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You Are Next: Destroy What Has Paralyzed You and Never Miss Your Moment Again
by Samuel Rodriguez
Learn More | Meet Samuel Rodriguez
Imagine sitting in the same spot on the ground day after day. You cannot get on your feet without assistance from other people. You have paralysis in both legs and need help with many of the basic functions that most people take for granted, such as bathing, dressing, and preparing meals. You feel powerless most of the time, at the mercy of a crippling physical condition that has plagued you for almost forty years.
At times you feel angry and resentful, even bitter, as you watch others casually stroll by without even a glance your way. Other times you feel so desperate as you cling to the last gossamer strand of hope for your life to change. You have heard of a place where miracles happen, where apparently a heavenly angel skims the surface of one of the temple pools. Right after the angel departs, the waters ripple with motion and drench the next person who manages to wade into the pool with miraculous healing.
You have been coming to this miraculous spot for years and years. But you move far too slowly to ever be the first one in the water after it has been stirred by an angel. You have watched others shriek with joy as injured limbs become whole, as diseased bodies return to health, as eyes and ears once blind and deaf now see and hear. It has become almost too painful to watch others receive what you long to have, what you struggle to continue to hope for, while each day, the muscles in your legs atrophy and weaken just a little more. Each day, your hope withers.
Then one day a stranger comes by and asks you the oddest question, “Do you want to get well?” It almost insults you at first, but then you think perhaps He does not realize your condition or the extent of the problem logistically. You try to explain that every so often an angel stirs up the waters, and the first person to go into the water experiences his or her corresponding healing or miracle. Even as you speak, you wonder if perhaps this stranger—He certainly looks young and strong—perhaps can finally help carry you to be the first one into the pool.
But He does not even offer.
Instead He does something no one has ever dared.
He tells you to get up and walk...
YOU ARE NEXT...
to Break the Cycle of Dependency
Today’s complacency is tomorrow’s captivity.
When our kids were small, my wife and I could not wait to take them to Disneyland—not because we wanted them to get caught up in the hype of visiting a theme park with cartoon and movie characters as much as we wanted them to experience the joy of visiting “the happiest place on earth.” Growing up in Pennsylvania, I had always wanted to go to Disney World, but our family could not afford it. As a father myself living in California, I loved being able to take my family to the Magic Kingdom and enjoy an experience I did not have as a kid.
Among the many memorable moments that day, one stands out after all these years. If you have ever visited a theme park, then you know much of your day consists of “hurry up and wait.” Everyone gets so excited about being there and enjoying all the rides and attractions. But after you enter the park and race to the first stop on your list, you usually have to wait in line, and wait some more, sometimes waiting up to an hour or longer for your turn to experience a ride lasting all of three minutes.
We had the same experience, and I have to say, with young children it seemed even longer. By early afternoon the beautiful Southern California day had become hot and sticky. The kids were getting tired and cranky. But all of us wanted to do the Indiana Jones ride, so there we stood, along with several hundred other equally enthusiastic park goers. As the lines crawled along, we could not wait to turn the corner up ahead and, we assumed, experience the thrills waiting behind the cavernous mine shaft where the ride began.
But when we finally reached what appeared to be the front of the line, we turned the corner only to see another labyrinth of chains filled with more people than we ever imagined. We were not even halfway there! Our daughter groaned, “We will never get to the front!” I tried to reassure her while struggling to imagine how this ride could possibly be worth the wait unless Harrison Ford himself sat next to us in the Temple of Doom.
“Daddy, look!” my son said. “I see a way in with no line!”
My gaze followed his pointed finger to a nearby doorway. “Buddy, the park reserves that entrance for people who are hurt or have physical conditions that make it hard for them to wait. People with disabilities or those with special needs use that entrance to get on the ride.”
“Well, let’s go through that door then because I have a special need. I can’t wait any longer!” he said.
My wife and I laughed, but his reaction indicated his seriousness. As sweat trickled down my back, I have to admit the idea tempted me. For a moment I wondered what would happen if I edged my family over to that line where we could just walk in and get on the ride. But I did not.
“I am not sure you have the kind of special need we are talking about,” I told him. “That entrance helps people who really need help.”
“Like him?” My son pointed at a young man in a wheelchair in the row behind us. I gently lowered my son’s hand and smiled in the direction of the young man in question. The man smiled and waved at my son. Wearing sunglasses, a T-shirt, and board shorts, the young man looked like any other twenty-something at the park that day except that his right leg ended at the knee, necessitating the use of the wheelchair.
