Barriers to Growing in Christ
GOD AS OUR SAVIOR John 3-5; 14-15 Barriers??
What God Desires
Others ↑ ← ß ME à →↓ Self
Environment and Experiences
GOD AS OUR SAVIOR
John 3-5; 14-15 Barriers??
Have you ever wondered what blocks us from increasing our trust and faith in Jesus Christ?
In the last two articles, we have been discovering causes and motivations that block us from encountering Jesus Christ, and what blocks us from knowing Him as Savior-as in, what prevents our conversion. For this, we looked at a man who desired to know the truth but was cut off with the barrier of pride and traditions. Then, we looked at what prevents us from growing in our faith and those barriers that keep us stagnate. For this, we saw a woman, who by her choices of sin and rebellion, built a wall of shame around her, cutting off the living waters that renew and refresh. Yet, our Lord goes to these people and presents a battering ram to a seemingly impenetrable barrier and leads them to the ultimate reality and purpose in life which is He, Jesus Christ the Lord!
Now, we are at the threshold of a turn of events in the Gospel of John, after the introduction of the Word and the miracles that proved Christ's claims, and we see the events that lead to our Lord's Passion. We see an encounter with a sick man that rattles the comfort zone of the religious leaders to the point that they seek the destruction of the Christ. For thirty-eight years, a man sat by a pool that supposedly had healing properties. He sat and was determined to be healed, but somehow he was not able to get into the water to be healed. He was a man with all kinds of excuses and reasons why he could not get in and get on with his life. He faced a barrier to growing further, a choice concerning doing more with his life and his relationship to God, and he chose to sit and wait; the result was nothing but despair and excuses. So, what does our Lord say to this man, one who had lost all hope, which causes such a fervent response from the religious leaders? Do you want to be healed? This is a seemingly strange question, for who would not want to be healed or restored to a better place in life? This healing brings our Lord toe to toe with the religious leaders of His day. They ignore their own law while they lift up their presumptions and rules as if they were gods, and in so doing, repress the people away from the truth. The uproar ultimately leads to our Lord's persecution and crucifixion.
These events take place at a pool that people flocked to for healing. You may have seen stories on TV where an image of the Virgin Mary attracts swarms of devotees claiming healing and miracles, or a TV preacher waves his hands and utters phrases as people fall backward, claiming to be healed. These places for healing were very popular. Perhaps the mineral salts and the hot temperature provided the body with the nutrients to promote healing; perhaps it was just psychosomatic; but, culturally, it was a place to go to be made well. During our Lord's time on earth, before modern hospitals and medicine, these places for healing were overflowing with people who were desperately seeking relief from their ills. They were called "healing shrines" and were common in the ancient world. Jesus stops by at a time when the pool was even more crowded than usual, as the people were hoping for an extra miracle of healing because of the feast day, possibly the "Feast of the Tabernacles" (Ex. 23:16; 34:22; Lev. 23:34-43; Num. 29:12-40; Duet. 16:13-16).
It is interesting to point out that this pool of Bethesda was considered a myth by liberal attackers of the Bible until it was discovered and excavated around 1967. The pool is located in the north part of the Temple Mount, near what was called Sheep Gate-just as the Bible described. There you might be, sitting in a mineral bath, wondering what that smell was, and it was because of all the sheep going in and out right beside you!
Undoubtedly, healings did occur there. Just as today, healings take place in these special areas where people go; believing one can be healed is a very powerful motivational and psychological event. When people believe they are going to be healed, and they are in a place where healings supposedly occur, and they do the expected thing, many of them are healed. Perhaps it is a miracle, as I believe; perhaps some fake it for attention, while others are only temporarily healed as their will power overtakes their symptoms for a while. Thus, the pool at Bethesda had established a reputation as a place where people could be healed. Here is a man who labored for thirty-eight years to get in the water first so he could be healed-a seemly example of sheer determination and perseverance!
