Cultivating a Willingness to Be Healed

For me, the biblical accounts of Christ’s earthly ministry never lose their shock value. Even after multiple readings, I am regularly astonished to read in Scripture how many times various people passed on Christ’s offers of healing and salvation. It really shouldn’t surprise me, I suppose, given that throughout the centuries the majority of mankind has also turned its back on Jesus, but still…there’s something particularly disturbing about the idea that anyone would look Jesus in the face (the fleshly, incarnated Face of God) and say “Uh…no, thanks.”

A crowd of thousands, fed to full satisfaction by one little boy’s lunch, turns right around and, the next day, demands that Jesus give them some miraculous sign to prove that He is the Son of God (John 6:30-31)! Ten lepers are miraculously healed, yet only one thinks it appropriate to turn back and give thanks to the divine source of his healing (Luke 17:13-19). A rich young ruler is given the chance to join Jesus and the Apostles in their earthly ministry…but balks at the idea of selling all his possessions to inaugurate this new life (Matthew 19:20-22). An entire town asks Jesus to hit the road because His command over unclean spirits is devastating the livelihood of local pig farmers (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-17; Luke 8:26-37). Right and left, biblical accounts detail people declining Jesus’ invitation to be healed of their unbelief, selfishness and worldliness…there are points at which you wish you could just jump into the narrative and scream something like “You’re totally missing the point, you idiots!”

Moving past that initial, “enlightened reader” response, it may begin to dawn on us that these accounts have – mercifully – been provided as a means by which God demonstrates that we clever moderns are no different; all of us are “missing the point” in our own, unique manner. In one way or another, we are all prone to resisting the healing and sanctifying ministry of Christ.

I think that one of the most moving accounts in all of Scripture is the healing of the invalid by the pool of Bethesda. Projecting (inappropriately) my own lack of patience onto Jesus, I imagine that by the time He got to this particular man He was at least slightly exasperated by the sheer number of people who had completely missed the point of His coming, so he starts off the conversation simply enough: “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6)

It seems like an odd question to ask of someone in need of healing. Perhaps, to the first-time reader, it may even seem a tad insensitive. “Well, yeah…of course the old man wants to be healed…what kind of question is that?” It’s all the more interesting, then, to read further that the man does not respond to Jesus with a simple “Yes.” Instead, he launches into a self-pitying account of his personal travails, noting the obstacles that he thinks stand between him and true healing. Confronted with the Person of Christ, the source of all true healing, the man is not moved to worship but instead begins to recite a laundry list of his own troubles.

Living in 21st-century, postmodern America, are we really all that different from the man at the pool? I don’t think so.

My wife and I have been volunteering in divorce recovery ministry for less than two years. Prior to that, I spent a couple of years helping out in men’s addiction-recovery ministries. By the most generous of measures, then, we have been active in ministry work for less than five years. In that short amount of time, though, I have personally witnessed any number of occasions whereby the true healing of Christ has been stiff-armed for multiple and sundry reasons, all of them basically boiling down to “Jesus isn’t able to meet my felt needs right now…but maybe later He might, once things turn around for me a bit.”

If you read my blog entries on a semi-regular basis, then you already know that much of my early adult life has been something of a slow-motion train wreck. By God’s unimaginable grace and through His eternal mercy to me, I was freed to walk away from a deadly alcohol and drug dependency in July of 1997. So far, so good, and I give all credit for my own miraculous healing point-blank to Jesus. I find it interesting, though, that while I give Jesus’ healing power all credit in my life, oftentimes others don’t. I can recall more than one conversation with a fellow addict in which the other person fought hard to resist the reality of the inexplicable recovery standing right in front of them, and was far more comfortable attributing my sobriety to my own determination, grit, or maturity…denying in one way or another that Christ was also ready, willing and (most importantly) able to heal them, too.

Similarly, working in divorce ministry provides many opportunities to speak truth in love to people who are hurting and very much in need of healing. There is something unique about the damage done to a human soul when it is betrayed by a spouse, and a persistent kind of blindness can set in. Yet again I have found the same dynamic at work, where it’s oftentimes more “comfortable” somehow to stay damaged than to seek healing.

Faced with the offer of real healing through Jesus, those going through the break-up of their marriage will often choose to stay mired in anger, hurt and unforgiveness toward their spouse rather than allow Jesus to remove it from their lives. One of the videos in the program we use in DivorceCare highlights this in an example given by one of the counselor-experts; he tells of a woman, several years after her divorce, who came in for counseling but was still unwilling to let go of the bitterness toward her spouse for “ruining” her life. And certainly, divorce always means the loss of a way of life, our dreams for the future, and many other things – but what ultimately ends up ruining people’s lives is their own unwillingness to be healed. The “familiarity” of the broken somehow seems preferable to the uncertainty associated with a life touched, renewed and forever changed by Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the man languishing by the pool would have been far more comfortable with a Jesus Who marched up to him, picked him up by force and carried him off to the pool for a miraculous healing. “Slam-dunk, old dude! You’re healed. Next!” I wonder if we, too, would all prefer a more forceful Jesus – a Savior who presses Himself boldly into our lives, pushes aside all the obstacles (real or imagined) and insists upon providing us with the miraculous healing He knows we need. It might be more to our liking if Jesus didn’t really need our cooperation to heal us, but it is yet another mercy of God that He invites us to participate in His redemptive work by asking Him, through prayer, to work in our lives to His glory.

Instead of asking us to perform a series of chants or run down a daily checklist of holy behaviors, Jesus simply invites us to believe in Him (John 11:25-26) and acknowledge that we are all desperately sick and in need of the healing that only He can offer.

As Christians, I think we lovingly point people to ultimate truth – and healing – when we share in their struggles of life, listening carefully and compassionately as they recite their own list of obstacles. More and more, however, I am finding that the real journey out of darkness begins when that conversation finally turns to the one question that has the power to initiate true belief, true repentance and true healing:

“Do you want to be healed?”

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