“There simply isn’t enough time.”
“That’s just not the way I am.”
“I’m too tired to get to that today.”
No doubt you’ve heard someone make statements like this. You’ve probably said them yourself. Though we all know excuse-making is a slippery slope, we still engage in it with alarming regularity. According to a New York Post study, the average American makes 2,190 excuses each year. That’s six excuses a day made to justify our behavior and choices.
We make excuses for all kinds of things. To explain why we don’t eat better or exercise more. To justify continued indulgence of a negative habit. To validate our poor treatment of others when deep down we know we were wrong. To rationalize our inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to make necessary and healthy changes in our lives.
I’ve worked in ministry for several years, so many of the excuses I hear have a Christian flavor. Churchgoers just don’t have any extra time to read their Bible. They don’t have the focus to pray for more than 30 seconds at a time. They don’t have the discipline to establish healthy spiritual routines. They couldn’t follow the call of God on their lives because the timing wasn’t right, they didn’t have enough money, and it just wasn’t practical.
If I’m honest, of course, I have to admit that I’m guilty of this too. I can give you all the reasons why I don’t share the Gospel more often, why I still struggle with the same sins after all these years, why I’m so quick to speak ill of others, and why I have such limited faith for what God can do in people’s lives. Evangelism is uncomfortable, sin feels natural and often good in the moment, gossip is culturally acceptable, and my experience says most people never really change.
We all make excuses, but for Christians, doing so should make us feel a bit convicted. After all, we have the Bible. We know about the God who makes the impossible normal. We know the stories about regular people who chose to obey God and as a result were witnesses of amazing works of God. We have memorized verses that tell us we can do all things through Christ, that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world, that if we are in Christ, we are new creations, and that we have been given a Spirit of power, love and self-control (Philippians 4:13, 1 John 4:4, 1 Corinthians 5:17, 2 Timothy 1:7).
We know all this, and yet the excuses continue. Why is this? Why do we persist in making excuses that are not compatible with the truth we claim to believe?
There is a story in John’s gospel that I believe illustrates this dilemma for us. It is found in John 5: 2-9.
Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
Here we find a man living, what is for him, just another day. He is doing the same thing he always does. He has some pretty obvious problems, just like most of us, and he has gotten accustomed to them. They have been there for 38 years, so they just feel like a part of him now. It is likely that when he first came to this pool, he had hopes of getting healed. Why else would he be there? Day after day pass by, however, and no healing. He has seen the water get stirred, and for a while, I bet he did everything he could to get into the water first, but someone else always beat him there. Slowly, his hope dwindled. Every now and then he might have found a new wave of motivation and tried again to make his way to the water for healing, but it was all for nothing. He’s still here, still crippled, and still can’t make it to the water first. By the time Jesus finds him, he is all out of hope and motivation. All he’s got left are excuses.
Who can really blame him, though? Honestly, isn’t he right? Because of his condition, he will never be able to move as quickly as some other people at the pool and because of his lack of help, he doesn’t have a way to overcome this challenge. So yes, he is making excuses, but it is difficult to say he is wrong.
That’s one of the reasons excuse-making is so prevalent: on the surface they seem completely valid and accurate. They usually match our feelings, perspectives and experiences. They make perfect sense to us, so they really do feel more like explanations than excuses when we are making them.
It is into this man’s helpless and hopeless situation that Jesus walks. Jesus asks him if he wants to be healed just to be met with reasons why he isn’t already. Notice, Jesus doesn’t berate him for giving an excuse or responding the way he does. He doesn’t blame the man for having lost hope. I think Jesus knew what this man had been through. He knew it had been 38 years. He also knew this man never could have gotten to the water himself. Jesus doesn’t tell the man that he needs a better strategy and that if he tried a little harder he could do it. Jesus doesn’t give him some tips and motivational sayings and then leave him to figure it out alone. Instead, Jesus bypassed the man’s excuses and provided the power the man didn’t have to bring about the change he needed.
I don’t know what excuses you have been making. I don’t know what behaviors you are excusing. If you are like me though, there are changes that you aren’t making, problems you aren’t solving, healthy habits you aren’t performing, and you have plenty of reasons to explain it all away. Maybe those reasons are completely valid too. There is a good chance that there are some changes in your life that you simply aren’t able to make. You can’t drag yourself to the pool quickly enough. Some people around you seem to be able to figure it all out themselves, but you are still stuck. So, in order to cope with the pain, frustration, and disappointment, you’ve manufactured a list of excuses.
If this is you today, I want to give you one simple, but powerful thought: Jesus is bigger than your excuses. He can do what you have proven unable to do. His power and presence can bring changes you haven’t been able to make. In John 15:5, He tells us that if we abide in Him, we will bear fruit, but apart from Him we can do nothing. In other words, with Jesus we can grow and change, becoming the person God calls us to be and fulfilling the calling He has given us. Without Him, we will remain stuck. Without Him, we may find ourselves 38 years into problems that we can’t figure out, devoid of hope, and making excuses for why we never changed.
Today, I would encourage you to reflect on the areas of your life where you feel stuck. What are the things you keep making excuses for? Perhaps it is time to come to grips with the truth that you may not be able to make the change by yourself. Then bring it all to Jesus. Bring the change you can’t make and the excuses you do make, and share it all with Jesus. He can handle your feelings and your excuses. Ask Him for His help. His Spirit can give you the power to do what you could never do on your own. His word can give you direction and wisdom on how to approach the struggles you face. His presence can give you new life, energy and hope.
So what’s your excuse? Whatever it is, I tell you with confidence today that it is no match for the power of Jesus.
Gervis, Z. (2020, May 18). This is how many excuses the average American makes every day. New York Post. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from https://nypost.com/2020/05/18/the-average-american-makes-this-many-excuses-every-day/