Gina Conroy: Journey to the Center of God’s Will

A big welcome to my friend and author, Gina Conroy, who will be guest blogging here today. I hope you enjoy hearing from her, and that her post inspires some spiritual introspection! Remember to check out Gina’s first novella, Buried Deception, in the Cherry Blossom Capers Collection, available in stores now!

Maybe you’re like me. Someone who’s been struggling to find God’s will. Someone who’s spent your life on a divine treasure hunt, chasing after God’s will like the elusive Holy Grail, knowing that when you finally take hold of it, all will be well in the universe or at least your life.

But what if God’s will is not something you can find? What if it’s not hidden, but right next to you and all you need to do is move over to give God room to work?

I remember as a junior in college sweating over the choice to spend six months on a mission internship to Africa. Six months was a long time to be away from home. I wanted to know without a doubt I was in the will of God. But no matter how much I prayer and travailed and beat my fits against the wall, I got nothing! No revelation. No peace. Nothing!

So I took drastic measures. Over Thanksgiving break, I holed up in my dorm room and fasted and prayed. Surely God would show up in a ball of bright light, his voice booming as he pointed the way I should go. I’d even settle for his writing on the wall. But as I prayed and lamented over fasting the Thanksgiving meal, I got nothing! No bright light. No pointing finger. No writing on the wall. Why was it such a struggle to know God’s will?

Then it hit me. No booming voice, just a gentle whisper. “You choose, and I’ll bless whatever you decide.”

Many Christians believe God’s will is always black and white. That there’s a right choice and a wrong choice. Many times there is, and God makes those things clear in his word. But what about the gray areas? Should I go on this mission trip? Should I send my child to private or public school? Should I buy this house? Should I marry this person?

While I believe God sends up red flags if you stray far from his will, I also believe he lets us make choices in life, and as long as we remain close to him, he’ll bless what we decide. I think the problem comes when we think being in God’s will means we’ll have no struggles in life. And if Adam and Eve wouldn’t have sinned, that might be true. But sin entered the world through their wrong (black and white) choice, making the permissible things in life not always clear and sometimes accompanied by trials (Genesis 3:1-21.)

I’d like to tell you when I went on that mission’s trip, I never doubted I was in the center of God’s will. Quite the opposite. It was the most painful time of my life at the time, and I questioned whether I’d missed God. But the fruit of the ministry and my personal connection with Jesus helped me persevere. Despite the inner heartache and trials, it was the most spiritually fulfilling time in my life. God’s word to me was true. He blessed me and no spiritual experience thus far compares.

It doesn’t take a Biblical scholar to see that being in the center of God’s will won’t always bring peace. Look at the life of Christ. From Jesus’ virgin birth (Luke 1:29, Matthew 2:13) to his final hours Jesus was smack dab in the center of God’s will, yet his entire life was fraught with trials as he lived out his calling.

Did Jesus always like being in the middle of God’s will? His struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane right before he went to the cross (Matthew 26: 36-45) paints a vivid picture of the answer. He spent his darkest hours crying out to God, finally asking his father to find another way before he resigned to God’s will. He knew the path ahead would not go smoothly and without pain, yet Jesus chose to be crucified and be the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.

Thankfully, most of us won’t have to go to the extremes. Yet we struggle and travail like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane wondering what God’s will for our lives is when most of the time we’re already in the center of God’s will.

All we need to do is move over and make room for God.

The Saving of Self-righteous Naaman

Naaman has everything he could want. Prestige, power, success, reknown, but  he’s dying from leprosy. Sound familiar? What a picture of self-righteous mankind who thinks he has everything, but in reality, he’s lost in sin that ONLY God can cleanse. So the Old Testament story of Naaman is really a picture of New Testament salvation.

Our pastor has been taking us through the lives of Elijah and Elisha recently, and he has such a gift for placing us in the story. I’m often wanting to share my sermon notes here at the site, but usually run out of time. I just want to say up front, that the bulk of this post’s teaching are straight out of his mouth, as fast as I could jot them down, not my own. With the exception of a couple minor embellishments of mine…and with his permission to share it here, let’s dive right in!

This is a narrative deeper than the muddy Jordan where Naaman bathed his leprous body. For instance, leprosy in the Bible, is a picture of sin. Leprosy is an internal disease that manifests externally, it’s disgusting to look at, and comes with a stench. It’s highly contagious. Just like sin, it’s debilitating, destructive and leads to death.

Here we have the top ranking officer of the host of the King of Syria, not an Israelite, btw, but still the scripture says Naaman was honorable because “by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria”. God used Naaman to chasten Israel. Naaman was “a mighty man in valor” well respected country wide, and then we’re told the kicker: “BUT he was a leper.”

That there is a real contrast for such a high ranking official. Check out the whole story in 2 Kings 5:1-19.

Enter the “little maid”. It’s interesting in this story, that servants play a pivotal role. Firstly, this little Israelite captive pipes up and says,

Would God my lord [were] with the prophet that [is] in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy.”

We can surmise that this little gal has been trained by good parents who must have been teaching her that with God, ALL things are possible. She’s been raised on stories of Elijah and Elisha, what a miraculous time to have been alive! Don’t you just smile at her implicit, unswervable trust in God here? I mean, who is she in this household? A child servant. Yet follow the channels her little declaration sets in place. Little maid tells her mistress (Naaman’s wife), then in verse 4, there’s a reference to “one” who tells Naaman, next thing we know the King of Syria knows about it and is mailing a letter to the King of Israel! And oh man, the King of Israel rents his clothes and has a panic attack. He says:

“[Am] I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me.”

