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Tuesday, 26 August 2008 08:58

Believing Wrestling With God

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Let us read 2 Kings 4:25-28: So she went and came unto the man of God to mount Carmel. And it came to pass, when the man of God saw her afar off, that he said to Gehazi his servant, Behold, yonder is that Shunammite: Run now, I pray thee, to meet her, and say unto her, Is it well with thee? is it well with thy husband? is it well with the child? And she answered, It is well. And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught him by the feet: but Gehazi came near to thrust her away. And the man of God said, Let her alone; for her soul is vexed within her: and the LORD hath hid it from me, and hath not told me. Then she said, Did I desire a son of my lord? did I not say, Do not deceive me?

Last time we looked at the amazing confession of faith made by the Shunammite woman in response to the devastating death of her son. Rather than collapse in panic, complain to her husband, or rage against God, she says in the face of everything with tremendous faith, it is well! The secret of her confession of faith was not found in her, but in the God who promises and whose every Word is completely trustworthy. The only secret of great faith is always a great God!

On the other hand, it cannot be denied that she has shown unusual strength. She has been strong during the whole 20 kilometer journey to reach Elisha at Mount Carmel. Unlike most people in her culture, she has not collapsed into loud wailing and crying. This might tempt us to think that she has shut down her feelings, that she is living in denial, that she is made of stone rather than flesh and blood. We might be tempted to think that she is so much more mature in the faith, that her story has nothing to say to us when we wrestle, struggle, doubt and fear during our most overwhelming days. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only does she confess her faith in God, but she also wrestles and struggles with God by faith.

You find this wrestling especially in verse 27. When she finally reaches Elisha, then the storm that is raging in her heart bursts out into the open. The reason she waits until she reaches Elisha is found in what he is called in these verses. Not once is the name Elisha mentioned, but he is called here the man of God. This means that her focus is not on Elisha, the man of God, but on his God. She comes to Elisha not because she expects great things from him, but because God has been pleased to reveal His truth

and power through His servant, the prophet. Through the man of God she has access to God Himself. Just like Asaph in Psalm 73, this woman does not share her doubts with the people of God. But she does pour them out before God.

The moment she reaches him, she falls on her face in the posture of prayer, and grabs the feet of Elisha. She assumes the position of a pleader. This is not an act of worship towards Elisha, which he never would have allowed. This is heartfelt prayer to God, even before she says a word. Sometimes you can pray by your very body language when you can not yet get the words out! Without hearing a word or even knowing what is the matter, Elisha can understand one thing here is a woman completely overwhelmed and deeply distressed.

Let us stop here. Do you see what the Lord wants to teach us about true faith, about great faith? Having great faith in a sovereign God does not make you sit back and do nothing. It does not give you reason to fold your arms, and say, Well, if God is going to raise my boy from the dead, then I guess there is no hurry. He will do it, and I may not do anything. This woman does not wait for a moment when her son dies on her lap. She immediately takes action. She runs to the field to get a donkey and then tells the servant leading the donkey, Drive on, and do not stop for anyone. She must seek God through His servant, the prophet, and wrestle with Him in prayer! Do you see how believing in the sovereign God who has all power lays the foundation for holy activity, for prayerful wrestling with God? This is not unbelief, this is completely consistent with the tremendous confession she already made twice, It is well!

What tremendous reason she has for diligent urgent haste! She has a dead boy at home, and there is no time to lose. She knows God is sovereign, but His sovereignty is not a cold iron inflexibility. It does not leave Him indifferent to the wrestling or pain of His children. His sovereignty makes this wrestling possible. Notice how she does this not angrily or proudly. She is on her face, clinging to God by clinging to His servant. She wrestles. She takes her refuge outside of herself in God. Faith is every bit as much holy wrestling as it is calm confidence.

Are you going through sorrows that are as overwhelming to you as this womans loss was to her? Then you too may pour out your heart before God in prayer. There is nothing unbelieving about this. It is why the Lord Jesus Christ, the great prophet and priest of His church, is seated on His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). We may come boldly to pour out our hearts and wrestle with Him by faith.

