“Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.” — Mark Twain
When I read the story about about Naaman in 2 Kings 5, two things stand out and cause me pause. First, why is an entire chapter in the Old Testament given over to this one character and his leprosy? And two, why am I so familiar with just how Naaman must have felt when he was told to wash in the Jordan River?
First, I haven’t a clue as to why an entire chapter is given over to this story. However, I am truly bothered by Naaman’s response to Elijah’s directives to go wash in the Jordan. Here is a highly regarded warrior whom the king of Aram knew to be a great man, “because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram” (vs. 1). Aram, by the way, is also known as Syria, whose capital is Damascus. But I digress.
Here’s the picture: Naaman is a great warrior, esteemed by all, adored by the masses and rich enough to own a slave girl imported from Israel. His only problem seemed to be a small case of leprosy, which is a bit more distressing that acute acne by not as bad terminal cancer.
So Naaman is a great warrior and respected by his peers. He’s a bit like me, if you will – a warrior with words and respected by the dozens of people who know I like to write.
Now comes the crisis (leprosy, or cancer or something tragic in my life like another rejection letter from an editor) and the solution (go bathe in a muddy stream, or bow to God or apologize to your family for being selfish or something equally mundane). “Wait!” I want to shout, “I’m a SOMEBODY. Elisha, you can’t be serious. Don’t just send out your maid and tell me to do something mundane. I’m special and I want special treatment!”
That’s it, right? I know I’m somebody special and I want the world to acknowledge it. But God isn’t interested in my feelings; He’s interested in my obedience (Have you noticed how Scripture is painfully lacking when it comes to God’s concern for our feelings?). And you know, perhaps if I were a tad quicker in my obedience, I’d be less popular during my times of disobedience. Do I really want an entire chapter in Scripture given over to one verse of compliments and twenty-six verses of me acting selfish and childish?
But I still can’t help but identify with Naaman. I still want my name to be called out by the prophet and given a spectacular assignment that will seal my name and fame among the amassed throng of admirers. Yeah, I know that sounds silly, but I also know that it strikes a chord with many of us. Don’t you know that the spectacular is a tool of the devil to get our focus off God? Remember, it was Satan who took Jesus to the highest point of the temple and said, “If you are the Son of God throw yourself down.” That would be a crowd-gatherer. But that wasn’t what Jesus was about. Instead, Jesus was so un-spectacular that at the end of His life there were only about a half-dozen folk who even made it to His execution.
So here is the lesson: Beware of trading the simple life of obedience for the tug and temptation of the spectacular at the expense of your soul. Jesus told the devil what he could do with his suggestions (see Matthew 4:7) to place pride before purpose, and perhaps you, and I, should learn to do the same. God may choose to do great things through me, but it will never be at my suggestion. God’s greatness will only be seen in my life when I am willing to bow my heart in humble submission to His directions. I must learn to decrease so that He may increase.