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Faith for Overcoming ObstaclesThe Woman with the Issue of Blood

What in your life looks impossible? Learn how to face life’s most demanding circumstances with complete trust in God.

My friend Valerie, a homemaker with four children, made an appointment to see her physician after experiencing dizzy spells. He ordered X rays, and Valerie nearly passed out when she saw the pictures of the tumor in her brain. It was the size of an avocado.

Initially, everyone reeled from the shock. She and those around her wondered, What will happen to Randy and the kids? Is there a cure? Will there be another Christmas together?

As she tells it, when she began to yell at her kids or grow irritable with her husband, she excused it by telling herself, “I have brain cancer. What does God expect?”

What does God expect? As a follower of Christ, Val wants to magnify the Lord in this trial. So she approached Him with one key question: “What do You expect of me?” While her cancer makes it more difficult to do right, she has found that the same principle applies in sickness and health: To receive God’s commendation when facing a seemingly impossible situation, we have to exercise faith.

What in your life looks impossible? Maybe you or someone you love faces something as serious as brain cancer. Or perhaps it’s the knowledge that unless God does a miracle, your marriage won’t last another year. Or maybe you toy with a secret habit that—if you don’t get a grip on it—will destroy you. Each of us faces some overwhelming obstacle because we’re all broken, needy people. And lots of people through history have asked the same question Valerie asked: “When I face such a situation, what does God expect?”

One person in particular stands out. She lived in Jesus’ time, and we know her as the woman with the issue of blood. We find her story in Mark 5:25–34, and in it we see four demonstrations of biblical faith.

First of all faith takes us to Christ when we’re at the end of ourselves. This woman had endured bleeding for twelve years. The text says she had a “flow” of blood, and it’s the same word other ancient writers used to refer to menstrual bleeding. According to the Law, everywhere she sat became unclean. Everything she touched became ceremonially defiled. She had to remove herself from spiritual fellowship because God required that anyone with an emission of any kind must remain disassociated from community worship. This woman had been a social outcast for more than a decade.

What caused her malady? While some translations say she was hemorrhaging, a gynecologist I consulted said she’d have bled to death long before if that had been the case. He listed a number of conditions that might cause long-term bleeding, one possibility being uterine cancer. A woman who’s had uterine cancer for twelve years, assuming it has metastasized, would be in intense pain and near death. Assuming that’s true, the woman had not only been rejected as a social outcast, but she had also endured excruciating physical pain. We also know that she spent all she had in the hands of doctors (v. 26). Nothing she tried had helped; the text tells us that instead of getting better, she grew worse (v. 26). So she was at the end of herself when she came to Jesus.

What about you? Have you come to Him and acknowledged your need? Faith takes us to Christ with a clear understanding that we’re out of resources and have no other options left.

This woman also shows us is that faith drives us to trust in Christ. She inconspicuously touched His garment—probably His prayer tassels—because she believed He could heal. This woman’s faith involved more than mental assent. So sure was she in her belief that it drove her to action. She pursued Jesus, pushing her way through a mass of people who had probably long known her as a defiled woman.

Jesus certainly did the seemingly impossible for this woman. The text says that when she stretched out her hand, “immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction” (v. 29). If this woman had uterine cancer, her body would have been racked by intense pain. And perhaps, in that moment, all her disease-related discomfort ceased. She knew instantly that Jesus had healed her.

God can accomplish the impossible in us as well. One woman from my church has a brother who rebelled so openly that she told the pastor, “Even God couldn’t change his heart.” Today that brother is a youth pastor. God specializes in doing the impossible. Do you really believe Christ can help you? And does that belief drive you to pursue Him—to draw on His strength as you face insurmountable odds? He is worthy of your trust.

What was the Lord’s response to the woman’s reaching out? He realized that power had gone out from Him. That doesn’t mean she drained Him of power; it means He felt power proceed from Him, perhaps in the same way you or I feel power proceed from us when we hit a softball. Having felt that, He kept looking to see who had done it. He wanted to know, “Who touched Me?”

This was not what the woman had hoped for—she had hoped to remain anonymous. And her next action teaches us a third truth about faith: Faith responds to Christ in obedience, even when He calls us to do a hard thing. Mark noted, “The woman, fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told him the whole truth” (v. 33).

Just imagine. She was terrified. She dreaded being singled out. But Jesus was looking for her, so she came and fell at His feet. We read about people falling at the Lord’s feet in Scripture, and it’s easy to think this was an everyday occurrence back then. But it wasn’t. It was more like a once-in-a-lifetime deal.

Have you ever fallen at someone’s feet? I did once—when I was thirteen. My boyfriend broke up with me, and I thought my life was over. So I grabbed his feet and begged him not to leave me. It was an act of utter and humble desperation (OK, and stupidity too). When you fall at someone’s feet, your body language says your life is over—if not physically, at least emotionally—unless the person who has the power to intervene does something. And that is the stance this woman took.

Then she told all. Everything. How humiliating, to talk about menstrual problems in front of a huge crowd! But that is what the Lord asked of her. He expected her to give testimony to His goodness, to share the PG-13–rated story when she doubtless wished her life had been rated G. And she obeyed.

Now, what happened next should inspire us. Simply put, Jesus said to her, “Daughter!” Why is this significant? Because it’s the only time in the entire New Testament where we read that He called anyone a daughter. And lest the reader doubt just how precious a daughter is, Mark continued in the next section to talk about Jairus’ daughter, who had died but whom Jesus would raise from death. She was the beloved daughter of a father in anguish. “Daughter!” Do you long for that kind of affirmation? He longs to give it to you.

Jesus went on to tell the woman, “Your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction” (v. 34). Not only did He affirm her faith, but He also sent her home healed. And while physical healing came instantly, social and emotional healing had only begun.

You and I can receive Jesus’ commendation of “daughter,” too. In Hebrews 11:6, we read that without faith it is impossible to please God but that He rewards those who diligently seek Him.

Valerie is developing that kind of faith in her daily fight against brain cancer. Yes, she experiences anguish, and no one’s pretending it’s easy. But through her disease she has also gained an eternal perspective that makes people want to sit at her feet to catch the overflow as she shares about Christ. She has set her focus on something even more important to her than celebrating another Christmas with her family, as important as that is. She desires more than anything to be a woman of faith, to become the kind of child to whom a loving, heavenly Father can freely say, “Well done! Daughter!”

Excerpted from A Woman’s Joy: Loving the Life God Gave You (Insight for Living).

One of my doctoral examination fields related to women and the history of ideas about gender. I teach a graduate-level seminary class that traces the history of the role of women, explores what the Bible says about masculinity and femininity, and takes an exegetical look at what Scripture says about women. This topic has held special interest for me since the 1990s, when infertility shattered my view of my assumed role as “mother” and forced me to re-look at what God designed woman to do and be. Travels to the developing world also helped me see areas where the American Christian subculture’s answer to many questions about women—such as, “Can we work to feed our families?”)— were not universal enough in their application to deserve the label of “biblical.” Additionally, the somewhat recent emphasis on social history (vs. political history) in history departments due largely to the influx of women has blown wide open the amount of data we have available for revisiting first-century backgrounds as they relate to gender. Pursuing that data has taken me to Pompeii, Ephesus, the Louvre, Versailles, The Getty Villa near Malibu and other fascinating places to gather data on first-century life. I still have so much to learn, but I love interacting with men and women alike on this topic. I hope you’ll join the conversation.

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