Throwing Sticks

Ax head picture

One Sunday morning, I read a devotional on 2 Kings 6:1-7. The protagonist in this set of verses is Elisha, a prophet and successor of Elijah. From the moment Elisha met Elijah (I know it’s hard to keep these names straight), he would not let Elijah out of his sight because he knew Elijah was about to die. Before Elijah’s death, he asks Elisha if there is anything he wants Elijah to do for him. Elisha asks him for a “double portion” of his spirit. In other words, he wanted to be able to perform miracles as Elijah had, but even greater ones. And so, we quickly discover the type of man Elisha is. He’s both faithful (he leaves everything behind to follow Elijah) and eager to serve God (he asks for spiritual rather than material things). When I read the Bible, I get a kick out of imagining what I would do in certain situations. If I were offered anything I wanted, what would I have asked for? Food? A companion? A vacation? How committed am I to God?

Fast-forward to after Elijah dies and Elisha is performing miracles as well. He even has his own squad (they are actually described as a company of prophets, but “squad” has a nicer ring to it, don’t you think?). They decide that they have outgrown their meeting quarters and ask Elisha if they can build another place for their meetings. Elisha says okay and heads off with them to the Jordan to collect wood. They are hacking down trees when disaster strikes: an iron ax head goes flying off and falls into the water. The man cries out to Elisha, “Oh no! It was borrowed!”

Pause. Here’s the first thing I would have said: “It was borrowed? My head isn’t. And you almost took it off.” But not Elisha – he’s no Effua. Instead, he asks where it fell. The man points to the spot and Elisha throws a stick and (drumroll please) the iron ax head floats. The man grabs it and skips off.

Upon reading this, my first thought was that the author must have run out of material to write about – why else would this anecdote be here? It seemed both insignificant and out of place. The name of the man who lost the ax head is never even mentioned and in my opinion, the situation appears to be his fault. Either he was clumsy in how he was cutting down the trees, or negligent for failing to check that the ax head was secure before beginning his work. And yet, this nameless klutz makes it into the Bible.

Maybe the point is that God cares about the seemingly insignificant things we have lost, even when we are the culprits. He comes to the rescue of us all – from the big kahuna to the klutz. No concern is too small for Him. He can help us recover what we’ve lost by helping us search for it where it fell. Is it a relationship? Peace? A dream? A goal? God can help you get back on track. I confess that I often read devotionals and think, “That’s beautiful. I hope that touched someone. Time for breakfast now!” This time I took a few extra minutes to think about what this might be saying to me. Since mid-August, I haven’t been running regularly. The few times I did, I would experience a sharp pain in my knee that made me want to park my behind on the pavement, look at the sky, and shout, “Why aren’t you healing me? You’ve given me a gift – let me enjoy it!” I’m (really) obsessed with running and this injury has been beyond frustrating. But this devotional reminded me that God cares. His attitude isn’t, “God helps those who help themselves – don’t look up to me all wide-eyed asking for help.” No, my heavenly Father is nothing like that. He cares about the pain in my knee, the loneliness, the skin discoloration that makes me self-conscious, and the other ax heads that rest on my sandy ocean floor. Perhaps prayer is simply throwing sticks into the water and trusting God to bring what you’re yearning for to the surface. But we don’t throw those sticks in hopelessly. We toss them in knowing who owns the river and controls the waves.

So go ahead, reach for your floating ax head.

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