Face to Face
by Mary Toepfer
Here’s the truth …
“Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven’” (Luke 5:18-20 NIV).
We wanted that job. We needed that job. That job represented so much for us that we couldn’t articulate in words. What we came to learn, though, is that what we needed most was for God to show up in a mighty way in our lives; and the answer was not that job at all. The answer was a closed door.
If I’m honest, I once thought that God was a vending machine. If I put in my earnest prayer, out would pop a reward, like the job of my dreams, an enviable home, relationships with zero conflict, a chiseled body, or success in some fashion.
But success is such a ghastly word. It’s like trying to measure the value of a victim when on a jury, determining what the victim’s contributions to society would have been worth had she not been at the wrong place at the wrong time. What dollar amount would she have made in her profession over the next thirty years? How much does one earn to have suffered as she did? How do we put a price on that?
We had decided that success for my husband meant getting a job that he never dreamed was possible but for which he found himself among the top three candidates. We prayed, planned, hoped, and predicted for six grueling months. It was truly exhausting. Yet God placed in his path many who could influence the decision makers, and several questions that were asked of him were the very ones that God had prompted him to answer during his preparation process for half a year. Had God really made the impossible possible?
Sadly, despite all of that divine intervention, the answer was a resounding “no.” We were devastated.
I bet the paralytic we read about in the book of Luke felt this way, too. His friends took him to the home where Jesus was preaching with a clear goal. They couldn’t get through the front door into the crowded space. Could they have waited outside until Jesus was finished? No. This was too important. Their paralytic friend needed a healing. So they cut a hole in the roof of the place and lowered down their friend smack dab in front of Jesus. Talk about a bunch of hecklers! Nothing interrupts a good speech better than a trapeze act.
The paralytic, facing the King of Kings, heard from Jesus’s lips: “Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20 NIV). Say what, now? The friends were probably scratching their heads the same way we were when God made so much headway for David to get the job only to close the door. The job would have brought with it a new life for us in the same way that this paralytic’s functioning body would have. But Jesus only said, “your sins are forgiven.”
Of course, looking back after several years of perspective, we are actually thankful that God protected us from that job. A myriad of roadblocks befell the person who did receive it, making it a two-year-long wait to operate in her new role. And it drew us closer to God in indescribable ways. For one, we stepped out in faith to hold some fellow Christians accountable, something we wouldn’t have done if we were leaving. Secondly, we got involved in new ministries that were less draining. Finally, we learned who our real friends are. They stepped up right away to console us and have been embracing us ever since. God led us to a green pasture of contentment unlike any job would ever bring.
The paralytic would come to see that having his sins forgiven was a much better gift than a healed body would be, just as we came to see that having Jesus so apparent in our lives was far better than any title or salary could ever deliver. We tend to forget that He has so much power that He can hold everything in His hands and keep it going. Hebrews 1:3 says, “He sustains everything by the mighty power of His command” (Hebrews 1:3b NLT). We would be wise to listen to Jesus. He can make significant things happen simply by His voice!
Our pastor recently stated that we must seek a true relationship with Jesus, not some artificial image of Him in your mind akin to when you used to pass notes to a crush in elementary school. If we keep God at the level of what we think He is like, much like we used to with our thoughts about the crush we built up in our minds before actually experiencing a relationship with that person, we sell God short. If God, in our heads, always agrees with us and never makes demands on us, then we really don’t know Him at all, our pastor said. We may as well put Him on an internet dating website and form an image of Him without ever actually planning a date and interacting with Him. If we take the time to know Him, though, we can go from being weary to having rest, from feeling isolated to being surrounded by a community, and from experiencing alienation to being in the presence of God. Worth the effort!
Although we don’t know if the paralytic was disappointed or not by leaving the same way physically as he had come, we can assume that the spiritual change in him altered how he saw God thereafter from that special moment with Jesus. We will see him in Heaven one day; however, a healing of his body at that meeting would have only been temporary. How great is Jesus to have demonstrated for us that He knows best what we need if we stop passing notes to Him and get to know Him face to face!
… and that’s the truth as I know it!