“Well, yes,” I said. “He probably could use that entrance.”
Our line began to move a few feet closer.
“Then why doesn’t he?” my son said, not about to let the topic drop.
“Excuse me, but I couldn’t help but overhear you.”
Mortified, I turned to see the young man in the wheelchair now almost directly behind us in the next row. “Sorry,” I said. “It’s just that—”
“No problem,” the man said and smiled. “I understand. It is fine, really. I just overheard your son and wanted to answer his question if I may. My name’s Jeff, by the way.”
We shook hands, and I introduced myself and the members of my family.
“I do not use the handicapped entrance,” Jeff said, “because I do not think of myself as handicapped. Sure, I don’t have all of my right leg, but that does not keep me from living my life. I still go to work, play basketball with my friends, and go wherever I want.”
“Like Disneyland!” my son said.
“Exactly!” Jeff said. “You are only limited by the way you see your circumstances—not by the circumstances themselves.”
Tendency for Dependency
Our encounter with Jeff made quite the impression that day—not just on my son but on me as well. On the one hand, there we were, my son and I, being tempted to take a shortcut not intended for us simply because we were impatient. We knew we did not have a disability or a special need for a shorter line and a special entrance, but nonetheless, we did not want to wait for our turn.
Our new friend Jeff, on the other hand, provided an amazing contrast. Presumably a military veteran, he had lost half his leg and consequently had to adjust to life with this new limitation. While many people might be tempted to feel sorry for themselves, to feel entitled to take shortcuts and receive special attention, this young man had taken the opposite direction. He had shifted his attitude to one that refused to see himself as a victim of circumstances or as someone less than who God had made him. I will never forget his message: “You are only limited by the way you see your circumstances—not by the circumstances themselves.”
Please understand that I am not calling people who need special assistance due to limiting conditions victims or in any way a weaker person than someone such as Jeff. I am just pointing out the contrast between two different temptations that day, two sides of the same settle-for-less coin. My son felt it unfair to have to wait in the sweltering heat in such a long line; therefore, he should be able to take the wheelchair accessible entrance. Jeff, someone who obviously could justify taking such a shortcut due to his physical disability, chose not to use the accessible line because of the way it made him feel to do so. He had experienced a brutal, unfair injury yet refused to let it define him or change the strength of his character.
We find it easy to grow dependent on what we cannot control in our lives. We find it tempting to view life as unfair and to feel like a victim of our circumstances. And we find it convenient to stay put instead of stepping out in faith. But if we want to break our cycle of dependency and eliminate our excuses, then we have to be willing to accept all that God has for us.
Our tendency for dependency is nothing new. Throughout His public ministry Christ encountered people who often felt trapped by their circumstances or limited by their wounds. He frequently healed people suffering from physical, mental, and spiritual maladies. And with His love, power, and grace Jesus exploded their excuses and ignited their initiative to live by faith, not by sight. His encounter with a man who could not walk—and who apparently did not recognize Jesus—was brief and dramatic but carries enormous implications and application for our lives today. Take a look.
Later on, there was another festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem is a pool called Bethesda in Hebrew. It has five colonnades, and under these a large number of sick people were lying—blind, lame, or paralyzed—waiting for the movement of the water. At certain times an angel of the Lord would go down into the pool and stir up the water, and whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had.
One particular man was there who had been ill for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
The sick man answered him, “Sir, I don’t have anyone to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up. While I’m trying to get there, someone else steps down ahead of me.”
Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” The man immediately became well, and he picked up his mat and started walking.
- —JOHN 5:1–9, ISV
The Edge of a Miracle
First, note the setting described in this scene. Located near the entrance to the temple in Jerusalem known as the Sheep Gate, the pool at Bethesda likely served as a public bath where visitors could cleanse and refresh themselves before going to make their offering before God and worship Him. Archaeologists have confirmed five covered colonnades surrounded the pool, similar to small porches or open-air gazebos along the sides. Knowing that many had been healed of their infirmities when entering the pool right after its waters had been stirred by an angel, a small crowd frequented the site.
As you imagine this scene in your mind, can you see the crowd of people with disabilities? So much suffering and pain; so many broken limbs and disfigured bodies; so many groans of discomfort and cries for help. Sheep and goats bleat in the distance where they can be purchased for sacrifice while the smell of human bodies, decay, and disease mingle with the scent of eucalyptus, mint, and lavender on the warm breeze. Everyone waits, hoping to be the first into the pool once they glimpse its surface shuddering with motion from the invisible angel gracing the pool with its presence.
