The worst natural disaster in American history occured this past week. The destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina was devasting. It looks like there may be hundreds dead, thousands who lost all their possessions and billions of dollars worth of damage. The city of New Orleans is fighting for its life and many other communities are reeling.
We’re in the series on the conversations Jesus had with people in need. There are other conversations of Jesus recorded but we’re looking specifically at the seven that precede the miracles John uses in his Good News account. In each case, Jesus could have just performed the miracle - but He always talked about it so we would learn how to deal with difficulties as He did.
This week’s conversation and miracle are especially timely since we’re witnessing the aftermath of such a powerful hurricane. Rebuilding lives after the great loss sustained by this catastophre will take years. Interestingly, the conversation in John 5 is between Jesus and a man who had been an invalid for 38 years!
It’s hard to think of not being able to get around normally for 38 years. This man’s mobility was severely limited - especially in the days before mechanized wheelchairs and vans with lifts - before handicapped accessible public restrooms and parking spaces. The loss of health and freedom he suffered was humongous.
Loss touches every one of our lives at one time or another. So this man’s story and the way Jesus interacted with him are important to us.
What do you do when you face a severe loss? Let Christ’s words encourage you to take the following ACTIONS FOR KEEPING LOSS FROM PARALYZING YOU:
1. EVALUATE YOUR LEVEL OF HOPE.
We’ve already learned in this series that Jesus loved to stimulate thought provoking conversations with a question. His question to this suffering man was, "Do you want to get well?" (Verse 6)
On the surface the question may seem unnecessary - but we know that the Savior never wasted words.
Does he want to get well? He’s been challenged with immobility for 38 years! Of course he wants to get well...doesn’t he?
Jesus was saying to the man, "Thirty eight years is a long time to suffer. Have you lost all hope? Do you still have any desire to get well?"
THE GREATEST OBSTACLE IN OVERCOMING LOSS IN LIFE IS THE LOSS OF HOPE!
A security guard at a railroad yard accidentally locked himself in a refrigeration car one night. He knew the door could not be opened from the inside. He was trapped. Doomed. He would die there, he knew, either from the cold or a lack of oxygen. It was the thought of freezing to death that concerned him the most. He screamed until his lungs burned, and banged on the door until his hands were swollen and bruised.
His situation was hopeless. His fate written. He decided his last act would be to record his agonizing death for whoever would eventually find his body. Taking a pencil from his jacket pocket, he wrote on the car wall: "It is so cold in here I can hardly stand it..."
After a while he struggled from the corner where he huddled and wrote a second line: "It’s colder still...my fingers are getting numb."
Then later, "I’m slowly freezing to death..."
And ultimately, "These are probably my last words..." By the time he scribbled his final sentence, the writing was almost illegible, the hand of a dying man.
His body was found the following morning, slumped in one corner of the refrigerator car.
The coroner had great difficutly determining the cause of death. There had, he determined, been sufficient ventilation inside the car to allow a man to survive for days. And, since the refrigeration apparatus of the car had been out of order, there was no way the man would have frozen to death.
In fact, the temperature inside the car when it was finally opened was fifty-six degrees!
(Story taken from "Don’t Tell Me It’s Impossible Until After I’ve Already Done It", by Pam Lontos.)
Jesus was asking this man if he had any hope left. He was asking him to evaluate his inner circumstances - not just his outer loss. The loss of his health and ability to get around was terrible, but it was something God could help him overcome IF he still had hope.
Watching the news reports from the aftermath of the hurricane you could see some people were overwhelmed and others were looking at their losses and able to respond with optimism. What makes the difference? The difference is, some have hope while others have already given up hope.
The thousands of people displaced by hurricane Katrina have many needs: water, food, clothing, and shelter. But the greatest thing they need is hope!
YOU CAN’T MAKE IT THROUGH LIFE JUST BY HAVING STUFF. YOU’VE GOT TO HAVE HOPE! Those who have hope aren’t paralyzed by their losses in life.
The good news is, with God, no situation is beyond hope! It may be a tragic loss that seems overwhelming both physically and psychologically - but by trusting in God - it is never, ever hopeless.
