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“Rebound from Giving God Space”

June 26/16 - 2Kings 4:8-17(19-37)


Hospitality is something we can always do better at. We’re comfortable with our own space, our own routines, and entropy somehow guarantees that our homes tend toward at least a slight degree of messiness without constant attention. So when an opportunity comes up to invite other people over, we often think twice, hesitant to welcome them because we feel we’ll need to scurry around to make the place look presentable. Yet welcoming others into our homes can be a key way of expressing God’s love and concern.

      You may be aware I try to jealously guard Thursdays so I can focus on sermon preparation. It helps to have a certain degree of uninterruptedness, to be able to study, think, and create. This past Thursday it was just around noon and I was happily working away when the phone rang. It was a familiar acquaintance who just happened to be in town and have a half an hour to kill. Now, normally, with it being Thursday, I might have declined further action; but realizing the topic involved hospitality, I sensed the Lord was nudging me to practice what I preach. So I invited the acquaintance in for some peanut butter sandwich and some leftover homemade rhubarb crumble. I quickly closed the door to the bedroom and shifted a laundry basket off the couch. I cleared a corner of the kitchen table, shuffling aside a newspaper and some mail. And we had a good visit. After all, I got the impression he wasn’t there to see the house: he was there to see ME!

      Even in our churches, we can be slow to express hospitality. Back in the 1970s, “Dear Abby” columnist Abigail Van Buren received a letter from 66-year-old singer John Charles Thomas. He reported: “I am presently completing the second year of a three-year survey on the hospitality or lack of it in churches. To date, of the 195 churches I have visited, I was spoken to in only one by someone other than an official greeter – and that was to ask me to move my feet.” (!) Apparently though Christians are supposed to be intentional about ‘loving others’, we haven’t realized that may include actually TALKING to strangers.

      The prophet Elisha succeeded Elijah and served in the northern kingdom of Israel in the second half of the ninth century BC. One of the areas included in his “circuit” was Shunem, some 40 km southwest of the Sea of Galilee. There was an individual there that seemed to particularly appreciate his ministry. 2Kings 4:8-10 “One day Elisha went to Shunem.And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal.So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat.She said to her husband, "I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God.Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him.Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us."”

      What a blessing this must have been for the prophet! Shunem was a fair distance from his home in Gilgal, down towards Jerusalem in the south. This would provide a welcome ‘base’ away from home – his own space where he could have some privacy and rest. The Shunammite woman and her husband were expanding their home, setting aside space for God out of their resources, equipping the Lord’s work to happen by providing an ‘upper room’.

      For five years I served as a half-time pastor at a small church in Goulais River. I would sleep overnight at the church on Wednesday nights because it was a fair distance from home. A retired widow named Edythe graciously made it a habit to invite me for a meal at the local restaurant on Wednesday nights. I appreciated that!

      God commands us to practise hospitality in various Scripture passages. Isaiah 58:6-7 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” Jesus teaches in the passage about the sheep and the goats, Mt 25:35 “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in...” Paul reminds the church at Rome, Rom 12:13 “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” He insists church leaders or ‘overseers’ in Titus 1:7f “must be blameless...he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” And the Apostle Peter teaches, 1Peter 4:9 “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Right?! ‘Without grumbling’ – without worrying about how your house looks; use your ‘mess’ to BLESS!


Elisha definitely experiences the hospitality of the woman of Shunem and her husband as a blessing. He is motivated by her kindness to repay her somehow. V13 “Elisha said to him, "Tell her, ‘You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? Can we speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?’" She replied, "I have a home among my own people."”

      Elisha was a powerful prophet through whom the Lord worked notable miracles, up to 14 or so in number. When he inquires, “What can be done for you?” it’s sort of like offering her a blank cheque. But she can’t think of anything she really needs. She is content.

      The consumer society through its ceaseless advertising breeds discontentment within us, but the Lord wants us to be content in Him. He is our highest treasure, the appropriate and greatest God worthy of our highest affection and worship, not to be in competition with other lesser idols. Proverbs 15:16 “Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil.” Paul writes in Philippians 4:11, “...I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” WOW! Content ‘whatever the circumstances.’ In 1Timothy 6(6,8) we read this unusual definition of “great gain” in Kingdom terms: “But godliness with contentment is great gain...[Paul adds] But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

      We Westerners are terribly spoiled with material goods; we take so much for granted, and quickly become discontent and envious when we don’t have the latest gadget or gear going. The article in The Citizen newspaper about Bekki Decevito’s mission trip to Zimibabwe pointed out the whining of our discontent. It notes, “Witnessing children literally playing with garbage looking happier than most children in Canada was surprising she said. ‘It really makes you realize what you have,’ she said.” And, “It was the small [differences] that made her aware of how much she has that others don’t. ‘It’s the things you don’t even think of,’ she said. ‘Turning on the tap and brushing your teeth and things like that.’”

      One of the craft activities involved ‘prayer sticks’ consisting of popsicle sticks adorned with stickers and pipe cleaners. Bekki says, “The kids loved them...To have this small thing, they loved it.”

      One additional verse on contentment is Hebrews 13:5, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."” Be content with what you have... Knowing God is ENOUGH, HE is our supreme treasure, and we have His promise He won’t forsake us!

      As for the couple in Shunem – Elisha realizes their lack of a son means the family’s name would cease upon her husband’s death, and its land and possessions would pass to others. Also this young woman would likely face many years with no provider or protector after her husband died; children were a widow’s only social security in old age (NIV Study Bible). So Elisha makes a bold prophecy, v16 “About this time next year...you will hold a son in your arms.” By God’s grace, their kindness and generosity in providing space for the prophet has rebounded in male offspring for their own lasting security.

