Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Words from Wednesday (Devotional)

This a little presentation/speaking thing I did yesterday for the Connections group (Women’s Ministries). . .I tried to adapt it to fit here in the devotional part of my blog. . .

Encouragement: Being an Israelite Servant
Text: 2 Kings 5

[My leader] called with a request that I share a few thoughts. And I thought about it for a day. And then I made a deal with God. If he magically gives me a topic to speak on, I’d do it. And like every time I make a deal with God, ask for a clear answer, or wait for his lightning to strike, he doesn’t answered me, which I am sure you can relate to. I know I’m not the only one in this situation. And that really bums me out. It disappoints me. So I am here today, still, to tell you a few thoughts on encouragement.

And I even chose a very unlikely story, without even a woman in it! So bear with me, as I read from 2 Kings 5. . .

There was this man named Naaman from Aram, which is also known as Syria. He was the commander of the Aramean army. This meant that he and the king were the best of friends. This means he had just about as much power as the king. The boring history here is that the Arameans were a fierce people. Their king set out to war with surrounding nations and his war involved plunder (taking whatever they wanted) and destruction (killing and burning down the cities). During this time period, Israel and Aram, were constantly at war.

So here is Naaman. He is the enemy. He gets leprosy. More boring history: if you had leprosy, your future included living outside of the city and becoming a beggar. You were thought to be unclean, contagious, and a less of a person because of it. So Naaman’s thinking now that his career and friendship with the king are just about over because he will have to leave his city and live as a beggar along with every other person who got this terrible affliction. But an Israelite servant girl—someone who was most likely taken captive when Naaman sent his army to take over a city (the plunder part)—makes a bold statement: that Master Naaman might be cured if he goes to see the prophet Elisha. This is bold because she could be killed just for suggesting there is some good in the country she comes from; that maybe some good could come from Naaman’s biggest enemy. And after all, she was only a measly little servant girl to Naaman’s wife. But Naaman is desperate and brings the idea to the king. The king endorses this for some crazy reason, sends a letter of request to Israel, his enemy, and waits to hear what will happen to his commander.

When the king of Israel, King Joram, gets the letter, he stresses out, trying to figure out what he is supposed to do . . . Does this mean he must plan war on Aram or send this commander to this Elisha, who is in his opinion, some “bozo” who thinks God is so-o-o good. By God’s grace and perfect plan, Naaman, in all his wealth, in all his glory and along with his entourage, goes to Elisha’s house for healing. He is expecting a grand welcome, a ceremony of healing, and medicine to cure him on the spot, as most Eastern religions practiced. But to his dismay, he is only greeted by Elisha’s servant and is given this message: “Go wash 7 times in the Jordan River.” Today, that would be like your doctor’s receptionist telling you to hop into the middle of [a certain local lake] for a bath. Not my idea of healing. It wasn’t Naaman’s either. Naaman is mad.

Here is the part I want you to notice today. Because not many people do. Usually the story of Naaman focuses on his pride and him being humbled by God’s greatness and miraculous power. Which is a HUGE piece to this story. But here is just a small part that I want to share with you today. It’s verse 13. “Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more, then, if he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’.” [I showed this same part from the Children’s Story Bible.]

Now here is where that boring history part comes in handy. Chances are very high that these BOLD servants are Israelites, just like the servant girl who suggested he go to Elisha in the first place. And being Israelites . . . if they know there is an Elisha out there, they know this Elisha knows what he is doing. They are aware of God’s saving presence with his people through this prophet, Elisha. They know this God who can heal. And they know this God who asks for obedience. They even know all the rules and consequences for not obeying God. (Remember one simple example: God told his people to gather enough manna for today only . . . anyone who saved leftovers . . . woke up to moldy crackers! Gather enough for the Sabbath the day before. Anyone who didn’t went hungry. God demanded obedience! The reason these guys are servants today is because God had punished Israel‘s disbelief—their choice to follow other gods, God had allowed the enemy to go to war and capture them.) They used to live with God—their faith in God— as a daily part of their life!

So here they are trying to convince their Master to do the unthinkable! Take off your gold and your purple cloth. Go down to that dirty river where no one washes. And people might be watching, they might be staring, they might even be thinking poor Naaman went crazy. But that is what you have to do. And these servants are so convincing—so encouraging—that Naaman finally gives in. Can you imagine the thoughts running through his head each time he washes, and nothing happens? And then, on wash number seven, God rewards his obedience. Naaman is cleansed of his illness and his skin is restored. Not only that, Naaman then goes on to proclaim, “Now I know that there is no other God in the world except for the God Israel serves.”

