At Rope’s End…

“With Wings Like Eagles,” © Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.

© 2016 Lynn Abbott

The breaking point–the point at which someone says, “Enough is enough. I just can’t take anymore”—varies from person to person.

What pushes you there may be different from what pushes me.

But live awhile and you’re bound to reach it–the end of your rope.

Perhaps, the proverbial back-breaking straw  takes the form of interpersonal relationships.  You face difficult people at work, school, church… in your neighborhood. And yes, even in your home or extended family.

Those “irregular people,” as author Joyce Landorf once named them, sap every bit of patience and strength that you possess.  The tension robs you of your joy…and the rope frays.

Or maybe, you struggle to make financial ends meet.

You live from paycheck to paycheck and don’t know how you will buy food, shelter or pay medical bills.

You may even be unemployed and wondering if any workplace will open its doors to you.   If so, you probably find it tough to hang onto that rope.

Circumstances conspire against you.  Seemingly random tragedy strikes: theft, physical harm, natural disaster.  You become an accident victim. You cling to that swinging rope as you stare at the cavern below you.

Health issues may threaten your very life and security. You have no idea where to turn or how to take your next feeble step.

And the climb seems too great; the rope appears weak.

I’ve been there.  I suspect you have as well.

My closest friend, in fact, has been walking a health tightrope for several years.  And while she continually turned her fears over to God, the burdens continued to build.   Understandably, her faith stretched thin.

One crisis after another, each a potential cancer concern, dogged her journey.  Her love and concern for her youngest child, still at home,  added to the overall strain.

So much to carry.

Tired.

Weary.

At the end of her rope.

I prayed and prayed. I carried my friend to Abba throughout each day.  I asked my Bible study friends to pray for her.

I hoped Abba would answer prayers on her behalf: I prayed He would honor faith that carried her to Him.

And during my daily study of Scripture, the Holy Spirit directed me to Mark, chapter two.  Without a doubt,  the account there inspires hope and boldness as we pray for others.

After all, Mark records a bold sacrifice made by several men on behalf of a friend.  In faith, they carried their paralyzed friend to Jesus.

It’s likely that the paralytic had given up long before that day.

His parents, or family may have once sought healing for him.  He may have visited sacred sites or sought the help of priests.  The medical profession of his day probably gave him many second opinions.

But to no avail.  His future seemed bleak.  After all, there was nothing left for a paralytic to do; a life as a beggar seemed inevitable.

For this reason, I’m sure he sputtered when his friends suggested that he seek healing from Jesus.

I can almost hear him laugh bitterly.  I can picture him shaking his downcast head.

Perhaps, he just sighed and thanked them for their thoughtful concern.  He may have said, “Thank you, but it’s pointless.  There’s no hope for me.”

Whatever his actual response, I am fairly sure that the paralytic had hit rock bottom.  Hope existed for others but not him.  He simply hung onto what little rope he had left.

As I meditated on this passage, I realized that paralysis can take many forms. Fear, discouragement or exhaustion can hurt me, too.

But in all cases, grace can overcome. Love, hope and faith carry a friend to Jesus (Mark 2:3-4).

Jesus had returned home to the Capernaum area.  As always, a large crowd gathered to hear Christ speak.  The room filled.  In fact, if there were a  fire code, the people broke it.

Thus, when the paralytic and his friends arrived, they could not enter the house.  No standing room to be found.   Never mind trying to find space for a paralytic’s pallet.

If I had been in the paralytic’s place, I would have thanked my friends profusely and given up.

“Let’s just go home,” I’d say.

But the paralytic’s friends persistently problem-solved.  They carried their friend up to the roof.

Actually, when I think about it, their plan was exceptionally daring, maybe even a little foolhardy.

Let’s face it, carrying a paralyzed friend up on the roof required a great deal of courage.  It certainly pushed the paralytic out of his personal comfort zone.  If he toppled from such a height, he had no chance of survival.

He may have been so desperate for healing that he approved the risk.  He may have thought, “I’ve got nothing to lose.”

Whatever the case, he soon landed on the roof.  What next?  Had his friends thought that far?

It seemed they had.  They balanced his pallet on the roof and began to dismantle the ceiling above Jesus.  Can you imagine the crowd’s reaction when debris began to fall?

Suddenly, people pushed back, and made room.

The pallet began to descend… And yes, I’m grinning as I reread the passage because they obviously used a rope to lower their paralyzed friend.

That’s right. The paralytic was at the end of his rope. Quite literally.

And Jesus waited for him there.  He waits for you and me as well.   Our Savior longs to give grace and strength in our moment of extreme need.

As the paralytic began to descend from his rooftop perch, Jesus probably beamed just as Abba does when I carry discouraged, weary worn. and disheartened friends into His throne room.

As is so often true, however, Jesus’ first words surprised all who were there that day.