      A Chicago businessman called his wife to get her okay for him to bring home a visiting foreigner as a guest for dinner that night. At the time, the wife had 3 children in school and one preschooler, so there were plenty of important things to do besides entertaining strangers! But she consented and the meal came off without a hitch. The foreigner, an important Spanish official, never forgot that meal.

      Years later, some friends of that family went to Spain as missionaries. However, their work was brought to a standstill by government regulations. When the Spanish official got word that the missionaries were friends of that hospitable Chicago couple, he used his influence to clear away the restrictions. There is a church today in that province of Spain, due in part to that one meal!


Ultimately, though, hospitality is not about giving in order to get back; it’s not an exchange of ‘tit for tat’. We share what we have without expectation of receiving anything in return, simply because all we have and are is a gift of God’s infinite grace: we owe Him everything, it’s all a trust from Him, to be deployed for His purposes. It’s in God’s nature to be giving, even when that’s not reciprocated: He makes His rain fall mercifully on both the just and the unjust.

      Genuine faith trusts in God’s sovereignty and steadfast lovingkindness even when His good gifts are taken away. If you continue on in 2Kings 4 you’ll find out “the rest of the story” about what happened to the son of the couple from Shunem. Vv18-20 “The child grew, and one day he went out to his father, who was with the reapers."My head! My head!" he said to his father. His father told a servant, "Carry him to his mother." After the servant had lifted him up and carried him to his mother, the boy sat on her lap until noon, and then he died.”

      Well...Some gift, to be taken away again so quickly! This is a real test for the woman and her husband. Their hopes of posterity are suddenly dashed. Will they respond by rejecting God, turning on Him and blaming Him? Or will they trust Him even with this momentous downturn? Will they become BETTER or BITTER?

      We don’t know the exact cause of the boy’s sudden illness; it could have been sunstroke given the time of year, and the fact that sunstroke can be fatal. Or it could have been a brain tumour or some kind of stroke or injury. Whatever the cause, it is fatal.

      But we do know this is a woman of faith. We see evidence of this later in 2Kings 8:1-2, “Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, "Go away with your family and stay for a while wherever you can, because the LORD has decreed a famine in the land that will last seven years." The woman proceeded to do as the man of God said.She and her family went away and stayed in the land of the Philistines seven years.” She ‘proceeded to do as’ he said – that’s faith, trusting God’s word, even when it hasn’t yet come to pass.

      When her son mysteriously and suddenly dies, the woman of faith springs into action. She lays the boy on Elisha’s bed in the upper room. She obtains a donkey and goes without delay to Elisha at Mount Carmel, some 25 to 40 km west. Think about that: about the distance to Hensall or Exeter, riding a donkey. She doesn’t let on about what’s the matter to either her husband or Elisha’s servant, but when she comes to Elisha, he can see she is in “bitter distress”. V28 “"Did I ask you for a son, my lord?" she said. "Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?"” NRSV - “Did I not say, ‘Do not mislead me’?” You can sense her disappointment with God, her great grief at losing this miracle boy upon whom their hopes had become pinned.

      Are you relating at all? Are there huge disappointments you’re experienced in life where it seems God has ‘jilted’ you – taken away something exceedingly precious? Can you trust Him even then – even despite the grief?

      The woman is persistent in her faith, refusing to give up, calling out for help to Elisha. At first he sends his younger servant on ahead with his staff (which ends up not having any effect), but she continues casting herself upon Elisha. V30 “But the child’s mother said, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So he got up and followed her.” Do you remember Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18(1-8), pestering the corrupt judge until he finally agreed to deal with her case just to get her off his back? Faith persists. It doesn’t give up even when God’s hand in an affair is not very apparent, when it’s hard to tell what good He can possibly be bringing out of a messed-up situation. Nevertheless, be persistent. Don’t give up. Galatians 6:9 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Persevere, like the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 did. Hebrews 12:1 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

      Finally Elisha and the woman reach the house, and by God’s mercy, a great miracle happens. The Bible records 3 instances of dead people being raised in the Old Testament, and 4 in the New - 3 by Jesus (Jairus’ daughter, the son of the widow at Nain, and Lazarus) and 1 by Peter (Dorcas). Of the 3 instances in the Old Testament, 2 involve Elisha. But a resurrection is not a common event!

      The way it happens also reveals persistence on the part of Elisha. Vv32-35 “When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch.He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the LORD.Then he got on the bed and lay upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands.As he stretched himself out upon him, the boy’s body grew warm.Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out upon him once more.The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.”

      God mercifully granted the request of the Shunammite, giving her a son a SECOND time. He rewarded her faith, her persistence, her hospitality, and her contentment – trusting God to supply all her needs.


A seminary student drove about thirty miles to church on Sunday mornings and he would frequently pick up hitchhikers. One day he picked up a young man who noticed that he was wearing a suit and asked if he could go to church with him. The student said, "Of course you can." The stranger came to church and afterward was invited over to one of the members' homes for lunch and fellowship. While there, he received a hot bath, some clean clothes, and a hot meal. In conversation with the youth, his hosts found that he was a Christian, but he had been out of fellowship with the Lord. His home was in another state and he was just passing through on his way back. Later in the evening, they bought him a bus ticket and sent him on his way.

      A week later, the seminary student received a letter from the hitchhiker. Enclosed with the letter was a newspaper clipping with headlines reading, "Man turns himself in for murder." This young man had killed a teenage boy in an attempted robbery and had been running away from the law for some time. But the kindness and hospitality of Christians had convicted him. He wanted to be in fellowship with God, and he knew he needed to do the right thing about his crime.

      Little did those Christians know that by their faithfulness to show hospitality they had influenced a man to do what was right in God's eyes and thereby help restore him to fellowship with his Lord. Let’s pray.