There are a couple of things we can all learn from a man named Naaman. The thought came to me Sunday morning when we discussed a classic Bible story featuring two men: Elisha, prophet of God, and Naaman, leader of the army of Aram. The Bible says Naaman was respected and honored by both his master (the king of Aram) and all of the people of the land. He was in charge of the nation’s army, as in Dwight Eisenhower or Colin Powell, a man of influence and fame.
But somewhere along the way during his journey to the top, Naaman contracted the incurable disease of leprosy. He must’ve had enough social standing and military honors by the time he got sick that he wasn’t tossed out of society, but no matter how big and strong he was, no matter how powerful and well-connected he was, he carried the mark of death on him. And leprosy was not a subtle disease that could be hidden from public view. It ravaged the victim’s skin and face; there was no hiding its death sentence.
The story from II Kings 5 reveals a lot about Naaman. For one thing, he was teachable. Twice in the story he took advice from servants. And not only was he teachable, he had the sort of relationship with his servants that made them want to help him and gave them courage to approach him even in his worst moments.
And Naaman was willing to listen and change his mind even in the middle of his rage. When his servant approached him as they left Elisha’s house, angry and offended and bitter, Naaman actually changed his mind and reversed his intended action. Most of us aren’t open to change once we have our mad worked up no matter how desperate we are.
If Naaman hadn’t listened to his servant, he would not have been healed of his leprosy. He would’ve gone back home and died a horrible death, there would’ve been a state funeral, and the story would’ve been over with no lives changed. Fortunately, that isn’t what happened.
One of Naaman’s greatest assets was a friend who was brave enough to tell him: You should look at this again and rethink your reaction; God is in this, go back and try again. We would all live better lives if we had friends like that. We would all be better friends if we spoke up whenever our own friends were about to miss God’s healing.
Another thing we can learn from Naaman is the importance of planning ahead. There is a part of this story after Naaman had been healed when he asked Elisha: “When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also - when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”
This was after Naaman had made his remarkable profession of faith, “Now I know there is no God in all the world except Israel.” How could he consider visiting the temple of another God?
It is easy to blame Naaman for not being true to his new-found faith. Easy to think he was already looking for a way out, hedging his bets, backing off from his rash statement. But I don’t think that’s what was going on. I believe Naaman had a true conversion. He was already wondering how he would live when he got back home. Becoming a changed man, with new skin and new heart, didn’t change the other details of his daily life.
In fact, if he had been backing away from his profession, he wouldn’t have had to say anything at all - just go on home and forget all about it. How would Elisha know?
Naaman was a military man and I doubt he made any moves without a strategy in place and objectives in mind. In this story he was already planning a strategy for living as a Believer in a hostile land.
He knew the king would notice his baby-soft skin and would want to go to the temple to worship. Naaman would have to deal with the king and Rimmon as soon as he got home.
We have to make the same strategy decisions every day. We have to decide how to live our lives as Christian men and women while surrounded by unbelievers in a hostile land. What should I do? How should I live? What is acceptable and what is forgiven? What is edifying and what destroys?
God accepts us wherever we are. Over and over through the Bible we see God moving toward people who take even the smallest step toward him. He doesn’t demand changes in behavior before he gives his grace. God knows that once someone accepts his grace, the changes will come.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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