abandoned God.

In the midst of suffering in this world it is difficult to remain focused on God. In Psalm 22 David expresses this emotion when he writes “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” (NIV) In the midst of his torment, as his enemies pursue him, David shows his humanity by wondering why God does not save him. He reminds God in verses 4-5 how he saved Israel before, how “In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.”( NIV)

It’s the same rationale we sometimes use when we are burdened with adversity. We look at past times when God has come to our aid. We see others experience healing, the injured become whole again and others who seem to avoid tragedy all together. We remind God how he helped the faithful before and wonder why he does not help us now. In these times it is difficult to see life beyond our own struggles, to understand God’s bigger purpose. Our feelings of abandonment are a very real part of our life on earth.

Jesus experienced this emotion of feeling abandoned by God. While dying on the cross he cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”— which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46 NIV). In the wake of his crucifixion, most of his followers fled for their lives. While Jesus could have sought to save himself from the immense pain of the cross, he remained focused on God’s plan for us. After his cry to God from the cross, “Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit.” (Matt. 27:50 NLT) This set the stage for his resurrection and our salvation.

While our pain is very real, we must be careful that it does not cause us to abandon God and his purpose. It is a part of surrendering our life to Jesus so that we may become his instrument. In the midst of his distress, David maintained his reverence for God. “You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!” (Psalm 22:23 NIV). Continuing our reverence toward God in adversity points us toward the time when we will be fully restored with God, a time when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Rev. 21:4 NIV)

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