A Stag, drinking from a crystal spring, saw himself mirrored in the clear water. He greatly admired the graceful arch of his antlers, but he was very much ashamed of his spindling legs.
“How can it be,” he sighed, “that I should be cursed with such legs when I have so magnificent a crown.”
At that moment he scented a panther and in an instant was bounding away through the forest. But as he ran his wide-spreading antlers caught in the branches of the trees, and soon the Panther overtook him. Then the Stag perceived that the legs of which he was so ashamed would have saved him had it not been for the useless ornaments on his head (Aesop).
Just like the stage, we often make much of vanity and downgrade the spiritual.
We engage more with things that will pass away more than things that will endure.
We believe in the temporal more than the eternal.
We chase shadows over substance
Jesus made that point emphatically in a story related in Luke 5: And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy: and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before him (Jesus). And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, who is this which speaketh blasphemy? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins (Jesus said), (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, we have seen strange things today.
Even though they believed that God was the sole forgiver of sins, they were looking for physical demonstration first. Today many of us engage in the same behaviour: I know a brother who always talks about God’s blessings. God was glorious to him after he purchased his first house; God was wonderful to him after starting his business successfully. God was gracious to him after buying his first commercial truck. However, never once did I hear him praise God for eternal life or even for life itself. Even in his prayers, He never thanked God for forgiveness of sins, he only praised God for his material possessions.
Some of us will never testify for spiritual blessings, we mostly do for a Job or house. I have been in church for more than 40 years; I rarely hear people praise God for changing their character – growing them into decent human beings. So too, none of the intellectuals gathered near Jesus gave praise after Jesus forgave that man’s sins. In fact, they chastised him. However, when he performed that miracle, they all were amazed and glorified God. They were all interested in chasing the shadows of the here and now rather than that of eternal salvation which Jesus was offering.
Going for the substance before the shadow
We move from the material to the spiritual in terms of the spectacular, but God moves from the spiritual to the external in terms of the essentials. The physical is the concrete external – a shadow by comparison. The spiritual is the intangible internal – the objective in actuality. Yes, he did heal that man, but not without a reminder of what the ultimate miracle was (Zacharias). Jesus was careful to point out that the ultimate miracle was forgiveness of our sins and our spiritual redirection. How often do we pray to God about getting in the right relationships, the right mortgage, a thriving career, financial growth and we look out for those blessings; at the same time, placing less emphasis on spiritual maturing?
How often do we prioritize our children’s academics over their spiritual growth? We are incessant about homework, music lessons or sporting activities but less insistent on family devotion and participation in church or children involvement in charity events. We often provide children with the foundations for material success while often ignoring the basics for enduring character and spiritual living – chasing shadows in the process.
Changing emphasis from shadow to substance
You can’t get rid of shadows just like you cannot avoid physical needs. Sickness, financial and family needs will always be here. Children also need to develop physically, academically, and socially. Still, just because those are real and more visible does not make them more essential. Focus on the physical first is never the recommendation of Jesus.
Our success in all areas – is predicated on emphasizing the spiritual. Sometimes we wonder why we do not succeed as Christians – it could be that we are chasing shadows. Unlike the stag in the fable above, change your perception of the essential and your dreams may come true. That is guaranteed in the words of Jesus: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all of those other things will be given to you.
If you are struggling today, I urge you to refocus on your spiritual walk with God and you may see things turn around. What are you most grateful for? Make a list and see if it matches what Jesus did for this paralytic – prioritizing the spiritual over the physical.