Then your mind’s eye tightens focus like a camera zeroing in on one lone individual. Among the many gathered there—those who could not see, those who could not walk, those who could not move at all—this man was a regular. Scripture says he had not been able to walk for thirty-eight years—more than the span of a generation. While we do not know if he had been coming to the pool for that long, we can safely guess he had.
It must have been like torture for him—lying there, so close to an opportunity for healing but ironically prevented from grasping it by the very infirmity ailing him. The physical ailment for which he desired healing kept him from the wellness right in front of him. So close, at the edge of a miracle, and yet so far away; he had little hope.
Then into the middle of this scene came Jesus, who traveled to Jerusalem and arrived at the temple to celebrate one of the Jewish feast days. Noticing the paralyzed man, Jesus learned he had been in this condition for a long time. And then we get to one of my very favorite details in this scene, the first line of dialogue in the form of Jesus’ question: “Do you want to get well?”
Of all the things our Lord could have said, the paralyzed man probably did not expect this! Think about it—why else would this man be stretched out on the ground among so many other wounded, hurting, suffering people? Didn’t everyone gather there because they wanted to get well? Only someone either very unobservant or unintelligent might be tempted to ask such an obvious question.
Why in the world would the all-knowing and all-powerful Jesus ask this poor man such a question? It would seem cruel or totally out of touch if you or I were to ask someone on crutches the same question in a doctor’s office! What was Jesus up to here? What was His motive in taking this approach with this man and his affliction? Could it be Jesus viewed the paralyzed man’s attitude as more pivotal to his healing than whether or not he could reach the pool?
This man had been unable to walk for almost four decades. But based on the Master’s question to him, we must wonder if the obvious problem was not necessarily the real problem hindering this man’s recovery and healing. He responded to Jesus not by describing his condition or the cause of it but instead indicated reasons for his inability to experience healing. “Sir,” the man said, “I have no one to help me get into the water before someone else beats me to it. I am too slow, and I cannot rush ahead of all the others in need gathered here.” I am paraphrasing and elaborating on this man’s response found in verse 7, but I do not think I am stretching the point.
The man’s reply proves just as fascinating as Jesus’ question! Paralyzed and alone, this man thought that above all he needed to find someone to help him get to the pool before the angelically stirred waters settled and lost their healing power. Curiously enough, he did not ask Jesus for help to get into the pool. Instead, he merely described his situation, emphasizing his inability to be healed. The way he saw it, he could never achieve healing on his own even though he had made it to the edge of the pool. Because he had no one to help him, he was paralyzed in a painful emotional purgatory. He could see the means of his restoration but could never reach it.
It seems almost as if this man had resigned himself to a life where what he desired most could be seen but not attained. He had given up on the miracle he saw others experiencing. Even if someone were to help him, he had convinced himself that he would never have enough speed and mobility to reach the pool in time. He would never dare to consider the possibility that a stranger would show up one day and tell him to get up and walk.
He was just stuck with no hope of being unstuck.
He believed the labels others have placed on him, and he could not imagine who he would be if he were no longer disabled.
Just Out of Reach
This paralyzed man’s predicament reminds me of a story I heard recently from a friend. He shared how he had been on vacation in Florida to visit his elderly father. At his father’s request they had gone to the greyhound races, where people would bet on which dogs would win against the other canine competitors (a sport that Florida voters recently decided to phase out by the end of 2020). These big, sleek animals have bodies like missiles and are natural hunters who can reach amazing speeds of twenty, thirty, or even forty miles an hour.
My friend does not gamble, and he did not really like seeing animals put in that kind of competitive, high-stakes situation. Nonetheless, though, he admired their graceful beauty as they streaked around the dirt track, chasing a mechanical rabbit that always remained ahead of them. But that day, however, something strange happened. The dogs were lined up and positioned to race, contained in gated lanes until the bell sounded as the mechanical rabbit darted past them.
Only this time something went wrong. The rabbit zoomed by, and the dogs dashed from their lanes, but then about hundred yards later the mechanized bunny malfunctioned and came to a screeching halt. All the spectators gasped and most, including my friend, probably expected the dogs to pounce on the fake rabbit and tear it to bits. But that did not happen. Instead the poor pups became utterly confused and did not know what to do with themselves!
