Friday, July 1, 2016

When the Pain Lingers

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. (John 5:2-9)

In Joni Eareckson Tada's devotional book Beside Bethesda she writes in the opening chapter, “If you spend anytime at all with me, you will know that I love the old hymns. I love to hear them, and I love to sing them. But for me, it's something more than nostalgia or enjoying a particular style of music.

I don't just sing hymns because I want to. I sing because I have to. I remember darker days when I was first injured in the hospital. I wanted so much to cry—and to just go on crying for the rest of my life. Instead, I would stifle the tears and comfort myself with one of the old hymns of the church:

Savior, Savior
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou are calling,
Do not pass me by.

When I sang those words, or even hummed the melody softly to myself late at night in my hospital room, it always reminded me of the pool of Bethesda in John chapter 5. When friends visited me at the hospital, I often asked them to read that passage to me.

John speaks of one man who had been there, lying beside that pool, for thirty-eight years. The account goes on to say that “when Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time” (verse 6), He approached the disabled man and asked him a question.

I can't tell you how many nights I would picture myself there at the pool of Bethesda, on a blanket, perhaps lying next to the paralyzed man on his straw mat. In my mind's eye we would lie there, waiting. He would be waiting for an angel to stir up the waters. Then, somehow, he would inch himself over to the pool and slip into it for supernatural healing. He was waiting for an angel...but I was waiting for Jesus.

I knew that the Son of God Himself would be coming, stepping out of the bright morning light, slipping under the shade of the colonnades and standing for a moment, looking out at the desperate, nearly hopeless little band of disabled men and women waiting by the water's edge.

In my fantasies, I would see Him pausing by the pool, His disciples puzzled by the delay and eager to keep moving toward the temple. And I would cry out to Him, not wanting Him to miss me, lying on that pavement in the shade of a pillar.

Jesus! Oh, Jesus! Don't pass me by. Here I am! Heal me! Help me! Don't leave me here like this!

And the truth was, though I couldn't see it at the time, He had seen me all along. He had known me. He was aware of my fear, my sorrow, my despair, my longings, and my crushing need. He would not—did not—pass me by. And He never will, not in all eternity."

And then in the last chapter of her book (subtitled 31 Days Toward Deeper Healing), Joni writes about her experience of actually visiting the pool of Bethesda with her husband:

Thank You,” I whispered. “Thank You for the healing You gave me. The deeper healing. Oh, God, You were so wise in not giving me a physical healing. Because that 'no' has meant 'yes' to a stronger faith in You, a deeper prayer life, and a greater understanding of Your Word. It has purged sin from my life, forced me to depend on Your grace, and increased my compassion for others who hurt. It has stretched my hope, given me a lively, buoyant trust in You, stirred an excitement about heaven, and pushed me to give thanks in times of sorrow. It has increased my faith and helped me to love You more. Jesus, I love You more.”

When the pain lingers, like my migraine yesterday, these words from Joni help to rekindle my hope. A deeper healing from God is possible when the physical healing doesn't come in the way we wish it would. His ways are higher than what we are able to comprehend and His love is deeper than we could ever imagine.

When the pain lingers, may you be reminded of the deeper healing He desires and plans for your life.

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