Where Does Real Courage Come From?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Fierce Determination

                                                                          Reflections on Mark 2:4-5

Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. And Jesus seeing their faith…
                                                                                                Mark 2:4-5

There are options here.

They can take him home, wait for another day, and try again. Or they can stay here – at the back of the crowd – and wait it out. Maybe something will happen, something unexpected that will allow them time with Jesus.

Or they could push their way through the crowd.

It’s what happens in a time of crisis. Something fierce comes into our soul, this sense of urgency and desperation. This need to survive. We have little care for other people. We push. We force our way past them until we get what we need.

Is that how these four men felt about their friend?

Was it already happening? Could they see it? Were people trying to push their way through the crowd? The gossip on the street is that Jesus of Nazareth had become so popular, everybody was pressing in on Him – just to touch Him. 1

Should they?

Then it dawned on them. The one option no one else considered. And that’s the mystery of it all. Sometimes when we’re faced with the impossible, God opens our eyes to see the possible. He gives us faith. He breathes into our soul this fierce determination to do what He’s calling us to do. It’s not just faith in Him. Nor simply faith that Jesus -- do they know He’s Messiah? -- has power to heal.

It’s this and more.  It’s faith that knows exactly what to do next.

The roof.

Were there stairs on the side of the house? 2 How did they know the roof would support their weight? Or, if they got up there, they could break through and lower their friend down? How did they know the spot where Jesus was sitting?

Was the crowd mad at them – angry for jumping the line?

If so, it didn’t stop them. Faith had come and with it, a fierce determination to get on the roof and start tearing it apart. Did it take five minutes or did it take thirty? When did the people inside realize what was happening? When did Jesus stop teaching? Did some of the roof come down on top of them – on top of Him?

And what was it like when the digging was done?

Did joy fill their hearts as they grabbed the mat and slowly, carefully, lowered their friend down into the safe hands of those closest to Him? And what was it like to see Jesus up close? And then, to see Him have His first look at their friend?

Then up – He looks up!

To see their faces – the four friends. Each one, looking at Him expectantly. They did it! They got him in front of Jesus! Who cares about the damage to the roof? Who cares about the crowd outside that still can’t get to Him? They’ve got balcony seats to watch the Lord heal the man on the mat.

And Jesus sees it. He sees their faith – their triumphant faith -- and marvels.  3

*       *       *

A few years passed.

Walt often talked about his dad at the Friday morning men’s Bible study and would ask us to pray for him. Nothing had changed. “If anything, it’s worse,” he’d say. “He’s in his mid-seventies, working as hard as ever, married to Mom for fifty-six years, and barely talks to her – or any of us.”

For the most part, Walt rarely showed his worry over his dad. But it was there on his face, in his heart, like a man with a pronounced limp in his soul.

Then one night, about a quarter past nine, he called me at home.

“We’re in the ER,” he told me. “Dad’s had a heart attack. It’s bad. Would you mind coming down?”

It took me a little over twenty minutes to get there. Walt and Carol, his mom, his sister and her husband, and a few of the older grandchildren were in the family room. The doctor hadn’t come to see them yet.

“They’re still working on him,” Walt told me.

He asked if we could pray together, which we did. Each grabbing the other’s hand. Walt’s prayer was the most desperate, “Lord, please don’t let him die. Not yet. Not until he knows You. Please Jesus, Lord, have mercy on our dad.”

A little while later, the doctor came out.

He told us they were able to resuscitate him. “I’m not sure for how long,” he added. “His heart is severely damaged.” He explained as much as he could, answered their questions, and let two at a time go in to see him.

Over the next few days, the news got worse. “If we try to surgically repair the heart,” the doctor told them, “we’ll lose him. He’s not strong enough.” He promised to monitor any progress and to keep Walt’s dad comfortable.

“What concerns me more,” Walt told me, “is his real heart.”

We were standing outside his dad’s ICU room.

“He’s pushing us away. He’s able to speak. He talks to the nurses and doctors when they come in. He’s all there -- sound mind. Knows what’s going on. Knows he’s dying. But with us? He says almost nothing.

“So, this morning, my sister, mom, and I stood around his bed. We told him how much we loved him. Mom said things I’ve never heard her say. She talked about when they first met, things they did when they were young, things he used to say to her. He listened but could barely look at her.”

“He had no response?” I asked.

“Not really. I mean, it’s not like he was rude. He was dad -- distant, cold, uncaring. I don’t know how mom does it.”

He shook his head as tears welled up in his eyes.

“I’ve got to talk to him again. I have to at least try. I can’t let him die like this. But he’s not going to listen, is he? Not the way he is now. I keep thinking about the story of Andy and his grandfather. Do you remember?”

I did. All too well.

Andy was a college student. Maybe early twenties. A few summers back, he came to our men’s bible study and asked us to pray for his grandfather who was dying. He was almost at the point of sobbing for his “Pops” to know Jesus. “He hates God. I mean, hates Him.”

Andy had asked me to go with him to the nursing home and talk to him. And we went, several times before he died. Once, twice, three times I pressed in and told him the good news of the gospel and what happens to us when we die.

He wanted nothing to do with it. He cursed God, even to his dying breath.

“I don’t want that for my dad,” Walt said impatiently.

I nodded. I understood.

“But I don’t know what to do,” he cried, the tears coming more freely. “I’ll be real honest here. I’m afraid if I try, that’ll be it. He’ll do what he always does – rip me apart and walk away. Is that how I want it to end between us?”

I put my hand on his shoulder and began to pray.

We asked the Lord to breathe faith into his soul. Faith that knows exactly what to do next – and when to do it – and how to do it. Faith that is strong, and fierce, filled with mercy, and sent from heaven above.

He called the next morning.

“I’m ready,” he said, his voice relaxed and calm. “I don’t know how Dad will respond. But what I’m asking for is very simple. Years ago, when Zane was sick, I saw my dad – my real dad -- in the hospital waiting room. I know he’s there, somewhere beneath that calloused hard shell of his. All I need are the right tools to dig through it and find him again. That’s how I want you to pray.”

He asked me to call the men in the Bible study and get them to pray too.

“If I can have that – that’s all, just that – then I can present the gospel to him one more time. What happens after that is between him and Jesus.”

It was there -- and beautiful. A God-given faith where nothing is impossible.

1 See passages like Mark 3:10, 5:31.

2 William L. Lane, in his commentary on The Gospel of Mark, suggests, “they ascended a stairway on the side of the house to the flat roof which they broke open…” The New International Commentary of the New Testament, p, 93.
3 Our Lord simply delights in great faith – see, for example, Matthew 8:10, 15:28.

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John 15:1-11, the Vine and the branches. "Is He everything to you?