If you’ve lived through the nineties, you probably remember more about the movie “The Next Karate Kid” than you strictly want to (it’s the one with a young Hilary Swank). At one point, when her character Julie has to attempt a jump kick from one rock to another, Mr. Miyagi advises her to “pray” about it. She learns that trying the maneuver from a standing position doesn’t work; it’s only when she kneels that she gets it right.
In today’s reading, God pulls a Mr. Miyagi:
9 The king of Israel, the king of Judah, and the king of Edom started out on what proved to be a looping detour. After seven days they had run out of water for both army and animals.
10 The king of Israel said, “Bad news! God has gotten us three kings out here to dump us into the hand of Moab.”
11 But Jehoshaphat said, “Isn’t there a prophet of God anywhere around through whom we can consult God?”
One of the servants of the king of Israel said, “Elisha son of Shaphat is around somewhere—the one who was Elijah’s right-hand man.”
12 Jehoshaphat said, “Good! A man we can trust!” So the three of them—the king of Israel, Jehoshaphat, and the king of Edom—went to meet him.
13 Elisha addressed the king of Israel, “What do you and I have in common? Go consult the puppet-prophets of your father and mother.”
“Never!” said the king of Israel. “It’s God who has gotten us into this fix, dumping all three of us kings into the hand of Moab.”
14-15 Elisha said, “As God-of-the-Angel-Armies lives, and before whom I stand ready to serve, if it weren’t for the respect I have for Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I wouldn’t give you the time of day. But considering—bring me a minstrel.” (When a minstrel played, the power of God came on Elisha.)
16-19 He then said, “God’s word: Dig ditches all over this valley. Here’s what will happen—you won’t hear the wind, you won’t see the rain, but this valley is going to fill up with water and your army and your animals will drink their fill. This is easy for God to do; he will also hand over Moab to you. You will ravage the country: Knock out its fortifications, level the key villages, clear-cut the orchards, clog the springs, and litter the cultivated fields with stones.”
20 In the morning—it was at the hour of morning sacrifice—the water had arrived, water pouring in from the west, from Edom, a flash flood filling the valley with water.
(2 Kings 3:9-20 MSG)
Imagine the scene: you’re on your way to war, only the country is drought-stricken and there’s no water in sight. It’s hot, you’re thirsty, you’re tired. You’ve been marching seven days, and the end isn’t yet in sight. You’re lagging. The pack animals and horses are lagging. It seems like a bad business.
So your leaders hatch a plan. Instead of turning back or something more practical, they consult a prophet. And this guy, after going into a trance, tells you to start digging ditches all over the dry valley floor. Ditches! You stare at the sky. You stare at the land. You stare at the dry, parched earth. I imagine your thoughts towards this guy and Jehovah aren’t very charitable in that moment!
But you dig. Reluctantly, but you do it, thinking that at the very least these ditches will make neat graves.
And then the next day, shouts of surprise and wonder as the hard-dug ditches are lost to a rush of water.
Much like Julie-san couldn’t see the use of “praying” about a karate kick in a zen rock garden, we often struggle to see the use of the day-to-day grunt work of being God’s. It feels like we’re those soldiers, lost on a detour, trials on all sides, and in the middle of all this – when we want answers most – God tells us to dig ditches in a dry river bed. We stare at the sky – no clouds. We stare at the land – no gushing rivers. We stare at the earth – just dust. And we wonder: What’s the use of what we’re doing?
We don’t yet see the morning. We don’t see the clouds gathering on a distant horizon, filling a river that will come rushing past us. But just because we don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not happening, or that God isn’t working.
The ditches the army dug probably helped dam the water so that there would be enough for their use. What at the time felt like pointless, exhausting grunt work turned out to be an essential partnering with God to take advantage of a miracle. Could God have filled the river without the army’s ditches? Sure. But that’s not the way he operates. He chooses again and again to work with us. Given the choice, God chooses relationship every time.
What feels to us like pointless work is in reality preparation. We can be comforted with the knowledge that what we’re doing, no matter how trivial, time-consuming or wasteful it seems, is in fact a necessary part of the miracle. We’re doing our part in the full expectation and faith that God will do his.
Don’t lose faith, friends. The morning – and your miracle – is on its way!
Dearest Lord, grant me the faith, patience and humility to trust in you and your timing. Amen.
Friends, thank you for reading my #CoffeeTimePrayer devotionals this year! I’m taking a bit of a break this December, but the devos will be back early next year. Lee