My friend described it as the strangest sight. All eight dogs in the race stopped. A couple sniffed at the broken bunny and then began exploring the fence. Some found a shady spot beneath a billboard at the edge of the track. Another started to whine, clearly confused about what had happened. One even took care of some personal business right in the middle of the track, much to everyone’s amusement. But one thing became clear: without a rabbit to chase, the greyhounds lost their motivation for racing. After countless training courses and practice runs chasing after an elusive target, when the dogs faced the object of their pursuit, they did not know what to do with it!
I suspect we often act the same way. We make our lives conditional on something just out of reach. If only we could finish our degree, then we could move forward and get a great job doing what we love. If only we could be noticed for our hard work, then we would get that promotion. If only our spouse could change his or her bad habits, then our marriage would work. If only our kids could beat their addictions, then we could finally quit worrying and enjoy life again. If only we could find the right church, then we would grow in our faith.
If only...if only...if only...
But then what happens when we get our “if only”? We feel lost! We find something else to make the pivot point for our contentment, forward progress, or spiritual growth. Like the greyhounds, we chase after our rabbit but then stumble when we catch it. Like the man at the pool of Bethesda, we wait on someone else to help us get what we want. We become dependent on other people, uncontrollable events, and different circumstances because we feel powerless. We watch others get what we want to have, go where we want to go, experience what we long to do. But we feel alone, and we do not have what we need to attain what we long to have.
We remain paralyzed and watch as others experience the joy that comes from attaining what we so desperately wish we had.
We choose to remain paralyzed.
Running to Win
Can you relate to the kind of situation where you depend on someone else or something else for your life to change? How many times have you accomplished a goal or fulfilled a dream only to experience incredible disappointment?
I am a lifelong runner and have always loved to compete in 5K and 10K races. The exercise keeps me in shape and allows me to enjoy some private time with God to pray, listen, and reflect.
A few years back, at the encouragement of some of my running buddies, I agreed to sign up for a marathon about six months away. For most runners, including me, completing a marathon—or many of them—is a lifelong goal, a measurable way to know you have improved enough to compete at the highest level.
I trained and gradually began running longer and longer distances in preparation for the 26.2-mile course looming before me. I had always been more of a speed guy, so I did not enjoy going from a faster-paced short run to a slower-paced test of my endurance. But the challenge energized me, and soon I felt more and more confident that I could finish the marathon.
As I pushed myself through miles seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen, which for me seemed to be the most grueling, I often imagined myself triumphantly crossing the finish line. My wife and kids would be there cheering me on, congratulating me, and celebrating my accomplishment. I could envision the scene clearly, and it motivated me to complete many a workout in anticipation of race day.
But on race day when I crossed the finish line, my joy did not last very long. Yes, Eva and my kids were there, excited to see me in my moment of glory and proud of the work I did to cross that line. But after rehydrating with lots of Gatorade and enjoying a huge plate of pasta, I felt disappointed. Now what did I have to look forward to? Like those greyhound dogs with no rabbit to chase, I needed a new goal. But even as I plotted my next race—a triathlon, maybe?—I knew the result would always be the same.
Growing up, I often heard my mother say, “Be careful what you ask for—you might get it!” I did not understand what she meant at the time, but later her meaning sank in. If you do not pursue God, you will always be disappointed. Although I pursued Him completely, I still experienced the letdown that comes from attaining something I had allowed to define me.
I had to come to terms with what I expected—and why. Otherwise, it did not matter how many races I ran. I could win the Boston Marathon, but it would not be enough.
Whether we find ourselves paralyzed and lying on the ground or running a marathon, we can only break our dependency on defining ourselves by our circumstances if we wrestle with Jesus’ question.
I ask you, my friend, Do you want to get well?
Victors Not Victims
Paul summed up my marathon experience quite well by using the way we race as a metaphor for our relationship with God and our pursuit of Him: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Cor. 9:24– 25). He knew firsthand that no matter how significant our achievement or how devastating our loss, we win our race of faith by focusing on Christ.
I fear that too often we remain dependent on “if only” and “what if” in our lives. We come up with reasons why we cannot experience the full, abundant life Jesus told us He came to bring (John 10:10). We wait on someone else to help us while feeling sorry for ourselves because we cannot make it to the source of healing on our own. On one extreme we make excuses for taking ourselves out of life’s races, while on the other we chase after our gold medals and then wonder why they do not satisfy us.
We find the solution, of course, in breaking the cycle of dependency in our lives and taking responsibility for doing what God tells us to do. And I am not sure Jesus could be any clearer in His command to the paralyzed man—and to us today! “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk,” our Savior said (John 5:8).
