Following Christ does not insulate you from trouble. In fact, trouble comes to all believers. When troubles come, they vary in intensity. Trouble can impact us financially, it can impact us physically, and it can also impact us spiritually. Life brings seasons of soul-troubling sorrow. I have faced those seasons in my own life. I have a daughter who is a severe diabetic and wears an insulin pump twenty-four hours a day. I have another daughter who has epilepsy and suffers from dozens of seizures daily. On one hand, you might consider those their problems and not my own. However, if you are a parent, and your children have medical issues, you know the questions, the concerns, the helplessness, as well as the sense of hopelessness it brings. When I speak of soul-troubling sorrow, I speak from personal experience.
In one of my seasons of soul-troubling sorrow, my heart was touched by the story of a woman who lived in the days of the prophet Elisha. He was a man whose character separated him from the ordinary men of his day. His life was marked by the miraculous. In the Old Testament, the presence of a prophet brought a person a special connection with God. Therefore, a person seeking God, or direction from God, would seek God’s prophet.
In the little town of Shunem, lived a precious couple who opened their home to Elisha. He passed their home often while on assignment for God. The woman of the house had a strong sense of spiritual discernment. Whenever Elisha passed that way, she always provided him a meal. She realized there was something special about Elisha. So, as an act of kindness, they added a little upper room to their house as a resting place for Elisha from his journeys. In that room, they placed a bed, a table, and a lampstand. Whenever he came, the woman of the home prepared him food. By opening their home to Elisha, they opened their home to the blessing of God.
For her service to God through ministering to God’s prophet, she became a recipient of a very special promise from God. 2 Kings 4:11-17 tell us of that promise and its fulfillment.
11One day he came there and turned in to the upper chamber and rested. 12Then he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” And when he had called her, she stood before him. 13He said to him, “Say now to her, ‘Behold, you have been careful 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?’” And she answered, “I live among my own people.” 14So he said, “What then is to be done for her?” And Gehazi answered, “Truly she has no son and her husband is old.” 15He said, “Call her.” When he had called her, she stood in the doorway. 16Then he said, “At this season next year you will embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God, do not lie to your maidservant.” 17The woman conceived and bore a son at that season the next year, as Elisha had said to her. 2 Kings 8:11-17 (NASB)
God rewards faithfulness, and He rewarded this faithful woman with the blessing of a son. Across the years, Elisha came to know and love this family, as well as the child God brought into their home.
As time passed, the child grew from a babe to a young boy. Then came a tragic day when a season of soul-troubling sorrow came into the life of this mother. In her response to that sorrow, I find some principles that help me grapple with seasons of soul-troubling sorrow in my own life.
18When the child was grown, the day came that he went out to his father to the reapers. 19He said to his father, “My head, my head.” And he said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her lap until noon, and then died. 2 Kings 4:18-20 (NASB)
In those three short verses, we learn of the sorrow that crushed the heart of this dear servant of God. In those days, the only medicine a sick child often received was the love of a mother. When a child is very sick, you can sometimes feel the fever rise as you hold it in your arms. I can imagine her feelings of helplessness as she rocked back and forth with this boy in her arms, sensing, as only mothers can do, that his life was about to slip away.
Down through the years, I watched godly men and women as they struggled through their own seasons of sorrow. In that moment when circumstances are beyond your control, and when the solution is out of your reach, the character of a person’s faith is revealed. Observe how this dear, broken-hearted mother grappled with her sorrow.
21She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door behind him and went out. 2 Kings 4:21 (NASB)
What was it about the bed of Elisha that made this mother choose that spot rather than the bed of the child or that of her own? It is likely that this woman spent many nights in her own bed, listening to Elisha, as he made his bedside an altar where he called on the Lord. She claimed that bed in the prophet’s chamber as an altar of her own, and she laid the body of her son before the Lord. Thus we discover our first principle of dealing with soul-troubling sorrow:
Lay that trouble before the Lord.
She laid her son on the bed of Elisha, and she shut the door behind her. She was not closing her eyes to the trouble that invaded her life. She was committing it to the care of the ONLY ONE she knew who could help in her hour of need.
This was the first thing she did. Before she made steps to do anything else, or made requests of anyone else, she laid the body of her son on the bed of the prophet and shut the door. She laid her trouble before the Lord and committed her broken heart, as well as the body of her boy, into His care.
Unless you have faced the heart-throbbing crush of some tremendous crisis, you can’t fully enter into the next verses. They reveal an urgency, concealed by a composure, designed to protect others in that home whose faith might not be as strong as her own.
