Hanging on – it evokes images of just staying above water, just making it through or clinging to the end of something. It is like the story of the young man hiking alone in the mountains who tripped and stumbled over a cliff but managed to grab a large root and hang on. He lacked the strength to pull himself up but knew he could last for a while if he wrapped his arms around the root. He did so. He had never been very interested in spiritual things but knowing he was going to fall and die he cried out for God to save him. He then heard a voice that sounded like God. “Young man, let go of the root and as you fall I will catch you.” He immediately responded, “Is there anyone else up there?”
This may seem funny but it illustrates a spiritual truth. We tend to want to trust Jesus when it is safe and He wants us to trust Him when it requires faith. Most of us will never have our physical life depend on what we believe but there is the issue of our ability and willingness to trust Him on an ongoing basis. I think there are two aspects to this, the idea of stepping out and taking risks, like Peter getting out of the boat and walking on the water, and our image of Jesus. We trust Him based on our view of Him.
Remember how Mary Magdalene encountered Jesus just after His resurrection.
11 But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13 Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 14 Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’” John 20:11-17 (NKJV)
I don’t know how often we think of this but Jesus delayed His ascension into heaven to respond to Mary Magdalene’s heart! That is a key aspect, yet there is something else, Jesus instructed Mary not to cling to Him. While part of that is that He needed to complete His ascension and offer His blood upon the altar in heaven, He also knew Mary could not now know Him as He was if she continued to cling to the way He had been, the way she had known Him! Mary wanted to hang on to her friend, the Jesus she had known who walked the earth and healed hearts, especially hers. Yet He had changed and could now provide so much more.
In a similar manner I know that none of us have perfect theology and we tend to view Jesus in certain ways, yet to truly know Him we cannot cling to wrong concepts. We need to let the scriptures, rather than traditional views and concepts, define who He is and get to know Him as He is presented by the Holy Spirit and His Father. For example I have known of people who viewed Jesus as always very kind and respectful, generally this is true, but clinging to that view does not allow us to see the Jesus who publicly rebuked and chastised people, even calling some of them some not very nice names! Others say He always heals, the sometimes implied and sometimes explicit implication being that if we need healing and pray and are not healed we are deficient in our faith in some area. Yet while Jesus did heal multitudes there are times He did not heal everyone, like the group of sick at the pool of Bethesda that Jesus left (Jn. 5:1-13). We also have the man healed through Peter and John who was daily laid at the gate of the temple (Acts 3:1-10). His healing that day accomplished something significant in many other lives. Yet we know prior to being healed he was there every day and we know from the gospels that Jesus had taught in the temple regularly and would have had a number of opportunities to heal Him.
I don’t write this to discourage prayer for healing. I have prayed for others who have been healed and I have been the recipient of healing prayer. I use these two examples to encourage us to re-examine Jesus through the lens of scripture and see if we are clinging to anything that has us interacting with Jesus as we desire Him to be rather than as He really is.
Another thing that often gets in the way of us knowing Jesus as the scriptures present Him is hanging onto baggage. We use the term to refer to our human propensity to hold onto old hurts, offenses and similar things. A number of years ago someone I knew shared his story of waiting for an overseas flight. He had been bumped from his flight and someone from the airline then came and said, “We can get you on the Concord but you can’t take your baggage with you.” He received this as a prophetic word from the Lord. The Concord flew higher and faster than other planes and he understood the Holy Spirit was telling him he could go higher and faster in the Spirit but it meant leaving his baggage behind.
Most of us have emotional or intellectual baggage we carry around with us. Scripture speaks quite powerfully to this.
1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV)
This passage encourages us to look at the sacrifices of those who have gone before us and are watching us run our race as a motivator to embrace the same sacrifice for the great reward set before us. One of the images here is one of foolishly trying to run a race while carrying extra baggage. I recently heard some of the story of one of the ships connected to the Franklin Expedition that disappeared in the Artic. Much has been learned since one of the ships was discovered last year. In this story they talked of the survivors from one ship dragging a desk and other items across the frozen ice and ultimately perishing with them. These items were valuable in a city or other place but not only of no value on frozen ice, they hindered travel and likely contributed to their death.
So, in conclusion, how do we see Jesus? Are we clinging to the right concept of Him? Are we carrying or taking with us ‘baggage’ that is hindering us going higher and faster in the Spirit? May we ever more fully see Him through the unfiltered lens of scripture and learn to draw closer and closer to Him as He is so that those around us are changed by His glory!