Don't Limit God!

I have chosen to speak about the prophet Elisha, because, just like us, he could look around and see so much suffering, violence and poverty. I have chosen Elisha because he didn't fall into depression because of what he saw, instead he brought light and good news into his neighborhood. I have chosen Elisha, because his story encourages us to live out the words found in Romans 8:36-37; "'For your sake we are being killed all day long: we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered!' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us."

Elisha was someone who wasn't swayed or controlled by the "powers that be". He submitted to the politics of God, rather than the politics of people. Elisha, as we shall see, "walked the walk", was known as the "man of God" and was compassionate and loving to those who were weak and suffering.

Elisha inspires me, because he took what God gave him and he ran with it! Fully! He didn't slow down. He didn't let up! He stayed on course and made it to the finish line! The life of Elisha inspires us to do likewise; his life encourages us to take what God has given us, however big or small, and run with it with the same energy and spirit as this man of God! Elisha brought good news and hope into a very bleak and depressing era.

I want to look at 4 ways Elisha teaches us not to put limits on what God can do through us. I want to look at how Elisha inspires us to bring the good news into our community and to those around us.

Firstly: Don't Limit what God can do in you! 
Don't Settle! Don't quit! Run with perseverance! 

Elisha refused to settle! He wanted whatever he could get from God, and he didn't stop until he got it. 

When Elisha was the servant of Elijah, he knew his master had something special. Elisha wanted what Elijah had. He didn't want to settle. He didn't want to be just another prophet! He wanted God to move through him and use him mightily as well.

One day, Elisha found out that Elijah was going to be taken from him, so he made up his mind that he was going to follow him until the very end; nothing would stop him! These 2 prophets go on a very long walk and on 3 different occasions, in different locations, both Elijah and then some local prophets encourage Elisha to stop. 

But each time, Elisha makes it blatantly clear that "as long as Elijah lives, he won't leave him." 

Finally they arrive at the Jordan river, Elijah uses his cloak to divide the water and they walk over on dry ground. Knowing his young follower won't depart from him, he asks him, "what I shall do for you before I am taken from you?" Elisha replies with these courageous words, "Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me." 

Elisha was persistent! He could have given up each time Elijah or the prophets suggested he stop, but he'd seen how God had used Elijah and he wanted what he had, he wanted God's spirit to flood him too. He kept going and followed him to the end. He endured, and finally, he watched as this chariot of fire came down from heaven in a whirlwind, picked Elijah up and took him away!

Elisha may have lost his mentor and hero that day, but he inherited 2 things: Elijah's cloak and a double portion of his spirit! 

Elisha made a decision! He refused to settle. He didn't want to limit what God could do in him. He could have just chilled out with all the other prophets, but instead, he grabbed the opportunity he had, he followed and gained what he could from Israel's greatest and most feared prophet. 

As a result of this persistence, Elisha's remarkable journey truly started. He lived a wild, crazy and godly life, and he refused to quit his whole life. Through the power of God, he was able to divide the Jordan river and walk across on dry land, he cured toxic food so people in a town wouldn't get sick and die, he raised a dead little boy back to life and saved Israel from invaders on many occasions.

His impact even lasted beyond his death. Elisha had been laid in a tomb, and one day, some people threw a dead body into his tomb and this body touched the bones of Elisha, and this man sprung back to life. 

Elisha teaches us to be open to the moving of God's spirit within us all. We all have different gifts and talents, but Jesus calls us to use what we've been given, however big or small, to bring the good news of the gospel to those around us. He teaches us, that when we don't limit what God can do in and through us, He will take us on a remarkable journey. 

God wants us to pursue Him. He wants us to take risks. He wants us to look foolish. He wants to use our weaknesses for His glory. He wants us to keep pushing and He wants to take us beyond what we can ever imagine! He wants us to become "more than conquerors through Him who loved us" 

Elisha refused to quit, and that leads us to a second lesson....

Don't Limit God's Mercy! 
We need to See the Need and Act! 

Elisha was open to doing things that may have seemed pointless and insignificant. Elisha teaches us that nothing is too small or meaningless for those living in His Kingdom. He also teaches us; nothing was too big for him either! Don't be too proud to help. Be humble enough not to be limited.

