“Faith is the substance of the things we hope for, the evidence of the things unseen.”
-Hebrews 11: 1 (KJV)
The substance? That got me thinking. Webster calls substance: “The real physical matter of which a person or thing consists and which has a tangible presence.” That’s weird. Because I can’t see my faith, I can’t touch it and a lot of times I don’t “feel” it. Yet God tells me it’s the substance of what I hope for…. How can something I can’t see be real physical matter? Could it be that the substance is in the doing, the living out faithfully, the very act of living out what I know is possible tomorrow, even though I can’t touch it today?
My favorite story in the Old Testament is in 2 Kings 4:8-37.
It recounts the story of the Shunammite woman (which basically just means she’s from the town of Shunem so let’s go ahead and call her Barb). So Barb is very wealthy, and she notices that the prophet Elisha constantly travels through her town. Being a generous woman, she has this great idea to make a “guest house” on the rooftop of their mansion for Elisha to stay. Elisha is overwhelmed with Barb’s generosity so he says to his servant, Gehazi (yep, that’s his name), “Go bring the Shunammite woman to me and let’s ask her what can be done in return for her generosity.” Being the humble lady she is, Barb basically tells Elisha “I’m all good.” But Gehazi is quite observant. He tells Elisha that he’s noticed that Barb doesn’t have a son.
Now, this may not be a big deal today but it was quite a painful absence in an era where a male heir was everything, and Barb’s husband was growing old and his chances of…you get the picture. So Elisha calls for the Shunammite woman and he says, “By this time next year, you will have a son.” (2 Kings 4:16)
Here’s where it gets good! Barb refuses the gesture. Wait, what? Yep. In fact, she tells him, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” (2 Kings 4:16)
Isn’t Barb so relatable?
She has hoped for so long to have a child and for whatever reason, it hasn’t happened. “Hoping hurts too bad Elisha…because when I’m disappointed, and I will be, the pain is unbearable.”
Oh, how many times my heart has wanted to go there. I’m too afraid to hope in God, because then the disappointment will hurt even more! Anybody feeling me? But keep reading, because even when we are too fearful to have that substance…God is still faithful!
That following spring Barb has a son! Substance…Well, the beginning of it because the story doesn’t stop there! God uses this foundation to do something even more amazing in Barb’s life! Verse 18 says when the child had grown he was out in the field working and he basically gets a headache….a pretty bad one because his father instructs the servant to carry his son in the house to his mother. And as Barb is holding her son and caring for him, HE DIES What? He Dies! Can you imagine?
“God, you told me to get my hopes up And now you’re just going to take it away???”
So what does Barb do? She carries him to Elisha’s room, lays him on the bed…and calls to her husband to send her a servant to saddle the donkey so she can go talk to Elisha. When he asks her why? She says, “All is well.” (2 Kings 4:23)
Girlfriend does not even tell her husband that her son has just passed away?! Are you kidding me? Her son was as good as alive and well in her mind because she believed that the God who gave her a miracle in the first place was the same God who could bring her son back to life! SUBSTANCE. When your reality looks like all is lost, faith says, “All is well.”
In fact, Barb carries her faith walk testament through the whole village. As she rides to Elisha’s house, people stop and ask her, “Where are you going?” “What are you doing?” “Today isn’t a holy day?” “Why are you on your donkey?” To which she replies, “All is well.” (2 Kings 4:23)
You ever have that happen to you? When you are on a faith walk with God and other people don’t understand? Sometimes All is well is all we can say. Sometimes that’s because God gave us this particular faith assignment and it’s to protect what others would try and tear away. Sometimes it’s because no one else can see the substance that we do, and sometimes it’s because we may not even understand it ourselves, but we know that we know that we KNOW that our faith is the only thing that is going to get us through.
When Elisha sees Barb from afar, he sends Gehazi to ask if she’s ok.
“All is well.”
Stay with me. It isn’t until she gets all the way to Elisha and catches hold of his feet that she shows her distress. “Did I ask the Lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?’ she cries” (2 Kings 4:28) I just love her honesty. Here’s a woman who didn’t even want to have hope for fear of disappointment, and now she refuses to believe that her circumstances can’t be changed. What a beautiful picture of how God grows us.
Our faith is built on the substance of the story we knew before so we can believe Him for something bigger as we climb higher.
Ok, back to the story. So Elisha tries to send Gehazi to heal Barb’s son. And Barb’s not really having any of that. “As the Lord lives and as you live yourself, I will not leave you.” (2 Kings 4: 30) This gave me pause to think. I don’t think for a second that God couldn’t have worked through Gehazi. He absolutely could have.
But Barb recognizes that only the source was going to do. (Just for clarity-we’re in the Old Testament so the people do not have the Holy Spirit as a direct source. Their source for God’s voice was through the prophets. And Barb knows that Elisha is anointed and assigned by God. For her, that was the closest to the source she was going to get and she wasn’t settling for anything less). And I love her for it. That’s substance. And Elisha doesn’t deny her. He stopped whatever he was doing and goes with her!
I had to check myself when I read this. Can I say that I have the kind of faith that the Shunammite woman has? Do I truly believe that no matter, what God won’t deny me? I know that there have been plenty of times where I have been burdened and desperate and yet, I have tip-toed into the Lord’s presence worried that He may not hear me…or worse, would be too “busy” to hear me. I wondered if the reason that I got here in the first place was because I was being punished. I’ve thought maybe God would decide I didn’t deserve His help.
What a distorted view of our Heavenly Father! The word says that God shows “no partiality” (Galatians 2:6) which means that if our sister, Barb, the Shunammite woman, believed she would not be denied, then we don’t have to fret either. God is for us! Secondly, what a trick of the enemy to steal our privilege as daughters and sons of the Most High King. The Bible says that if an earthly father who is evil gives good gifts to his children, how much more will our father who is in heaven (i.e. His resource and abundance knows NO BOUNDS) give good things to those who ask Him? (Matthew 7:11) The knowledge that when I step out, God is for me, He will not deny me.
Please don’t misunderstand that I am implying that God is some sort of genie. He says to ask according to His will and He will hear, listen and it is surely done (1 John 5: 14-15). Are we approaching the throne this way? As boldly as the Shunnamite woman? The woman who just a few years earlier told Elisha that she couldn’t even get her hopes up because she would die if she was disappointed.
The end of the story fascinates me even more. Gehazi goes ahead. He actually gets to the boy first and lays his staff on the child’s face. And nothing changes. Nothing.
That’s not what you thought was gonna happen, huh?
Can you imagine? The fear and dread in Gehazi’s voice as he gave the news? The fixed determination in Barb’s face, and Elisha’s quiet demeanor as he walks into the room, shuts the door and begins praying to God. I have chills. Talk about a cliff hanger! Elisha goes in the room, and the Bible says “He put his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and as he stretched himself on him and embraced him, the child’s flesh became warm. Then he returned and walked in the house to and fro and went up again and stretched himself upon him. And the child sneezed seven times, and then opened his eyes.” (2 Kings 4:34-35) Ok. So at this point you might be thinking.
Yea, me too. But the more I have meditated on this scripture, the more I have realized that the Bible is telling me that Faith, the Substance of the things we hope for, in action, is a fight. It believes when the situation looks bleak. It gets out of the boat when reality tells us we will sink. And it’s not going to be easy the first, second or maybe even third time we try. But that substance calls into existence what we know to be true and yet we cannot see…..yet.
Yet, my friends.