I used to think that this man lay at the pool at Bethesda for 38 years, but the Bible does not say that; it says he had been ill for 38 years. We do not know why, but it was probably because of some wasting disease-perhaps cancer, tuberculosis, or multiple sclerosis. Some ailment immobilized him and prevented him from walking, or walking well enough to get where he wanted or needed to be. In any event, his disease made him unable to walk for 38 years, almost as long as his ancestors wandered in the desert. So, here was a great crowd of people-paralyzed, blind, lame, sick-all waiting for the water to be stirred. Out of that crowd Jesus picked one man. He did not empty the five porches, healing everybody. He did not invite them all to come down so that he might lay hands on them; He went to only one man. Perhaps, because he was the neediest and the most helpless, Jesus was drawn to him; after 38 years, he would seem to fit the bill.
Perhaps, we all can see ourselves in a similar situation; perhaps you are in a similar situation and are physically ill or stuck in your journey of life. You may not be literally in a healing shrine, but you feel incapacitated in your spiritual walk or stagnate in your life. To the point, you feel helpless, weak, crippled, and lame. Whether you are literally lying at a healing shrine or seeking a change from the situation you are in now, you need help. We all find ourselves paralyzed at times, unable to do the thing we want or should do, or what we are called to do. Maybe we have come to a barrier in our spiritual growth that has stopped us dead in our tracks. We can see where we need to go, but we have no idea how to get there. We have hit a roadblock where the Lord has called us to go in our spiritual journey and growth. We have come face to face with a barrier that lames us; thus, spiritually, we cannot walk very well.
John goes on to say what Jesus did.
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)
Maybe you are thinking what a strange question that was to ask of a man who had been sick for 38 years! Do you want to be healed? How can someone not want to be healed? After all, he showed his persistence. But, Jesus never asked a silly or irrelevant question. Obviously, this question was important for this man to answer; maybe it is for us, too! The simple question is-do we want to grow deeper in the precepts of the Word and character of Christ? In other words, do we want to go through the barrier that stops us dead in our tracks? Jesus asks that question just as if you were in a 12 step program where you have to admit your need and your higher power before you can go anywhere out of your drunken state!
I have even seen many people turn their backs on real help. Instead of seeking help for a drinking problem, they stay drunk, destroying all of their relationships, career, hopes, and life. To continue to be sick is a powerful chain that holds us down. Sometimes, it is all we have and all we know, and we fear to venture into wellness. For the Christian, stuck in their faith, he or she has to want to grow in order to grow. The desire to draw near to God will bring down any barrier blocking us from that goal. We have to want to get well in order to do so. We have to want to be more mature and to have more character in order to be people of maturity and good character. Ask any doctor how important a desire to live and get well is for the patient's recovery, and most will say, assuredly, it is quintessentially important. When a patient gives up, he or she will usually get worse, and sometimes even die. The way of deliverance from suffering is blocked by the bricks the patient laid down himself because he or she did not want to be healed. Of course, sometimes, our willpower and desires cannot help us. Nonetheless, whether we are in a spiritual encounter, a medical surgery, or in therapy, the desire to get well or grow is powerfully important.
People who are weak in the faith or stagnate in their spiritual growth are that way, for the most part, because they do not want to receive divine help with their problems. They do not see God as the Equipper and Sustainer of their lives. They do not want to be helped out of their weakness; they either think they can do it on their own, or have given up. They love their weakness; their helplessness it is their comfort and identity. Perhaps it is the attention; perhaps it is from years of discouragement, and they are so beaten down they do not want to look up. They rarely, if ever, will seek the help of another. Perhaps it is anger or pride; whatever the case, they either tend to crave the attention of others through their helplessness, or hide under the bed of discouragement. The result is stagnation and ignoring the One who can bring them comfort. I believe we can all be there at one time or another. I know I have been.
I believe this man's answer was just an excuse.
"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."
