December 11, 2011
There are a number of stories in the Bible that tell of people who bring a sick friend to Jesus to be healed. One such story can be found in Matthew 9:2-8 (also Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:17-26). Usually, Christians look upon these as miracle stories, demonstrating that Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah. That seems to be the obvious message. But I have also come to believe that in much of the Bible, God has more than one message in stories such as these. Messages beyond the obvious.
In order to discern these additional, “beyond the obvious” messages, you have to use your God-given imagination. You have to “read between the lines” to discover what is not written, but is implied. For example, in most of the the healing stories I am referring to, nothing is mentioned about the people who bring the person needing healing to Jesus because they believe He is the Christ, or because God tells them what to do. They just have seen or heard around town that Jesus can heal sick people. However, it seems to me that before they even think about bringing their friend to Jesus to be healed, they must have spent considerable time in the presence of their friend, in order to know something was wrong. What this tells me is that without their even realizing it, by their presence with their friend in his or her time of need, God was using them to demonstrate His love and to provide hope for healing. I believe this is the “beyond the obvious” message in this and similar Bible stories. I believe God’s intent is to remind us that this still applies today. Through our physical presence with persons in need, God will use ordinary people like you and me as channels of God’s love and hope for those persons. Even when we don’t realize that’s what God is doing.
Let me give you a personal example. Over the past 55 years or so I have had a recurring memory of an experience in my teenage years. I was a 15 year old prescription delivery boy for Ralph Underwood’s drug store, on the corner of Lexington and West Side Avenues in Jersey City (NJ). I don’t remember any of the people to I made deliveries to, except for one elderly woman. I don’t remember her name or address, but I do remember that she always made a big thing of handing me a nickel tip (when the usual tip was at least a quarter). At first I thought to myself, “what a cheapskate”. But I soon came to realize that she was giving me what in her younger days was probably a pretty good tip. Before long, my attitude about her and the nickel tip began to change. In fact, I began to look forward to my weekly trip to deliver her medicine.
I especially remember making deliveries to her on cold winter days. I remember how my glasses fogged up as I went from the freezing weather outside and into her home, where she had a coal stove going. I could smell the burning coal as soon as I walked into her kitchen. I liked that smell. I remember how I liked the warmth of her kitchen. But what I remember most was that she would always ask me to stay for a few minutes. I remember sitting at the kitchen table while she talked for what must have been a half hour each time, until I reminded her that I had to go to make the rest of my deliveries.
I don’t remember what she talked about. It probably didn’t matter. What I do remember is that I felt good about sitting there listening to her. I didn’t know why that made me feel good. But a few years ago, when I was serving as a pastor, I was reading between the lines for the “beyond the obvious” message in the Bible story I mentioned. Probably for use in a sermon. That’s when I came to realize that God was reminding me over all those years, through this memory, that at the time, I had no idea He was using me as a means of showing His love and offering hope to a person in need. But here was this elderly, lonely woman, who had very little contact with the world outside her home.
She desperately needed someone to visit her each week. Someone who would sit and listen to her talk about whatever she felt like talking about. It was important for her to get her medicine to fulfill her physical needs, but getting the medicine to her was also one of the ways God was meeting her equally important spiritual need – the need to experience God’s love and have a sense of hope. For some reason which only God knows, for a couple of years He chose this 15 year old ordinary kid to help fulfill those needs.
The point of all this is not to give myself a pat on the back for doing a good deed about 55 years ago. The point is to remind all of us, including myself, that God still uses ordinary people like you and me, even though we might not realize it when it’s happening, or we don’t always listen for God’s directions, to work with Him to fulfill His purposes. God still finds ways to use us as channels of His love to and for others. God still uses people like us to help give others hope that their needs will be fulfilled. Hope where there once seemed to be no hope. Good news in the midst of the bads news. So be prepared to let God use you in such a way that your presence will be a gift of hope for someone.
Thanks for your attention. We look forward to hearing your comments about our web-site. We also invite you to send us stories of your experiences and observations of present hopes and hope fulfilled, so we can spread them around the world via this web-site. This is one way we can all join together to help keep hope alive.