Getting Our “Buts” In Shape

Y’all. We are seven days into January, and I am already 110% over all this hot-air talk about resolutions. This is my least favorite part of the New Year celebrations (is capitalizing that correct? I have no idea). I do think it’s wise to self-evaluate, and I think it’s definitely worth your time to reflect on your life, your health, your choices, and especially your relationship with God, but if you’re only doing that once a year and only because it’s the trendy thing to do? Yeah, um, good luck with that. We’re a week in, so I’m guessing the fire’s already gone out of that plan, hasn’t it? (Don’t act like you haven’t already justified eating french fries in 2019.)

{steps down from soap box}

Since many, many people (and most likely some of you, dear readers) begin the new year with aspirations toward eating healthier and getting fit, just this once I’ll play along, too. See, I do play well with others after all. But before we strut into the metaphorical gym to begin working on our fitness (10 bonus points if you recognized that long-lost Fergilicious lyric), I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine, Naaman.

Our new comrade Naaman can be found in the book of 2 Kings in chapter 5. The Bible tell us, “Naaman, Commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, accepted [and acceptable], because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper” (vs. 1). Wow, so impressive. Here is a man who is not only given favor by God, but his favor with God has led to his having favor with his peers and with his king. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but no one has ever described me as a person of valor (definition: boldness or determination in facing great danger; heroic courage or bravery). There are so many remarkable things about Naaman, many notable qualities that stand out so much he makes it into the Word of God. But. Then that small yet potent word shows up and everything changes.

Look back at 2 Kings 5:1 above, and as that scripture draws to a close, pay close attention to the pivotal shift following “but”….ah, there we have it. Naaman’s “but” is leprosy. He is smart. He is strong. He is a capable and noble leader. He is favored by God and man. He is a battle-wise, brave warrior. BUT. He is a leper. And just like that, all that we saw Naaman as, all of those touted character traits of this highly-regarded soldier are tainted because now he is diseased. Now that we know he’s infected, covered in ulcerated skin and deemed wholly unclean, now that we know all of this, it changes everything.

Commander of the Syrian army.

A great man.

Accepted and acceptable.

Victorious.

A mighty man of valor.

BUT…

A leper.

Friends, as it turns out, you and I aren’t all that different from Commander Naaman after all. Each of us has a long list of admirable qualities. Each of us has particular traits that others appreciate, respect, admire, and even envy. And like our new buddy Naaman, each of us has a “but” holding us back from reaching our full potential.

Now, I don’t know what your “but” is: fear, anger/bitterness, rejection, unmet needs, failing health/disease, insecurity, doubt, spiritual apathy, lack of passion/contentment, addiction, past failure, shame, debt, unhealthy habitual behavior, sexual sin, and the list could go on and on. Despite not knowing exactly what it is you’re struggling to put behind you as you go into this new year, this season of personal resolution and renewal, I do know that Jesus is the answer. I mean, if you need proof that God can use you, that He can help you rise above whatever it is that’s tethered you to a mediocre life, just look at Naaman! He was a leper for crying out loud. He was someone who, in biblical times, was considered an outcast, who people would avoid walking by on the street, and here he is in the Bible! He’s applauded and used by God to bring victory to a chosen people. He’s successful. He’s the very opposite of shunned: he was acceptable and accepted. A leper, and yet commander and right-hand man to the king.

There’s not a thing you’ve done, not a thing you could ever do, that would make you useless to God. He loves you. He sees your diseased skin, your outcast status, and He patiently awaits your turning to Him to shower you with favor. He can make you well; He can heal your physical, mental, and emotional hurt. But we have to give those things to Him. We have to decide that we’re no longer going to be held back by whatever we’ve been carrying around. We have to choose to believe that God is bigger than our “leprosy.” To put it in New Year’s resolution terms, we have to get our “buts” in shape so that we don’t prevent the blessings, the favor, and the forward progress for His Kingdom that God can bring to fruition in our lives.

And guess what else God can do–He can fully heal you! Skip ahead in 2 Kings chapter 5 to verses 11-14. At this time, Naaman has gone to the prophet Elisha in an effort to have his leprosy cured. Totally able to help Naaman, Elisha gives him simple instructions for how to be fully cured, and verses 11 and 12 show us Naaman’s reaction to these directives: “But Naaman was angry and went away and said, Behold, I thought he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and heal the leper…So he turned and went away in a rage.” I’m sorry–what? You have been told exactly what to do in order to cure yourself of this horrible, painful disease and you’re ticked? You see, Naaman had this other little problem, too, on top of the leprosy issue; Naaman was prideful. He was a great man, remember? And do you also remember he was a ranking official in the army and a brave warrior? Well then, how dare Elisha send a messenger and not come in person to cure him! How dare he suggest that Naaman the great and mighty wash in the filthy waters of the Jordan River when other cleaner bodies of water were nearby! Why was there no pomp and circumstance to the healing of such a man as Naaman?! (insert foot stomp here) And so Naaman walked away in a rage.

If you skip down to verses 13 and 14, you’ll see that after he’s cooled off some, Naaman’s servants are able to talk some sense into him, and he does eventually follow Elisha’s instructions. And because we serve a God who is so loving, who is the God of second (and third and fourth and fifth) chances, He doesn’t take back His power because Naaman acted like a toddler. Instead, once Naaman gets his act together and dips himself the required seven times in the Jordan, God heals him completely, “…and his flesh was restored like that of a little child, and he was clean.”

There is so much we could discuss from this. We could spend a long time discussing how leprosy in the Bible is always a symbol for sin. We would talk about this symbolic baptism, how Naaman took his leprosy/his sin, gave it over to the commands of God, accepted God’s sovereignty and ability, believed that God would do what He said He would do, and was healed. How he was washed totally clean in a river full of dirty water after giving up his pride and his own expectations, and simply placing his trust in God. For today, however, I think it best if we just focus on the near-miss of Naaman’s story. What if he hadn’t checked his pride and followed God’s instructions? What if he’d decided he was too important to dirty himself in the Jordan? What if he’d decided he knew more than God, that God couldn’t possibly be right to go about answering his prayer in this way? This story would’ve ended VERY differently, and, friends, if you and I don’t get pride eradicated from our lives, our stories might end very differently as well.

Proverbs 3:5-7 encourages Christ-followers to “Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes.” This right here. This attitude and mindset is my goal for 2019. Not only believing IN God, but simply believing God. Believing He will do what His Word says He will. Swapping my pride and selfish expectation for God’s Will. Reducing self and enlarging God. Together, let’s make 2019 the year of getting our ‘buts’ in shape and getting pride out of our lives so that God can both use us AND heal us.

Dear Lord, thank You so much that You are willing to use me just as I am. Thank You, Father, for Your unconditional acceptance. Help me, Lord, to give You anything and everything that holds me back, that encourages space between me and You. Father, I know You want good things for me, that You plan to bless me and prosper me. In this coming year, please help it to be one of health, of happiness, of restoration, and of healing. Father, I ask that You begin a work in me that doesn’t fade away with the coming months. Light a fire in me for You and Your Word, Lord, that never dims. Help me to get right with You, God, so that I can show You to others. May my 2019 be one of spiritual growth and maturity, but may it also be one dedicated to living for You. Please, Lord, help me to glorify You with each day. Thank You that perfection isn’t a qualification that You require me to have. I love You, Father, and I thank You for hearing my prayer. May Your Will be done in my life in 2019. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.