Even though Elisha was famous, he didn't limit himself. He saw the need and acted in love! He helped individuals. He helped communities. He helped towns. He helped countries. Nothing was too small or menial for him, nothing was too big. He was adaptable, he saw the need, had compassion and helped whoever stood before him. 

One day, a man was chopping down trees with an ax, the ax-head flew off the handle into the bottom of the river. This man was very distressed because he had borrowed it. This may have seemed small and insignificant compared to things like the wars and poverty at the time, but to Elisha, it wasn't! This man's distress was important to him; he wanted peace between the owner and the borrower, so he threw a stick to where the ax-head had sunk and suddenly it began to float. Peace was restored.

We all know about the troubles in Flint, Michigan. Elisha came across a town with a similar problem. This town had polluted water that was making people sick. He didn't think this was insignificant, and because he had power to make things right, he met the need. He threw salt into the water and it became clean and healthy. 

Elisha cared and loved his neighbors! Stinky polluted water and a lost ax-head were important to him. He could have ignored them both. He could have thought helping such people was beneath him, but he put aside all pride and used what God had given him to help those in need. 

I've noticed, while working at CCO, that the seemingly small menial tasks, are vitally important and can have lasting affects. Giving someone a pair of socks or helping someone get their birth certificate can truly change someone's life for the good. Elisha teaches us that being faithful in small tasks can have eternal value! 

Elisha didn't limit what God could do in and through him, he also didn't limit himself to only certain tasks, and now we'll look at another lesson Elisha teaches us....

Don't Limit God's Grace! 
He calls us to open our arms and hearts to those around us!

Elisha was open to love as God loves; he loved others, by not conforming to the politics and patterns of this world. 

We tend to put God in a box. We often believe God thinks exactly like us. We tend to think God only loves those we love! Elisha was flexible enough to see that God doesn't conform to our prejudices and biases. God's politics are vastly different to the politics of people! 

Jesus only spoke about Elisha once; in Luke 4:27, we read: “there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian."

Naaman was a very powerful, wealthy and respected man. He was a foreigner. He was a commander in the Syrian army, who were feared enemies of Israel. Naaman also had at least one Israelite slave. Yet, even though he had all this power and prestige, he was inflicted with leprosy. In other words, he was a very powerful man, who had a very obvious and isolating sickness. 

I don't have time to go through all the twists and turns of this story, but basically, through advice from his young Jewish slave girl, this proud man finds Elisha, goes through a humbling process, and is eventually healed. It's important to note; Elisha refuses to take any of Naaman's wealth and Naaman ends up becoming a dedicated follower of God. 

Nothing is normal about the healing of Naaman. God's way are not our ways. God's politics are not our politics. God's wealth is different from our wealth. God used the faith and courage of a little slave girl, the guts of a few servants and the extraordinary fearlessness and faith of Elisha to humble and heal a proud foreign enemy. Elisha could have refused to heal him, he could have taken his money or he could have executed judgment on Naaman for being different, but he didn't, he loved him and chose peace. As a result, the glory of God shone brightly among the nations that day! 

When Jesus spoke of this story, those listening got so mad, that they tried to throw him off a cliff. With that brief statement, Jesus infuriated the crowd. Those around Him wanted God's love to be exclusive! They didn't want a foreigner, someone who looked different and worshiped a different god, to receive God's mercy. Jesus was telling them that He cannot and should not be put in box. God's love extends to our enemies, those we disagree with and even those who may enslave us. God's love cannot be paid for or contained. God's love is creative and is there for anyone willing to take it.

Elisha and Naaman challenge us to look beyond all our preconceived ideas and prejudices. God loves those who we may struggle with and He calls us to love them too! The Jewish crowd wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff because Jesus pointed out how God loved and healed a foreign enemy of theirs. 

If we don't want to be like that crowd, we need to love as Jesus and Elisha did. We need to ask ourselves; are we willing to love those who are homeless or are gang members? How about those who are addicted to drugs, part of the LGBT community or have been in prison? Are we willing to love those who make our lives harder or who oppress us? Jesus calls us to love our enemies. Jesus calls us to love those who are vastly different from us. 

