There are no distractions, says one recent writer. There are only choices to focus on other things. If that is so, then the Church, at her weakest moment, is not distracted from its mission, but following her own choice to focus on something else. Many times we as believers, as seminarians, as pastors, choose to focus on other things. It is at the thing point that we are called to re-focus our attention on that which will meet out needs, answer our longings, and satisfy our desires. And where do we look?
In the dawning years of the Twenty-first century, you might be surprised to learn that our vision for the future could be located in a story from 800 BC and in a far away place called Shunem. But in the life and times of a woman whose desperate need went beyond human capacity to meet that need, we come to see that in such times, prayer is all you have. But the ministry of prayer, so often overlooked and misunderstood, is all you need.
Let us hear the inerrent and infallible Word of God.
Now it happened one day that Elisha went to Shunem, where there was a notable woman, and she persuaded him to eat some food. So it was, as often as he passed by, he would turn in there to eat some food.
And she said to her husband, “Look now, I know that this is a holy man of God, who passes by us regularly.
Please, let us make a small upper room on the wall; and let us put a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; so it will be, whenever he comes to us, he can turn in there.”
And it happened one day that he came there, and he turned in to the upper room and lay down there.
And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘Look, you have been concerned for us with all this care. What can I do for you? Do you want me to speak on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’ ” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.”
So he said, “What then is to be done for her?” And Gehazi answered, “Actually, she has no son, and her husband is old.”
So he said, “Call her.” When he had called her, she stood in the doorway.
Then he said, “About this time next year you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord. Man of God, do not lie to your maidservant!”
But the woman conceived, and bore a son when the appointed time had come, of which Elisha had told her.
And the child grew. Now it happened one day that he went out to his father, to the reapers.
And he said to his father, “My head, my head!” So he said to a servant, “Carry him to his mother.”
When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died.
And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, shut the door upon him, and went out.
Then she called to her husband, and said, “Please send me one of the young men and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and come back.”
So he said, “Why are you going to him today? It is neither the New Moon nor the Sabbath.” And she said, “It is well.”
Then she saddled a donkey, and said to her servant, “Drive, and go forward; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.”
And so she departed, and went to the man of God at Mount Carmel. So it was, when the man of God saw her afar off, that he said to his servant Gehazi, “Look, the Shunammite woman!
Please run now to meet her, and say to her, “Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?’ ” And she answered, “It is well.”
Now when she came to the man of God at the hill, she caught him by the feet, but Gehazi came near to push her away. But the man of God said, “Let her alone; for her soul is in deep distress, and the LORD has hidden it from me, and has not told me.”
So she said, “Did I ask a son of my lord? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me’?”
Then he said to Gehazi, “Get yourself ready, and take my staff in your hand, and be on your way. If you meet anyone, do not greet him; and if anyone greets you, do not answer him; but lay my staff on the face of the child.”
And the mother of the child said, “As the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her.
Now Gehazi went on ahead of them, and laid the staff on the face of the child; but there was neither voice nor hearing. Therefore he went back to meet him, and told him, saying, “The child has not awakened.”
When Elisha came into the house, there was the child, lying dead on his bed.
He went in therefore, shut the door behind the two of them, and prayed to the LORD.
And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands; and he stretched himself out on the child, and the flesh of the child became warm.
He returned and walked back and forth in the house, and again went up and stretched himself out on him; then the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes.
And he called Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite woman.” So he called her. And when she came in to him, he said, “Pick up your son.”
So she went in, fell at his feet, and bowed to the ground; then she picked up her son and went out. —2 Kings 4.8-37
What a Woman!
I have to admit it. I am infatuated with a woman and what a woman! First, let me be clear! I am infatuated—No! I am in covenant love—with my dear wife! Yet, and here I must be careful to say it, “there is another woman”—which my wife even approves of! This other woman is in heaven now. But once she lived a most amazing life. I am astounded by her story. She lived 800 years before Jesus was born. And the most compelling thing about her to is what I think you will become passionate about as well—her faith.
When I was a boy I loved the story we are reading today. In my childish way, I was the boy, my Aunt Eva was the Shunammite woman, and, well, I will tell you later about Elisha. But I used to imagine that as I was in the fields pulling up turnips and pinching mustard, that I was the Shunammite woman’s boy, having sunstroke in that balmy, breezeless South Louisiana summer sun, and in need of a touch from God in the heat of the day!
Some of us are living with the heat of a different sun on our brow—crushing financial debt, emotionally draining physical disabilities, depression-inducing unemployment, and unrelenting attacks from within and without. Some of us are living in the heat stroke of loss. For all of us in the fields of desperate days of affliction there is a Word from God. There is a Word that comes through this woman. Of all people, God seems to always choose a woman, an otherwise anonymous woman, to display His power and show that He can bring life from death, hope from hopelessness, and joy to the downcast: Sarah, Rahab, Esther, Ruth, Hannah, Elizabeth, Mary. And this woman from Shunem.
