Arrows in the Ground
When Elisha became sick with the illness of which he was to die, Joash the king of Israel came down to him and wept over him and said, "My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" Elisha said to him, "Take a bow and arrows." So he took a bow and arrows. Then he said to the king of Israel, "Put your hand on the bow." And he put his hand on it, then Elisha laid his hands on the king's hands. He said, "Open the window toward the east," and he opened it. Then Elisha said, "Shoot!" And he shot. And he said, "The LORD'S arrow of victory, even the arrow of victory over Aram; for you will defeat the Arameans at Aphek until you have destroyed them." Then he said, "Take the arrows," and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, "Strike the ground," and he struck it three times and stopped. So the man of God was angry with him and said, "You should have struck five or six times, then you would have struck Aram until you would have destroyed it. But now you shall strike Aram only three times." (2 Kings 13:14-19)
This story has always been something of a mystery to me. It almost seems to smack of magic, which really is out of place in the Bible. God is not into magic and is quite opposed to it, which makes it strange that something that appears so much like magic would appear in a story connected to one of the prophets was known to be most like Jesus.
This morning I have been feeling increasingly convicted about how I use my time. Over recent weeks I have found enormous amounts of time slipping away while I peruse hundreds of posts on FaceBook. Sometimes I stop and contemplate if I am fighting an addiction and if I am being unduly influenced by the content of what I am reading. As I review over the various messages that I read each day I note that they are not particularly evil or immoral. I have done a pretty good job of screening who I want on my news feed and have disconnected a number of people that seem extra chatty with undue mindless blather, so now that what does show up is usually interesting and/or encouraging.
Yet I still feel uneasy and I have to question why. Is it because this medium is having too much influence, taking over more and more of my time and pulling me away from other activities that should be made more important? I can't deny that it may well be doing that, and at times I pull back severely on how much time I allow for reading and skimming the many posts coming from so many directions. Yet I hear other voices inside insisting that I may be missing important messages from family or close friends and that if I don't keep up they might feel I am ignoring them. Sometimes I limit myself to only reading the groups that I have joined with narrowly defined subject matter that keeps it more focused.
This brings me to another important concept I am starting to notice. The very arrangement used by social media today is presented in extremely fragmented formats. To write anything lengthy is to turn off most people from reading what you post. People have learned to make their posts short and potent. In addition, if there is not a catchy picture or drawing or video attached, chances of being read are also greatly reduced. Most people using FaceBook quickly learn to skim through hundreds of entries that show up each day and only focus for a few seconds on the ones that have the most pizzazz or that promise to deliver the most emotional stimulation.
Yet something deep inside of me increasingly feels uncomfortable with this alteration of how I think and process information. Am I tempted right now to lay a guilt trip on myself and run the other way, publicly denouncing such media as tools of the devil? Well, that would have been a typical reaction for me in years past but I am trying to move past knee-jerk, guilt-inducing reactions like this in favor of a more reasoned and mature response. What part of this is truly hazardous to my emotional and spiritual well-being that I need to be more diligent to guard against, and what may be beneficial that I should participate in but with more self-control?
I don't yet have all the answers for these questions yet, but something even more broad is coming up in my consciousness. I am sensing that there can be many other distractions all designed to divert me from being able to listen effectively to the messages that God's Spirit seeks to convey to me regularly, not just the obsessive allurement of FaceBook. I have to agree that I have been learning wonderful spiritual insights from some of my new friends on FaceBook and I don't yet feel the need to cut myself off completely from these resources that I believe God is using to help coordinate those wanting to share the good news about Him with the world. But like with every medium of communication, what I need is more self-regulation, not necessarily total abstinence, though I may need periods of 'fasting' at times to keep from spinning out of control and dominated by my only impulses.
As I was thinking and pondering over all of this, a story came to my attention. It was the story at the beginning about this strange visit by a distraught king who came blubbering over a dying prophet. There are many things about this story that seem puzzling to me, but the thing that catches my attention in my current situation is the part about the king failing to hit the ground more than three times. This was the part of the story that always frustrated me as a child, and still even to this day, for it seems unfair that Elisha should have become angry over something the young king failed to do right when he was never told what was supposed to happen in the first place. Does anyone else get that feeling?
Maybe it was because I could resonate so well with this king. Not that I was ever anything like a king, but that it seemed I somehow could repeatedly get myself in trouble for doing or not doing something I knew nothing about ahead of time. It seemed many times like people would expect me to just know what I was supposed to do without anyone telling me ahead of time and then turn around to blame me when I didn't perform as expected. How could this ever be right? And then to have a Bible story reinforce this seeming unfairness only added insult to injury.
But something that I assume was coming from the Holy Spirit seems to be suggesting to me that there is a principle in this story that applies to my current ambivalence about how I am spending my time. Maybe it is that over recent days various bits of information have been coalescing to create a picture or concept that God is using to get my attention. Whatever the case, I am sensing that this story may be significant to teach me something right now if I am careful to slow down and listen more intently.
As I take a fresh look at this story I ask myself what clues were there that Joash should have picked up on but ignored, clues that could have alerted him to the enormous potential for blessing he could have received. I can relate to the frustration of both Elisha and Joash when it was all over, but what I want to learn before it is too late for me, is how to avoid making a similar mistake myself. And that is exactly what I am sensing God may be seeking to relay to me right now.
First of all, it seems quite apparent that Joash had deep respect and a lot of affection for the old dying prophet of God. The previous king had just died and Joash was suddenly faced with enormous responsibilities he likely felt very inadequate to meet. In response to these feelings he chose to go visit the man of God that clearly might be able to encourage or guide him in ways that might give him more hope. But the first clue that comes to my attention is how Joash talks about horses and chariots as he pours his feelings to Elisha. Apparently he is feeling threatened with imminent danger from the Arameans and he assumes he needs more military strength to meet the challenge. I'm not sure how he thought Elisha might help in that respect, but that seems to be the focus of his emotions.
