In 2 Kings 4, we read the story of Elisha and the Shunammite woman. The Shunammite woman was a wealthy woman who always invited Elisha in to stay in her house when he passed her way. Elisha stayed so often that she eventually convinced her husband to build a small room on the roof for Elisha to stay. The woman had no children, and in return for her hospitality, Elisha pronounced to her that she would have a son within the next year.
When the woman’s son had grown he began to complain of a headache and eventually died. The woman put him in the room on the roof and set off to go find Elisha. When Elisha heard the news, he sent his servant (Gehazi) ahead of him to lay his staff on the boy. On his way to the boy, Elisha met Gehazi who eas returning to tell him that the staff had failed to awaken the child. When Elisha arrived and found the boy still dead, he went into the room, laid on top of him and revived the child from death.
In this chapter and the next, Spurgeon explores the lessons to be learned from this story. Although this story deals with the actual physical death of a child, Spurgeon notes that those of us in Children’s Ministry deal with the spiritual deaths of children. That is a reality that is important for us to recognize. Spurgeon explains:
“Unless you have a very clear sense of the utter ruin and spiritual death of children, you will be incapable of being made a blessing to them. Go to them, I pray you, not as to sleepers whom you can by your own power awaken from their slumber, but as to spiritual corpses who can only be quickened by a power divine… May you never be content with aiming at secondary benefits, or even with realising them; may you strive for the grandest of all ends, the salvation of immortal souls. Your business is not merely to teach children to read the Bible, not barely to inculcate the duties of morality, nor even to instruct them in the mere letter of the gospel, but your high calling is to be the means, in the hands of God, of bringing life from heaven to dead souls.”
That is the arena that we deal in – the spiritual life or death of the kids we leave. Obviously, God can do anything with, or in despite of, our efforts, but we must recognize that a failure on our art could result in the eternal spiritual death of a child. Our aim in Children’s Ministry is resurrection. We do not seek physical resurrection as Elisha does but spiritual resurrection of the kids in our ministries. We seek their resurrection from spiritual death to eternal life. That said, we must recognize that we are in no position to raise kids from spiritual death on our own. Like Elisha, we must rely solely on the power of God to actually accomplish the resurrection of these kids.
Spurgeon offers the following words of encouragement to those of us who work with kids:
“And you, devoted, anxious, prayerful teacher, remain no longer a common being, you have become, in a special manner, the temple of the Holy Ghost; God dwelleth in you, and you by faith have entered upon the career of a wonder-worker. You are sent into the world not to do the things which are possible to man, but those impossibilities which God worketh by His Spirit, by the means of His believing people. You are to work miracles, to do marvels. You are not, therefore, to look upon the restoration of these dead children, which in God’s name you are called to bring about, as being a thing unlikely or difficult when you remember who it is that works by your feeble instrumentality.”
Secondly, Spurgeon points to the failed attempt of Elisha in sending his servant ahead of him to try to raise the boy. Elisha had previously been the servant to another well know prophet – Elijah. In 1 Kings 17 we read the story of how Elijah had resurrected a widow’s son. If Elisha had followed the example of his teacher Elijah from the beginning, he would have known that sending his servant ahead would not be effective. In the same way that Elisha should have followed the example of his teacher Elijah, Spurgeon argues that we must follow the example of our Master and Teacher Jesus Christ:
“With far more force may I say to you that it will be well if, as teachers, we imitate the modes and methods of our glorified Master, and learn at His feet the art of winning souls. Just as He came in deepest sympathy into the nearest contact with our wretched humanity, and condescended to stoop to our sorrowful condition, so must we come near to the souls with whom we have to deal, yearn over them with His yearning, and weep over them with His tears, if we would see them raised from the state of sin. Only by imitating the spirit and manner of the Lord Jesus shall we become wise to win souls. I am afraid that very often the truth which we deliver is a thing which is extraneous and out of ourselves; like a staff which we hold in our hand, but which is not a part of ourselves, We take doctrinal or practical truth, as Gehazi did the staff, and we lay it upon the face of the child, but we ourselves do not agonise for its soul. We try this doctrine and that truth, this anecdote and the other illustration, this way of teaching a lesson and that manner of delivering an address; but so long as ever the truth which we deliver is a matter apart from ourselves and unconnected with our innermost being, so long it will have no more effect upon a dead soul than Elisha’s staff had upon the dead child.”
Our teaching must follow the example of our Lord and be the result of an internal torment at the notion that a failure on our part may result in the eternal death of a child. Absent that conviction, a rote teaching of doctrinal and biblical principals will not be effective in winning children to Christ. Elisha’s servant Gehazi’s response to Elisha upon the failure of his staff to resurrect the child was to tell Elisha that it had failed to “awaken” the boy. He seems to have missed the actual status of the boy. Spurgeon notes that as teachers we must understand the true depravity of the kids we teach in order to be effective:
“God will not bless those teachers who do not grasp in their hearts the really fallen estate of their children. If you think the child is not really depraved, if you indulge foolish notions about the innocence of childhood and the dignity of human nature, it should not surprise you if you remain barren and unfruitful.”
Finally, Spurgeon notes that Elisha’s example should teach us that we must persevere even when we fail. Elisha’s first effort, sending his servant, did not succeed. That did not deter him from carrying on with his mission which eventually resulted in the boy being resurrected. Spurgeon’s provides the following advice about failure:
“The lesson of your non-success is not—cease the work, but—change the method. It is not the person who is out of place, it is the plan which is unwise. If your first method has been unsuccessful, you must improve upon it. Examine wherein you have failed, and then, by changing your mode, or spirit, the Lord may prepare you for a degree of usefulness far beyond your expectation.”
Rather than allowing our failures to discourage us, we must look upon them and learn from them. We must dispose of that which does not work and press on towards the goal of winning kids for Christ.
Links to Complete Text
If you’re interested in reading the complete text of “Come Ye Children,” it can be found on at: http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/cyc.htm
The complete text of Chapter Twenty-Two can be found at: http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/cyc22.htm
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