Reading through the troubled history of Israel in 2 Kings, punctuated by the astonishing exploits of Elisha, has its risks. The stories are graphic, the miracles outstanding, the power is irresistible and thrilling – but therein lies the danger for us (or me).
It’s rather like comparing my ability to run 100 metres with Usain Bolt. Yes, I can be inspired, but I know I’ll never sprint like him. He appeared in the world of athletics like a meteorite – but what he can do, only he can do. In the same way, the gulf in context and experience could distance us from the world of Elisha’s prophecy and miracles – inspiring us to believe they can occur, but only for the superstar of the spiritual world. How about miracles for the also-rans?
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Words for the Week
2 Kings 6:8-17
Once when the king of Syria was warring against Israel, he took counsel with his servants, saying, “At such and such a place shall be my camp.” But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel, “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Syrians are going down there.” And the king of Israel sent to the place about which the man of God told him. Thus he used to warn him, so that he saved himself there more than once or twice.
And the mind of the king of Syria was greatly troubled because of this thing, and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you not show me who of us is for the king of Israel?” And one of his servants said, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.” And he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and seize him.” It was told him, “Behold, he is in Dothan.” So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city.
When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all round the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all round Elisha.
And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
If there are keys to understanding Elisha’s spectacular life of signs and wonders, this conversation and prayer with his servant is a good place to start. Three features stand out to me.
First, Elisha understood another dimension of reality, and as the servant suddenly realised, it was a dimension that changed everything. Jesus called it the Kingdom of God – the sphere of God’s effective will. At the heart of his life, actions and teaching, Jesus urged us to grasp this reality: God present with us in all circumstances. It brings as dramatic a change to our perspective as realising that the earth is not flat after all. It’s a sphere.
When Nicodemus came to investigate Jesus’ authority and power to perform miracles, he famously replied: “unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” In essence, Jesus was explaining Elisha’s prayer: “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:20-21). I know I live too often like a flat earth Christian.
“The Bible makes it clear that every time that there is a story of faith, it is completely original. God’s creative genius is endless.”
Eugene H. Peterson: Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best
Second, Elisha shared the revelation with his servant. In the same spirit, Jesus made clear the Kingdom of God was not reserved for the experts, the superstars, or religious elite. It’s for those who honestly seek after truth.
What Elisha did for one man, Jesus offered to all. “You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15). More than anyone, I should remember this. The clearest healing I have experienced in 40 odd years occurred when an 8 year old boy prayed for my well being.
Third, Elisha’s prayer demolished any idea that his power to perform miracles somehow resided in himself. He, like us, was an ordinary man who had committed to following an extraordinary God. “When it comes to prayer and faith, think of mustard seeds.” was Jesus’ confidence-inspiring advice.
The battle is this: feelings of inadequacy in the face of overwhelming problems are one of the greatest hindrances to my praying. But as the servant now sees, and as Jesus’ affirms, I have no need to work up a special pitch of confidence. God is the creator, not me. If I make it my goal to understand what “the master is doing”, to live life as a follower of Jesus, miracles cease to be a goal at all, but they may well be an outcome. I’d like to plant more mustard seeds…
“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”
Own it personally
- Are my eyes open? Where and with whom do I have influence? Make a list. Many of the most profound turning points in life happen as a result of someone saying or doing something that appears relatively simple and insignificant. It reminds me of a definition of prophecy as “stating the obvious but with anointing”. How might I plant seeds, in word or deed?
- The disciples could see that Jesus lived in a different realm of prayer. Use Jesus’ template, the Lord’s prayer, to explore these different dimensions in your life and beyond: his identity; his purpose; his provision; forgiveness; resisting evil. Matthew 6:7-15
- Philip Yancey writes in his book, Prayer: “It occurred to me one day that though I often worry about whether or not I sense the presence of God, I give little thought to whether God senses the presence of me.” Disconnect from the digital world, listen… Lord, please open our eyes that we might see.
Speak it Out – Pray and Prophesy
An appeal for wisdom, revelation, hope for the future, and the realisation of where and how new life begins.
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:16-23
“The way of Jesus cannot be imposed or mapped — it requires an active participation in following Jesus as he leads us through sometimes strange and unfamiliar territory, in circumstances that become clear only in the hesitations and questionings, in the pauses and reflections where we engage in prayerful conversation with one another and with him.”
Eugene H. Peterson, The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way