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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.

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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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