In 2008, the Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy held an inspiring, educational and challenging conference entitled, “God’s Call: From Infilling to Outpouring.” The powerful topics included:
- Resting: Time With God
- Reflecting: Tune Into God
- Reaching Out: Speak Out for God
- Responding: Obey God
I found the last segment, “Responding: Obey God,” presented by the Rev. Dr. Diana L. Swoope, Sr. Pastor of the Arlington Street Church of God in Akron, Ohio to be particularly soul provoking for christians in general and clergywomen in particular. Dr. Swoope expounds upon the obedience and faith of the Shunammite woman in II Kings chapter 8: 1-6 and admonishes clergywomen to glean wisdom from the woman’s example. Excerpts from Dr. Swoope’s message are shared below.
Shepastor Highlight: “Responding: Obey God,” presented at the Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy 2008 conference, by the Rev. Dr. Diana L. Swoope, Sr. Pastor of the Arlington Street Church of God in Akron, Ohio
Responding: Obey God
Rev. Dr. Diana L. Swoope…
…Our theme this morning is, "Respond to God" and the word simply is "obey." Respond to God. The message is this: the only word that clarifies our response to God is "obey." Let me share with you from the Book of II Kings, a familiar story, but for our understanding, I want to read that story to you—
Second Kings, chapter eight, and I'll begin reading at verse number one. It reads as follows:
Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, "Go away with your family and stay for a while wherever you can, because the LORD has decreed a famine in the land that will last seven years." The woman proceeded to do as the man of God said. She and her family went away and stayed in the land of the Philistines seven years. At the end of the seven years she came back from the land of the Philistines and went to the king to beg for her house and land. The king was talking to Gehazi, the servant of the man of God, and had said, "Tell me about all the great things Elisha has done." Just as Gehazi was telling the king how Elisha had restored the dead to life, the woman whose son Elisha had brought back to life came to beg the king for her house and land. Gehazi said, "This is the woman, my lord and king, and this is her son whom Elisha restored to life." The king asked the woman about it, and she told him. Then he assigned an official to her case and said to him, "Give back everything that belonged to her, including all the income from her land from the day she left the country until now" (2 Kings 8:1- 6 NIV).
The Shunammite's story is couched within the framework of obedience. I challenge you, my co-laborers, my sisters and my brothers, respond to God.
The famine was coming and Elisha did not have to tell this woman that the famine was coming. He told her because they were friends. He took the word to her, "There's going to be a famine in the land. You must go. You must leave." As I read this story of the Shunammite woman I learned about obedience. I want to share those things with you this morning…
To Obey We Must Trust
If we are going to obey, if we are going to respond to God through obedience, it takes number one, a trusting relationship. The word that you need first of all is trust. This Shunammite woman obeyed the prophet because she trusted him. She had a relationship with him that he had said something to her earlier that came true, and so now she could believe what he was saying now. In order to obey God we have to trust the Lord. We have to trust that God is right. We have to trust that God is right.
Sometimes it seems as though God does not know what He is talking about. There are times when we want to look up and around at God, whether God is speaking to us through our pastor, our mentor, our husband, or another sister, we want to look up and say: "You must be kidding. This cannot be right. I am wealthy, I've got a lot of wealth, I've got a lot of money, I've got a position, I have virtue, I have respect, I have honor. You want me to leave here? You want me to leave this job? You want me to leave this role? You want me to leave this position and go to a land that I don't know anything about? Surely, surely, surely, surely, you have something misplaced."
But in order to obey, we must first learn to trust—trust that God is right. Trust that God has our best interest at hand. In order to learn to trust God, we must not only get used to hearing God's voice on the horizontal, but we must have some mentors around us. We must learn to submit to another's leadership in order to learn to trust God. For some of us here this morning, I know the word "submit" for us has become a very difficult word to hear because it has been abused and misused. The Bible instructs that if we are to learn obedience, we must submit. How did Jesus learn obedience? He submitted to the voice of God and he learned obedience through the things he suffered. He had to submit himself to the leadership of someone else.
My sisters, if we really want to grow in our ministry, if we really want to become all that God is challenging us to be, we must learn to submit to the authority of somebody. If we are going to really learn obedience, we must learn to trust through submission. The difficulty is that many of us have been hurt and abused through the word "submit." Some of you sitting here today may find it difficult to submit to someone else's authority. I do not know who that authority may be. I am just challenging us to find mentors, pastors, and acountablitlity partners in our life. We need somebody who knows us better than we know ourselves so that when we want to run away from what God is calling us to do, they can stand in front of us and say, "Oh, no. You must go. You've got to go. And I don't care what cost it brings to you, you must step out on it."