While this paralyzed man with tunnel vision focused solely on his physical disability and inability to receive healing, Jesus, of course, saw a much bigger need. Our Lord knew that this poor man could not be truly healed until he let go of the preoccupation that had defined him for the previous thirty-eight years. Jesus understood how this painful condition had become the center of the man’s identity. The fact that we do not know his name—that he is identified at first only as an invalid—tells us as much.
What deficit have you allowed to define you? What limp, injury, or disease do you carry in your soul even though your body recovered from your wounds? How do you answer Jesus’ question to you: “Do you want to get well?”
Before you answer with an automatic affirmative, I challenge you to stop and think about what you know to be true based on how you have lived your life until now. Christ offers you the same healing He gifted to the man that day at the pool of Bethesda. But will you do anything necessary to receive it? Will you choose to pick up your mat and walk? Or will you continue waiting on someone else to carry you to your miracle?
If we genuinely desire wellness—and I am talking about health and wholeness in all areas of our lives: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual—we must be willing to let go of the labels we have allowed to define us. We must move beyond the barriers we allow to limit us from day to day. We must choose to stop seeing ourselves as victims of our circumstances and instead start seeing our circumstances as subject to the authority and healing power of Jesus Christ. We are victors, not victims!
We also have to let go of the qualifications we might be tempted to tack on to Jesus’ command to get up and walk. From my own experience and what I have observed in the lives of others, we often make excuses even after we have accepted Christ and have the Holy Spirit within us. We have the gift, but we do not want to open it! We have the power, but we do not want to welcome it! We have our miracle, but we do not know how to move forward after being paralyzed by dependency for so long.
We want healing, but we want it on our terms. “Yes, Lord, I want to be well as long as I do not experience too much pain or pay too much. I want to be well, but I really do not want to face the uncertainty of change.” But healing and miracles might not necessarily be offered on our terms. If they were, many of us would always be waiting on someone to carry us to our miracle instead of accepting the miracle Jesus offers us where we are.
I love that the paralyzed man did exactly what the Lord asked him to do and immediately and instantaneously experienced complete healing. Atrophied muscles tingled with strength and twisted tendons straightened. The man stood and realized he did not need anyone to carry him anywhere! Jesus offered healing with no strings, no contingencies, no rituals. This man could have responded to Jesus’ command to stand up with sarcasm, bitterness, anger, or fear. But that did not happen.
Instead this man wanted to get well no matter what it might cost him. He instantly let go of his excuses, his past, and the identity tied to his condition, and he stood on his own feet. He picked up his mat and took that first step and then another and another. In doing so, he broke the cycle of dependency that had left him lying continually on the edge of a miracle but never in its embrace.
Answer in Obedience
In this amazing scene we witness a paradigm for moving from dependency and paralysis to independence and mobility. The paralyzed man had accepted he would likely never get healed—after all, he did not even ask Jesus to help lift him up and carry him into the pool. This man assumed he could never do what needed to be done, never attain what he seemingly longed for so very much. Year after year this man sank deeper and deeper into a mire of emotions: fear, self-pity, hopelessness, and despair.
He depended on others for his breakthrough.
He depended on others for his healing.
He depended on others for his miracle.
But then he encountered Jesus!
When you depend on others more than you depend on God, you will never see the fullness of what God purposed for you. When you depend on others more than you depend on God, perpetual paralysis will define you. When you depend on your weaknesses to define you or your successes to fulfill you, then you paralyze yourself at the edge of the miracle God has for you.
For too long we have depended on others to make us happy.
We have depended on others to make us complete.
We have depended on others for our breakthroughs.
We have depended on government, on the media, and on popular culture to teach our children right and wrong.
We have depended on social media to help us define ourselves the way we want others to see us.
We have depended on settling for less than God’s best rather than trusting Him for the miracle we need to experience healing.
The time has come for change! The time has come to hear the voice of Jesus asking, “Do you want to get well?” And the time has come to answer Him with your obedience.
Your destiny does not rest in someone else’s hands.
Your future does not rest in someone else’s hands.
Your family does not rest in someone else’s hands.
Your destiny, future, and family rest in the hands of the One who loves you, saves you, redeems you, and heals you. Jesus said, “No one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). My friend, the time has come to let go of your excuses, move beyond your conditional living, and break your cycle of dependency.
The time has come to stand!
The time has come to step out in faith!
Have you been waiting all your life for your turn to be healed?
You are next!
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