Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Axes Are For Floating

As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axhead fell into the water. “Oh, my lord,” he cried out, “it was borrowed!” The man of God asked, “Where did it fall?” (2 Kings 6.5-6)

What Good’s Being Free?

Cat Stevens’ “If You Want to Sing Out” recently rebounded in a T-Mobile spot that gets me hot and itchy every time I see it. Young people won’t pick up on what’s so utterly wrong with co-opting the tune to hawk phones. But if you’re near my age, the first two bars are enough to lull you back to 1971, where you’re swept up by memories of sunflowers, cemeteries, a 79-year-old eccentric on a motorcycle with a 20-something boyfriend perched behind her, and Stevens singing, “If you want to sing out, sing out. If you want to be free, be free.” Basically, you relive Harold and Maude, the most defiantly anti-Establishment romance ever filmed. After you come to, you probably don’t know any more about T-Mobile products than before. But you’re certain Maude would sneer at seeing Stevens’ ode to individualism and material detachment married to a phone commercial. Can’t you see her tossing Harold’s Blackberry down a sewer? I can. “What good’s being tied up all the time when you’re free?” she’d say.

Maude took being free to madcap extremes. And while her ideals leaned toward the nutty side, her refusal to be captivated by things is a trait we all can learn from. In 1 Timothy 6.7, Paul writes, “We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” Freedom is our beings’ basic instinct. We lose touch with that by hanging on to life’s clutter as if it were ours, when everything we have is on loan. False pride of ownership in what God entrusts to us or overestimating its personal value costs our beings’ freedom. In verses 10 and 11, Paul says, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Holding on to our beings—the truth of who we are and the purpose God created us to fulfill—is what being free means. What good’s being free when we’re constantly tied up?

Flying Off the Handle

The first seven verses of 2 Kings 6 report a minor incident that teaches us material possessions can interfere with our freedom any time, even when we’re occupied with higher endeavors. The prophet Elisha’s renown has surged to the point the company of prophets following him has grown too big for its meeting place. They suggest relocating to the Jordan, where there’s plenty of room and timber to build a larger edifice. “Go ahead,” Elisha says, which disappoints them. They want to show how loyal and industrious they are. So he tags along. With everyone working as hard as he can, one prophet proudly swings away with his axe and, suddenly, its iron head flies off the handle and into the river. “Oh, no!” he cries. Elisha saunters over to see what the problem is. “What am I going to do? It’s not even mine. I borrowed it.”

If we factor in the uncommon aspects of the prophet’s situation, we see how ludicrous his response is. He’s a prophet. He routinely watches God fix impossible problems. He’s surrounded by prophets and led by the greatest prophet of his day. He belongs to a faith community blessed beyond capacity. And he’s literally working for God when the axe-head comes loose. All of this is so obvious that worry seems like the least reasonable response. But he’s really worried. And what does this to him? A borrowed thing he no longer holds or is likely to hold again. With one swing, his freedom in serving God’s purpose goes flying off the handle as well. None of this fazes Elisha. “Show me where it went,” he says. The prophet points out the spot. Elisha cuts a branch off a tree, throws it in the river, and the axe-head miraculously bobs to the surface.

The Short List

On the short list of eternal significance, who we are, where we are, what we’re doing, and whom we’re with will outrank what we have every time. When we lose sight of this, things start flying off the handle. We realize what we’ve lost was never actually ours. Freedom vanishes and we become worry’s slaves. In panic, we cry for help. Of course, none of this fazes God. What He knows about axes we couldn’t begin to imagine. All this while, we’ve held on to them, thinking they weren’t good for much else than grinding and chopping big things down to size. But God’s got no use for grinding axes. He doesn’t chop things down; He builds them up. Besides, He doesn't need to, as nothing's bigger than He. If we get overly caught up in what we have, it’s a strong possibility He’ll see fit to prove the total value of what He’s leant us by demonstrating how little we really know about it. How we view axes isn’t like He sees them. Our limited vision looks at what He's given us in terms of its potential to do things for us. He focuses on His power to do the impossible with what we have. In His eyes, axes are for floating, too.

If we put too much faith and importance in what we’ve been given, we may end up finding out how little we really know about it.

(Tomorrow: Little Ones)

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