II Kings 5:1-14, Mark 1:40-45
February 12th, 2006
“I’d rather do it myself!” How many of us have ever said that? It sounds kind of childish, doesn’t it? We would expect such a statement from a five year old, but not an adult, right? Yet, how many of us react to things that way?
Think about it. We human beings want things our way. We see the world through our own spectacles. And when God calls, we often say, “I hear you calling God, so here’s what I want you to do.” A lot of people do that! They’re ok with seeking God’s will – as long as they have the “final say” in what happens. Are we like that?
That’s not often the way it works. Many times God calls us to do things differently than what we think should be done. Got often calls us to “step out of our comfort zone,” as the song says. Then what happens? We get scared, we get indignant, we even get apathetic. (“Ah, God, forget it. You just don’t understand!”) We forget what it’s like when God calls. He often calls us to do things that are outside of our “comfort zone.”
Sometimes the same thing happens with a congregation. Sometimes we do what was described by my own minister years ago. He said that people in the Church sometimes forget God’s will and just “take off” on what they think should be done, sometimes without even consulting God! At best, they pay him lip service, and then they ask in prayer that he bless whatever it was they thought best. Do we ever do that?
Look at this wonderful story from the Old Testament for today. It’s about this guy, Naaman, who was a commander of the Syrian army. We’re told here that Naaman was highly thought of by his king. He even had the favor of God, and at one point God gave him a great victory. It’s true that many people who were non-Jews still worshipped God. The Jews didn’t have an exclusive on God – they just thought they did! Well, Naaman was a man who honored God, and he was thought to be a “mighty man of valor.” “But,” we are told “he was also a leper.”
Well, to make a long story short, Naaman was sent by the King of Syria to Israel in hopes that he might get to see the prophet Elisha and be cured from this horrible disease of leprosy. (Remember, Elisha was the successor to Elijah!) So, when Naaman got to Elisha’s house, he was full of high hopes. But things didn’t go as he expected. When he got there, Elisha didn’t come out to meet him. He just sent out his servant with instructions that Naaman go and wash in the Jordan river, and then he would be healed.
Now, that seems simple enough, doesn’t it? What would we have done at that point? Wouldn’t we have done as the prophet instructed? You’d think so, right? But not so with Naaman! Instead, he got all indignant. “Go and wash? That’s it?” “Isn’t the prophet even going to come out here to see me?” “Surely I thought he would come out and call on the name of the Lord and wave his hands over me.” “This is not what I expected!” And he went away – “in a rage.”
Wow! What a scene! Think about it. This wasn’t even a hard thing the prophet told him to do! But when it wasn’t the way Naaman expected, he left! And as a result he refused even his own cure! That seems almost unbelievable to us. doesn’t it?! If we could talk to him at this point, we might say, “Naaman! You dummy!” “Just go do what the prophet said. And you’ll be cured! That is the whole point, isn’t it?” And that’s exactly what his servants told him. They said, “Naaman! You dummy!” “What’s the matter with you?!” “If the prophet told you to do some great deed, you would have done it, right?” “All he said was ‘do this simple thing’ – just go take a bath – and you’ll be cured! Why not do it?” Those were simple words of wisdom from the his lowly servants!
Well, they got through to Naaman. So he went to the river. And amazingly, God hadn’t withdraw his promise of healing, despite Naaman’s reaction! And we wouldn’t have been surprised if he did, would we? We might even expect God to say, “Ok Naaman, if you can’t follow my simple instructions, then forget about it!” But he didn’t, and Naaman went, he did the simple task, and he was cured.
This was in many ways an incredible story! But let me ask you this. Is it ever our story? Do we ever try to insist on our will over God’s will? Do we ever answer God’s call. but only when it comes to us on our own terms? Do we superimpose our own “comfort zone” over God’s will? Do we ever feel God leading us, and then say, “No wait, God, I have a better idea?”
I think you know the answers to those questions. We all do those things, don’t we?! We all feel like Naaman from time to time. “Why does God not do what I ask?” “Why does God wait?” “How long until my prayers are answered?” Those are questions for which, if I had all the answers, I could make millions!
However, I think part of the answer lies in trying to understand ourselves in relation to the will of God. I think it’s ok for us humans to admit, maybe even to confess, that we don’t have the best understanding of things. We don’t have all the answers. We may not even understand all the right questions! We struggle. We grieve. We even fight with God.
And we’re not alone. Look at the Bible. In lots of places, particularly in the Psalms we find a lot of the same heartache and anguish we often feel as humans. And I think an important lesson there – if not the most important lesson – is that we need not be afraid to express that anguish! When it’s appropriate, we need to pour our hearts before God. That’s what God wants. In fact, it was once said, and I think it’s true, that God likes a good fight more than he likes being ignored or trivialized by his people! But sometimes we get the idea that it’s not right to fight with God, as if he can’t take the scrutiny, or as if that questioning from the heart is bad somehow.
I think that’s exactly the kind of interaction God wants with his people! He wants us to share ourselves with him in every way. And he wants to share himself with us. He wants to know our heartaches and our struggles. Look at Jesus in the garden. One of the most important reasons for Jesus coming to earth was to experience the heartaches of this life. There in Gethsemane, he poured his heart out before God, even to the point that his sweat dripped blood! It was that intense!!
We need to know that it’s ok to let God know how we feel. He wants us to pour our hearts out to him. He can take it. The more I understand God the more I know that he loves it when his people’s hearts are set on him. He intended from the beginning that the lives of the people he created were to be focused on his kingdom. He wants nothing less of us.
Yet, too often people settle for less. They give God very little of their time or their devotion or even their loyalty! They pay him lip service only. Their prayers are perfunctory and passionless. Do you think that’s how Christianity should be? I don’t think so.
I love the story of Naaman. It is so flawed, it’s so gritty, it’s so human. Yet in the Bible, God tends to work with people like that – people who had “feet of clay.” He used the likes of Moses, Jacob, David, Peter, and Paul, just to name a few. They were flawed people. But they tended also to be people of passion. They were people who felt big and who loved big. They were reluctant, but they listened and they heeded God’s call.
God wants that of us, too. He will call us. We might “push back” against his call. We might even defy him. But we will come to our senses, again and again. And we will find a God who watches over us and who wants us to grow and to return and to share our lives with him on all levels – even our fears and our frustration, our anger and our misgivings.
Don’t be afraid to share your heart to God. That’s what he wants. Don’t be afraid to give him your joys and your fears. Don’t be afraid to answer his call, on his terms. He will call. He will challenge you. He will stretch you. And he will love you beyond what you can ever ask or think.
Eternal God, we don’t always understand things the way you do. We don’t always even see the world the same way. Help us to trust where things are beyond our understanding. Help us to learn how to seek your will and to follow your ways. Help us to share with you our lives and our hearts. This we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.