Many of you have been in situations where you look at something in your life and wonder, “Is God even aware? What could he possibly be up to right now?” Maybe your circumstances are so dismal that you aren’t even sure there is a God. You’re in pain, you can’t see the end of it, and you can’t see any purpose in it.
That’s the situation in 2 Kings 5, with the story of Naaman. Through this story of two sufferers—the powerful Naaman and an anonymous little girl—we see the answer to one of the biggest questions we all have: “What is God doing in my pain?”
1. God uses your pain to bring you to himself.
What if God had a much bigger purpose in your pain than you could ever imagine? Naaman, you see, had been an incredibly powerful general…until he discovered a spot of leprosy on him. Then suddenly he realized how fragile and fleeting everything was.
What if God is trying to say that to you in your pain? What if that big problem in your life was put there, by God, to wake you up? You think what you need most is the resolution to your painful situation. But what if God, in your pain, had something for you that was even better than a cure?
And what if this thing was so valuable that after you found it, you wouldn’t even think to mention the healing? Naaman eventually got the healing he asked for. But the first thing he mentioned after being healed wasn’t the leprosy. It was the simple statement, “Now I know there is a God in Israel.” Naaman wanted God to give him healing; God wanted to give Naaman a glimpse of himself. And it was that glimpse—not the healing—that left Naaman stunned.
The point of Naaman’s story isn’t that every leper will be healed. The point is to show us that God pursues sinners. Some of need to recognize the pain in our lives as God’s appointed and merciful “spot,” revealing that we’re not as together as we thought. It could be a physical pain, or a fear that paralyzes you, or a habit you can’t break, or a problem in your marriage. Whatever it is, that spot could be pointing to a deeper problem—separation from God. And if your pain wakes you up to that deeper soul problem, it’s worth it. Just ask Naaman.
2. God uses our pain to bring others to him.
The hero of Naaman’s story isn’t Naaman. It isn’t even Elijah the prophet. It’s the little Israelite girl.
We learn in 2 Kings 5:2 that Naaman’s wife has a young servant girl, an Israelite. Naaman had “carried her off” on one of his raids, which is a delicate way of saying that he kidnapped her to be a slave, almost certainly murdering her family in the process. How would you respond to the person who had kidnapped you and murdered your family and friends? If it were me, I’d probably be thrilled that Naaman had gotten leprosy. “Ha! Serves him right. Now I get to watch his decrepit old body fall apart and die.”
But instead, this sweet little girl says, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure his of his leprosy” (2 Kings 5:3). She seems to genuinely care about him. She seems, remarkably, to have forgiven him.
This little girl gives us an incredible OT picture of Jesus. She suffered because of Naaman’s sin, and her suffering became the means of his salvation. Think about it: had she not been in this situation, Naaman would never have known about Elijah. In the same way, our salvation would come through a “Suffering Servant.” Like this little girl, Jesus suffered because of our sin. And instead of hating us for causing that suffering, he forgave us and kept loving us. His suffering on the cross became the means by which we could wash our sins away.
The church follows in Jesus’ footsteps here. Like this little girl, and like Jesus, God uses our suffering to bring others to him. As the Apostle Paul puts it, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24). Lacking? What could possibly be lacking in Christ’s afflictions? Didn’t Jesus say, on the cross, “It is finished?”
It’s true that Jesus paid the full price for our sin. But Paul knew that it wouldn’t matter that Jesus died for people if they never heard about it. The work of salvation may be finished, but the work of evangelism is not. What is “lacking” in Christ’s afflictions, in other words, is a tangible expression of Jesus’ suffering. We bear the wounds of Christ.
Are you willing to take on wounds so that other people can come to know Jesus? To give a financial gift that will affect your lifestyle, or to let your kids go on a mission trip, or to forgive someone who hurt you, or to endure the scorn of a bad reputation? Are you willing to become a suffering servant for others?
(This Blog originally appeared on J.D. Greear's Blog)