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You should have struck the ground five or six times - Part 2

19th July 2014

Last week, we read about this encounter between the prophet Elisha and the Israelite king Jehoash:

2 Kings 13v14-20a
Now Elisha was suffering from the illness from which he died. Jehoash king of Israel went down to see him and wept over him. "My father! My father!" he cried. "The chariots and horsemen of Israel!"
Elisha said, "Get a bow and some arrows," and he did so.
"Take the bow in your hands," he said to the king of Israel. When he had taken it, Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands. "Open the east window," he said, and he opened it. "Shoot!" Elisha said, and he shot. "The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!" Elisha declared. "You will completely destroy the Arameans at Aphek." Then he said, "Take the arrows," and the king took them. Elisha told him, "Strike the ground." He struck it three times and stopped.
The man of God was angry with him and said, "You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times."
Elisha died and was buried.

We saw that it reminds us that Christianity is more than a belief system - it's a relationship with God, and it's a way of life. It involves all of our being, not just our intellect.

We raised two questions last week. The first was: What difference can hitting the ground with a bunch of arrows possibly make?

Christianity isn't merely an intellectual exercise. To be a Christian is much, much more than giving our assent to a series of theological propositions. To be a Christian is to relate to God, and to serve God, and to worship God, with every part of our being and in every way we can. This involves using water, bread, wine, oil, hands, voices and anything else God tells us to use.

God told Jehoash to use a handful of arrows, and I wonder what you or I would have done if God told us to use a handful of arrows to help ourselves to pray. Many of us would refuse to believe that God would possibly want us to do any such thing. So we'd miss out.

Many of us, if we were persuaded that God wanted us to do such a thing, would do it, but without much enthusiasm. That's what Jehoash did. The second question we asked was: why does it matter how often Jehoash hit the ground?

It matters firstly because whenever we respond to God, we should respond wholeheartedly, and secondly because our actions show the state of our heart. If Jehoash had wholeheartedly responded to God's instruction to hit the ground with the arrows, he would have done it more than three times.

How wholeheartedly do you and I serve and worship God? We know we should seek God, and serve God, and worship God, wholeheartedly. And we know that God will bless us if we do. Many of us are familiar with passages like:

Deuteronomy 4v29
But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Deuteronomy 10v12
And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul

Deuteronomy 13:3b
The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Jeremiah 29v13
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Matthew 22v37-38
Jesus replied: "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.

But some of us are quiet, shy, undemonstrative people. We'd like to serve the Lord our God with all our mind (although we don't, of course) but without ever doing anything that other people might notice. But God want us to serve Him with everything we have, including our emotions, and our bodies, and anything else.

Sometimes, God wants us to be demonstrative in our prayer and worship, just as He wanted Jehoash to strike the ground with the arrows, and to do it several times.

Perhaps we should examine ourselves, particularly with regard to how we worship God. Do we go to church wholeheartedly? Do we go whenever we can? Or only when we feel like it? And when we go to church, do we worship wholeheartedly?

Sometimes, God wants us to be quiet in worship. Sometimes He wants us to be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). Sometimes it seems right to pray in a whisper. Sometimes God speaks in a whisper and we need to be quiet if we're going to hear Him (1 Kings 19:12). But sometimes it's right to sing at the top of our voice (Psalm 71:23), to shout to the Lord (Psalm 33:3, 35:27, 47:1), to clap out hands in worship (Psalm 47:1) to dance before the Lord (2 Samuel 6;14).

Whether we're singing, or dancing, or praying, or waiting silently for God, He wants us to enter into that activity wholeheartedly. And He looks at our actions - as He looked at Jehoash's actions - to see if we're wholehearted.

It seems to me that if we only meet for worship occasionally, or if we worship while being unwilling to do so demonstratively and wholeheartedly it might not just be because we're shy or cerebral. I think it can also be about being unwilling to fully enter into relationship with God. It's a psychological/spiritual standing back. It's being there but not participating (or not participating much) like going to the swimming pool and dangling one foot in the water, when we could be swimming.

I've heard grown adults tell me they're incapable of praying out loud (although some of them can talk for hours) or incapable of raising their hands in worship (although there's nothing wrong with their arms). Some say they're embarrassed to do such things, even when everybody else in the room is doing them, and not doing so makes them the "odd one out".

We're all different, and we're complex beings. But for many people, such incapacity is not physical and it's not about shyness. Many of us have a spiritual barrier. That spiritual barrier is an unwillingness to enter fully into a trusting, submissive relationship with God. It's manifested in our behaviour in worship. It's the main reason why many people prefer to sit at the back of the meeting. Being nearest the door and furthest from the preacher is a manifestation (for some) of a reluctance to approach God, or perhaps difficulty in believing that we're welcome before Him.

That barrier that needs to be broken if we are to fully enjoy God, and God is to fully enjoy us. The way to break it is to exercise out God-given self-control and choose to pray out loud, or to raise our hands, or to dance, or to sit near the front.

Jehoash missed out on the total victory over the Arameans that God would have given him, because he wasn't whole-hearted in his response to God, and didn't demonstrate his willingness to co-operate with God with his actions in prayer and worship.

Let's not miss out on all that God has for us by holding back in worship, by convincing ourselves that the logical part of our brain is the only part of us that matters.

What's the worst that could happen if you moved forward or raised your hands in worship?