The Shunammite woman had a relationship with the prophet and because of that she trusted the prophet's word. The Bible says that she proceeded to do what he said to do. She did not linger, she did not wait around, she did not go and try to pack up a whole lot of stuff. We find out that she must not have packed anything because when she got back, she had nothing. She just went. When we learn to trust God, we will move out on what God says. How long will we wait to do what it is that God has called for us to do? Let us not be like Lot. When the word came to Lot that he needed to move out of Sodom, he lingered and hung around until his wife got kind of attracted to Sodom. She said: "Listen here. It took me fifteen years to get you to buy me this furniture. What are you talking about moving? We just got this house. What do you mean, moving?" They lingered long enough for her to renew her attachment to it. When they finally did decide to go, she was looking back and she became became a pillar of salt. Later when her daughters were in the cave and were looking and saying, "We don't have any progeny," they had no one to guide, lead, or correct them.
What am I saying, sisters? When we do not obey God, we do not know whose obedience we are stopping. When we do not obey God, we do not know whose life we are rearranging. Because Lot's wife did not obey God, when her daughters needed her, she was not there to give wisdom and counsel. Hear what I am saying this morning. When we do not step out, when we do not step out on what God calls us to do, we may be hindering the progress and the process of someone else's life. Trust God and step out. It may cost us. I understand it will, but we can not afford to linger. We must move immediately as the Shunammite woman did. Because when we disobey God, it becomes a weapon for the enemy to use. When we obey no matter what it costs; the God who is right, He will make us right…
As we obey, God will make it right. However, we must not assume that God will make it right immediately. The Shunammite went to the land of the Philistines. When she came back she found that she had lost all she had. She learned trusting God through obedience is very risky. It may cost us very dearly. It may cost the ridicule of some people. It may cost friendships. It may cost relationships. It may cost a position. The point is—who would we rather trust? Would we rather trust God, or would we rather trust what people can give to us? I have decided that I would rather trust God. They can take my position, they can take whatever it is that they want, but I am going to trust God because God is right. Because God is right, I don't care who thinks that I am not right when I am doing what God said do.
When I was first called to preach, I was living in Memphis, Tennessee, the Baptist belt and the Church of God in Christ. When I was called to preach, there was no such thing as a woman preaching in a Baptist congregation. A brother who was related to our pastor came over. He belonged to a Baptist church. I was preaching that day. After I finished preaching, he came up to me and he shook his finger in my face and said to me, "You are wrong for what you are doing," and "You are going to die and go to hell because you are disobeying what God said do." That really hurt me. It cost me his friendship. I tell you why because I have just never been one to just kind of stand around and let people roll over me. When he told me that I was going to go to hell because I was doing what God said was right for me to do, I looked at him and said, "Well, I guess I will meet you there." I did not mean to be disrespectful or anything like that. When you obey God, do not think that everybody is going to like what you do. Do not think that everybody is going to pat you on the back and stroke your hair and say, "Oh, looky here! Another woman is coming to preach the Gospel. Praise the Lord!" It will not be like that because there are those who have determined that that is not the right course. But God has said it is right. And let God be true and every man be a liar. I choose to trust God and believe the Word of God. If we are going to obey, it takes trust, but we may lose some things along the way…
The Shunammite woman lost something. Sometimes trusting God, it seems like God is tricking you. It seems like God has set you up. I am sure that when she got back, she wanted to go to Elisha and say, "Hey, listen here. I did everything you told me to do and I prepared and now I do not have any place to serve. I have gone and I have been in the land and you took me around the famine and now I do not have any place to live. I went to seminary, I earned all the degrees they told me I was supposed to earn. I stayed there for four years, for five years. They said the M.Div. was not enough so I went back and earned a Ph.D. They said that wasn't enough so I went back and earned a Th.D., and they said that is not enough so I just earned any old kind of degree. And now I am prepared and there is no place for me. You tricked me." Sometimes we feel like that. We have to learn not only to trust, but we have to learn to be persistent...
To Obey Takes Persistence
If we are going to obey, it not only takes some trust, it also takes some persistence. It takes persistence. When God gives a call He said, "The gifts and the calling are without repentance" (Romans 11:29). Those who believe God, those who come to God, must first believe that He is and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him, who persist in seeking that which He has called for them to do. When the woman came back, we do not know if her house was taken over by eminent domain because she had deserted it; we don't know if some pauper had moved in and just taken over and said, "I am not moving out." We do not know what happened to her house and her land. We just know that she didn't own it anymore. But when she got back, rather than wringing her hands and saying, "Oh, they don't want me around. I guess I will just go on home." This woman said, "Listen, I don't care who is living in that house. That house belongs to me. I do not care who has occupied it. That house belongs to me. God called me to it. God said it belongs to me. God said it is mine and I am not going to let anybody else take over what God said is mine. If I have got to go to the king and beg for it, I shall."