He seemed to want to stay as he was while, at the same time, wanting out of his misery. He is saying that he wants to be healed, but also says he has tried but cannot. It seems he is determined to be hopeless. Have you felt that way? Have you, or have you known people who have given up hope, feeling that they have tried and, yet, see no way out? They see no way, from a human viewpoint, so they have resigned themselves to their barrier. Maybe you have tried to stop drinking but feel you cannot, or that you can control it. Maybe you do not see any hope for your marriage; maybe it is pornography, or pride. It is amazing to me how many people carelessly feel they are in control of something that really has control of them. You have heard of the person who says, "It's easy to stop smoking. I've done it hundreds of times!" Perhaps you have tried to correct things and have failed. You have asked for help but nobody seems to care; and, it only gets worse.
You cannot help someone who does not want to be helped. We have to realize that for us to go anywhere in life as a Christian, as our Lord moves among us, He will only ask this question of those who want to be healed. He may say nothing to those who do not or will not look to Him. It has been my experience and research that most Christians may not have reached the place this man had reached yet. They are not helpless enough yet. They are not ready to give up on human efforts to solve their problems. They have not realized their need or the plan that God has for them. They are not ready to admit they cannot make it on their own. They are still determined to get into the water by themselves when it is stirred, when they determine to do so, when it is their will regardless of God's will. Jesus usually works within the parameters of what we will allow, so when we put up barriers, although He could easily penetrate them, He chooses to do nothing for those who do not want His help (Psalm 139 1-24; Isaiah 40:29; Jeremiah 29:11; Matthew 7:7-11; 9:12-13; Mark 9:23-24; John 3:16-18; 14:1-3; Philippians 2:12-13).
What would you say to such a person; hang in there, dude! Stay the course and you will prevail! I will pray for you. Hey, do you need a new mattress? Jesus simply heals him. Not only does He heal the man, but He takes away his crutch and identity as a sick man. So, now he has no choice but to venture back into life and relationships. We may not be able to dramatically heal someone else or ourselves, but we can see what keeps us planted where we are. This man had a mat and an inability to walk. Jesus gives him the ability to walk, and takes away the mat so he does not regress. We can easily grow sometimes, but, then it does not take much for us to go back to our old ways. We have to get rid of the mat-the items and ideas that keep us stagnate. If it is pornography, we have to get rid of the magazines and websites. If it is alcohol, we have to go dry, get rid of it all, and get help. If it is our spiritual growth, we have to ask ourselves what it is that holds us back-is it fear? Busyness? complacency? bad ideas of what faith is, and how to use it? bad role models? not in a small group or Bible study? Or, what?
Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
In those words, Jesus is saying something very important to those who need to be healed or helped; do not make any plan to go back to whatever you have done in the past that kept you oppressed and sick. Many people fail right there. We have to pour out the alcohol, get rid of the drugs, burn those magazines-and the most important thing, the surrender of our pride! Say, no, to the friends who have been luring you on into evil. You will probably find that some of them will come back with you. Cut off any possibility of going back. Let somebody know the new stand you have taken so that they will help hold you accountable. This is what Jesus is saying.
Jesus wants us to walk, that is, to grow in our faith with the goals of heartfelt worship and devotion that are contagious to others. He wants us to have a Christ-centered life, not a self-centered life. Jesus wants us to succeed in life, and we do this by desiring to grow His Way, removing the distractions, problems, and potential problems that become barriers that hold us back. If the sick man held onto his mat, he would have held onto his past identity and problems. The mat would have become the chain to pull him back-back to despair, back to hopelessness.
The want we are to have is determination. Determination is the ability to make difficult decisions and accomplish God's goals based on the truths of God's Word, regardless of the resistance that may be encountered. It is the ability to point ourselves toward Godly pursuits, and not allow ourselves to be distracted or discouraged (Psalms 33:15; 119:29-30; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Timothy 4:7, 8; Hebrews 12:12-13). If we are not doing this, then we are in the realm of weakness, discouragement, powerlessness, and faintheartedness. These dire mindsets allow us to give up way too soon, when all we had to do was hang in a bit longer. Determination requires community; you have to have others to help you in accountability and learning; you cannot do it just on your own! These characteristics lead you to distrust God's provision and forbid others to help you. If you are not determined to exhibit character, the rotten works of Galatians 5:19-21 will find their way to you and even take you over!
