Saturday, September 18, 2010

Of Large Things and Small

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 27

Read: 2 Kings 4:38 - 15:26

Verse that stood out: But his servants approached and said to him, "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more when all he said to you was, 'Wash, and be clean'?" - 2 Kings 5:13

Naaman was a man who could get things done. A valiant soldier he had achieved great professional success. A man of solid reputation he knew the ins and outs of the social world. So even though he had admitted a need and taken the advice of a servant, he returned to doing what he did best – controlling his own destiny. He secured a letter of recommendation from his King that would help him navigate the delicate waters of international travel. He loaded up his horses and chariots with five times the silver that the King of Israel had once spent to purchase an entire city (see 1 Kings 16:24). As if that wasn’t enough to grease the wheels of any Israelite bureaucracy he had 150 pounds of gold and ten large rolls of fine fabric to make sure this prophet would be persuaded to help Naaman out.

You can imagine his dismay, then, when upon showing up at Elisha’s door with his entourage surrounding him, he got no more of a response than curt message from the butler, “Go take a bath – you’ll feel better.” This was more than Naaman could stomach as a man of reputation. “'I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?' And so he turned and went off in a rage.” Naaman could take the advice of a servant, but he couldn’t take the insult of unmet expectations. He was ready and willing to obey some great task – he was after all a valiant soldier - but he was not ready to be treated like a common passerby.

Humility involves more than simply admitting a need, it involves laying aside all of our expectations and preconceived notions at the feet of the one who can heal us. Even more daunting, humility requires that we submit to the instructions of another even when those instructions seem foolish, silly, or distasteful to our exalted sensibilities. Like Naaman, many of us come to church with the recognition that we have a need, but once we’re there, we attempt to go about meeting that need once again through our own efforts. Oh, we may involve God, but only as long as God will accept a good trade – my talents, my family, my devotion in return for his love, or healing, or provision. Like Naaman we show up with our caravan of commodities and somehow think that is going to matter a hill of beans to the Creator of all the universe.

Elisha’s curt response stung Naaman because it struck at the heart of his self reliance. A soldier, Naaman probably would have identified with a U.S. Marine Corp ad which pictures a sword and the words “Earned, never given.” In most things in life, greatness comes through effort, hardship, and training. But the gift of God’s healing, both physical and spiritual come through the very opposite means, “Given, never earned.” Naaman would either accept God’s free gift of healing with no strings attached, or he would not be healed at all. The same truth goes for us as well. As the famous Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse once said, “Christ sends none away empty but those who are full of themselves.”

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