I’ve always thought that there are two sorts of people; those who believe in miracles, and those who don’t.
But reading 2 Kings 5, I’m starting to think it’s a little more complicated.
Maybe there’s those who believe in their kind of miracle; and those who believe in God’s kind of miracle.
As the story of Naaman shows us, there’s quite a difference.
Naaman is an accomplished professional but suffering the most devastating affliction: leprosy. We get a sense of what a catastrophe leprosy was by hearing the King’s response when he’s asked whether a cure can be found:
“Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”
Nothing short of a miracle — an act of God — can change the situation. Leprosy doesn’t have the same stigma today. But we all have struggles that seem to be impossible. Areas in our lives — relationships, addictions, heart issues — that try as we might, just don’t seem to go away.
A marriage that has broken down and even your counsellor says, ‘Walk away. Make a fresh start; this is going nowhere. You’re not compatible; you’d be happier alone or with other people. You need a miracle to make this work.’
An addiction to drink or drugs or food or drink or control or work or sex or gambling. And you’ve tried to make a fresh start a hundred times and you know that in your own strength, you can’t. Nothing short of a miracle will change you.
A private battle, that no-one else can see. An area where you’ve been wronged; and you cannot, will not forgive. Or a besetting sin; that dogs you, though you keep trying to give it up and you keep on saying sorry.
A part of your life you’re struggling to hand over to the Lord. Good desires — for family or a partner — but they’ve become everything and you cannot live unless you get them. Unless God changes your situation; unless God changes you.
I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. Am I God? No, only God can do this.
Naaman the leper, asking the impossible. Make me clean. And God does.
So here’s our first lesson:
- Don’t put limits on what God can do.
But, this is crucial…
2. Don’t think He’ll do it the way you expect.
Elisha doesn’t meet Naaman in person. He just sends a messenger to say: “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” (2 Kings 5:10)
But Naaman went away angry and said, “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 all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. (2 Kings 5:11-12)
Naaman is deliberately portrayed as a ridiculous figure. But once we’re done laughing at him, we need to take a good look at ourselves. Do we insist that God’s work unfolds in our life according to our expectations?
We pray for a relationship to change. Perhaps our partner takes us for granted, or is unkind. Perhaps we’re in a friendship but we’re nursing old wounds. Well it might be that God changes them. But the miracle might also be that we have to change first.
Or think of addiction. We pray and pray for the desire to be taken away and it never lifts. We want an overnight cure. But perhaps the miracle looks like years of struggles, little steps forward, daily battles. And yet in this God is changing us, teaching us to be vulnerable and to rely on Him and on others. Helping us to look at patterns and pain that feels overwhelming, working change in our hearts, growing perseverance and hope; and in God’s wisdom perhaps it takes years to unravel and to heal.
Longings that don’t go away. Feelings that can’t be expressed, desires that will lead us to harm and tear us apart. And we pray and pray and the struggles seem to be the same, but we’re learning more about the Lord and ourselves and others see us maturing and building up a trust in Jesus that is fought for so fiercely and with such pain.
Seven times in the Jordan River? No thanks God. I know plenty of better rivers and they’re closer to home, more familiar. My plan makes way more sense than yours.
But notice what happens
13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
He needed the reality check of friends — friends who would tell him: Listen! If God wants to work a miracle it’s got to be God’s miracle. It can’t be your miracle, cos — news flash! — you don’t do them. If you want a divine work in your life you’ve got to let it be a divine work. It’s out of your hands. Which means it’s in the safest possible place.
So let’s not put limits on what God can do. Expect the impossible. But then, don’t tell Him how to do His job. It’s His miracle, His way.