22Then she called to her husband and said, “Please send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and return.” 23He said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.” And she said, “It will be well.” 2 Kings 4:22-23 (NASB)
She approached her husband and requested a servant and a donkey that would provide her the opportunity to run to the man of God and return. Apparently, she never shared with him that their son was dead. And so, when he quizzed her about why she needed to go without the presence of some special occasion, she soothed his concern with “It will be well”.
Those words reflected a deep faith in her own heart, as well as a desire to protect the heart of her husband from the distress that raged within her. It is from those words, that I draw a second principle on dealing with soul-troubling sorrow: First, you lay it before the Lord. Second:
Wrap That Trouble in a Cocoon of Faith and Hide it from the World.
I have learned this from some great saints of God who were passing through periods of intense sorrow. I have seen them wrap their sorrow in a cocoon of faith, so that if you met them on the street or if you stood beside them as they faced their tragedy or their trouble, you would never know the pain in their heart. They become to all around them what this woman was to her husband. The influence of her faith was a calming influence, even though a storm was raging in her heart. She said to her husband. Everything is all right. It will be well.
I have a dear friend who is a pastor. On one occasion, a grandbaby died. The little couple was crushed, as were the grandparents. I watched my pastor friend preach the funeral of that little baby. He consoled his family and the community, even as his own heart was breaking. I have a vivid memory of walking with the family into the cemetery. The tiny coffin that contained the body of the baby was cradled in the arms of that grandfather and carried to the graveside. He also shared words of comfort for the rest of us that day. He was telling us that all would be well
As this dear mother spoke those words, it was as if she was reminding herself, as well as those around her, that in the midst of her sorrow and heartache, God was in complete control. She laid her trouble before the Lord and left it in His care.
24Then she saddled a donkey and said to her servant, “Drive and go forward; do not slow down the pace for me unless I tell you.” 25So she went and came to the man of God to Mount Carmel. 2 Kings 4:24-25 (NASB)
She left the presence of her husband, in whose presence she was been calm and collected, and entered the presence of the servant with an intensity that exemplified the urgency in her heart. There was no time to waste! Every ounce of energy must be given to get to the man of God! When she found him, she would be in the presence of one who could represent her before the Lord. In her moment of soul-troubling sorrow, she sought the Lord.
This leads me to the third principle of dealing with soul-troubling sorrow: First, lay that trouble before the Lord. Second, wrap it in a cocoon of faith and hide it from the world. Third:
Seek God With Great Earnestness and Urgency.
Her faith was reflected in the presence of men with a calm and collected confidence. But the faith of her feet was reflected by the great earnestness and urgency with which she sought the Lord.
When the man of God saw her at a distance, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Behold, there is the Shunammite. 26“Please run now to meet her and say to her, ‘Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?’” And she answered, “It is well.” 2 Kings 4:25b-26 (NASB)
Once again, attempting to hold her composure against the great burden that weighed heavy on her heart, she approached the prophet. She repeated the words she had spoken earlier to her husband. This was not a lie because she laid her trouble before the Lord. She placed her child on that bed that where Elisha had prayed and wept before the Lord. Now, her own tears had been poured out upon that altar, and the love of that mother’s heart lay there in the keeping of the Lord. Her spirit was willing to keep all that grief contained within the cocoon of faith, but when she saw Elisha she could contain herself no longer, and she fell at his feet.
27When she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came near to push her away; but the man of God said, “Let her alone, for her soul is troubled within her; and the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me.” 28Then she said, “Did I ask for a son from my lord? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me’?” 2 Kings 4:27-28 (NASB)
This leads us to our fourth principle for dealing with soul-troubling sorrow: First, lay that trouble before the Lord. Second, wrap that trouble in a cocoon of faith and hide it from the world. Third, seek the Lord with great earnestness and urgency. Fourth:
Cling in Faith to the Feet of your Savior.
By coming to Elisha she was coming to God. By clinging to the feet of Elisha, she was throwing her arms around the feet of her Savior. All her hopes were in God. She knew that her only help was in God. She didn’t need to go all over town spreading her sorrow from place to place and person to person. There was only One who could help. There was only One who could bear the deep sorrow of her soul! By coming to Elisha, she was coming to gain the help of God!
Sensing what happened, Elisha dispatched Gehazai with his own staff in his hand.
