Faith involves a willingness to change
I have had a life-long problem of getting a particular idea stuck in my head then missing out on new opportunities because my attention is funneled only toward the idea that is stuck in my head.
When I was 10 years old, I stood on a stage beneath a net holding over 100 balloons. A man was talking to us, explaining that one of the balloons contained a slip of paper which announced “WINNER.” The boy or girl who found that balloon would win a Dick Tracy-like wrist radio!
But before he began speaking, I had already set within my mind the assumption that the winner of the wrist radio that I longed for would be the one who gathered the most balloons. I did not listen to his instructions because my idea was firmly stuck in my head. When the net was pulled away, and the balloons began to fall, I began grabbing as many balloons as I could. The problem is, when you try filling your arms with lots of balloons, the inevitable happens: some balloons slip away as you stuff new balloons into your full arms. Quite by accident, one of the balloons I grabbed happened to hold the winning slip of paper. Either because time had expired or because the one running the contest was a friend of my father’s, the man put his hand on the winning balloon and said to me very nicely, “May I see this balloon?”
He was coming to my rescue, giving me the opportunity to win the prize, but I didn’t see it that way. I thought he was stealing part of my precious and precarious collection. So I told him to leave my balloons alone.
Fortunately for me, he was not put off by my rudeness. Despite my silly protest, he popped the balloon, revealing the winning slip of paper, and gave me the wrist radio I had longed for.
One day Jesus met a man who had a similar problem of having his own idea stuck in his head. The inability to get beyond the idea stuck in his head nearly cost that man far more than a silly wrist radio.
This man had been disabled for thirty-eight years. Much of that time he had spent by a certain pool of water in the northeastern section of Jerusalem. The pool was commonly known as Beth-zatha, “House of the Olive,” but many people called it Bethesda, “House of Mercy,” since stories had been told of healings that took place within those waters. The belief was that the waters were stirred at times by an angel and that the first person into the water after the angel had stirred them would be healed. As a result, the porticos beside the pool were not a place of peaceful relaxation but a place of tense and anxious waiting. The people there were not happy campers but weary watchers. Jesus said to this particular man, “Do you want to be made well?”
It should have been easy for the man to answer Jesus’ question, but he was unable to get past the idea that was stuck in his head. So he said to Jesus, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”
Fortunately for him, Jesus persisted. Jesus repeated his offer to heal the man. This time, though, he phrased it not as a gentle question but as a clear command: “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”
I learn a couple of lessons from this passage:
1: Jesus’ gentle invitation to heal this man and Jesus’ strong command to the man to get up and walk are both given to this man out of the same concern. This holds true in our lives as well. The promises God makes to us and the commands he gives to us both flow out of God’s consistent care for us. If we appreciate his promises, we should also appreciate and heed his commands.
2: Faith has to do with a willingness to set aside what is stuck in our own head so that we can respond to God’s leading.
Robert Sutton writes, “A television program preceding the 1988 Winter Olympics featured blind skiers being trained for slalom skiing…. Paired with sighted skiers, the blind skiers were taught on the flats how to make right and left turns. When that was mastered, they were taken to the slalom slope, where their sighted partners skied beside them shouting, ‘Left!’ and ‘Right!’ As they obeyed the commands, they were able to negotiate the course and cross the finish line, depending solely on the sighted skiers’ word. It was either complete trust or catastrophe. What a vivid picture of the Christian life! In this world, we are in reality blind about what course to take. We must rely solely on the Word of the only One who is truly sighted—God himself.”
Faith is learning to hear Christ’s voice and to respond afresh—again and again—to his leading.