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You May Have Already Won!
Do you get the letters, usually in oversize envelopes, sometimes with smiley Ed MacMahon's photo, announcing YOU MAY HAVE ALREADY WON! They want you immediately to send in your subscription or voucher so you won't miss out. You may have already won, they promise.
A new one came to our house recently. "Congratulations, Mr. Norris, you've won a guaranteed prize...An immediate reply is required, however, to claim your prize...Upon receipt of your voucher, you'll also qualify to win cash prizes in our 1991 Sweepstakes." Wow! Aren't you excited? Or, do you smell a gimmick, a come-on? There is no free lunch, they say.
However, I've got great news for you this morning. You have already won, and it only costs your faith. Blind Bartimaeus was sitting by the roadside on the outskirts of Jericho. Probably, this was his regular spot. Bart was a panhandler, a beggar. There were no SSI or welfare checks in those days. Bart sat by the road which was the principal route between the northern province of Galilee and Jerusalem. There were particularly large crowds on this occasion as it was nearing Passover, and every Jewish male who lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem was required to go to the temple.
The crowd was especially noisy and Bart inquired what was happening. When he heard it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout. He cried out to Jesus to have mercy on him, and give him his sight. Jesus said, in effect, you already have it; you've already won! Jesus said, "Go; your faith has made you well." Jesus didn't do anything. He didn't pray, or give Bartimaeus salve or any kind of ointment. He didn't even touch him. And, there was nothing, besides believe, Bartimaeus was required to do. He didn't have to return the voucher, or buy a subscription. He had already won.
This is a remarkable incident. This simple story contains the prescription for healing; it contains the principles of change, the process of conversion. Is there something in your life you'd like to change? Something to be healed? Perhaps your anger needs to be controlled? Or, are you a negative person? Or, addicted to a drug or tobacco? Estranged from a loved one or friend? Depressed? Physical ailment?
Psychotherapist Judith C. MacNutt in her article, "How I Discovered Inner Healing," in the July issue of Weavings magazine, describes how difficult it is to change.
One-third of the people undergoing psychiatric care show improvement while the other two-thirds either refuse to change their attitudes towards life or simply find themselves incapable of making the necessary changes. We have all experienced how extremely difficult it is to change our own lives...Even if a counselor is successful in uncovering the suppressed or repressed root cause of the problem, the patient lacks the energy to respond...Issues such as self-worth, shattered will, and impaired self-image are at the heart of most of our dysfunctions. I discovered within each client a distorted image that continuously condemned and criticized the person's true self. This harsh inner judge grows stronger through the years and becomes very difficult to silence...Denial becomes a way of life because our pain is so intense. Shame dwells in the very core of our inner self.
It is not easy to change. It is not a simple matter of will power to make changes, or to find healing, physical or inner healing. But, Bartimaeus was healed. He found help. He found his life turned around, for not only did he receive his sight, but he joined the band of those who followed Jesus into Jerusalem. Let's look closely at Bart's experience, and discover the principles of winning. You have already won, declares Jesus, but how do you receive the prize?
First, Bartimaeus admitted his need. Obvious, you might say. Perhaps, but a lot of us are prevented from being healed or changed because we won't admit there is anything we need to be healed of, or changed from. In liturgical language, we begin with confession, confession of sin, confession of need, recognition and confession. Many of us try desperately to present the best face we can to our business associates, or neighbors, or even ourselves. We cover up our needs, bury our sins, overlook our shortcomings, and then wonder why we don't get blessed. Why do all the good, joyful things happen to people like Bartimaeus, we wonder. Why? Because Bartimaeus admitted he had a need. He could not see.
He was very clear. He knew precisely what he wanted. Too often our prayers are vague and sentimental. What are you looking for? Do you know? When we go to the doctor, we identify the problem. Saying to the doctor, "You're the doctor; you discover my pain," doesn't get us too far. When we go to the dentist, we don't want him to pull just any tooth. We have a specific, painful tooth in mind. The first step in being changed by Jesus is to admit and identify the specific need.
Secondly, Bart asked for help. He cried, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." He prayed to Jesus, "Let me see again." Dr. MacNutt in the Weavings article tells how she discovered the power of asking God, the power of prayer. She was very concerned about a patient named Elizabeth. Elizabeth had tried to commit suicide. She was only 27 years old, but looked much older, broken and shattered by life. She could barely speak. Her sighs and silence spoke volumes. Her hopelessness filled every corner of the room. Elizabeth had been raped by her father. Her mother had failed to protect her. She had suffered several broken, abusive relationships, and then, the final blow. Her baby son died.
Dr. MacNutt, in desperation trying to find a way to approach and help Elizabeth, began to pray. "Lord, what can I do?" she prayed, repeating it over and over. Then, a warm, loving presence surrounded her, and she sensed God's love and deep concern for Elizabeth. Suddenly she realized her broken, desperate patients were God's children, God's creation, the ones Jesus had died for. She went to the telephone, called some Christian friends and asked them to pray for Elizabeth.
The next morning, Dr. MacNutt found Elizabeth a changed woman. Her depression had lessened, and she now wanted to talk. She wanted to describe an unbelievable experience that had happened to her the previous evening at 11:00, precisely the time the doctor and her friends were praying. Elizabeth had been awakened, and became aware of a light in her room. The light, which she recognized as coming from Jesus, enveloped her, spreading warmth and healing love throughout her body and spirit. For the first time in her life, she felt protected and loved. The therapy progressed beautifully, and soon she was released to outpatient therapy where she continued to heal.
Dr. MacNutt concluded, "Therapy alone was not enough; healing prayer had to be included." Ask God. Pray. First, admit and recognize the specific need; and, secondly, pray.
Third, Bartimaeus persisted. He hung in there. He cried out to Jesus. He shouted. People around him told him to be quiet. "You're making a nuisance of yourself. Don't bother Jesus. You're causing a commotion." But, Bart persisted. He refused to give up. He refused to be quiet. He shouted even louder. Prayer is persistence. Jesus gave us examples of people who refused to quit pleading. The woman pestered the judge until he did what she wanted just to keep her quiet. Jesus called that prayer.
Fourth, Bartimaeus obeyed. The Lord told Dr. MacNutt to pray for Elizabeth and all her patients. Jesus told Bart to come to him. Bart obeyed, and Jesus asked him what he wanted. "Let me see again." Can you hear the pathos? Can you hear the pain? Can you hear the longing? "Let me see again." "I want to be healed. I want to be changed." Then, Jesus told him, "Go; your faith has made you well." This is significant. Jesus didn't do anything to him. He told him to go. As Bart went, he regained his sight. He obeyed Jesus. He didn't sit down and say, "I can't see yet. Do something. Give me some medicine. Put something in my eyes. Give me salve." No, he obeyed, he walked away in faith.
And, the last step, Bartimaeus followed Jesus. He joined the band of followers as they made their way to Jerusalem. Bart walked in faith. He walked in the faith that he had already won. Living by faith, living in the spirit, is living as if we have already won. In other words, action precedes the event. Faith anticipates the blessing. "Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey," so goes the hymn.
Do you really want to be changed, to be healed? Admit your need, the specific need. Ask God for help; pray. Be persistent. Obey the Lord, and follow. Walk in faith that you have already won.
© 1991 Douglas I. Norris