Well… it’s official, as the boyband Blue prophesied back in 2002, as of 6pm last night they’ve “got the city on lockdown!”. Cardiff is the latest Welsh borough to get caught in the rapidly spreading lockdown net taking the percentage up to nearly 60% of Wales living with new these latest restrictions.
If I’m honest, even for an eternal optimist like me, it felt inevitable that it would happen as more and more places all around us were placed on lockdown that it would have to happen here eventually.
For some of us, life will carry on pretty much as it did before – but for others of us, it means more disruption just as life seemed to be returning to something like normal.
Like the odd and giddying sensation of wearing a mask for public places – it can easily feel a little disorientating and overwhelming to adjust to more of a hemmed-in lifestyle. Maybe you’re feeling a bit surrounded right now.
Surrounded by lockdown districts, and some of your go-to relatives are now in no-go areas.
Surrounded by a constant news stream, and all of it bad.
Surrounded by decisions and dilemmas, and all of them painful.
Surrounded by voices and opinions, and all of them loud.
Surrounded by pressures and stresses, and all of it unavoidable.
Surrounded by surfaces potentially contaminated by a virus, and all of it invisible.
Maybe some of us feel we are surrounded by anxiety, or despondency or maybe even doubts.
However you are feeling, it seems we are going to need a new strategy, as the demands and duties of these local lockdowns are going to be with us for some time to come.
Last week, we launched the Alpha Course online. The first week starts with a big question:
“If you had one question you could ask God, what would it be?”
During the conversation, one of the team said that their question would be to ask God for a glimpse into the spiritual realm – because they were convinced that all of their fears/doubts would just disappear if they could actually see the eternal reality for just a moment! (We decided that they won the prize for having the best question that week!).
It got me thinking about a person in the Bible who got given such a gift. In 2 Kings 6:8-23 we read about this incredible lockdown that Prophet Elisha and his servant are subjected to.
Elisha has such a powerful prophetic gifting, that he is able to detect the movements of the armies of Aram as they move against Israel. This knowledge allows the King of Israel to repeatedly thwart Aram’s advances and attacks. But soon the secret is out that it is Elisha’s prophetic words that are guiding Israel’s brilliant military strategy.
The King of Aram eventually realises that Elisha is the biggest threat to their plans – and devises an entirely new strategy: take out the Prophet and the nation is vulnerable to attack.
So one morning when Elisha and his servant wake up, they find them completely surrounded by the Aram’s army.
When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.
2 KINGS 6.15
Surrounded by horses and chariots, and all of them aimed on their location.
Surrounded by anger, and all of it directed at them.
Surrounded by fear, and all of it justified… or was it?
Watch Elisha closely here – he barely even batters an eyelid:
“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
2 KINGS 6.16
There must have been a moment of confusion on his servants face, because Elisha then prays that his servant might see the reason why he is so calm. He asks God to give his servant a glimpse into the spiritual reality and watch his fear and doubt disappear and run into the shadows in the light of the eternal realm:
And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.”
Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
2 KINGS 6.17
The angel armies of heaven’s host were surrounding Elisha! There was no need to fear or doubt – “those who are with us” were greater than those who were coming against them!
The rest of the story is fascinating, as Elisha reverses his prayer for the servant and asks that the enemy forces be blinded to the reality. In a moment that surely must have inspired George Lucas when writing Star Wars, Elisha effectively tells them: “This is not the prophet you are looking for…”(!) (2 Kings 6.19)
They completely buy it – and it allows Elisha to blindly lead the army right into Samaria where the King of Israel is waiting. And, in a stunning show of grace, they defeated the enemy with kindness and mercy:
So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.
2 KINGS 6.23
What Elisha does for his servant here, the Psalmist does for the people of God:
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him,
and He delivers them.
For He will command His angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways!
And the writer of Hebrews does the same for the Church too:
Therefore, angels are only servants – spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation.
There’s a new worship song that is really popular at the moment, and the chorus goes:
It may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by You!
Maybe today it looks like you’re surrounded by all kinds of challenges, decisions, restrictions, disappointments and fears – but the truth is we are surrounded by something greater, or more accurately, someone greater.
I wonder if the Apostle John had Elisha’s words ringing in the back of his mind as he wrote to the church about the reality of the spiritual battle we face:
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
1 JOHN 4.4
Maybe you’re surrounded by things that feel overwhelming – but He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world.
Maybe you’re feeling surrounded by criticism – but He that is in you is greater.
Maybe your freedom is limited by new restrictions – but He that is in you is greater.
Maybe your job is on hold right now or even in the balance, and boredom has turned to apathy – but He that is in you is greater.
Maybe someone you love is struggling and you watch their battle claim their strength day by day – but He that is in you is greater.
If we could just open our eyes to see it – greater than an invisible virus, is the spiritual reality that you and I right this very moment are surrounded by the angelic armies of heaven, and the promise of Christ’ presence with us (Matthew 28.20) and His spirit actually living inside of us (John 14.17), meaning that whatever comes at us has first got to go through Him.
They don’t stand a chance… so don’t you be afraid. Don’t you be tempted to surrender to fear – you are surrounded, but You’re surrounded by Him.
God open our eyes today to know – we never are alone, and never abandoned. Strengthen our faith and our resolve today to see that our greatest strategy in all the battles that we face, is to keep our eyes on You.
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