So the first thing we need to do when we find ourselves facing a loss that could paralyze us, is EVALUATE THE LEVEL OF HOPE IN OUR SPIRIT.
If you ever find your hope shrinking, here are three TOOLS FOR BUILDING HOPEFULNESS IN YOUR LIFE:
a. Obtain biblical information.
Romans 15:4 (CEV) "The Scriptures were written to teach and and encourage us by giving us hope."
If a business wants to turn itself around one of the first things they do is obtain up-to-date, reliable information. In life, that’s what’s available in God’s Word for turning your life around! As you turn the pages of the Bible you see all kinds of promises and encouragements, examples of people overcoming overwhelming odds, and explanations of human nature and world conditions.
When you neglect the Word of God you miss out on one of life’s greatest tools of hope!
b. Do the right thing even when it’s hard to do.
Romans 5:4 (CEV) "Endurance builds character, which gives us hope."
It was alarming to see looters in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. All that some were taking was food and that is certainly understandable under these harshly abnormal circumstances.
Proverbs 6:30-31 (NCV) "People don’t hate a thief when he steals because he is hungry. 31 But if he is caught, he must pay back seven times what he stole, and it may cost him everything he owns."
The normal Old Testament penalty for being caught stealing was two times the value in restitution. But the Bible here says that if the motive for stealing was hunger, the fine was seven times the value of the item stolen. Why the drastic increase?
Since God had so many Old Testament provisions among His people for feeding those in need, anyone who wouldn’t accept charity but would steal instead was guilty of a proud heart.
Stealing things like TV’s and jewelry is just being greedy. Just because there’s no one around to stop you doesn’t make it okay. CHARACTER IS DOING THE RIGHT THING EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU COULD GET AWAY WITH DOING THE WRONG THING.
Norman Cousins, whose "Anatomy of an Illness", published in 1964, is often referenced as the beginning of "laughter therapy", tells the story of a sleepless night he spent at the Los Angeles Airport. He needed to make a phone call to his office, so he put a quarter in a pay phone and didn’t get a dial tone. All he got was a recording that said, "Please deposit a quarter to make a call."
Frustrated, he deposited another quarter and dialed the operator. (This was back in the day when you could actually talk to a real person, not a recording.)
He explained to the operator what had happened and asked her to give him his money back or at least give him a dial tone to call his office. The operator replied, "Certainly sir. We will return your money if you send us your name and address."
Cousins thought to himself, "How ridiculous! I’m supposed to take my time and money to send you my name and address to get my 25 cents back? And why add the expense to them to process, pay, and mail my money back to me?"
All the operator had to do at the time was perform a procedure that would cause the pay phone to cough up his quarter or give him a dial tone so he could call his office and everyone would be happy.
Cousins continues, "I got frustrated and hit the ’return money’ lever and quarters started pouring out of the telephone and filled the floor of the phone booth!" He said, "I told the operator what was happening and she said, "Please put the money back in the box."
Cousins replied, "I would be happy to send the money back to you in the mail. Just send me an envelope with your name and address!"
Sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing!
But doing the right thing is what character is all about - and character builds hope. And what builds character? Ironically, going through tough times - suffering loss, builds character. Being tested - that’s what builds character.
When you live life without character, it proves you don’t have hope. Because if you don’t have hope you don’t believe that you can do the right thing and make it through life successfully. You think you have to bend the rules and cut corners on right living. When you have hope you know you don’t have to do wrong things in order to succeed.
The more you do the right thing the more you see the blessings of God on your life and the more hope you have!
c. Be glad about God’s plans for you.
Romans 12:12a (KJV) "Rejoice in hope."
In the New Living Translation this verse reads, "Be glad for all God is planning for you." In the Contemporary English Version: "Let your hope make you glad."
The Christ follower can say, "I know my future as a child of God. It is a bright, promising future! There will be detours and losses but the destination is sure! I know that God has great plans for my life!"
When you face a loss that could paralyze you - remember to EVALUATE YOUR HOPE.
2. ELIMINATE YOUR EXCUSES. This is the second action step to take to keep loss from paralyzing you.
When Jesus inquired if the man wanted to be healed you might have thought his answer would have been an immediate and enthusiastic, "Yes, I want to be healed!" Instead, he replied with an excuse.
