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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What Made Her Great

2 Kings 4:8ff records an incident that goes nearly unnoticed. Elisha and his servant, Gehazi, cross over into Shunem and meet a woman described as "great," or, "prominent." When Elisha comes near, she actually persuades him to eat some food she has apparently prepared for him. Her home became as base of operations (of sorts) for him, for each time he came through the neighborhood, he stopped off at her house to eat.

Why was this woman was considered "great" or "prominent?" She fed the prophet, sure; but, there must have been something else that caused the Holy Spirit to inspire the writer to make certain she recieved this designation. We get an idea of that "something" through what she says to her husband. "Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God passing by us continually. Please, let us make a little walled upper chamber and let us set a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; and it shall be, when he comes to us, that he can turn in there." (4:9-10) First, she had a favorable response to God which is seen through her constant recieving of His prophet into their house. Second, she offered the life and property of her family to care for the man of God and his servant. The Shunnamite woman had her husband build an apartment, which she fully furnished and continued to provide food for both master and servant (4:13).

This woman was great, prominent, not because of the wealth they seem to have (in contrast to the poor, debt-burdened widow described in the verses before). She was a great woman because of her thoughtfulness. Elisha said to her, "Behold, you have been careful ["thoughtful" in MJKV] for us with all this care; what can I do for you? Would you be spoken for to the king or to the captain of the army?" (4:13). Elisha commends her care and offers to do something for her in return. What he actually does in return is a subject for another study; regardless, her consideration does not go unnoticed.

Thoughtfulness, consideration of others, is one way to make the most of your time. Commenting on Psalm 90:12, J.R. Miller wrote in 1912, "Life's lessons cannot all be learned from books. The lessons may be set down in books--but it is only in actual living--that we can really learn them . . . . Take thoughtfulness. You can learn in a short lesson what it is and how beautiful it is. But you will not be thoughtful, the moment you have learned the definition. It will probably take you several years--to get the beautiful lesson learned." Make your day by making somone else's. Thoughtfulness requires interest in othersand is a visible evidences of salvation! "I will show thee my faith by my works" (James 2:18). We have been "created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). Obedience to Christ's commands include the way we respond to others!

One feature of her thoughtfulness that stands out is how she shared personal resources: from their garden or cupboard; the apartment was in their own house; the furnishings were from her own house. This may not seem like much, but consider how we show thoughtfulness toward others: we go to the store and buy a token of our thoughtfulness. Culturally, we have this barrier that allows us to keep our stuff as we extend a portion toward someone else. "It's the thought that counts" is really a cheap way of saying, "this, and no more. You can only come this close." We find ease in keeping people at arm's length.

The act of thoughtfulness is very personal, beginning with the act of thought in and of itself. Again, J.R. Miller gives us a wonderful illustration of the compatibility between thoughtfulness and love:

"One morning, as the child stood holding his mother's hand, the bird began to sing, and the notes came into the chamber very faintly; and yet as he watched the sufferer's face, he saw an expression of pain sweep over it. She said nothing—but the boy needed no words to tell him that the bird's singing was distressing her. 'It is no music to me,' he said, 'if it pains my mother!' So he took the cage, and, carrying it away, gave the bird to a friend. "But you loved the bird," his mother said, when she learned what he had done. 'Yes,' he replied; 'but I love you more.'

That was a beautiful thing to do. It told of true thoughtfulness in the child. His personal pleasure must be sacrificed because gratifying it gave pain to one who was dear to him. This is the spirit which should characterize every Christian. We should repress in ourselves, the tastes which are not agreeable to our friends. We should cut off the habits which hurt the sensitive hearts whose happiness is dear to us. We should put away the things in us, whatever the cost may be, which give pain to our loved ones." (The Grace of Thoughtfulness, 1896)

We may think we are being helpful when we consider others, but the depth of our thoughtfulness can be easily exposed. Buying a hungry homeless guy a hamburger combo meal may actually be a thoughtLESS act: how many other burgers has he already eaten the last few days? Would he enjoy something else, just like you do--perhaps a salad? Is he diabetic? Does he have teeth? To find answers to these questions, you may have to get to know the guy a little. Maybe he's already eaten and would enjoy something to read, or a clean pair of socks . . .

Some things can be discovered by simple observation. Elisha's hostess paid attention enough to discover that food and shelter were necessary.

Let the ethical points of Hebrews 13:1-7 become springboards of thoughtful action:

  1. Let love of the brethren continue.
  2. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.
  3. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.
  4. Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
  5. Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU," so that we confidently say, "THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?"
  6. Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.

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