I want to reflect on the word “breakthrough” It gives me the image of breaking through an obstacle. Overcoming strong resistance. Our stories from the Bible are stories of breakthroughs. They don’t take place when life is good. They arise when people’s backs are to the wall.
When the Israelites fled from Egypt, the Pharaoh sent his chariots racing after them. The Israelites were cornered. The chariots were breathing down them on one side. On the other side was the Red Sea.
Despair and panic set in. There was no way out. But God provided the breakthrough they needed. God parted the Red Sea and created an opening for escape.
That is the theme of the Bible: God who provides the breakthrough and a way when there seems to be no other way.
Jesus came to a people who were desperate for a breakthrough. They were suffering under horrible conditions. All the joy of living had been sapped out. In Jesus they saw the opening of a breakthrough for their lives.
Alert and Waiting
Today’s passage is a message for those who are waiting for a breakthrough in their lives.
We need breakthroughs in our lives. Our challenges are so persistent.
They never stop. Sometimes we don’t even know what our challenges are. But somehow, we feel stuck. Our energy and joy get sapped.
One member I spoke to recently is suffering from a health condition. That person said to me: “Reverend, I just want this to pass. How can I make this pass?” I could hear the despair in their voice. I felt so helpless, because there was nothing I could do.
When our challenges seem so great, we want to give up. When there seems to be no solution, we want to throw in the towel. We want to forget. We want to run away. Our temptation is to give up on seeking the breakthrough to our problems and challenges.
Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit. (Luke 12:35)
Be ready. Be alert. Just like the master that might come back at any moment, be ready for the breakthrough that can come at any moment.
Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes. (Luke 12:37)
Being alert means not giving up. It means being in touch with your problems and not burying them away. It means struggling with them. Bringing our needs to God in prayer every day. Asking God for the strength to endure.
If we had the power to solve all of our problems, then we wouldn’t need any breakthroughs. We could just solve them logically. We need breakthroughs because our problems are greater than our own resources or power.
The Secret Ingredient
God promises to bring forth something new. That is God’s promise to us. But we usually don’t see this breakthrough when we want it. There is always a waiting period. The Israelites waited 40 years in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. Abraham waited 25 years before getting a son. The exiles waited 75 years before they could return to Jerusalem.
The life of faith is more about waiting than experiencing the actual breakthroughs. In fact, we spend more time waiting rather than experiencing the actual breakthrough.
Waiting is not a passive thing. We don’t just sit around doing nothing. To keep the house ready, the servants had to maintain it. They had to clean it daily. Have food at the ready each day. Keep it in good repair.
Waiting is preparation for the breakthrough. We don’t know when this breakthrough will come. But we prepare as if it can come at any moment.
Jesus said this:
You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Luke 12:40)
The coming of the Son of Man was known to Jews as God breaking into history. The idea came about because life had gotten too hard. There was no way they could achieve a breakthrough on their own.
God himself had to intervene.
If we are not ready, we may miss the breakthrough that comes. The longer our problems remain with us, the easier it is to give up. We don’t believe a breakthrough will come. We lose sight of the desired breakthrough. At the Pool of Bethsaida, Jesus came across a man who had been ill for 38 years.
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” (John 5:6-7)
Jesus asked a simple question: do you want to be made well? He was not ready to answer that simple question. He did not know what he wanted anymore. Instead of saying “yes”, he went on to list all the reasons why he couldn’t be made well. He had fallen asleep in his despair. He did not see the breakthrough at hand.
Waiting for the breakthrough is the most important stage of faith. It is when faith becomes real. We say “I will believe if I see it”. Faith is not formed after the breakthrough. Faith is formed while waiting for the breakthrough. Waiting is the secret ingredient for faith.
Something mysterious happens when we wait with faith. We think we’re waiting for the breakthrough to our problems. But when you wait, when you really wait, you discover the real breakthrough.
St. Paul had a thorn in his side. We don’t know exactly what it was.
But it was quite debilitating. So much that he prayed and prayed that it would be taken away from him.
… a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me. (2 Corinthians 12:7-8)
Three was a symbolic number. It meant many times. It wasn’t just a casual asking God three times. He prayed desperately about it. He waited and waited for his desired breakthrough. But in his waiting, he experienced a more profound breakthrough:
But he (Christ) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
In his waiting he experienced the real breakthrough: that God’s power was made perfect in weakness. In place of his weakness, God’s power would sustain and carry him. The thorn itself was not removed. It continued to plague him. But he learned to live with it. He lived with a power that was more powerful than the power this thorn had over him. And with that power, he lived out his life with joy and passion.
Waiting produces the real breakthrough that we need. The breakthrough of experiencing the power that is greater than our problems. Feeling the assurance that we are ok and held in God’s hands. Knowing that when we’re tired and feel we can no longer carry on, that we can keep on keeping on. That when our souls are weary and heavy laden and we feel like giving up, that we can bring everything to God in prayer. To know that we have a friend in Jesus. To know that in God I can endure, persevere and carry on. That is the breakthrough we need.
Every great figure in the Bible experienced this breakthrough while waiting.
St. Paul experienced it. The apostles experienced it. They were crushed and defeated when their leader, Jesus, was crucified. But when they waited and prayed, the Holy Spirit came upon them and gave them new power.
Waiting is so difficult. We want to give up as we deal with problems that never seem to go away. Your problems may or may not go away. Our souls may continue to ache. But this may be the opportunity to discover God’s greater power as you wait. God’s power elevates us beyond our aches. I pray that all of us experience this power in our lives.
Jesus told this parable:
The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come. (Mark 4:26-29)
The harvest is the breakthrough. All we can do is scatter the seeds. Seeds of prayer. Seeds of hope. Seeds of desire. We plant, and we plant continuously. We never give up. We are always alert and ready. We water those seeds with worship, prayer, the Word of God, and the community of faith. And then we wait patiently for God’s breakthrough.
Wait for God’s breakthrough. Do not be discouraged. Do not give up. Wait for God’s power. God will lift you up.