Though I’ve never been a parent, and certainly never a mother, I wanted to share these words from the heart of a mother, because I believe they capture the essence of today’s message so well:
One day as I was picking
the toys up off the floor,
I noticed a small hand print
on the wall beside the door.
I knew that it was something
that I’d seen most every day,
but this time when I saw it there,
I wanted it to stay.
Then tears welled up inside my eyes,
I knew it wouldn’t last,
for every mother knows
her children grow up way too fast.
Just then I put my chores aside
and held my children tight.
I sang to them sweet lullabies
and rocked into the night.
Sometimes we take for granted,
all those things that seem so small.
Like one of God’s great treasures….
A small hand print on the wall.
– Author Unknown
We speak often in church of the feats of great and renown men—men and women, yes—but more often it is the men we speak of, who have changed the course of history. We speak of the great prophets and leaders like Elijah, like Moses, or like the apostle Paul, and we give acclaim to their heroism, their piety, their boldness in duty.
We see the great responsibility these men had—the tremendous pressure of their calling, and how through God’s grace, these men changed the course of history. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I’m tempted to think “Yeah, but that was them. They did great things, but perhaps it was because they had greater opportunities. After all, not everyone was called to lead Israel out of Egypt.” Even Moses brother and sister, as close to him as they were, didn’t have the same honor that Moses had—and they were severely punished when they murmured against him!
It’s tempting to think, yes, if only I had more opportunities, certainly I could do more with my life. If only I wasn’t stuck in Podunkville Kentucky. If only I had more friends. If only I were better looking. If only I were more talented. If only I had a better paying job. If only I didn’t have to spend so much time taking care of the kids, or the grandparents, or whatever the case me be. If only—yes, if only things were different, perhaps then I could have a better life. People would appreciate me more. Perhaps, yes, I could be the one to change the world. And we pine away our lives, walking through the shadowing garden of regrets, of envy, of “if only” and might-have-been.
If ever there were someone who could have wished for a different life, it must have been a young, nameless little slave girl, taken captive many, many years ago. She had had a home, once, with a loving family in Israel. But the Syrian army had come and raided her home. We can only imagine what tragedy may have befallen her parents, but this young girl was torn away from her home and everything she knew, and taken far away to a foreign land, to live as a slave, serving the wife of the army commander Naaman.
If anyone had reason to complain, it would have been this little girl. She couldn’t hope to go to school. She couldn’t run and play with her friends. She couldn’t run to the arms of her mother and father. It seemed like every opportunity of life was crushed—and to add insult to injury, she was forced to serve in the home of the man whose army had taken everything from her life.
We find this story in 2 Kings 5:1-2
“Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper. 2 And the Syrians had gone out on raids, and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel. She waited on Naaman’s wife.”
This mighty man, Naaman, had a problem. It says that he was a leper. And perhaps you’re thinking, “if I was this girl, I’d be glad to see something that’s going take that man down.” But there was something in the heart of this little girl—something that’s difficult to understand. Perhaps it’s something we call grace. Perhaps you could use the word “gratitude.” I believe it’s both of these, but in truth it can be nothing short of the Spirit of God—for nothing apart from Him could give her this heart of gold.
v. 3: “Then she said to her mistress, ‘If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy.’
Despite her circumstances; despite all the bitterness and hatred that she could have held in her heart toward her captors, it seems that she has only one concern in the world—a care for the well-being of her Syrian master.
v. 4-5 “And Naaman went in and told his master, saying, ‘Thus and thus said the girl who is from the land of Israel.’ Then the king of Syria said, ‘Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.’”
It seems to be an unlikely chain of events. Why ever would this Syrian general pay attention to the words of a little servant girl—and that from the land of their enemies? Why should he listen to her? Why should he believe her?
I believe it comes down to this word that we throw around so often this time of year—this idea of thankfulness, of gratitude. You see, for Naaman and his wife to believe this little maid, they had to have seen in her life an evidence of a genuine care and concern for him.
It couldn’t have been something put-on. It must have been a sincere and earnest care, as only a child can express, that made this haughty man pause a consider her words. And a concern like this, even from a child, could come only from a heart that is filled with this thing called gratitude.
You see, gratitude is more than just saying “thank you.” Gratitude is a way of looking at the world—a lens, if you will. This lens of gratitude overlooks the injustices done to us, and allows us to recognize our eternal indebtedness to others for our present well-being. It points us to the great Giver of all good things, and has within it the recognition of our indebtedness to Him, which makes us willing to forgive those who may have tried to make our lives bitter.
This was the life-message of the little maid, and it had its effect on Naaman. Naaman himself, as proud as he was, recognized that there was something he desperately needed. He longed for healing from this dreaded disease of leprosy. And if there was a chance this healing could be found, even in the land of his enemies, he was willing to take the chance.
So he procured a letter from the king, and made arrangements for the trip. He took with him a great sum of money—after all, what fee would such a mighty man charge for his services to cure this man of leprosy?
I always wished I could have been a fly on the wall to see the king’s reaction, when Naaman marched in with his entourage, demanding to be healed of his leprosy. “Am I God, to kill and make alive?” cried the king as he tore his clothes.