Yet beyond the hope we see in this passage is the power and the priority of this woman’s prayer life. It comes to fore as she faces the extraordinary crisis of her little boy’s death. There is the confusing, conflicted, enigmatic moment of loss; she takes her burden to God in prayer. There we too are called to see the priority of prayer in our lives.
The remarkable story from 2 Kings 4.8-37 is not an all-encompassing, exhaustive study of prayer in God’s Word. But this Scripture will show you the priority of prayer when faced with a great undertaking. It supplies us with great lessons concerning the ministry of prayer that each of us need. It is best to put the pitch on the boat before you head into rough seas than to try and seal the ship in the midst of a storm! So prepare your soul, believer, with these six lessons on prayer from the Shunammite woman’s story!
Lesson number one:
1. The priority of prayer recognizes that we need a mediator and an intercessor. (Vv.8-10)
There was going to come a time in this woman’s life when she was going to need God. She was going to need a supernatural visitation from the Lord to save her boy. But, that supernatural victory, that river of faith, began with a trickle of faith. She believed in this man of God and she told her husband in verses 8-11 that they should provide a room for the prophet of God. So they did. And Elisha stayed there. This woman wanted an intermediary. She wanted an intercessor on her behalf and she saw this man Elisha as possessing that divinely ordained role.
There are none of us who will not deny that there will come a time when we shall have need of God. There will come difficulties in our lives. There shall come challenges, which our intellect and our resources cannot handle. And if you say, “I have all that I need to handle any emergency” then I shall say to you: “What about your soul? What will happen when your very breath leaves you and you are cast out into eternity?”
Now the Shunammite woman believed that this man was of God. She saw that he could establish a relationship between her and God.
And Elisha is a type of the Lord Jesus. This morning, I present to you, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Man of God, the Man from God, the very God-Man, and as Paul calls him, The Man Christ Jesus. This woman knew that she wanted the Man of God in her home. This was not a lucky rabbit’s foot to her. She wanted God in her house. The only Mediator between God and man is the Man Christ Jesus. Hear the Word of God:
Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. – Rom. 8.34
Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. – Heb. 7.25
Everything you need begins with inviting Jesus Christ into your life. I would be injuring this text and neglecting my duty as a Minister of the Gospel if I did not begin my first point by charging you, before God and men, to welcome Christ into your life.
That is lesson one: Recognize that you need an Mediator between you and God and One who will intercede on your behalf before the Throne of the Almighty. Lesson number two is this:
2. The priority of prayer directs us to a savior who desires to you give a gift. (vv. 11-17)
The Shunammite woman wanted the man of God in her home so she and her husband prepared him a room. But, the man of God wanted to bless them. He went to their deepest need: a desire for a child and He interceded and God Almighty miraculously granted their heart’s desire.
This is a picture of our Lord, who desires to give us His gift of grace, His anointing on our lives, and I believe that since the vision of a church that is welcoming hurting people in to receive grace is His vision, that the vision of “gathering and growing strong disciples of Christ who are making other disciples” is His vision, I know He wants us to have this vision realized.
The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” God is the giver of life, and to a fallen race, He became the giver of a Covenant of grace, whereby He would give His Son for our life and to take our sins. And He gives His Holy Spirit to lift up crippled sinners out of their depraved condition and carry them to the Son, who heals them and gives them the name of son or daughter.
You who are caught in the grips of heartache: won’t you receive His free gift of salvation? And will you, who know the Savior, stay away from Him? Knowing that He loves to bestow gifts upon His children should make you want to come to Him in prayer.
The third lesson about the ministry of prayer is this:
3. The priority of prayer will be taken seriously when we see the impossible situation that we face. (Vv. 18-22)
All that could be done for that sun-stricken little boy was done. A distressed father sent the child to the nurturing arms of a wise mother. She held the child. She did all she could for the child. But the child died. It was then, at the point of impossibility humanly speaking that the woman took the next step: she put that child on Elisha’s bed and she went after the man of God.
The passage is rich in its teaching about resurrection, and it foresees a Day when God will raise His own Son and by faith in Him, the bodies of others shall arise. But it also teaches that when faced with an impossible vision, only a miraculous means will do.
Martin Luther spoke of prayer:
“Trouble touches the heart and wakens ardent longing for God’s help. No one prays for anything deeply who has not been deeply alarmed.”
