It’s the elephant in your room. It may well be the first thing that people who know you think of when asked about you. But maybe it’s been a part of your architecture so long, you’ve put a lamp shade on it and called it decorations.
I’m talking about something all of us have. The things we wish were different, but check back with us five years from now and our “elephant” is still there. It’s what I call our PWGA. The Problem that Won’t Go Away.
You may refer to it in different language. You may use words like “weakness,” or “cross to bear.” By now you may address it as the “same old same old” or as I did once in reference to my New Year’s resolutions: “Oh, you know, the usual.”
For many people, their PWGA is something that is heart-rending. Something they’ve asked or even begged God to fix, heal, or otherwise change. And yet the PWGA remains.
For other people, a PWGA is a problem requiring a solution they aren’t willing to apply. I know two words that can fix some people’s PWGA: “I’m sorry.” Or their nuclear cousin: “I was wrong.” But that’s too high a price for some people to pay. They’d rather live with the problem.
Some people have PWGAs that they are convinced have solutions. But they haven’t yet found those solutions and don’t know how to leverage their relationship with God to address it.
By now you probably have one or more of your own PWGAs floating around in your mind. Hold that thought. I want to introduce you to another guy.
A 38-Year-Old PWGA
Right on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem there is a place called the Pool of Bethesda. There back in the day people would come for what amounted to a healing lottery. Tradition held that every so often an angel would come stir the water in the pool and the first person to enter the water afterward would be healed.
There beside the pool was a man who had been there for 38 years. John’s gospel tells his story here.
Thirty-eight years is a long time. That’s nine presidential elections in the U.S. Or 1,976 episodes of 60 Minutes. Oak trees grow up in 38 years. And in 38 years that bag of used disposable Pampers finally decomposes.
And all that time, beside the pool, one man waited and hoped for a miracle. It was the only way he could see himself clear to find help – be the first one in the pool when the ripples began to form.
Just one problem. He was paralyzed. And by his own testimony, he had no one to help him.
Can you see a potential problem with this PWGA strategy?
Can you see a potential opportunity? This guy did.
Did Jesus just ask a stupid question?
According to the story, Jesus knew something of this man. And He approached him with what appears to be a ridiculous question.
“Do you want to be healed?” He asked.
No, I’m just working on my tan.
But in the original language, the question is more penetrating. More challenging. More convicting.
Jesus was asking, “Do you will to be healed? Do you choose to be healed? Are you actively committed to your own healing?”
Jesus was asking, How bad to you want it? This was a question of the man’s commitment to becoming whole.
And I don’t think Mr. PWGA was al that committed.
The simple truth is, when it got right down to it, maybe this man really didn’t want to be healed in the first place. Think about it. You don’t stay in one place for 38 years without developing some sort of system. Some sort of community of support. For all we know, he could have become the unelected mayor of Bethesda. Somebody had to feed him; he couldn’t get up to feed himself. Somebody had to keep him supplied with drinks. Somebody had to be around to talk to or provide shelter.
Do you want to be healed? Maybe not. He may have wanted sympathy more than healing. After all, sympathy actually feels good. And with two working legs, he loses all the expressions of care and concern.
Do you want to be healed? Maybe not. He may have preferred attention to strength. If he suddenly was up on both feet, do you know what that would have made him, at least after the initial rush died down? Ordinary. Unremarkable. “Hey, I can walk!” Big deal. So can I.
Do you want to be healed? Maybe not. He may have preferred excuses to usefulness. As long as he couldn’t walk, he could depend on other people to grow his food, provide him shelter, take care of his transportation. With two working legs, the operative term becomes work! He would suddenly become responsible.
And what was possibly true of him can be true of you and me. We can whine and enshrine our PWGA to the point that it becomes our identity. Our comfort zone. Hey even “good” change is stressful. Jesus, keep your miracles to Yourself. I’d rather hang on to my anxiety. I’d rather make a bed out of my anger or jealousy. I’d rather keep feeling shame or guilt. It’s the only way I know how to live. It may appear to be a problem but it’s my problem and I’ve gotten comfortable with it. After all, if I lose my PWGA, what will I have left to gripe about?
Did Jesus just say something cruel and insensitive?
Interesting to note the mayor’s response to the question. He didn’t say yes. He didn’t say no. Instead, he started talking about everybody else. Playing the blame game. Excusing himself.
“Sir, I have no one to help me. Somebody always beats me to the water. Whaaaa!”
Is that the best you’ve got after 38 years? Apparently.
It’s also interesting to see how Jesus responded. He didn’t start a counseling session and ask, “How do you feel about that? What were your parents like? Were you bullied in school?”
He just issued an order: Get up!
Now who was this? A man who couldn’t walk!
On a surface level that may seem rather cruel – on the same level as telling a blind man, “Look here!” or saying to a deaf individual, “Why don’t you listen to me?”
Come on, Jesus, can’t you be a little more sensitive here?
Here was a guy who could only see one way to get healed – get to the “magic water.” What he had to learn was that the Maker of the “magic water” had other ideas.
What about you?
Has your PWGA left you trapped in limited thinking?
Have you decided there is no way – or only one way – that your PWGA can be fixed?
Jesus was telling a 38-year victim of futility that He would meet him at his point of weakness with His supernatural power. He just had one thing to do.
The Awkward Obvious
I guess I should point out an awkward fact about all that. That pool was lined with desperate people that day. And to our knowledge only one picked up his bed and walked home.
I guess Jesus doesn’t have anything to offer people with PWGAs if He can’t or won’t permanently fix them. Right?
Actually He does. It’s called grace. And He told the Apostle Paul, in dealing with his own PWGA, that His grace was sufficient because His strength is made perfect in weakness.
Sometimes grace removes the disease or weakness. Sometimes grace strengthens the heart to bear it. Either way, when Jesus shows up, the PWGA becomes the SMPW – the strength made perfect in weakness.
For 38 years the bed had carried the man. Now the man was carrying the bed.
What’s been carrying you for the last few years? Where have you wallowed out a comfort zone with your PWGA? Regardless, Jesus offers His grace to either remove the problem or enlarge your heart. But he requires something of you. It means you stop letting anger or futility carry you. Stop making a bed out of your discouragement jealousy or anxiety. It means you seize your discouragement by the throat and toss it to the curb.
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