What’s the default storyline that you’re operating in? When something goes well are you the achieving hero or a person carried along by something greater than yourself? When something goes wrong are you a victim or a protagonist preparing to overcome the odds?
We humans can’t help but tell ourselves stories. We interpret every situation through the lenses of the stories we’ve bought into, regardless of how accurate they are. God is a storyteller, writing something amazing on the pages of history. In his image we’re created as storytellers, and in many ways the stories we tell ourselves define our quality of life. Our stories define our perspective on life, for better or worse. Our stories – if we could externalize them – would give clear evidence as to whether we are functional atheists or practical, real-life believers in the God of Jesus Christ.
There’s a scene in 2 Kings 5 that illustrates the radical difference that two different perspectives – two different stories – can have. I’ve written about this scene before but from a slightly different angle and felt that this concept merited a post of its own.
Here’s the story, in brief. Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, has leprosy. He’s dying. One of his wife’s servant girls comments that there’s a prophet in Israel who might be able to heal him. Naaman’s master, the king of Aram, lets Naaman head on over to Israel with somewhere upwards of $60,000 worth of gold and silver plus ten fine sets of clothing and a letter saying that the king of Israel should cure Naaman of his leprosy. The King of Israel receives the letter and isn’t so thrilled about it. The text reads,
And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”
But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.”
– 2 kings 5:7-8
The king of Israel’s story interprets this letter negatively. His perspective shows him a big problem. Big enough for him to tear his clothes and begin mourning. He believes that if he doesn’t heal Naaman the Syrian army is coming for him. The question is, why is this his perspective? The text gives us several hints.
- He sees Naaman as an enemy. The king’s response is a petulant child passing blame; “See how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”
- His false humility is really masked-over fear and lack of faith. “Am I God, to kill and to make alive…?”
- He doesn’t realize the power of his position as the king of God’s people, or the resources at his disposal. He’s not God, but he is the king of God’s people.
- He’s more focused on himself than on God or Naaman. His story is about him, a victim at the hands of the more powerful Naaman.
The very next paragraph we see Elisha operating in the same situation with a totally different perspective. He’s living in a different story. Where the king of Israel sees Naaman’s arrival and request as a problem that is too big for him, Elisha sees an opportunity for God to show his power. Contrast Elisha’s view with the king’s:
- He sees Naaman as needy rather than as an attacker. “Let him come now to me, that he may know…”
- He knows his position and authority. He’s a prophet of God, which means God listens when he prays. “Elisha the man of God…there is a prophet in Israel”
- His boldness is humility because it’s inspired by God. He believes in the power of God and acts accordingly.
- He’s more focused on God and Naaman than himself.
Elisha’s perspective enables him to step forward in faith and ultimately see Naaman healed of his leprosy and become a worshipper of the God of Israel. The king’s perspective would, most likely, have led to war or at the very least Naaman’s eventual death.
Every day you and I confronted with situations that we can either view as a problem or an opportunity. What perspective are you going to live from? When you lose your job, how will you see it? When the relationship you’re in ends painfully, how will you see it? When there’s conflict in your community or the person you’re discipling goes off the deep end, how will you see it? Is it a problem that leaves you as a victim, helpless and lost? Or is it an opportunity for God to demonstrate himself in new and wonderful ways?
When we see other people’s neediness, know our position and authority in Christ, live humbly before God, and focus our eyes, minds, and spirits on Christ rather than ourselves, we’ll get to see things just as amazing as Elisha’s healing of Naaman’s leprosy. People will be blessed, restored, encouraged, and saved.
As followers of Jesus we have opportunities, not problems. God works everything for our good. Let’s work towards seeing things that way.