“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
Jesus commanded the man to stand up and walk. At first glimpse this may seem like a simple request, but this was an invalid who had been sitting on his mat for 38 years (John 5:1-8).
Jesus had noticed the man as He was entering Jerusalem through one of the main gates. The invalid was reclining with other invalids alongside a pool, whose water was believed to have the power to heal.
In this Scripture passage the man was physically paralyzed and unable to walk. But he was also paralyzed in that he could not seem to help facilitate his own healing. Every time he tried to get to the water when it was stirred, which was thought to be the prime healing time, he was either too slow or was pushed out of the way by others trying to get there first. So he remained stuck. Sitting year after year on his mat, waiting for healing.
This passage has been resonating with me ever since I came back from the Rise Up, Sister gathering a few weeks ago. The outstanding speakers powerfully stirred my heart and challenged my thinking. Evident throughout the entire weekend was the genuine appreciation of how God has extraordinarily crafted each woman, designing her for specific purposes. Women were encouraged and empowered to step into the fullness of their distinctive story.
As women shared throughout the weekend I also became increasingly aware of how each of us can feel paralyzed. These are those moments, seasons, or even years where we feel unable to rise and walk into new opportunities. Where uncertainty, under-confidence, or discouragement holds us captive. Perhaps we feel frozen because we feel insufficiently experienced or qualified. Or we feel powerless to push past imposed limits, boundaries, or expectations. So we hesitate, dim our light, feeling anxious about the risks involved or how others may respond. So just like this man, we remain stuck at the gateway to an opportunity, waiting for the permission to rise.
Even the bravest of hearts can become crushed with criticism, isolation, insecurities, negative self-talk, discouragement, anxiety, stresses, suffering, or restrictions. Negativity can grind us down, leaving us flat on our mats, and unable to rise.
Regardless of why we become stuck the tragedy is that being stuck prevents us from rising into our fullness. It blocks us from busting open the beautiful truth of how God has uniquely created and called us. It can thwart us from participating in the specific story and unique destiny God has written for each of us.
At one point in their exchange, Jesus asked the man, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). This is an intriguing question. One’s immediate response is, “Of course he does! He has been sitting there 38 years waiting to be healed!” And yet, while it may seem simple, it is actually more complex. The question encourages self-reflect. Do I really want to get well? Do I really want to conquer my fears so that I can then step into the unknown and unpredictable? Am I ready to make the necessary changes and do the challenging work to become fully whole? How willing am I to take the risk of stepping into the unknown?
It is interesting that man’s initial response revealed nothing about his heart dreams or motivations. But rather, we see him reply, “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” (John 5:7).
This reply again challenges us to self-reflect. How would I have responded to Jesus’ question? Do I also offer excuses and avoid looking at my heart motives? Do I avoid accepting responsibility for the areas that I have tolerated being stuck and for allowing situations, feelings, or people to immobilize me? Am I tempted to point the finger at others, blaming them for not noticing me, helping me, or for standing in my way?
Jesus performs a miracle in this passage. When He commands the invalid who has been stuck for 38 years to get up, the man immediately rises, rolls up his mat, and walks away.
Jesus absolutely delights in partnering with us and helping us to rise. But He needs to be assured that our hearts are genuinely invested in changing.
This passage has the power to encourage us. We are challenged to listen for how and when Jesus will command us to rise and use our God-given gifts and strengths to help ourselves and others. Embracing the reality that we are never too much or too little. Cherishing the truth that God has created us to be just right for particular kingdom purposes. Trusting that when we accept His invitation to rise the opportunities that may have seemed humanly impossible, now become possible with Jesus.
And let us never by like the people who walked by this man, ignoring him as he lay paralyzed on his mat. Rather, let us be like Jesus, noticing and reaching out to any who are stuck and feeling unable to rise. Let us become like the women at the Rise Up, Sister gathering who wholeheartedly encouraged each other to rise and take a leap of faith.
Let us remove any restrictions that limit where, when, or how someone is being called to rise. And let us encourage each other to rise and courageously run through the gates into God’s best adventures.