The sovereign power of God is reason for faith, though pride may often resent the truth of it. He is able because He is sovereign and all things are under His control. Humility and obedience enable us to access His will and purpose in all things.
“Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. (2 Kings 5:12)
The story of Naaman the leper and his healing has stuck with me from childhood. It may be the wonderful illustrations in the little Ladybird book that made it all seem vital and real, but I’ve never forgotten it. As I read it again, this time as an adult, I realised that it has a much deeper message than simply a romanticised tale of a powerful military man miraculously healed by taking a dunk in the river. It contains the faith of a humble serving girl who loved God and those she served and believed in His power to heal. We have a king whose faith was shaken because he was asked to do the impossible. Elisha shines as the humble but faithful prophet unimpressed by wealth and worldly power who is not fooled by his dishonest servant. Most of all, it’s a story of the sovereign power of God.
Our pride and the sovereign power of God.
It’s worth remembering that all of us have a little of Naaman the leper in us. That is pride, the besetting and persistent sin that plagues all humanity. We know from Satan’s fall from heaven that pride is the root of all sins, which are essentially rebellion against the sovereign power of God. The problem is that pride is deeply ingrained and fed and bolstered by the world. Naaman provides a good example. He is a man of wealth, a powerful Syrian military commander accustomed to giving orders and being treated with respect. Naaman doesn’t come as a humble supplicant. Instead, he comes with a request from the king of Syria to the king of Israel. He also comes with gifts – a fair exchange, he believes, for healing. Pride is alive and well in this bold and powerful man who has his own expectations of how things should work out.
This is the epitome of pride. We decide what God should do and how He should do it, and get angry or resentful when He doesn’t meet our expectations. We’re so focused on who and what we are that we lose sight of the sovereign power of God. Our faith may be properly centred on the power of God, who is both willing and able to do anything we ask. But our expectations are centred on own self-importance. It may be a subtle deception, but many believes are disappointed because our expectations do not line up with what God plans and purposes. When our pride challenges His sovereignty, it’s rebellion. Much of the time, we don’t stop to ask Him what His will in our situation is. And, if we do, we often don’t really listen. We make up our own minds instead of listening to His instructions.
A lesson in the sovereign power of God.
Elisha’s response to Naaman is telling. He does not come out to meet him but simply sends a message with instructions. We must remember that, as God’s prophet, he speaks and does according to God’s will. The message to Naaman is so much more than simply telling him what he must do to be healed. It is, in effect, a reprimand. He is pointing out Naaman’s pride and that all his power and wealth mean nothing. This is really what got Naaman’s dander up. It had little to do with which river to dunk in and everything to do with the fact that back at home, he was a man of stature and standing. He was affronted because God did not acknowledge His importance. Elisha had not received him with the right degree of respect nor offered the dramatic solution he expected.
To add insult to injury, he was told to wash in the Jordan, a pithy little river unless in flood. For a man who expected the intervention of a king, this must have been a hard pill to swallow. But Naaman approached the issue of healing from a worldly perspective. He came with worldly expectations coloured by an unhealthy dose of pride that did not appreciate or understand the sovereign power of God. When we’re used to having prayers answered, it’s easy for pride to creep in. It’s easy to get offended when we feel God doesn’t treat us as we ‘deserve’ or respond as we expect. But His ways are not our ways, and when we approach Him in pride, we will be disappointed. Pride is rebellion. It’s putting our desires above the sovereign power of God. Basically, it’s treating Him and His power as a means to self-gratification.
Understanding the sovereign power of God.
He is the creator and sustainer of all things. Everything is of Him and is subject to His perfect will. There is nothing in heaven and earth over which He does not have sovereign authority. It is because of the simple truth of the sovereign power of God that He is able to accomplish the impossible. If He weren’t sovereign, His power would be limited. What this means is that the very thing pride chafes against is the only thing that guarantees His ability to answer our prayers and meet our needs. The problem lies in the fact that this places Him above and beyond our ability to control or influence. He acts on our behalf by grace, not by what we deserve – thank goodness, though pride would raise a few arguments against this truth given half a chance. He is the I AM. We are merely human.