Righteous determination requires persistence in order to overcome barriers that hold us back-those that can be overcome by more effort, right thinking, clear goals, and help from others. Obstacles that are wrong, misplaced, or laden with sin are the ones we are to hurdle first. We are to honor obstacles and timing that God gives, and not rush through with matters for which we are neither called nor ready. Our study of His Word, our prayer life, and listening to good, godly advice will be our keys to unlocking the right doors and making sure we do not open the wrong ones. Our determination needs to be governed by righteous desire, commitment, and dedication to God's principles. You are on the right track when it is your desire to smash sin and the idols in your life. If you have the desire to transform laziness or wrong direction into ways you can improve with good, Biblical, quality goals, you are on the right track. If you are driven by pride or just the motivation to excel at all cost, it is a good bet you are on the wrong track and not in this Godly Character of determination-just into yourself.
Now the reaction! Jesus dares to heal a man who is in dire distress, a man whom others have passed by for the 38 years he was sick. And, He did this on the Sabbath! The Law of Moses said that the Jews were to keep the Sabbath and not do any work on that day. The rabbis had carefully studied that regulation, and figured out 39 different ways the Sabbath could be violated by certain types of work. Then, they added many extra ways in addition to those. Jesus violated one of the laws of the Pharisees, taking out of context the passage, Do not bring any burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day (Jer 17:22).
The man had gone to the temple because the Law required that one who had been healed had to make a thanksgiving offering. Jesus knew where to find him, a man who received an incredible gift of healing. Now, he has been made whole and forgiven, and has received a call. These are the same gifts we receive when we accept Christ.
"It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat." But he replied, "The man who made me well said to me, `Pick up your mat and walk.'" So they asked him, "Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?" (John 5: 10b-12 NIV)
What were their real motivations for attacking Jesus? Perhaps, they had never helped this man or done much helping of anyone, and here comes someone who does! Nobody likes to be shown up-especially hypocrites! So, instead of saying, wow, you are healed; wow, Praise God, they decided to go after, with vengeance, the person who healed him. Perverse, wicked, strange, or, we can just say, human. So, they found a regulation from their own law-not God's Law-and used it to go after Jesus. It would be like being stopped by a police officer; you did not break any law, but you broke one of his personal "pet-peeves," so he writes you a ticket for driving a Toyota instead of a Chevy. The man is thinking that he is in big trouble. The Law said that anyone caught bearing a burden on the Sabbath was to be stoned. This punishment was not often carried out, but still the man is in real trouble. Yet, he seems to hold no gratitude or loyalty to the One who healed him. Notice that the minute this man gets in trouble, he blames Jesus and passes the responsibility; yet, Jesus is there, bailing him out.
Jesus was violating their traditions; how dare He do that, they claimed! How does Jesus violate our personal traditions? How is Jesus being offensive to me? By finding that out, you will grow, and a major barrier will be removed. Cannot think of anything? What about our perceived concepts, presumptions, assumptions, goals, habits, or aspirations? SIN? Jesus tends to get in the way of what we want, when what we want is sin and bad for us as well as for those around us. So, our fallen tendency is to attack the messenger and not the message, just as the hypocritical Jewish leaders did with Jesus. We know in our hearts that we are wrong, but we cannot argue our way out of it, so we attack the person. In logic, this is called the ad hominemargument which is an argument against the person, not the substance of the argument. For example, I do not like Suzie's dress so I do not have to listen to her. I do not like Jesus' call to dicipleship; I will refuse to believe that He is God so I do not have to listen to Him. We attack Jesus because we cannot refute His truth and what He has called us to.
The leaders hid behind their traditions, and as they continued to add countless regulations to the original, the original became too distant to see; they built a barrier of traditions that prevented them and the people who followed them from ever seeing the One True God and His plan for them. Let us not do this heinous act. They felt they were justified by their acts. We can come up with all kinds of ideas and arguments for why we should stay the way we are. Yet, these ideas are persecutions to our Lord. These are ideas that keep us back from His plan and our continued growth in Him. It prevents us from being effective with others in our relationships and opportunities (Mark 7:8).