He said, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

Huh? I imagine the men who peered down from their rooftop perch were scratching their heads. After all, didn’t they bring their friend for healing?  What was this about?

Sometimes, when I pray, God’s answer surprises me.  At first, I may even feel disappointed because the healing doesn’t come or it doesn’t come quickly as I would like.

I pray and wait.  Wait and pray.

It becomes difficult to hang onto faith.  After all, I’m at the end of the rope and Christ’s response perplexes me.

I forget that I’m not the only one who awaits the Savior’s response.

As those determined, persistent friends waited in uncertainty, the attending religious leaders began their mental grumbling.  Scripture reveals their thoughts: “Why does this man speak that way?  He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7).

Obviously, Jesus knew that there was more at stake than what immediately met the eye.  That’s often the case.

God’s response encompasses so much more than visible circumstances.

In our humanity, you and I struggle through the storm.  Our view is limited by the wind and waves.

Our Savior, on the other hand, looks beyond our current trials and seeks our forever good.

And that,  in fact, accounts for His surprising response to the paralytic.  Jesus simply revealed His eternal perspective that day when He said, “…your sins are forgiven.”

When our Savior’s response is unexpected, the reason is often the obvious one: He is building faith– in us, our “burden-bearers,” and those who simply observe.

Sometimes, God uses my difficulties to reach those who need to know Him.

The Pharisees questioned and criticized Christ.  Faith did not play any role in their attendance that day.

I’m not sure why they were there. Maybe, they came to spy.  Or perhaps, they simply wished to keep up the appearance of being “open-minded.”

But, in fact, the Pharisees focused on the temporary externals; God, in contrast, focuses on the eternal internals.

Knowing their hearts, Christ answered their objections: “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts?  Which is easier to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say ‘Arise, and take up your pallet and walk’? But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins… [speaking to the paralytic] ‘I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home,” (Mark 2:8b-11).

In order that you may know…

Jesus’s words hit home.  You see, our God is in the faith-building business.  Nurturing our faith is His utmost priority.

At times, He immediately rescues us.  But faith-building takes precedence. He most desires the healing of that eternal part of us, our souls.

In the account of the paralytic, then, we catch a glimpse of the heart of God.  And fortunately, for the paralytic and his friends, the wait for healing did not last long.  Christ granted both forgiveness and healing.

Even so, a complete rescue in this life isn’t necessarily guaranteed.  God may allow difficult circumstances in order to bring about our eternal good.

I first witnessed this truth in my earthly father’s life.  As a young man, he walked away from God.  Then,  in midlife,  his health collapsed.  Disabled, he lost his career and worldly significance.  He suffered daily.

Yet, when Dad reached the end of his rope, he met Jesus.

Of course,  Mom and I prayed continually for Dad’s healing.  But healing was not part of God’s plan.   Instead, through suffering,   Dad pursued deep faith as well as an intercessory ministry.

Sometimes, our Savior brings healing;  other times, He causes great faith and faithfulness to grow through suffering.

Without a doubt, Abba’s answer isn’t always what we expect or even what we think we desire.  Yet, we can be sure that our heavenly Father always has our best in mind (Psalm 103:17).

For the paralytic, God’s best included both faith-building and healing.  Christ healed as a demonstration of His deity, a witness of His sovereignty over the paralytic’s life.

And such was the case for my friend.  Throughout the numerous and prolonged health scares that she faced, she anxiously cried out to God.

Specifically, I begged God to shrink the most recent of  her health scares, a tumor-like nodule.   I asked for a benign prognosis.  I prayed that no surgery would be required.

Because a year had passed since her last biopsy, her physician ordered preliminary tests.

I ran to Abba.  I fell to my knees.

The test results amazed the physician.  The outcome was medically inexplicable.  The tumor had shrunk.

According to my friend’s doctor,  such shrinkage indicates the nodule to be benign.  Neither surgery nor any further biopsies are necessary.

Jesus met my friend at the end of the rope.

Faith building?  Undoubtedly.

…for both my friend and me.

Truly,  God is a God of unwavering love, grace and power.

Isaiah sums it up perfectly, “Do you not know? Have you not heard?  The Everlasting God, the LORD, the creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired, His understanding is inscrutable…” (Isaiah 40:28).

Inscrutable? You betcha.  His ways are not our ways, (Isaiah 55:9).

But here’s tremendous comfort…

“He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power.  Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary,” (Isaiah 40:29-31).

Has your faith frayed?    Your Savior waits for you at rope’s end.

He renews strength; He builds faith.

And you and I mount up with “wings like eagles,” (Isaiah 40:31).

Yes, our Savior lifts us… when we reach the end of the rope.

“Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the LORD GOD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation,” ~Isaiah 12:2

“Therefore, the LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you…” ~Isaiah 30:18b