You Can’t Make a Difference Without Proximity

Text: 2 Kings 4:8-37

“Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away.” —Proverbs 27:10

In the film Amazing Grace—the true account of William Wilberforce’s campaign to abolish the slave trade—Wilberforce has a way of making the distant reality of slavery troubling to those who are far removed from its deplorability. He leads a group of high society dames and dandies on a pleasant harbor tour, eating and chatting on the deck of an elegant ship. Wilberforce has the vessel guided to a particular spot of the harbor, where the high society crowd begin to wrinkle their noses, then cough and cover their faces at a horrific odor that begins to fill the air. He then announces that what they smell is the stench of death, disease, and unimaginable suffering coming from a slave ship docked nearby.

Wilberforce seemed to understand that the only way he could get people to make a difference was to give them an up-close perspective of the pain—a nearness to the suffering.

In chapter four of 2 Kings, a wealthy Shunammite woman who had shown generous hospitality to the prophet Elisha over the course of his ministry, suddenly faced a personal crisis. Her son, whom Elisha had prophesied would be born, later fell dead. She came to Elisha crying out in bitter distress. Elisha’s initial response was to send his servant, Gehazi, on ahead to lay his staff on the face of the child. But when his efforts returned no results—no sound or sign of life—he returned to meet Elisha and told him: “The child has not awakened.”

Upon coming to the house and seeing the child lying dead on his bed, Elisha went in and shut the door behind the others and prayed to the Lord.

Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. (2 Kings 4:34-35)

This imagery may appear a bit strange, yet I believe it yields a parabolic picture of God’s kingdom servants resuscitating life in a world of widespread suffering. God doesn’t need us, but He certainly chooses to use us. Most of the time, we can’t make a difference from a distance. We can’t help heal the brokenness without proximity to the suffering. It’s not enough to merely send our staff like Elisha did with Gehazi; we have to show up hands on hands, flesh on flesh, and life on life.

Jesus said that His disciples would be the “salt” of the earth. But salt loses its preserving and healing qualities without proximity. If we long to see our neighbors coming to Christ, the lost being found, the broken being healed, hearts and minds transformed by the power of God, and revival sweeping across this land, it will require something of us. That something is called proximity. We have to be in the world, not of it (John 17:15-17). This is at the very heart of the doctrine of the incarnation. Jesus didn’t save the world by keeping His distance—He pitched his earthly tent right in the center of its brokenness.

It’s a fallacy to assume we can be God’s change agents solely by electing officials we believe will uphold our values. Legislation doesn’t change hearts. We can’t expect to resuscitate hope for those numb in despair or to bring truth to those entangled in spiritual/moral confusion by simply posting a few inspirational Tweets, Instagram Bible verses, or Facebook sermonettes from a distance. God wants us life on life with people who are struggling, people who are hurting, and those in need of the Gospel. Where can you flesh out life on life ministry to those in need around you—in the workplace, at school, to your neighbors, with your peers, or to the marginalized and less fortunate in your community?

It’s been said that you can impress people from a distance, but you can’t influence them without getting close. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, thank you for all of those who participated in your kingdom work of helping to resuscitate our lives when we were lost without hope. It’s on those shoulders that we now stand as you call us to be agents of resuscitation for those on their bed of despair—those alienated by others, trapped in injustice, deceived by darkness, imprisoned to ideologies, wounded by humanity, or dead in their own sins. Show us how to live in proximity with those in need—life on life—and teach us how to be your ministers of reconciliation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. Who have been the agents of resuscitation God has used to revive things in your life?
  2. Whose prayers do you want when you are facing life’s most daunting problems?
  3. What did Elisha do when the child didn’t immediately resuscitate (2 Kings 4:34-35)? What can this imagery teach us about persistence in ministering to others?
  4. If God can perform miracles without us, why do you think He chooses to use our proximity to cultivate life and healing with others?
  5. Where might hope and faith need to be resuscitated in your life right now?

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