For us to develop trust and break down those barriers so we can grow deeper in Him, we have to realize what He is doing. We have to see that His truth is for us today. God is working in this new twenty-first century; God is willing and able to work in you! He is working in international events; He is working in the pressures and problems that come to each one of us; He is working in the very circumstances in which you find yourself in today, whether at home, work, school, or in relationships. What you need to know is where God is moving in your life, and then work with Him. Allow Him to carry you over that barrier so you can be His instrument to yourself and others. Then, allow this choice to endure-to be in line with what God does. Only God's work will last. He desires for us to become good and to grow, and He provides the means for us to become good and to grow!
We must have more in our spiritual arsenal than just belief. We must have more in order to grow in Him and make our faith and relationships work. Our faith cannot just be academic, an idea, or even just a hope; it has to be real. Judas was an example of a person who knew about Christ. He had the knowledge and first hand experience that we do not have; yet, he did not put it into practice. To him, Jesus was just an idea and a hope for his agenda and purpose. Judas was not willing, and thus, not able to abide. When his storm came, he failed, betraying his Lord; so, he fell away. His foundation was sand, made up of grains of false expectations, misplaced hopes, false ideas, and a skewed determination. He knew the will of God, but he did not obey the will of God.
Is there some area of your life where you want to be healed? If you say, "Yes," He will say, "Then stand up, take up your bed, and walk." Perhaps, a miracle will occur; perhaps, it is your attitude that needs to change. In any account, our plight is temporary in the scope of eternity; focus on Him; overcome those barriers!
Need some further, practical help? I know I always do. Along with the classic disciplines of our faith, consistent Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, accountability, study, and combating sin will enable us to strive to do more with rearranging our mindsets, and we can avoid some of the traps that keep us from growing. Here are some thoughts (Ecclesiastes 12:13):
- Be willing to keep your spiritual life foremost: We are not to live a separated life, one of a weekly personal life and then a Christian Sunday life. Our faith must infuse us at all times and places. We are to be true and surrendered to Christ, as in a good marriage where the spouses are in love and supportive, and not there as an arrangement for convenience. Our role is to be a fighter of sin and the ones who embrace Christ. Do not forsake your prayer life or down size it to just a few, one-sided conversations. Do not allow your spiritual growth to be a hit and miss; this is your priority (Isa. 55:1; 1 Cor. 1:24; Rom. 6:15-23; Gal. 1:6; 2:20-21).
- Be willing to look ahead: Take the time to organize, prioritize, and prepare for what lies ahead of you in life. Do this at the start of a new year, a new week, or, at the very least, pop your head up and look around and ask, what can I do, in the days to come, to make the most of my relationship with Christ and the gifts and opportunities He gives? Use this mindset to develop an action plan to grow in your faith with consistent Bible reading, prayer, study, worship, and accountability (Jer. 35:15; Rom. 1:6; 2 Tim. 1:9).
- Be willing to prevent stress from getting to you: Life is not easy, and we are never told we will have problem-free lives as Christians-only that He will carry us though them. Have the confidence that Christ is at work and has a plan for you. Relax in His arms by exercising your faith and looking to the hope you have in Christ. Being uptight and stressed out will do you absolutely no good; it will not make the problems go away; in fact, they will become worse as a barrier of stress will block your way to recovery and success. Being happy and content is something you make-not take. It has to be declared. See problems as opportunities to learn and grow (Rom. 5:1-5; James 1: 2-8; 2 Pet. 1:3-4).
- Be willing to prevent "over-busying" yourself: One of the great works of the devil is to get us so busy with good things we never look up to see what is ahead. Then, we never have the time for the really important things in life such as our family, and, of course, God. Even if it is good stuff at church, working with Christian organizations, volunteering (an important job), or being a missionary, if you have no time for your walk with God, you will find yourself behind a very big barrier indeed. Busyness will tie you up like a bandit and leave you no room for growth or exercising the opportunities and call Christ has for you. Slow down and make the time; prioritize and persevere (Prov. 1:24; Isa. 45:22; 1 Pet. 2:9)!