Elisha apparently understands the feelings of this young king suddenly saddled with heavy responsibility and his outside threats. Elisha responds to the outburst from Joash by using the very implements having to do with the same things he thinks he needs to solve his problems. Elisha does something else very significant however, by placing his own hands – the hands of a godly prophet that have seen a lifetime of demonstrating God's goodness to others – on top of the hands of this young man as he fires off an arrow through a nearby open window.
After taking Joash through this highly symbolic gesture of successful warfare, Elisha then exclaims that this is a symbol of future victory for Joash. So far so good. But this is where my real question begins to emerge. How is Joash supposed to interpret all of this correctly? Evidently he didn't get the message clearly enough or he would have carried out the next part quite differently. It appears that Elisha expected Joash to be observant enough and discerning to pick up on the subtle cues Elisha had already given and begin to participate with more awareness. The fact that Joash missed all the cues is the part that I don't want to repeat and the part I am feeling I need to perceive better myself so I don't make the same mistake.
What were in the cues from Elisha that should have been sufficient for Joash to put together so that he would have stabbed the ground many, many times knowing that would be an act of faith? Obviously God wanted to give him many more victories than just three. I feel it is urgent that I discover this answer, for in a way I sense that maybe I might be in a similar situation right now. Am I in serious danger of being so distracted or disconnected from spiritual realities that I too may come up short of experiencing the number of victories God longs to provide in my future?
There is one thing about FaceBook and many forms of popular social media today that is harmful. The pattern of very short bursts of intense information that sometimes have little connection with each other has the effect of fracturing and damaging the mind's ability to concentrate and think logically or deeply. Many have noted that this generation suffers severe attention deficit and part of that is due to the pattern of fractured communication in the movies we watch, the advertisements and in more and more of the mediums used for communicating. With increasingly shorter bursts of information our brains are being conditioned to be incapable of grappling with big concepts or deep thoughts. Our imaginations are also being hijacked to the point where we have little control over them as they are increasingly manipulated by outside influences. All of this has a direct effect on our ability to think spiritually in a way that can appreciate the larger themes of the war we are caught up in between Christ and Satan.
I have been aware of this problem for many years, but now I find myself experiencing it more myself. After I spend hours skimming through post after unrelated post on FaceBook and feeling compelled to look at just one more before I quit, I realize that it is becoming like many other addictions. Again, it does not imply that listening in on the lives of friends is in itself a bad thing; rather it may be an indication that I need to be more vigilant to guard the health of my own brain function and preserve its highest priority for access by the Holy Spirit.
What becomes my cause of concern about things like this is the sense of loss I begin to feel when I realize that my powers of imagination are being diminished. It is not that I do not have imagination or that it is broken, rather my ability to imagine and wrap my mind around very large thoughts and concepts requires much longer consistent focusing time than what I am being conditioned to do. It is this loss of being able to maintain extended focus on one idea until that idea begins to break into brilliant freshness that warns me that I need to regulate my priorities and time more diligently.
What does that have to do with the story of Joash and Elisha? Good question. I am still asking that myself right now, for I believe God gave me this story for a reason and somehow it has important application to what I have been thinking about this morning.
Was Joash so distracted by his own worries or plans or fears that he failed to pay attention to the clues Elisha was giving him and thus missed an enormous privilege from God?
Was Joash thinking about his own feelings so much that he failed to pay attention and focus intently on what Elisha was trying to convey through his words and his hands?
It is easy to look back to micro-analyze and critique the mistakes other people make like in this story. But it is another thing to look at those mistakes and learn to avoid making them ourselves by applying the underlying principles to something that may well be more similar than at first it appears.
I have known that it is a principle of the brain that it needs periods of intense focus in order to strengthen its powers of discernment and wisdom. This one ability can make an enormous difference between those who find themselves constantly in trouble all their lives and others who seem to move on to overcome many of their problems and learn to see life completely differently. It can make the difference between living a life of always looking for someone to blame for all the bad things happening, or learning to take responsibility for personal choices and then making better choices that can produce better outcomes. It may all hinge on simply choosing to take more direct control of the habits of how we think, not just what it is we think about.
If Joash had maybe paid more attention to the significance of Elisha laying his hands on those of Joash; if he had cued in more intently and pondered the real meaning of Elisha's comments after shooting the arrow out the window, he may well have picked up that there would also be something highly significant in the next thing Elisha asked him to do and he might have done it with far more enthusiasm much to Elisha's delight. But he didn't do that. Yet that doesn't mean I have to make the same mistake.
Is God offering me clues each day that if paid attention to might alert me to chang the way I think and live to my advantage? Am I passing by many clues that the Holy Spirit keeps bringing to my attention and thus hamper the work of God and limiting the victories God longs to bring into my life? How might I embrace the messages I have been ignoring and change the direction of my own destiny in a positive way? Can even little adjustments make huge differences in outcome if I just listened more intently instead of allowing myriads of distractions to divet my attention from what is more important?
Father, thank-you for the messages constantly coming from Your Spirit to me. Help me to pay closer attention and to be more disciplined in the way I allow my imagination to operate. Alert me and deliver me from all addictive behaviors and habits that seek to hijack my imagination, for You created my imagination as the primary receiver with which I am to connect to Your heart. I give You authority over my mind again and ask You to keep bringing me back to Your ways. You are so gracious and patient, kind and merciful. Dwell in me today and use me for Your plans, to reflect Your love and glory to others today.