“Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’” (John 11:22-24 ESV).
How many times has comfort washed over me, but didn’t actually sink in? It could be a truth spoken by a friend, a verse that popped out during devotions, a timely sermon about my situation, an emotional altar call. I hear the truth with my physical ears, but my heart feels like stone. It feels like it had fossilized under the pressure a long time ago.
Everyone feels like their prayers bounce off the ceiling sometimes. Those time are hard but bearable–after all, God never fails. But what do you do when you feel like God’s answers are bouncing off of you? It’s agony.
Like Martha, I still have the basics: Jesus is still God and he can still heal. Everything will be okay in heaven one day. But, for me, at this moment… it’s too late. God didn’t show up on time. It’s all over. I will have to wait until heaven for any healing.
“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus says, speaking comfort into my despair.
“Yeah… in heaven someday. Not now. Not ever. It’s too late. You are too late.”
It makes perfect sense. Death is permanent. What I’ve experienced is permanent. Time may heal some of the grief, but it can’t bring back what I’ve lost. I’ll always be broken inside.
What loss or pain are you are grieving right now?
Do you feel like there’s no comfort that can heal these wounds? Does everything seem to bounce off your heart? Does your relationship with God feel like it’s at a standstill?
That’s where I’ve been lately. I pretty much gave up on being comforted. Nothing was working. The worst part was that I almost gave up on my relationship with God entirely.
How can I call myself a Christian anymore? I keep finding myself shaking my head during sermons, closing my Bible, changing the subject off of God. Anything to keep from being reminded of my pain, my failure to believe better.
That’s it, isn’t it? It’s my fault. If only I was strong enough to believe, I wouldn’t be in this mess. God never fails, but I do. This part of the relationship depends on me! And blew it.
I settled for just limping through life and then stumbling into heaven as a hollow corpse. No accomplishments, no “well-done,” having barely any faith, but at least I made it. It’s all I can do to not be mad at God for preventing the disaster in the first place.
If only I could trust that Jesus can do something. If only the comfort offered to me didn’t just bounce off my heart. If only God had been there to prevent this from happening.
Well-meaning Christians all around me keep saying to “just believe, trust” in God. It doesn’t bring me hope but quit the opposite. It feels oddly condemning. If I can’t somehow find a way to stir up some kind of trust, then it’s all over. By now, I’ve probably already missed out on a miracle because of my failure to receive comfort. To believe.
As much as I want to be like Mary, I can identify with Martha. A lot.
Worst still–many people preach sermons, write books, and print devotionals dedicated to highlighting Martha’s lack of belief in Jesus. Line by line, they make an example out of her: “See what happens when you don’t believe? Her sister Mary had it all together. She loved and trusted Jesus in her pain. You should be like Mary.”
Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. Mary listened to Jesus’ words. Mary ran to him and wept with him. She had it all together. But Martha…
Even at the tomb, Martha stopped Jesus. “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days,” (John 11:39 ESV).
Back in her day, everyone believed that after 3 days of being dead, a person had no hope of ever coming back to life. Jesus was too late for even raising Lazarus from the dead. That’s what Martha pointed out to him.
Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40 ESV).
“Ha!” Christians seem to say. “You see? She failed to believe that things could still change. If you’re doing what Martha did, you should be ashamed of yourself!”
But she DID let him roll away the stone, didn’t she?
Amidst all their booing against Martha’s unbelief, who noticed her tiny leap of faith? She did let him roll away the stone! In the end, that’s all that matters, isn’t it? She believed, however small, despite her screaming pain and doubt.
What changed her mind?
Jesus wasn’t condemning her just then. He was simply reminding her of something he had said earlier. When she remembered it, she let him roll the stone away. She believed him at last.
This was the real comfort that she needed, the comfort that finally was able to sink in. I needed it, and maybe you do too.
What was it? Let’s back up and see:
“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life,”’ (John 11:22-25 ESV).
This conversation is so precious to me!
It wasn’t something Martha needed to “believe better.” It was something she already knew, that she was desperately clinging to.
She only needed a gentle reminder, to rest in what she already knew: Jesus.
She was scared that healing would never come to her, but it did. HE did.
Jesus IS healing, life, and hope!
God doesn’t ask you to believe that a certain circumstance will happen. “She just needed to believe Lazarus will live again!” “She didn’t believe that the dead could be raised.” “She thought it was all over.”
God doesn’t ask you to have all of your theology in a row. “Jesus is God, so why wouldn’t he be able to raise Lazarus? She knew he was the Messiah, but somehow she didn’t have all her facts straight. She should have paid more attention.”
Healing is not a future circumstance that is hanging the balance. Healing is a Person who loves you very much.
That’s the comfort that finally sank in: “I am here. I will always be here. You already have healing, because you have me. You will always have me.”
Real belief rests in WHO God is, not in what you’re convinced he will do next.
You were never far from God. He will never leave you! He is the strength you need. He is comfort and healing. You have him and that’s enough.
It’s like what Jesus really said to Martha was simply, “Sshh, I’m here! It’s okay. I’m here. I’m not leaving.”
That’s exactly what God did for me! He took me in his arms and held me tight, reassuring me that he was still there. That I wasn’t lost. If I fail, God is here. No matter what, God is still here with me.
When Martha was afraid of the circumstances at the tomb, Jesus just turned to her and said it again. “It’s okay, I’m here, remember?”
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit,” (Psalm 34:18 ESV).
If you still need a personal reassurance from God, ask him! No matter what you feel, or what your failures, or what your weaknesses, run to him like Martha did and lay it out before him. Be honest. He gave Martha the strength she needed. He will do the same for you.