2 Kings 5: 5; 9-12
So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing….
…So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, ‘Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.’
But Naaman went away angry and said, ‘I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?’ So he turned and went off in a rage.
James 4: 6
God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.
1 Peter 5: 6
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
We’ve all witnessed people with incredible gifts and huge potential who end up sabotaging their rise to fame or greatness because of deep character issues which they have never addressed. We’re all like tubes of toothpaste - when squeezed, what’s inside comes out. When the pressure comes in life, which it always does, our deeper issues rise to the surface and spill out in all sorts of negative ways, often damaging ourselves and those around us.
We’ve seen this week that Naaman, a Syrian military general, has so much going for him from all external appearances. However, we’re told that he has a hidden affliction, leprosy, which will likely eventually destroy him. He is told about a prophet who can heal his disease so he makes his way to Elisha’s house. It’s here that we discover that leprosy isn’t the only hidden issue in Naaman’s life – he also is full of self-centred pride.
He arrives at Elisha’s house with a full entourage of horses, chariots, servants, silver, gold and gifts. Everything that conveys to the world – ‘I am a huge deal!’. He assumes Elisha will give him the red carpet treatment he’s used to. However, instead of indulging Naaman’s expectations, Elisha sends a messenger out with simple instructions about dipping in the River Jordan 7 times.
Naaman is furious. Not only does he feel disrespected by the lack of attention from the prophet, he also considers himself to be too good to dip in a muddy river. A man of his stature deserves a dramatic healing from the hands of the prophet himself. Plus, he is better suited to the purer waters of his own country. He has an image to maintain, a reputation to keep up. His pride almost causes him to miss out on a life-changing miracle.
Pride is much easier to see in someone else’s life than it is in our own. It lurks beneath the surface and emerges only when we feel undervalued, unappreciated or undermined in some way. Then our response unveils our heart. We think or say something like: ‘I deserve better’; ‘They can’t speak to me like that’; ‘I’ll not be helping out there again, no one appreciates me, just wait until they try to do it without me’; ‘Do they not know all that I’ve accomplished elsewhere in life?’
The Bible makes it clear that God opposes the proud. Think about that. I can’t help but wonder how often do we blame the devil for opposition in our lives when it could be that God is actually the one actively resisting our plans because we haven’t yet learned to humble ourselves before Him. He knows that if He were to give us the desire of our hearts right now, with our hidden arrogance and selfish pride, it would either end up destroying us or we would make a complete mess of it.
One secular writer, Ryan Holiday, says this in his book, ‘Ego is the Enemy’:
“Ego is the enemy of what you want and of what you have: Of mastering a craft. Of real creative insight. Of working well with others. Of building loyalty and support. Of longevity. Of repeating and retaining your success. It repulses advantages and opportunities. It’s a magnet for enemies and errors.”
In God’s upside-down Kingdom, the way to the top always begins on our knees with humility and servanthood. It is the way of Jesus, who,
“…had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.
Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honoured him far beyond anyone or anything….” (Phil 2: 5-9 MSG)
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