Finally, Elisha teaches us another lesson....

Don't Limit God's Power! 
We need to Pray that our eyes will be open to what's really going on!

Elisha saw things through the eyes of God! Just like Elisha, we also need to view the world through God's eyes and not through our own tainted lens. 

God had given Elisha insight into what Israel's warring enemies had planned. As a result, Israel was always one step ahead, and therefore, protected from their enemy. Knowing this, one king got very mad and wanted to kill him. So he sent his army and they surrounded the city with soldiers, horses and chariots. The people were obviously terrified and a servant came to Elisha. Then we read in 2 Kings 6:16-17..... 

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 
Elisha prayed, “Lord, open my servant’s eyes so that he can see.” Then the Lord opened his eyes. Elisha’s servant looked up and saw the hills. He saw that Elisha was surrounded by horses and chariots made of fire.

Miracle after miracle happened that day, the invading army went blind and Elisha led them to the King of Israel. This king asks Elisha if he should slaughter them, but Elisha says "no, feed them instead!" The end result wasn't bloodshed, but a time of peace between the 2 nations! 

Elisha was able to see what no one else could see. He teaches us that when our eyes are open to God, we are able to see more options. We're able to see that we are not fighting our battles alone. God is with us! He is with us, strengthening us on our journeys. He does not leave us to struggle alone. 

When we're open to seeing things through God's eyes, we realize that our battles aren't as big or as daunting as they may seem! God loves us and has our backs!

Time and time again, I've been in situations at CCO where my fears have skyrocketed, the task ahead seems too big, the tension seems too high and everything seems too overwhelming. In those times, I want to run away or do something rash, but when I pray like Elisha did and view things through the eyes of God, the task ahead doesn't seem so daunting. When I submit to my own ways, I'm often motivated by revenge, retaliation and indifference, but when I submit to God's ways, I am motivated by love, peace and forgiveness. 

Jesus promises us that He will use our weaknesses for our good. He promises us that nothing can separate us from God's love. He also promises us that we can be more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. It's hard to believe these promises when we look at things through our own lens. When we take our eyes off ourselves, and look at things through God's eyes, hope is restored and peace is attainable!

When I lose hope, I'm reminded of a couple that used to live under the Wilson viaduct. They drunk, they smoked crack, they prostituted, they rotated in and out of jail and were both very sick. People throughout Uptown saw them as the "poorest of the poor", the "worst of the worst', and the "least of the least". No one saw any hope for them. 

But God hadn't given up on them and this couple possessed a glimmer of hope. That glimmer turned into a bright light of hope! They refused to limit what God could in their lives! They didn't settle. They started viewing things through the eyes of Jesus, knowing that they could be "more than conquerors" too. 

It's been over 10 years now. This couple is clean, sober and housed. They refused to settle and have overcome countless obstacles. They haven't shied away from whatever task laid before them and they're both very loving and compassionate to those around them.

They are "more than conquerors", God turned a hopeless situation into something that now brings glory to Him. They now bring love, hope and restoration to those struggling with addiction and homelessness. This couple testifies to the power of Jesus, and His ability to bring good news and light out of such a dark and dismal setting. This couple is living proof that Jesus is in the business of making His followers over-comers and "more than conquerors".

I know Elisha seems too big and unattainable, because he did supernatural things in a time of suffering. But God isn't calling us to do exactly what he did, He calls us to use what we have, however big or small, to bring the good news and the love of Jesus into our neighborhood. Romans 8 reminds us that we can never be separated from God's love and that, we too, are "more than conquerors" in Christ Jesus.

Just like Elisha, and just like this couple, we need to believe that God will take us, however small or weak we may feel, beyond our wildest imaginations. God wants us to move forward. He doesn't want us to become stagnant. He wants us to do whatever tasks stand before us, however big or small. He wants us to love and assist whoever stands before us, even our worst enemies, and He wants us to view whatever's around us through His loving and compassionate eyes. He wants us to be salt and light in this world.
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