I Can’t: The lame man and the importance of surrender

Recently, I decided to go through the Gospels one chapter at a time with new eyes and ears to hear what God is speaking through them, as if I’d never heard them before. This is due to a lot of recent realizations and revelations about a lot of things that I may write a blog post about sometime soon. Maybe. I don’t have all of my thoughts on that organized yet. But today, I was reading through John, specifically John 5, which starts with the story of the lame man.

In John 5, Jesus and His disciples come upon the pool of Bethsaida which was surrounded by sick people of all varieties (namely blind, lame, or paralyzed according to the NLT). Not everyone knows the importance of the pool of Bethsaida. Basically what happened at the pool of Bethsaida is that at different times, an angel would come and stir the water of the pool, and the first person who made it into the pool would be healed of any affliction they may have. There’s a lot of controversy and debate about this particular instance in Scripture, but I really don’t care because that’s not what I’m focused on. What I’m giving particular interest to is what happens when Jesus walks by the pool, starting in verse 5 of the New Living Translation:

One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”

“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”

Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”

Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking!

John 5:5-9a, NLT

Something important happens here. Something that I never noticed until reading this passage again today. First off, Jesus asks a question: “Would you like to get well?” Other translations read “Do you want to be healed?” (ESV) or “Do you wish to get well?” (NASB). Wait…Isn’t that obvious? Of course he wants to get well! He’s been in this condition for thirty-eight years! Why would anyone in their right minds want to stay like this? Who wouldn’t want to get well?

All of this seems painfully obvious. So, therefore, the question becomes: Why did Jesus ask this question? If Jesus knew what the obvious answer would be, why would He ask a question like this in the first place? Jesus knew what He was doing, so there has to be a purpose. And that purpose was this: Jesus wasn’t asking if the man wanted to get well. He was testing his heart.

Imagine the scenario here: Jesus, Savior of the world, Son of God, filled with unfailing love and faithfulness, walked up to a man who hadn’t walked for thirty-eight years. This man, who has likely been lying here for an incredibly long time, knows that if he can make it into the pool, he will be healed. By his understanding, this was his only chance to be freed and saved from his current condition. There’s a problem here, though, that Jesus sees immediately. Thus, Jesus asks him, “Would you like to get well? Do you want to be healed?”

And the man’s response?

“I can’t.”

His answer wasn’t “Yes.” His answer wasn’t “No.” The man says “I can’t, sir, for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up.” This is the answer Jesus was looking for. Obviously the man wanted to be healed. But what Jesus wanted to see was whether or not he had come to the realization that he couldn’t do it on his own. By his own power and his own strength, he wasn’t capable of receiving the healing that he desired. He couldn’t pick himself up and make it to the pool. He was completely incapable and unable to save himself. In the midst of his hope and desire to be healed and to be made well, he recognized his own problem and his inability to accomplish that dream himself.

And Jesus, filled with unfailing love and faithfulness, met him where he was.

This is where Jesus wants to find us.

Jesus asks every single person, “Do you want to be healed?” Often the answer is no. Other times the answer is yes. But not frequently enough in this day in age is the answer “I can’t do it. I can’t be healed. I’ve tried.”

The answer of “no” is a complete refusal of the gift of God. They see what Jesus has to offer and don’t want it. They’re supposedly satisfied where they’re at and don’t want that drastic of a change, so they decide to remain lying by the pool.

The answer of “yes” is an acceptance of the free gift of eternal life that Jesus offers to every person. It is a decision to take what Jesus has offered, the very thing He died for. But, nowadays, more and more frequently, people say “yes” to Jesus and then wander around as if they haven’t been healed, trying to do things in their own power to save themselves and completely forgetting what they’ve been given. They still think they’re able to do something to save themselves from…Something.

The answer of “I can’t” is surrender. A realization that, no matter how hard you try, you’re unable to achieve what you’re trying to do. You can’t save yourself. You can’t heal yourself. All your best efforts will leave you worse off than you were before. It is complete and total surrender. It’s a cry for help. “I can’t do it, will You do it for me?” This is where a true life in Christ begins. This is where Jesus wants to meet us.

I’ve realized recently that this really isn’t where I was when I first gave my life to Christ. I was originally in the category of people that just said “yes” and then tried to keep doing things myself. I tried to follow all the rules as best as I could, because I felt that was what I needed to do. (Not to say that following rules is a bad thing; in fact, it’s a good thing. But it shouldn’t be something that we try super hard to do, it should be something that results from surrender to Christ. Also not to say that after surrendering your life to Christ you should be perfect, because that isn’t possible. That’s where grace comes into play. Anyway…) Obviously, this didn’t work out well. I tried to make things happen myself, which led to years of looking at the world through the lens of comparison, feeling like I was never able to measure up to the expectations that people had for me, and that I was never going to be as good at x, y, or z as the people around me.

I realized that this is where I was before. And that’s why I’ve been starting over with the Gospels with new eyes, soaking in every word that Jesus has for me. I want every promise, every reality that Jesus says that I live in to be the one that I know I live in. And this started with the realization that I had been trying so hard to do things on my own; that I didn’t surrender all of my expectations, hopes, dreams, and flaws to Him. Trying to live a Christian life any other way is missing out on the life that God has for you. Surrendering everything to Jesus, every hope and fear, every sin and prayer, every single facet of your life, is the only way to truly walk in all of the plans and promises that God has in store.

If you’ve experience a life even remotely similar to mine, having been raised in the church and having this entire concept of complete and total surrender ultimately lost on you, I would encourage you to see yourself as the lame man by the pool of Bethsaida. Reposition yourself and redirect your thinking to realize that you can’t do this yourself. You need help. You need someone to pick you up and bring you to the pool. And then you’ll receive something even better.

If you’ve never given your life to Christ before, maybe you’ve come to the realization that your best efforts have failed you, that you’ve just felt stuck and maybe that life is pointless or meaningless. If that’s you, I would encourage you by saying that Jesus is the answer to whatever problem you may be going through. Not the judgmental Jesus that has been portrayed in the media, but the Jesus who wants nothing more than to have a relationship with you and for you to know Him because He loves you more than anyone ever could. That’s my Jesus.

Regardless of who you are or where you’re at in this regard, I feel like there’s no better time than right now to think about who’s controlling your path and who’s in charge of your destiny. Whether it’s you or Jesus.

Conclusion: I can’t. But Jesus can. And He strengthens me to do things every day that I never thought possible.

My prayer is that, at the end of the day, this would be the heart cry of each and every one of us.

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