So she persisted and went forward. She did not give up, she went to the king. Sometimes the way things look is not the way they really are. We have to learn to persist beyond what appears to the eye so we can get to what it is that God has really called us to. She said, "I am going to talk to the king because there's really no one else doing anything about this. Elisha sure can't. He can wave his stick that he has, but only the king can decree that I get my land back." So she went to the king and when she got there, she overheard a conversation. Gehazi and the king were talking. They just happened to be talking about her! And the king said to Gehazi, "Tell me all about Elisha's miracles." And Gehazi could have told him all kinds of things. Gehazi could have told him about Elisha catching Elijah's mantle. He could have told about Elisha stretching the widow's oil so it did not run out. He could have told about Elisha's mantle removing the poison from the food and all he did was put flour in it. He could have told about Elisha causing an ax head to float through the water and come back to the shore. There were a whole lot of stories he could have told about Elisha, but he just happened to be talking about Elisha restoring the Shunammite woman's son back to life. And who should come in while he is talking but the Shunammite woman!
I have learned that there are really no coincidences when we are trusting God and that God is working it out. He is setting it up. Sometimes, it does not look like it is working for our good, but if we persist in the ways of God, He will work it out so that we will show up just at the right time. I have learned that if we trust and persist in the things of God, He is working things out while we sleep, He is working things out through our tears. He is working things out when we cannot see Him working. God is moving and working on our behalf.
Just as Gehazi was telling the king about the Shunammite woman, in she walks and Gehazi says, "Hey, there she is!" And the king said, "Tell me all about your story." She did. I have learned something—my Heavenly Father watches over me. I do not need to try to knock down doors or have to become a man to be who I am. I can be all woman and be all God's woman. I can be all woman and be a prophetess for the Lord. I do not have to change into something else or be somebody else to do what God says to do. I can still wear my lace. I can still put on my perfume. I can still put on my earrings and my pearls and necklaces and still be God's woman. "It's a man's world," they want to try to tell us, but it is my Father's world. And it is my Father's Word. And I learned to persist…
You see when we persist, God will work it out. He is working it out for us. Some of us right now are discouraged because it seems as though circumstances are suggesting that we prepared for nothing. It seems as though the circumstances are suggesting that we heard the wrong call, the circumstances are suggesting that we ought to turn around and go back, but we have to learn to be persistent. God cares and He is working it out for you. If we are going to obey, we have to trust. If we are going to obey, we must be persistent.
To Obey Takes Expectancy
Lastly, if you are going to obey, you must be expectant. We must have an expectancy that God is going to do it. I do not think this woman had any doubt in her mind that what she was asking for she would receive. She did not have any doubt because she was talking to the one who could make the difference. When we understand that God can make the difference, our expectancy level tends to rise. When we begin to understand that it does not really matter who wants us around, who called us, who ordained you, we go.
There must be an expectancy that we can make a difference through the grace of God. The Shunammite did and because she had an expectancy, the king appointed an official to her, the king just didn't make a decree, the king gave a personal captain to her. Let us read that again: "The king appointed an official who personally took care of her case." I get so excited when I think about that and the reason I get excited is because I *understand something about God--that God is not treating me like some convention. God does not have me like I am on a university campus and all they know is my Social Security number. God has my personal case in his hands and is appointing Someone, whose name just happens to be Jesus Christ, to oversee my personal affairs so that which I need He will surely provide.
My sisters, be encouraged this morning and have a level of expectancy. We may have been hurt. We may have been frustrated. We may have been disappointed. Sometimes these things lower our expectancy level…We need to keep our expectancy level high and God will deliver in His own time.
Respond to God, obey the Lord, trust him, persist in his Word, keep your expectancy level high. My God, who is a just God, will right every wrong. My God who is a just God will fix everything that is broken. My God who is a just God—God is too just to be wrong. He will fix it. He will restore it. He will reclaim it on your behalf.
Dr. Swoope’s complete address may be found at http://www.whwomenclergy.org/booklets/swoope.php#
Additional articles and resources provided by the Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy may be found by visiting, http://www.whwomenclergy.org/articles/
Have you or are you struggling with obeying God’s call upon your life? Do you have a testimony or word of wisdom to share? Post a comment or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next Wednesday,
In faith, hope and perseverance,