Good night. This King of Israel has less faith than a little girl captive over in Syria. Come on! This king should have followed the biblical precedent shown by King Hezekiah–what do you do when you receive bad news in the mail? Lay the letter out before God and pray over it. Same thing we should do today when we receive disturbing news. Apparently the King of Israel doesn’t know there is a prophet of God in Israel! He’s about to find out!

Enter Elisha. Elisha hears about the missive from Syria, and about the King of Israel’s distress, but he sees this as an opportunity to let someone outside of their nation know that there is a prophet of God in Israel!

So Naaman arrives with a hugely impressive entourage of people, and a LOT of money. He’s willing to pay BIG time to be healed. This procession is a big deal. This is a self-righteous, top ranking general’s arrival at Elisha’s house.

And Elisha doesn’t even come out to meet him. Ouch. He sends a messenger out the door with a succinct, to the point message. “Go wash in the Jordan seven times.” Um, what’s this look like today? Imagine several helicopters landing in the soybean field below your house and the President of America and his secret servicemen requesting an audience…and you send your hired man out to talk for you. You’re busy. Uh-huh.

Elisha sends a message. By the way, what Naaman needs is the MESSAGE, not the man. Naaman needs the gospel.

The Bible tells us in verse 11 what Naaman’s reaction is. He is “wroth“. A few verses later it says he “went away in a rage“. He rants: “Behold I thought…” Now there’s his problem. His expectations were dashed. He says, “We have better rivers” in Syria, I could have bathed in them. I’m picturing him stomping around, frothing at the mouth.

Two things to pick up on here. The Jordan river is not a sparkling pristine little bubbling brook. It is a muddy river. Nothing fancy. But is it about the water, really? Is the water going to heal Naaman? No.

So Naaman is leaving. He’s done. But here come his servants. Remember I said servants play a pivotal role in this story? Parallel to be gleaned here? God can use anyone He wants. Can adults learn about God from children? Yes. Are we God’s servants? Yes. There are a lot of unnamed servants in this story who are in Heaven today…I can’t wait to meet them and hear the rest of this story!

But I digress. Naaman’s servants end up reasoning with their master. They point out to him that if God had asked something BIG of Naaman, Naaman would have done it. If he’d been told to do some “big tough guy thing” like slash his chest, walk on his knees on glass, make a sacrifice, etc. he would have obliged. But God was asking something simple. Wash and be clean. The servants implored him to “Do it and see if it works”.

Wash and be clean. Salvation is SIMPLE. We can’t do any great thing to earn or deserve it.

So Naaman agrees to give it a whirl. What do you think is going through his mind as he eases himself into the Jordan river and begins dipping? Do you think his pagan servants are on the banks of the Jordan holding in their laughter? Their great and mighty leader is doing something VERY BIZARRE here. I’m thinking Naaman’s own skepticism is increasing with each dip not revealing any improvement. Until the 7th time. He comes out of the water with skin like a child’s, it’s probably wrinkle free. If he’d lost any fingers to leprosy, they were regrown. This is a MIRACLE!

This was NOT the Jordan River that did this. This was NOT water that did this. This was COMPLETE obedience to God’s word and command–Naaman humbled himself and let go of his pride and self-righteousness and submitted to God’s authority, and he was a changed man afterward as we will soon see. But in case you didn’t pick up on this yet, that COMPLETE obedience was a reference to Naaman’s continuing to dip in the Jordan the full seven dips…Seven is the Biblical number of completion. Study it sometime, it’s pretty phenomenal.

So this changed man and his company of soldiers and servants heads back to Elisha’s dwelling, and THIS time, Elisha himself comes out to greet him. No one had ever healed leprosy before. Remember I said leprosy is a type of sin in the Bible? Interesting to note that God spent two whole chapters in Leviticus detailing how the priests were to deal with lepers, down to what to do with it if it was in the warp and weave of the clothing! The LONGEST passages in Leviticus are on leprosy! It’s worth repeating: Leprosy is an internal disease that manifests externally, it’s disgusting to look at, and comes with a stench. It’s highly contagious. Just like sin, it is debilitating, destructive and leads to death. Leprosy is incurable.

Naaman wants to thank Elisha with gifts, he refers to himself as a SERVANT! I’m telling you, Naaman is a changed man from the self-impressed guy that threw a hissy fit a little while ago. But get this, Elisha refuses to take anything from Naaman. Because this is a picture of salvation, and salvation cannot be bought or earned. You can’t put a price to what God gives freely. Very important. If you are sharing the gospel with someone, and they offer you money or gifts as a thank-you, you shouldn’t take it. It sends a mixed signal. Salvation should never be accompanied by a price tag. It’s not biblical.

In verse 17, Naaman gives allegiance to the God of Israel, and immediately we see his conscience begin working when he asks a peculiar question in verse 18. “In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant” (there he goes referring to himself as Elisha’s servant again!) Naaman is humble before Elisha. This guy’s had a life-changing experience here! Okay, so here’s his question:   

“In this thing the LORD pardon thy servant, [that] when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon thy servant in this thing.”

I love that new believer conscience kicking immediately in, don’t you? He’s already realizing that it will offend God if he, as custom of their country demands, accompanies his master, the King of Syria, into the house of Rimmon, a pagan deity. He may not understand everything about the God of the Israelites, as a new believer, but he’s on the right track here. He’s not worshiping Rimmon, he’s already said in verse 17, that he’ll not offer sacrifices or worship to any other God, but he has some things to figure out as far as correct theology goes. Elisha knows this.  And Elisha says, “Go in peace.”

I don’t know about you, but I wonder how many others came to believe in the God of Elisha as a result of Naaman’s cleansing? Can’t wait to hear the rest of the story…UP there…