29Then he said to Gehazi, “Gird up your loins and take my staff in your hand, and go your way; if you meet any man, do not salute him, and if anyone salutes you, do not answer him; and lay my staff on the lad’s face.” 30The mother of the lad said, “As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” And he arose and followed her. 2 Kings 4:29-30 (NASB)
Gehazi is not who she came for! She didn’t want the help of Elisha’s servant. She wanted Elisha! This leads us to our fifth principle for dealing with soul-troubling sorrow:
Settle for no Substitutes.
In the Old Testament, you turned to God’s Servant the prophet to turn to God. Gehazi was the servant of God’s servant. He was not God’s representative. The woman needed God, not a substitute! In sorrow, you need more than a minister. You need Christ Himself! Lay your trouble before Him. Wrap your trouble in a cocoon of faith and shield it from the world. Seek the face of your Lord with great earnestness and urgency. Cling in faith to the feet of the ONE who alone is a very present help in time of trouble. Like Jacob of old, cling to Him, and don’t let Him go until you find the blessing you need.
31Then Gehazi passed on before them and laid the staff on the lad’s face, but there was no sound or response. So he returned to meet him and told him, “The lad has not awakened.” 2 Kings 4:31 (NASB)
Elisha sent Gehazi with his staff which was the symbol of his own authority. Gehazi was going in the name of Elisha, but Gehazi’s going produced no results. This was not Gehazi’s assignment. It belonged to Elisha. Some assignments are yours alone. You can’t be represented by another. God has a mission for you.
32When Elisha came into the house, behold the lad was dead and laid on his bed. 33So he entered and shut the door behind them both and prayed to the LORD. 34And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth and his eyes on his eyes and his hands on his hands, and he stretched himself on him; and the flesh of the child became warm. 35Then he returned and walked in the house once back and forth, and went up and stretched himself on him; and the lad sneezed seven times and the lad opened his eyes. 2 Kings 4:32-35 (NASB)
This was an assignment that couldn’t be completed by sending a representative. Elisha had to go! Elisha had to shut the door! Elisha had to pray! Elisha had to touch the dead boy’s body! Elisha had to enter into the woman’s grief! And there beside that bed, where he often prayed for God to do the miraculous, Elisha asked God to do what only He could do!
The lad was dead! The little boy, who made that home all the more delightful to Elisha, was dead! Could Elisha raise the dead? No! But as he prayed, he tried every method that he knew. Elisha’s efforts represent his own earnestness to help this boy by whatever method he could, even if it meant somehow imparting life to him from his own body. Elisha’s efforts and his patience point to the persistence of his own faith in seeking God to do what was beyond the reach of any man.
The story has a wonderfully happy ending.
36He called Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came in to him, he said, “Take up your son.” 37Then she went in and fell at his feet and bowed herself to the ground, and she took up her son and went out. 2 Kings 4:36-37 (NASB)
Here is a woman who laid her trouble before the Lord, wrapped it in the cocoon of her faith, sought her Lord with great earnestness and urgency, who clung with faith to the feet of her Savior, neither seeking nor accepting any substitute. She found her Lord to be able and faithful. We learn from her one final principle of handling soul-troubling sorrow:
Regardless of the Outcome Find an Occasion For Worship.
Once again, she fell at Elisha’s feet. It was an expression of her deep gratitude to God for what He had done. All of life’s sorrows don’t have fairy tale endings. Our fortunes are not always restored. The sick are not always healed. Sorrow is not always turned to joy. But whatever the outcome, saints of God down through the ages have been able to find an occasion to honor and worship God in the midst of their deepest sorrow.
Horatio Spafford was a successful lawyer in Chicago. His finances were devastated by the Chicago fire in 1871. A poor economy in 1873 made things even worse. After that, he and his family planned a trip to Europe. Business concerns kept him from making the trip with his family. He planned to join them later. However, the ship on which they travelled sank. He learned by telegram that four of his daughters died. On his way to meet his wife, the ship on which he sailed came near the spot where his daughters perished. He wrote the following words: When peace like a river attendeth my way; When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, It is well with my soul.”
The words and actions of the Biblical character Job after he lost all he had, including his children, were these:
Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said : “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” Job 1:20-21 (NASB)
Even in his sorrow, Job found an occasion for worship. Now, how should you handle the soul-troubling sorrow that has invaded your life? Lay your trouble before the Lord. Wrap that trouble in a cocoon of faith and hide it from the world. Seek God with great earnestness and urgency. Cling in faith to the feet of your Savior. Accept no substitutes. Finally, regardless of the outcome, find an occasion for worship. May the God who proved Himself to this dear woman also prove Himself to you!
Photo by Samuel Martins