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?” (John 5:6 NIV).
From my 2012 Journal. The story of Jesus healing the disabled man at the Pool of Bethesda intrigues me. This place was a hotbed of sick folks. Did Jesus heal anyone else there that day, or did He single this man out? The Scripture doesn’t say if Jesus approached him first or if the man spoke first, but it says that Jesus SAW him there and LEARNED that he’d been in this condition for years.
Astonishingly, Jesus asks him, “Do you want to get well?” What if the man had said, “No”? How foolish we would have thought him. Of course he wanted to be well—that’s why he was at the healing pool in the first place. Yet, the question isn’t quite so odd as one might think. It’s human nature not to like change—even if it’s good for us. We do a lot of “choice” work in our ministry: Are you willing to let go of your anger? Are you willing to feel the pain? Are you willing to explore why you’re medicating with alcohol?
I don’t recall any record of Jesus asking anyone else this same question, Do you want to get well? Normally the hurting person initiates the request for healing (remember blind Bartimaeus?). A client is in my office because she’s made the choice to seek healing. I rarely approach a stranger and ask if she wants to get rid of her pain. Sometimes I’ve tested a person’s sincerity by asking, “If there was a way for you to get healed, would you want to know how?”
The crippled man’s answer is also astonishing. Instead of replying yes or no, he jumps to the defense. “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” (v. 7). (Implied: Duh, of course I do, but I don’t know how.) The Healer is in his presence, but the paralytic is looking to another source for pain removal. (“And how’s that working for you?” we sometimes ask a client.)
People go to counselors and doctors and friends and give their excuses and complaints about feeling bad, when all along The Master Healer is waiting for them to turn to the Him–the only one who has the power to heal.
Do you want to get well? What’s your excuse for not pursuing the Healer?
From my 2012 Journal. After a client processes a painful memory, often his or her response is, “I feel so much better” or “the pain is gone” or “I feel lighter.” So it’s a little startling when someone comes out of a session exclaiming, “Jesus is so wonderful!” or “God is amazing!”
These words remind me a little of the responses from those whom Jesus healed while on earth. I suspect more of them exclaimed, “I’m healed!” or “I can see!” or “I can walk!” or “My leprosy is gone!” Very few responded with “What an amazing Healer!” This is not a criticism, but an observation. We most often respond based on how something affects us. It’s human nature.
In 2009, Angus Buchan, a South African evangelist, had a heart attack while speaking to a large crowd, and he was air-lifted away to a hospital. Feeling helpless, he heard God say, “It’s not about you, Angus. You’re just the messenger.”
Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom said that at her funeral she wanted nothing to be said about her—only about Jesus. Honestly, I’m not there yet. I want to hear what people would say about me at my funeral. Even in death, apparently, I want the spotlight to be on me. I pray that by the time I die, I’ll be ready to fade into the shadows and put Jesus center stage. After all, it’s not about me, but about Christ and what He did.
From my 2009 Journal. I get a little confused when I hear others pray and teach on prayer for the sick. Chrissy claims the blood of Jesus “by His stripes we are healed” for anyone who is sick and expects instant physical healing. She had a little crisis of faith when her father passed away. One pastor says it’s weak praying to say, “If God wills” because we shouldn’t be asking for healing unless we know it’s His will. What if, he says, the illness is “unto death” and we don’t know the person’s heart? What if he/she needs to let go of rebellion before God wants to heal him/her? How can we ask if we don’t know what to ask for?
Maybe it’s God’s will that all be healed, but Man still has a will and a choice as to how he treats his body, and God is not obligated to override his choices. I can’t ask God to make a person choose something, but I can trust God to know how to get a person’s attention like He did for Jacob or for Jonah.
Somewhere there must be discernment in our prayers for the sick. The biblical author James says to pray for the sick, and the elders of the church should anoint with oil. Should we do this for every sniffle?
Sometimes I think we’re so focused on physical healing, we forget to pray for the spiritual. Jesus often mentioned the faith of the person who asked for healing. The disciples healed many sick after the resurrection. Did they stop to ask if the person wanted healing or what was preventing their healing?
Maybe our prayer for the sick could be, “Reveal to X anything that is preventing his healing, give him courage to face his pain, may God be honored through his responses and reactions, and heal his body if it will give God greater glory.”
I take comfort in the fact that God knows my heart. He can interpret my words and intent and use them for His glory. He knows me well enough to know what I believe and mean.
2020 Update. I find it interesting to look back at how I struggled 10 years ago. Those questions no longer burn in my heart. It’s not that I have fewer questions; it’s that I’m more content with not knowing all the answers. I just ask and let God sort it out. This past week a dear friend and prayer warrior had a massive stroke. The church gathered together to pray for her, but our emotions were conflicted. We wanted to see Mary Lee fully restored to health, but we opened our hearts and hands to release her to heaven. We trusted God to do what was best. Today she is dancing with the angels, and I’m okay with God saying no to the cries of our heart to give her physical life back.