And those bold, encouraging, convincing servants got to witness a miracle. They got to see a glimpse of God. They didn’t just see a miracle, but they saw a change of heart in one very unlikely man. They got to see the reward of God’s blessing through obedient living. Could you just imagine what that might have been like? To see your God at work because you obediently encouraged someone?

I need someone like that in my life! I need those Israelite servants in my life. Maybe you need those Israelite servants in your lives. We need people of God to come along side of us, in both our joys and pains, in our sufferings and healings, in our uncertainties and our daily living, to say to us, “You can do it!” “I’m praying for you.” “Trust in God, even though it is hard right now.” “Trust in his goodness, trust Him even when it doesn’t seem good to you.” “Celebrate in him and the blessings he has given to you.” “Go ahead; take a step forward in faith.” We need someone who will come along side of us and boldly tell us to take a step in faith, to say the words that God might be trying to tell us, to push us on in our lives.

To assure you I didn’t just pick out a small detail in a story to prove my own point, I want to assure you that those encouragers are not limited to the servants of Naaman. Moses was told to encourage Joshua who would be leading Israel into the Promised Land. Ruth acted as an encouragement to Naomi to keep going. Paul, Timothy and Silas said much to encourage and strengthen their brothers in Christ. Most of the books of the New Testament are letters to encourage, strengthen and direct the new churches and church leaders!

Romans 12:8 talks about the parts needed in Christ body and the different gifts given to each member to make the body work harmoniously. These include teaching, prophesying, hospitality, leadership and also encouraging. By offering an encouraging word, we are helping the body of Christ. We are not only helping others, but also ourselves. Just like the Israelite servants, you have to know what it is God desires to pass that along. It pushes you to a closer relationship to God because you will want to speak His truth to someone in need. Encouraging is not making someone feel good about a bad situation or in a harmful situation. Those Israelite servants didn’t say, “Yah, the waters are muddy. What a dumb suggestion! Lets go find someone better to talk to.” No, they tried to persuade him to do what they knew was right. Encouraging is lifting another up in a worthwhile accomplishment. It is drawing someone closer to God and His grace: to His love, His forgiveness, and His salvation.

One verse I want to share with you is this: “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13)
It is today. Today is that day. Today, you can be that Israelite servant to someone, and allow God to work out His grace, His miracles, and His blessings. We have been meeting together each week—for some of us just a few months, for other for the entire year. For me it has been a time to have a break from the regular life, to grow in God by digging deeper into the Word, but also to be encouraged by the rest of you here. I need to know that I am not the only one out there with a certain struggle. I need to know that there is someone out there who is committed to praying for me or my situation, like our groups have provided. I need to laugh at the jokes told and hear the stories you have shared. God has called so many of you into my life just by being you, just by coming here, just by being in a leadership or service position here at this particular time. Sometimes your encouragement can be intentional. At other times it just flows naturally from you! I think the very first time I met [the leader] was soon after my daughter was born with an infection, and she made a dinner for my family. What an encouragement and much needed help it was then, and now she has blessed us each week with her words, leadership, and vigor for the Lord.

I recently was invited to witness the Profession of Faith of a student I had taught some years ago. This student grew up in a Christian home, but there was a particular time during his first grade year when he came home and asked his mom a little more about making a deeper commitment because his teacher had talked about living your life differently because you love God. Years later, I was told that I was the vessel God has used through my words to him.

A big bunch of years ago I was invited to a wedding of a high school friend. I have to admit, I wasn’t much of a friend to her in high school. But there was one particular day when my other friends were running off to avoid hanging out with her (yes, those mean, rude things high school girls can do!), that I felt compelled to stay and be a friend to her. That choice that day and the times I did the same in the weeks following, must have made a difference. In her reception line she introduced me to her new husband, who I didn’t know at all. I remember clearly though. He grasped my hands and said, “Thank-you.” Because I had been the one person way back in high school to give her the confidence she needed to go on and turn into the bride she was for him that day.

Earlier I asked: Could you just imagine what that might have been like for those Israelite servants? To see your God at work because you obediently encouraged someone? And I say: Look what you can do! You can give a healthy meal for someone in need, you can offer uplifting words to the women you have a passion for. You can spur someone to make a commitment to Christ. You can save someone’s life.

Application: So now it IS your turn., 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Write an encouragement or prayer for someone you know of who may need it today. Take time to pray and write a prayer or encouragement. It doesn’t have to be wordy or perfect. It just needs to be encouragement. Commit this person in your devotions or prayers throughout the summer months, so that by doing so you might be encouraging them and building them up in the Lord.

Encouragement Online: Here are a few sites to browse. . .

Song: Check out Natalie Grant-Better Hands

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