Becoming Greedy Christians
If I had to pick a favorite character of the Old Testament, I might just have to pick Elijah. Perhaps my favorite Old Testament story is of his confrontation of the prophets of Baal, and the challenge that ensued on Mount Carmel. "Let's build two alters, each with one ox on them. You pray to your god and I to mine, and we are going to see once and for all which god is the True god." It is an awesome story, and I love Elijah's confidence throughout: His mocking tone towards the powerless antics of the pagans; his complete disrespect of their falsehood. And when push comes to shove, Elijah prays and God answers. I would love to have been there, but not too close.
Elijah does a lot of similarly amazing things throughout his life. He prays to God, and a drought comes into the land for 3 years. He prays to God, and the rains return. He outruns Ahab's chariot; and he brings a child back from the dead. Even at the end of his life, Elijah does not even die, but is rather taken up in a chariot of fire. Could there be any character of greater faith in the Old Testament? I am not here to speculate, but Elijah is unquestionably a great--and his character was so impressed on the Hebrew mind that in the New Testament that many thought John the Baptist a reincarnate Elijah. And, of course, of all the Old Testament saints to appear alongside Moses at the mount of Transfiguration--it is no big surprise that Elijah is the one.
Could you imagine being Elijah's earthly replacement? Imagine for a moment the prophet described above is about to be summoned to the heavenly gates, and you are the one who will replace this giant. You will now be the prophetic voice to God's chosen but wandering people. Talk about feeling humble. Talk about big shoes to fill. This was the lot of Elisha, and 2 Kings 2 records an amazing dialogue between the departing Elijah and the incoming Elisha.
After Elijah rolls up his cloak and strikes it on the Jordan River, the river parts and the two pass on dry ground. Elijah then asks his successor Elisha, "Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?" (2 Kings 2:9) Is there anything you need before I go, Elisha?
How would you have answered the question of such an incredible prophet? Perhaps I would have asked for a final prayer or some blessing; or maybe still some last minute words of wisdom from such a heroic figure. But Elisha is not as easily satisfied as I would have been. He displays something that I think accurately describes what we are missing today in many of our churches. Something I like to call Christian greed.
Elisha responds in the second part of verse 9: "Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit". Not, "Elijah, you are such a powerful prophet of the Lord, if you could give me half of your spirit that would be more than enough." Not even, "Elijah, I know it is a lot to ask, but could you give me the same equal portion of your spirit." That would have been quite bold enough, but Elisha's aspirations are far higher. His hunger is more severe. He wants it. He is greedy, and he audaciously dares to ask for twice the spirit of perhaps the greatest prophet of the Old Testament.
And to make a long story short, he gets his wish.
The problem with so many of us Christians in the West, and I include myself in this category, is that we are too easily contented. Now I do not mean contented as in circumstantial contentment (which Paul has learned to possess in every situation (Phil. 4:11) or is great gain when paired with godliness (1 Tim. 6:6)) but spiritual contentment. We are spiritually content in that most of us are comfortable Christians, quite happy with where we are at in our lives and where we are at with the Lord. We are thankful for salvation, thankful for God's blessings, but we do not want much more than that. We do not want to trouble ourselves with evangelism. We prefer to ignore the secret sinful habit we have allowed for so many years. Instead of stepping out and leading our families and homes--we often prefer to keep them as they are. It is the easy path of least resistance, and unfortunately we tend to like it that way.
If this is true, then it is no reason why our lives have so little power. We have contented ourselves with as little Christ as we can get, and are quite happy with that. Instead of remaining hungry for God's power and work, we have become too easily satisfied. Contrast that with what David prays in Psalm 63:1: "O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water." Bodily needs like hunger and thirst are needs because if you do not address them, you die. Instead of the contentment so many of us display with regard to our relationship with God, David's words are dripping with desperation. He does not just want God, he thirsts for Him in a dry and weary land--where his only solution and sustenance is God and God alone. If he fails to find God, David fails to live.
Today, our churches are in decline. Our homes are carnal, and our world is marching boldly along the wide road to destruction. It is in this context that we need to recapture the hunger of Elisha. We need to acquire the unquenchable thirst of David. We need prayers that ask, no, that demand for more of God's help in our day to day lives. We cannot afford not to.
But how do we get it? How do we change our long patterned spiritual apathy--to something that is rather restless, and never quite at peace? I think it starts, simply enough, with persistently asking God to give us more of a desire for Him. God is a God who admires humility. He admires persistence, and the earnest desire of the gifts. Like the widow who keeps asking the judge for justice, we need to learn to get in the habit of asking annoyingly frequent requests, for it is my belief God is more than willing to answer the prayers of His people. And as we seek Him and attempt to turn away from the temporal sources of comfort--who knows. We might, like Elisha, get our wish.