So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel. When he saw her in the distance, the man of God said to his servant Gehazi, “Look! There’s the Shunammite! Run to meet her and ask her, ‘Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is your child all right?'” “Everything is all right,” she said. When she reached the man of God at the mountain, she took hold of his feet. Gehazi came over to push her away, but the man of God said, “Leave her alone! She is in bitter distress, but the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me why.” 2 Kings 4.25-27.
The “man of God” in this story is Elisha. Elisha had once been the servant/disciple of another great “man of God”, Elijah (1 Kings 19.19); and now Elisha had a servant/disciple of his own — Gehazi. But if Elisha was hoping that the relationship between himself and Gehazi would be as blessed and fruitful as the one between Elijah and himself had been, he was about to be disappointed.
The Shunammite was a wealthy woman who had been much taken with Elisha’s ministry some years before and had provided him with a small apartment in the house of herself and her husband for his use when he was in the area. In return for her kindness he had prayed for her healing from infertility and she had given birth to a son. Now, unbeknown to Elisha, the boy has died. (2 Kings 4.8-20). But when Elisha sees her coming to find him and sends Gehazi to ask her if everything is all right, she chooses not to confide in Gehazi. “How are you?” he says. “Fine, thank you,” she replies.
How many times a week (and particularly on a Sunday at church) am I at the front end of such an exchange of pleasantries? Yet often the person I’m talking to is not “fine” at all — terrible things are happening to them, but they opt not to confide in me. Why? Sometimes it is just because the time is wrong, or the place is wrong, or there are other people present that preclude a private conversation; but sometimes, I’m sure, it is because they detect in me a lack of concern, a lack of interest in the answer to my question — something about me that does not invite a true response. And I imagine that was so with Gehazi.
We see it in what happens next. The woman reaches Elisha and falls down before him, reaching for his feet, but Gehazi comes over “to push her away”. He just sees this woman as an emotional, neurotic nuisance, and he wants rid of her. Elisha, on the other hand, discerns her very real distress and has compassion for her in her need. I must ask myself how often, in ministry, have I mentally and spiritually “pushed someone away” because I have failed to discern the real need, or lacked the compassion to deal with it. How often have I “wanted rid” so that I can go and get on with other things?
Elisha’s response to the woman’s tragedy is to give his staff to Gehazi (who is young and fast) and to instruct him to go to the woman’s house without delay and lay the staff on the boy’s face (2 Kings 4.29). And what happens? “Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the boy’s face, but there was no sound or response. So Gehazi went back to meet Elisha and told him, ‘The boy has not awakened'” (2 Kings 4.31). I hope I am not maligning Gehazi even at this distance in time in seeing the “going through the motions” that I find within that sentence. There is no sense of any faith, any prayer, any expectancy, any persistence. “Been there, done that. Nothing happened,” is what he says to Elisha; and I can almost here his muttered “as if anything was ever going to”.
Again, I need to ask myself the question: how expectant am I when I engage in personal ministry to those in need? How persistent am I in prayer? How open am I to the mighty power of God touching the person in front of me to bring healing, wholeness, transformation?
Elisha was. He was expectant, full of faith, persistent, open to God — and the boy was raised back to life (2 Kings 4.32-36).
Lord, please keep me from “Gehazi ministry” and give me an “Elisha ministry” instead. Amen.