Over the past 10 years or more, I have endeavored to walk by faith in this matter of facing the very real structural issues with my lower back. (In 1995, an X-ray revealed that a cracked bone in one of my vertebrae had allowed it to begin to slip out of alignment. This was only treatable in the long run by surgery which included a spinal fusion.)
Because the surgery was considered the best course of action at the time, I was thankful for it’s success and yet recognized that I would have limitations going forward, some of which could become quite severe in twelve years or so following the surgery.
What I began to experience was that what most all of my friends and colleagues in ministry would ask me about when greeting one another was “How is your back?”
By 2007 and following I felt like I was identified more as a man with a back problem than a man of faith who was trusting God for grace with every problem.
As another decade has gone by I am aware that a great number of people who know Christ and are sincere disciples seem to fall into this same limitation. Their friends and loved ones think of their limitation as the distinguishing mark of their identity more than anything else. “Oh, there’s Ashley who’s getting divorced.” “There’s Brian who has a substance abuse problem.” “There’s James who has neurologically induced tremors.” “There’s Rachel who’s in her late 30’s and not married yet.”
It seems that we are often defined by a circumstance which may be very obvious on the outside… or may not be known (such as relational issues) except by those who know what’s going on within our “inside.”
The tragic reality of being identified with whatever our limitation might be is that we find ourselves in some sort of a box that seems to form a boundary beyond which we cannot seem to move, and may also limit us in how we might affect others because they don’t see the grace in our lives, they see the limitation. For years I have called out to the Lord that I not be seen as “a man with a back problem” but rather as “a grace-filled follower of Jesus who is overcoming his every limitation.”
What I’ve learned is that I cannot expect others to see me that way unless I am diligently pursuing Jesus for that identity on my own. How I see myself and how I talk about myself will largely affect how others see me.
In Mark’s gospel in chapter 1:40, there’s a very brief exchange that Jesus has with a man who is only described by his condition. We know nothing of his background, family or station in life; we don’t even know his name. He’s just described as a “leper.”
Now this particular limitation was one of the most obvious to the people of that day. Wherever a leper would travel he or she was required “by the law” to declare the term “unclean!” at least 30 feet before encountering any other people. (Contact with another individual is how leprosy was spread.)
What is striking about the leper’s encounter with Jesus is that when this nameless unidentified man throws himself upon the mercy of Jesus and says “If you are willing, you can heal me” is that Jesus does the unthinkable and reaches out and touches him. The Bible says that “immediately the man’s leprosy is healed” and that which was his identity for who knows how many years, has now been completely erased. His new identity is to be a follower of Jesus, and as such he is unable to contain the joy of his transformation as seen in the following verses.
A word of encouragement to all of us who might be facing issues, whether physical, relational, emotional, financial or spiritual. Please do not define yourself by that limitation.
Rather, declare yourself to be a son or daughter of God in whom no limitation will be allowed to exist for a single moment beyond the purpose of God in your life. Awaken each day with the anticipation that as a child of God, all the resources of heaven are available to you to overcome that limitation; to be healed, to be united, to be prosperous, to be set free as your faith meets the grace of God in His perfect timing.
That’s the identity that every one of us should embrace and even more, should share with others who need this good news.
Hosanna to the King!