The second lesson we learn about wrestling faith is that it can involve deep feeling and concern. Even though she is convinced all will be well, she does not turn off her emotions or pretend her son has not died. She is not numb. Her grief hits her hard, and is so real, that before Elisha hears one word of explanation, he can see it on her face. He can see the face now breaking into tears, he can feel the pressure of her hands as she grips his feet. She is a mother, and her boy is dead. Of course she is having a hard time with it. There would be something very wrong if she were not hurting and struggling.

This is reality too in the life of faith, even of great faith. The greatest example of this is the Lord Jesus Christ. In the garden of Gethsemane, He knew clearly what Gods will was. He had been sent into this world to suffer and die on the cross. But His very real perfect humanity wrestles with strong cries and tears as Hebrews 5:7 tells us to be able to say, not my will, but thy will be done. His faith was perfect faith, and it led to tremendous deeply felt wrestling in prayer.

So when the pressures of Gods trials weigh on you, and your grief is great, dont bottle it all up. Dont pretend it is all fine. Of course there are times to make a strong confession of faith and to say it is well. But when you are before the face of God in prayer, you may pour out your heart before the sympathizing high priest. You can wrestle and groan and cry and still be acting in faith. There is no contradiction between believing and being overwhelmed. God welcomes such cries of the heart as long as the storm that breaks loose in your heart does not drive you from God, but to God. Not in defiance, but clinging to Him and to His Word.

The third lesson we learn as we watch the Shunammite woman wrestle in faith is the focus of her wrestling. What does she hang on to? She grabs a hold of the promises of God. Just listen to her words in verse 28: Did I desire a son of my lord? did I not say, Do not deceive me? She asks two questions here. The first question is, Did I desire or ask for a son? Why does she start here? Because she is going back to the promise God made to her through His servant. It was God who said to her, you will embrace a son. It was Gods idea both to promise and to give her a son. She pleads this promise. She cannot believe that the death of her boy is Gods last word. She takes His promise as reason for wrestling with Him for fulfillment. A.W. Pink puts it like this: she clings to the original promise, and refuses to believe that God has changed. All she knows about God leads her to ask do as you have said for me. She is not letting God have it! She is bringing His own words back to Him. His sovereign character and faithfulness puts her wrestling faith into gear.

The second question she asks again reveals her pain and renewed fears. When she was promised a son, it sounded too good to be true. She did not want to be hurt again by disappointment. Now her fears have come true, and she expresses them to the Lord. She is so open and honest with Him! She is not rebuked for these words, even though it is possible that she crosses the line here of saying more than is right. Still, she puts Gods promise first in her first question, and only secondly mentions her fears. Do you see that she is not superhuman? She remains a living breathing human being, with fears and doubts mixed in with her faith.

But notice where she goes with all this. She wrestles prayerfully, seeking understanding, pleading the promises, desiring that God do great things for her. She is persuaded that in falling at Gods feet to pour out her heart, she will be enabled to continue to say it is well, no matter how it ends. This is how you find rest in trial: by confessing faith in God, and then by wrestling with His promise before His face at His throne of grace.

Here we will stop for today. You may think it a strange place to stop. You may wish that I would hint at how the Lord responds to her. However, we will stop here for a very good reason. So many of Gods promises are only fulfilled in the new heavens and the new earth, at the final resurrection of all things. We so often have to live in the gap between promise and fulfillment, holding on by faith. We often have to carry burdens and sorrows for a while, sometimes all our life in this present world.

It is by stopping here that you and I can learn from God how to carry on when your world turns upside down. Not just by confessing faith and saying it is well, but also by wrestling, by pouring out your grief and pain, by clinging to Gods promises even as you are battered by fears, doubts, and hurt.

Is there someone listening who needs to hear this? A parent perhaps? Children are a gift from the Lord. But there are times when a parent loses his children, or seems to lose touch with their children, because they wander from God. Sometimes this is more painful than death to a father or mother who longs that their children become Gods children. Or maybe you face some other crisis of your faith. Some other great disappointment: the suffering of a loved one, a life threatening illness, cancer, surgery, or whatever it is. Learn then from this passage of Scripture how to say it is well, and how to live it is well with my soul before the face of a sovereign God.

Pastor Eric Moerdyk

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