The foundation of the sovereign power of God lies in the fact that He determines and wills how and when to intervene. His knowledge and wisdom are perfect. He knows all there is to know about even the intimate details of our circumstances. Human understanding and discernment is finite, so we cannot see the ‘bigger picture’ that God sees. All of us have had times when we questioned God only to discover later that His timing and purposes were perfect. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. But at the time, we might well have responded like Naaman – resentful and angry and offended. Wounded pride is a hard thing to shake because it usually encompasses things that are important to us. His sovereignty wills what is best for us, which is not always what we think is best because only a sovereign God knows and is able to accomplish it.
Humility accesses the of the sovereign power of God.
Naaman was blessed with loyal companions who looked past his little hissy fit to the sovereign power of God. They might well have come from a purely practical point of view – after all, what did he have to lose? Surely, they reasoned, a dunk in the Jordan and a little bit of humiliation was a small price to pay for healing. God’s purpose in all this was to reveal His power and absolute authority over all things and all men – military commanders and leprosy included. He desired to manifest His glory in a way that would remove human pride and ability from the equation. As a sovereign God, nothing is impossible for Him, but it took humility to access His power. Naaman had to set self aside, swallow his pride, and be obedient. This was the only way to healing, because that was what God had instructed.
Humility acknowledges the sovereign power of God and is defined by three things. The first is to seek God. Our own ideas or expectations are meaningless or could be the worst thing possible. In our ignorance, we cannot fully understand the full picture. It is critically important to humble ourselves and seek God for His will and for what He wants us to do. The second thing is to obey once we have heard. It may seem, as it did to Naaman, that what He instructs us to do is ridiculous. There may be no sense in it by worldly standards. We may have to sacrifice our pride along the way, or seem foolish to everyone else. This brings us to the third thing, which is faith. Obedience is essentially faith in action. We have heard from God and believe that He will release His power when we obey Him.
Faith in the sovereign power of God.
While we constantly have to battle pride, the story of Naaman is a powerful reminder that His ways are not our ways and that they are perfect. Through healing, this proud and influential man is given a revelation of God. He realises that to acknowledge the sovereign power of God does not diminish him but adds a depth and power to his limited human experience. When he returns to Elisha, he is humbled by the manifest power of God. He is still the strong and bold military commander, loved by His king and respected by all. But he also has a testimony – on of faith in the sovereignty of God and His power to order all things according to His will and purposes. Humility and faith help us to see that a sovereign God can achieve the impossible for us. He can change what we cannot.
Instead of being offended when the sovereign power of God challenges our inherent pride, we can learn from Naaman. We can only have faith because God is sovereign and all-powerful. If He were not, there would be no basis for faith. We would be left questioning either His ability or His willingness to intervene. Our faith is dependent on the nature and character of God – who and what He is. An omnipotent and omniscient God is never limited by situations or circumstances. He is able to order all things according to His purposes. What a joy and an encouragement this is for us as believers. Instead of chafing under the truth of the sovereignty of God, we should rejoice with thanksgiving and praise that this is who He is. It is because of this that we can draw near in humility and absolute faith for what we need.
The manifest sovereign power of God.
In each and every day, we can see the manifest sovereign power of God if we submit our lives to Him in faith and humility. He moves on our behalf constantly. He is intimately involved with every detail of our lives. We can start and end the day knowing that He is both willing and able. When He acts, He manifests His supreme sovereignty. He demonstrates to us and the world and that He is God, the only one who has the power to save. It doesn’t matter how big or small the problem is. Our sovereign God has control over all and will work all things according to His purposes and for our good. He desires to manifest His sovereignty so that all would know that He is God. The power and the glory are His alone. We miss this vital truth when we allow pride to assume control.
Sovereign Lord, forgive us for the times we have allowed pride to come between us and Your will and purposes. Forgive us for being disappointed and resentful when You have not met our expectations. Help us to draw near in humility and faith, to trust in Your sovereignty in every situation, and to obey You when You speak. Manifest Your sovereignty in our lives, Lord, according to Your perfect will.