But, before Naaman could be sent away, the prophet Elisha hears word of Naaman’s strange request, and sends word to the king to have Naaman directed to him.
So, Naaman goes down to meet Elisha. Perhaps, by now, Naaman himself is having some doubts about the wisdom of his quest. If this goes poorly, his visit would surely stir up the hatred of the Israelites against his nation. But, he’s glad that not all hope is lost!
But when Naaman gets to Elisha’s house, he is met only by a servant, Gehazi. Now it was one thing to Naaman to go to Israel, on the word of a humble servant. But surely when he, the captain of the Syrian army, should pay a visit to this dignitary, the prophet of Israel—surely this prophet would have the courtesy of making a formal and personal greeting. Surely, at least, he should come to the door. But no, he just sends his servant Gehazi out with a message, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” (v. 10)
Naaman was furious. Never had he been snubbed like this—no, not he, the commander of the army! He turned away in a rage. Listen to his words (v. 11-12):
“Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?”
I have to laugh, really, because I can relate to this so much. How often, when we ask God to do something, do we try to tell Him how to do it? I find myself praying something like this, “God, I know you promised to take care of your children. Now, you know for me really to be in good shape, I need money, and a good job, and a good reputation, and more friends, and I need all my trials to go away.” Now of course we don’t really say that, but have you every been guilty of thinking that? I think I have. And when I don’t get more money, or my friends aren’t nice to me, or I find myself going through more trials, I find myself questioning, “Why, Lord?” And we get angry and upset, and walk away from him, when we’re right on the verge of finding the very gift God desires to give us the most.
So, Naaman is on his way back to Syria. He’s given up. Nope, not doing it. I’m not getting into that muddy Jordan river. The prophet had his chance, but he snubbed me, and then told me to wash in a muddy river. What does he think, anyway—like I’m dirty or something?
(v. 12-13) So he turned and went away in a rage. 13 And his servants came near and spoke 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, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”
I have to stop right here, because isn’t this such a beautiful picture of the gospel. Jesus offers us cleansing, through His blood—full and free. Yet how many are willing to partake of it? How many people in this world would go to the ends of the earth to find peace, joy, and fulfillment in life. They would spend their life fortunes to do some great work, in an attempt to find salvation. But to just wash, and be clean? It sounds too simple—too easy, too un-intellectual, too humiliating. But this humble yet wise servant of Naaman—a third servant in this story, and he not even a believer in God, speaks the truth to his ears. How hard is it to just try what the prophet said? You’re already here. You’ve come all this way, why not just wash, and be clean?
(v. 14) So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
What was it that cleansed Naaman’s leprosy? Was there something magical about the waters of the Jordan? No—it was his simple faith, however weak, but his simple faith expressed in action, in obedience to the Lord’s direction. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, that Naaman did that cured him of his leprosy. It was entirely the work of God. But by acting in faith, Naaman received the blessing. And in that instant, not only was Naaman’s skin healed, but Naaman’s heart was filled with gratitude and love for the God of Israel—who had restored his life to him again.
v. 15 And he returned to the man of God, he and all his aides, and came and stood before him; and he said, “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant.”
Naaman returns to Elisha’s house and pours out his gratitude to God, and to this prophet. “Please, take this gift.” But Elisha couldn’t accept the gift. Elisha couldn’t take payment for something that God Himself had done for this man. You see, the essence of gratitude is to recognize Who is the One Who gives us gifts, and Elisha wants none of the credit. He points Naaman’s gratitude to heaven, and from this day forward Naaman became a worshiper of the true God.
I wish the story would end there. As Naaman heads back to Syria, his heart is filled with his new-found faith. But there’s someone who isn’t happy. Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, saws what went on, and as Naaman turned back home, taking his money and presents with him, his heart began to sink. “Elisha, don’t you realize who this man is? Don’t you realize how much money he could have left us? I mean, we could have built an entire school with just one of his gifts! You see, unlike Elisha, unlike Naaman, and unlike the little maid, Gehazi failed to recognize the One Who is the giver of all good gifts. His heart, instead of being filled with gratitude, was filled with coveteousness and greed. It was too much. He ran after Naaman, and with a thinly-veiled lie, he convinced Naaman that circumstances had changed, and that they really could use some of his gifts. Naaman happily obliged, and Gehazi arranged for the gifts to be deposited in a safe place and returned quickly to Elisha. But Elisha was not fooled.
26 Then he said to him, “Did not my heart go with you when the man turned back from his chariot to meet you? Is it time to receive money and to receive clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male and female servants? 27 Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and your descendants forever.” And he went out from his presence leprous, as white as snow.
Two men. Two hearts. One disease of leprosy. Naaman received healing from his leprosy, and in the process learned the meaning of gratitude. The other, Gehazi, though he had the highest of privileges in being the servant of Elisha, was ungrateful. His heart was not filled with gratitude, and for the rest of his life, he bore the curse of Naaman’s leprosy.
So my friends, which will it be? Which heart will you have? It’s so easy to fall into the trap of envy, of covetousness, of complaining and unthankfulness. But may we, this season, learn the meaning of grace, and accept God’s grace in whatever form it may come, with gratitude?
Jesus said in Luke 4:27, “many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” And why? Because he believed in God, and accepted His gift with gratitude.