The Burden for our vision, “that God would come down and bring revival” is based on a conviction; that without God our generation is hopeless. Every sign is pointing to a degenerating society. The increase of ungodliness, the apathy of so many in the Church, the wholesale acceptance of sins which the Bible condemns as the sins which will destroy a nation: homosexuality, abortion, disregard of the Sabbath day, profaning the Name of Almighty God and the Lord Jesus Christ on the airwaves of this nation, and so many more are pointing toward Judgement. We have a dying nation on our hands. We have dying people on our hands and unless there is divine intervention, there will be judgment. It is not time for a small vision. It is time for a giant vision, a vision of a third great awakening to come to this nation. The sun is beating down unmercifully on our children given to us by God and will we not run to Him who gave us these little ones?
I have read book after book and gone to numerous seminars telling me that I need a new logo and a new statement of identity to achieve the vision. I have nothing against logos, but the Titanic had a great logo! So many church consultants are telling me that what we need is a more marketable image and a style that can relate to pagans. That Shunamite woman knew, though, that the only thing that would solve her problem was God and she went for the Mediator! The vision of this Shunamite woman was for a miracle! She wanted her lad back form the icy grip of death!
That is our vision. I think the real problem with us is that we really don’t have a fix on the vision. Our vision is not for just a growing church and some great programs: our vision is for God to shower our lives and through our church this nation and world with a fresh demonstration of His Spirit and power and to SAVE US from the grip of death and Hell and destruction!
So, let these portions of God’s Word correct our vision, enlarge our understanding of our plight and our condition: we want a supernatural demonstration of God. We need salvation!
A fourth lesson also emerges from this story and it is a refreshing and happy lesson:
4. The priority of prayer leads us to a willing Lord. (v. 27)
Now when she came to the man of God at the hill, she caught him by the feet, but Gehazi came near to push her away. But the man of God said, “Let her alone; for her soul is in deep distress, and the Lord has hidden it FROM me, and has not told me.” 2Kings 4.27
Gehazi forbid the woman, but she knew the salvation of her boy rest with that Man of God and nothing was going to stop her. The woman is like the woman in the crowd who had an issue of blood. Even Jesus’ predisposed ministry would not stop that woman:
And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment. For she said to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that hour.—Matt. 9.20-22
Gehazi, on the other hand, is like the disciples in the New Testament who confused the honor of God with His desire to reach out to people in need. They thought, like Gehazi, that they were doing their Lord a favor by keeping the mothers and their infants from the Master. But God delights in answering prayer. Elisha said, “Let her alone!” and so God welcomes you with your need this morning.
When our burdens, our vision, our need of healing, our need of salvation, our need for wisdom drives us to God in prayer, we have a God who is willing to demonstrate His glory through answered prayers.
I have heard it said: “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, it is laying hold of His highest willingness.” And so we go to God and cry, “Unless you come and visit us, Lord, we have no hope.” But the very character of God, who sent His son, shows us that we are praying to a God who answers prayer and who delights in blessing His people. Thus, I am most confident. I am most excited about the future, no matter what I read in the papers or hear in the news. Almighty God is still on His throne and we can cry out to God for the salvation of our loved ones with confidence. We can pray for revival with confidence. We can hope the best, wish the best, expect the best from the God who says, “For all the promises of God in Him are ‘Yes, and in Him, ‘Amen,’ to the glory of God through us.” (2 Cor. 1.20).
The fifth lesson:
5. The priority of prayer is not about a religious ritual, but about the power of God on His Anointed One. (Vv. 31-35)
This lessons comes after examining two elements in this part of the story:
(1) Gehazi’s efforts were futile in raising the child from death (v. 31). (Note the true life of Gehazi revealed in chapter 5.20-27)
(2) Elisha alone was anointed for such a death-defying ministry. (Vv. 34-35)
Gehazi has no power for he does not have the anointing of God. Indeed, in chapter five, verses 20-27 he is revealed as a fraud and a greedy man wanting only personal gain. He is a hireling in the service of his own greedy ends, not God’s will, and he will be judged.
So, too, Christ-less, godless religion is judged as impotent in the face of supernatural needs. Only Christ, raised from the dead by God the father, can transform enemies of God into sons and daughters of God, or repair broken dreams, or bring life from death.
Now, this is what the divinely inspired author of Psalm 46 knew when he wrote:
“God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at it swelling pride.”
I routinely talk with families in trouble. The stories of heartache and sorrow that come to me have not abated, but increased as these days move on. I have looked into our culture through the lives of those who come to me and I see the earthquakes of divorce, the mountains of hopes and dreams slipping into the heart of a raging sea. I hear the fast-paced, pounding music of our age and it reminds me of a sound track to a whole generation slipping into Hell.
