Summary: Challenges are gifts from God.

“Imagine, if you will, a gift. It’s not big. You could wrap it in a golf ball-size box. This gift can do incredible things for you however. It will bring all of your family together. You will feel loved and appreciated like never before and reconnect with friends and acquaintances you haven’t heard from in years. Adoration and admiration will overwhelm you. And this gift will recalibrate what’s most important in your life. Does Amazon carry this item? Does it have the Apple logo on it? Is there a waiting list for this thing? No, not for hemangioblastoma. Heman-gio-blas-toma. That’s a brain tumor, the gift that I received.”

If you’re a fan of TED talks on the internet, you may have seen that speech (slightly adapted) by Stacey Kramer. She wanted her audience to understand how she came to see as a gift the brain tumor she survived. I don’t know if Kramer is a Christian, but she certainly described her brain tumor experience in a way a mature Christian might. Whenever something unexpected, unwanted, and uncertain comes into our lives, we Christians can still consider it a gift. I want to explain why as we continue our sermon series on Elisha – that bald ‘n’ bold prophet who, in today’s sermon, serves a widow who had to deal with something unexpected, unwanted, and uncertain and yet would come to see it as a gift.

The last time we left Elisha, he had been giving counsel to kings. Elisha was a man who moved in distinguished circles yet he wasn’t stuck up. In today’s sermon text the widow of a prophet felt comfortable approaching Elisha with a serious problem. Her husband had not only died, he had left her in debt and now the creditor was coming to take her two sons as slaves for payment of the debt. When she approached Elisha for help, he asked what she had in the house. “Nothing,” she replied, “well, except for a small jar of oil.”

Is that really all her husband had left her – a small jar of oil? Not at all! That now-deceased prophet had left something worth more than a million dollars. He had left his family with a working faith in God’s promises. So while this widow was certainly concerned, even panicked about her situation, she knew where to turn for help: to the Lord. We’ll also see how this woman’s sons were respectful and obedient. They didn’t grumble or complain (that we know of) about what they would be asked to do even though it may have seemed foolish to them. They supported and encouraged their mother. They had been taught well by their father and no doubt had seen such a spirit of humility demonstrated in the way he had served others.

For the last few weeks now I’ve taken the opportunity to stress the importance of Christian parenting. Here’s yet another example of what a blessing it is to be a god-fearing parent. This prophet who passed away had not, earthly speaking, left a whole lot for his family. He had actually saddled them with a debt that threatened to separate mother and children, but he had also left them with a heavenly treasure that would not fail them: faith in God’s promises.

What legacy will you leave your family? What good is it to leave them money and property if your children let go of their claim of heaven because they don’t learn from you the importance of continuing to feed their faith with the study of God’s Word? What good is it to make sure that your kids know how to ski and skate, but they don’t know how to be devoted in prayer or be good stewards of the talents and treasures they have? What is there to boast about if your children know how to zip through algebra problems but struggle to find comforting and empowering passages in the Bible? Do you suppose you’ll always have time to get serious about the spiritual nurturing of your family? That doesn’t seem to be what that nameless prophet in our text thought. The impression we’re given is that the sons he left behind were quite young. So just how many more years, how many more days do you have left to make a spiritual impact on your family?

Because we don’t know how long God will give us to teach and nurture our family we will want to take advantage of every opportunity we have to train them in God’s Word and model for them servant-like humility. Your ability and desire to do this will not come from any guilt trip I give you. It comes from knowing and believing how Jesus has already forgiven you for often having your parenting priorities mixed up. As forgiven children of God let’s encourage one another to stand firmly on the spiritual rock Jesus and to teach our children to do the same.

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