Verse 7 - "I don’t have anyone..." His excuse was that he was friendless.
For some reason, and it may have been a sinful reason, this man was somewhat reluctant to be healed. His paralysis was spiritual, as well as physical. Jesus met him later at the Temple and said, "Don’t return to a sinning life or something worse might happen." (Verse 14)
Christ isn’t just interested in our health and happiness. - He’s also interested in us following His example. Sin may have been this man’s biggest hindrance from getting well, although we can’t say for sure. We do know that sometimes the reason people don’t find the hope they need is because they don’t want to give up sinful thought patterns or sinful habits.
They won’t get well because they want to hang on to some pet sin. And so they come up with an excuse instead of telling the truth in the matter. Not too many people will come out and be honest with God, themselves, and others and say, "Well, I would like to quit having an unhappy life, but I don’t want to give up this sinful attitude or habit that is causing me to be miserable. I love sin too much to give it up."
With Jesus there, this man didn’t need an excuse. He DID have someone - the same someone that you and I can have as our friend!
In Matthew 11:28 (CEV), Jesus said, "If you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, come to me and I will give you rest."
Christ proved this Scripture in the life of this man. You have someone! Jesus is on your side. He wants you to come to Him and rely upon Him. He wants to be your best friend so there’s no excuse for being paralyzed by the losses of life.
When typhoons hit the Pacific Islands, some of the rural islanders lash themselves to unmovable palm trees until the storm passes. You need to be attached to God - He never wavers in the storms of life!
If you’re going to keep from being paralyzed by the losses of life you’re going to have to give up your excuses.
And the third action you’re going to have to take is to...
3. EXCERCISE YOUR FAITH.
Verse 8 - "Get up, take your bedroll, start walking."
a. "Get up."
To do this would clearly require faith on the man’s part.
Why would he have the faith to do this? Because there was clearly something different about Jesus. He’s worthy of our trust.
Later, the Jewish leaders at the Temple would send guards to arrest Jesus but they came back empty handed.
John 7:45-46 (CEV) "When the Temple police returned to the chief priests and Pharisees, they were asked, ’Why didn’t you bring Jesus here?’ 46 They answered, ’No one has ever spoken like that man!’"
The sick man beside the Pool of Bethesda could say the same thing. He knew there was something different about Jesus!
It’s great to study the evidences for faith in Christ - but the one evidence that is the most personal is the fact that God’s voice can be heard by each of us as individuals in our hearts. God speaks directly to you when He draws you to Himself.
John 6:44 (CEV) "No one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me makes them want to come."
Jesus inspired faith in this man’s heart as He does in ours.
b. "Take your bedroll."
This action teaches us to make no provision for a relapse. Burn the bridges behind you. Remember once again what Jesus said in verse 14: "Don’t return to a sinning life."
Sometimes it takes a loss to teach us what really matters. Who we are and the way we live are more important than what we have.
c. "Start walking."
This, of course, was part of authenticating the miracle, but there’s also a spiritual truth in it. Don’t just stand around doing nothing after God sets you free!
One thing we need to "start walking" in, or start doing, in the aftermath of the recent hurricane, is to obey what is taught in Scripture.
Isaiah 58:7 (CEV) "Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear."
Hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama are going to have to recover from great loss. And we need to pray and share to help them rebuild.
But right at this very moment let me ask you, "What loss do you need to recover from?" A break up or divorce? The death of someone you loved dearly? A broken dream? A financial setback? A health problem? A crisis in your career?
Whatever the loss, where are you going to look for help? You can look to Jesus! With that thought in mind I’d like to lead you in prayer.
If you’re serious about recovering from a loss the way Jesus taught, pray this prayer from your heart and mind as I pray it out loud.
Dear God, I’ve suffered some losses. Today I want to start the rebuilding process with you in charge. I want to pour out my heart to you. You know how I feel better than anyone. Thank you for speaking to me through your Word and by Your Holy Spirit. I need you in my life. Give me Your hope Lord. I don’t want to make any more excuses. I just want to get up and start walking and with your help I know I can do it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.