- Be willing to not be a slave to guilt: You cannot change the past; you cannot go back in time and undo the wrong choices you have made. What you can do is look ahead; strive to make wise choices in the days that lie ahead. Seek forgiveness and reconciliation, and be committed to character from now on. Realize the grace and forgiveness Christ has given you. When we feel badly about ourselves, we become trapped in a shame that will not allow us to move ahead and embrace what Christ has for us. Do not procrastinate; get up and get going (Psalm 73:24; John 10:10; Phil. 2:5-8).
To do this, you need help. That is what the Church is for, a community of Believers that worships God and helps one another out-in life, and in growth through Him.
Righteousness cannot be achieved by any human effort; we can do nothing outside of Christ. God's will is in complete control; we must remove whatever is blocking us to realize this. Pleasure, and those choices that are deliberately contrary to His character, will leave you smack dab in front of an impenetrable barrier. Receive His grace and sanctification for your life (Duet. 33:27; Rom 7:7-25; Rev. 1:17). We have many resources to help you, see our article on "How to Draw Deeper to God Drawing near to the heart of God."
Read John 5:1-15 and make some observations:
1. What would you do if you were sick and someone came up to you and asked, "Do you want to get well?"
2. What are you like when you are sick? What are your attitudes and behaviors to God and to others?
3. What are your thoughts about the sick man?
4. What are the barriers that this sick man may have had to over come in order to accept who Christ was?
5. What blocks you from increasing your trust and faith in Jesus Christ?
6. The question we have to ask ourselves is, "What barriers do I place in the way of knowing Christ as my Lord"? What about barriers to knowing Christ; barriers to growing in Christ; barriers to following His will?
7. How are you sick and perhaps crippled, unable to move forward in Christ?
8. What barriers do we place in the way of worshiping Christ in a deeper, more heartfelt way? Consider what distracts you. Remember, worship is not just a service; it is a lifestyle!
9. What keeps you behind the barriers? Where is your life spent in time, purpose, thinking, relationships, service…?
10. What are you doing that is sin? How are you going to remove the sin?
11. Look over the Barriers to Discipleship Chart. Maybe you feel you are OK in your faith and barriers are not a problem. But, what ideas and/or mindsets do you have that keep you from growing deeper in the faith?
12. Can you make a plan to grow further in the faith? Of course you can! But, are you willing? Draw up a spiritual action plan. Just as a business plan is essential to establishing vision and building a business, so is establishing a plan to build your faith.
a. What is the goal of this plan?
b. How will you accomplish this goal?
c. Who will help keep you accountable?
13. Are we in battle for Jesus or for ourselves? What does God require? Are we maintaining a cause-or Christ?
14. Am I willing to allow God to be God, to sanctify me beyond my comfort zone, experiences, and expectations?
Are you lying in the pool waiting for a miracle? Are you trying your hardest, striving to become a better Christian, yet finding little to no growth or change? Then, you have to ask yourself, am I doing this on my own efforts or ideas? We have to reach out. He reaches out to us first, but we still have to exercise our faith and remove our will to receive Him. This is true in our salvation and every step of our growth in Him. You can become the person that God uses, one whom you, and others, admire!
When we remain obedient, faithful, and take seriously our call to be disciples and make disciples, He will show us the way. Just think of His blessings, and the joy of being in Him (James 1:2-8). Most of the time, what holds us back from growing in Christ is not just sin; rather, it is the refusal to realize His divine power. We are ignorant of what He can do, and are afraid even when we do know to follow.
Here, Jesus calls to you to rise up and walk. To walk, we must desire to do so; to grow, we must desire to do so!
© 1992, revised 2004 Richard Krejcir Into Thy Word Ministries http://www.intothyword.org/