But, my dear friend, there is a God whom the Psalmist calls “Our Refuge” and “Our Strength.” There is a God who came down to be born into a hellish storm when Satan used a madman named Herod to kill the Son of God. This God who is called “The Holy One” faced the mountains of hate crashing upon His soul as he writhed in agony on a Roman cross. This God who is without sin became sin so that we who are sinners could be called the holy ones of God. This God faced the storms and is still standing. And He invites you to bring your children’s problems to Him, to bring your marital problems to Him, to bring the things that are your storms, your mountains to Him. To lay your dying dream down and forget Gehazi-like solutions and call for the One who is your only refuge and your only strength.
6. The priority of prayer transforms the one who prays. (Vv. 36-37)
This woman was transformed. Her heartache was lifted and, indeed, she knew more of the power of God after this episode than before. Do you believe that this one who was raised from the dead did not also serve the Lord?
God in answered prayer changes things and changes people and changes even generations.
In Psalm 46, the Psalmist writes:
“Come behold the works of the Lord….”
The testimonies of God’s people are one of the greatest forces for revival there is. I pray our church will now and always be a praying church and that as God surely answers our prayers, raises our dying dreams, resurrects families and people who had previously lost hope, we will tell the stories of grace. And people in this community will say, “Come behold the works of the Lord….”
“Go Get Brother DeValle!”
I told you about my childish understanding of appropriating the story of the Shunamite woman to my own story. But it went further. When I was about five years of age, I had a terrible case of asthma. Now my Aunt Eva and I lived way back in the woods, with no car and no neighbors right around us. But down the road was a tabernacle, where a plumber by day and a preacher by night ministered. His name was “Brother DeValle.” Once I fell down on the front porch gasping for breath from this asthmatic illness that I had. Aunt Eva had no way to get me to the hospital. I thought of the Shunammite woman’s boy and I thought of Elisha. I told Aunt Eva to go get “Brother DeValle” and it would be OK. She did. What else could she do? There was no other hope, no other way but through prayer. The next thing I knew, here came Brother DeValle running to be with me. He out-ran Aunt Eva. He came to me and laid his hands on me and prayed. Now God heals. Sometimes instantly. Sometimes gradually. And sometimes He doesn’t. But He always answers prayer. God answered that prayer of that man of God. In in that event, He chose to heal me right then and there. I have never suffered from asthma again. This became Aunt Eva’s testimony until she died at almost 99 years of age. It is mine today. But we know it wasn’t Brother DeValle, but rather, his faith and the faith of a child who knew of a story about Elisha. But we know the One Elisha typified, our Savior Jesus Christ, who says that if we draw near to Him He will draw near to us.
As you gasp for air in your life, in your studies, in your heart, you will see again the priority of prayer, which leads to the power of the Promised One to come and bring new life and hope to all who call upon Him.
Let there be no distractions. Let there be total focus, like the Shunnamite woman, on the only One who can remedy our pain and raise our dead.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
 But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, “Look, my master has spared Naaman this Syrian, while not receiving from his hands what he brought; but as the LORD lives, I will run after him and take something from him.” So Gehazi pursued Naaman. When Naaman saw him running after him, he got down from the chariot to meet him, and said, “Is all well?” And he said, “All is well. My master has sent me, saying, ‘Indeed, just now two young men of the sons of the prophets have come to me from the mountains of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of garments.’ ” So Naaman said, “Please, take two talents.” And he urged him, and bound two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of garments, and handed them to two of his servants; and they carried them on ahead of him. When he came to the citadel, he took them from their hand, and stored them away in the house; then he let the men go, and they departed. Now he went in and stood before his master. Elisha said to him, “Where did you go, Gehazi?” And he said, “Your servant did not go anywhere.” 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? 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. — 2Kings 5.20-27 (NKJV)
- Seventeenth Century Debates (Derek Thomas) (reformation21.org)
- Christmas Foundations (Paul Levy) (reformation21.org)
- A Point for Prayer (Carl Trueman) (reformation21.org)
- Let’s Take a Walk (michaelmilton.org)
- Are You a Faithful Witness? – John 1.19-51 (michaelmilton.org)
- The Death of a Dictator, Kim Jong Il (1941-2011), and Miss Sadie’s Barber Chair Theology (michaelmilton.org)
- ‘Gehazi, was not my heart with you?’ (cbnindiablogs.wordpress.com)
- “What Would You Say to My Husband if You were a Young Seminarian Again?” (michaelmilton.org)
- A Case for the Pre-Existence of the Son of God (defendingcontending.com)
- When Heaven Came Down: Wondrous story, Ancient and yet it Remains Forever New (michaelmilton.org)