In ancient Jerusalem there was a pool of water called Bethesda. The location served as an impromptu hospital ward, a collection point for the sick. Jesus made a visit there and found a lame man lying alongside Bethesda’s waters and healed him.
Then, he gave the now-made-well man practical instructions: “Pick up your mat and walk.” This wasn’t to get the man’s bed out of the way. Jesus was saying, “Get it out of here so that you won’t come back to it!” This former invalid, the best we can tell, had been coming to Bethesda for the better part of four decades. That is a long time to waste lying alongside a bubbling brook. And now that he was empowered to live a better, healthier life, it would be easy for him to fall back into old habits. Jesus wanted this stretcher removed so that the man would not have the temptation to return to it.
This olden story predates today’s advances in neuroscience, but Jesus already knew what researches have confirmed in recent decades: When habits are formed, the brain actually changes. Routines—good or bad—cause neurons in the brain to alter their patterns. So in the process of breaking a habit, the brain must also be “rewired” to not only change a person’s behavior, but to change the firing of synopses inside his head.
If we are going to live a transformed life, there must be a grace-infused commitment not to return to those former ways, habits, persons, lifestyles, and behaviors that will only take us back to an unhealthy way of life. The door to the past has to be slammed shut. Obstacles have to be put in the way to keep us from returning to old ways of thinking and old ways of acting. Spiritual reprogramming and rewiring has to take place.
That is why Jesus told this man to get his mat and get out, because that was the only way he could remove himself from this dead-end, superstitious pool-sitting that would only enslave him, not heal him.
So while we all will have to carry the burden of our yesterdays, our wasted days, and our years of regret—the mats and stretchers we used to rely upon—God’s grace and healing will lighten that burden. And that same grace will help us to walk on, never returning to who we once were.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.