Discerning Distractions

Consider the expression, ‘Good is often the enemy of best.’ I want to look at this in the light of walking with Jesus. Aside from small distractions, can we miss Jesus through big distractions? Even through ‘spiritual’ ones? Let me illustrate from scripture by starting with a reflective question.

How was Elijah taken up to heaven?

  1. By a fiery chariot
  2. By a whirlwind

The correct answer is 2. Look at the verses below.

And it came to pass, when the LORD was about to take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. 2 Kings 2:1 (NKJV) 9  And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?” Elisha said, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.” 10  So he said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.” 11  Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 12  And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” So he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes and tore them into two pieces. 13  He also took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood by the bank of the Jordan. 2 Kings 2:9-13 (NKJV)

In this experience we know if we continue reading that Elisha received the double portion that he requested. We also know that he knew Elijah was going to be taken from him as in in verses 2-8 he is told by other prophets three times that he is going to lose Elijah. Elijah repeatedly tried to dissuade Elisha from following him, though this appears to have been a test of Elisha’s focus and commitment rather than a real desire on Elijah’s part to not have Elisha continue with him.

What do we make of Elisha’s request for a double portion? When Elijah called Elisha away from his family Elisha gave up his natural inheritance, which was likely significant given he was plowing a field with 12 yoke of oxen. The double portion was the right of the firstborn. Elijah presided over a company of prophets he was training. Elisha was asking to be acknowledged as his successor by receiving the right of the firstborn; his spiritual inheritance in place of the natural inheritance he had left behind.

We know he received it. How did he receive it? He maintained a right focus. Look at the passage below

11  Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12  and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 1 Kings 19:11-12 (NKJV)

In this passage we have a great wind, an earthquake and then fire. Yahweh was in none of them. He was in a still small voice. The center column note in my bible says this could be translated as a ‘delicate whispering voice.’ While the events are not the same as when Elijah was taken into heaven by a whirlwind, the principle is the same. We can miss Yahweh by focusing on the wrong things. Elijah told Elisha that he would receive the double portion, his commission, if he saw Elijah depart. Elijah’s departure was immediately preceded by the dramatic appearance of a chariot and horses of fire that separated them. If Elisha had been distracted and focused on them he would have missed his commission. Just as Elijah would have missed Yahweh if he had focused on the wind, earthquake or fire. I am not suggesting Elijah was not aware of these things, just that he was not distracted by them. In the same way Elisha saw the horses and chariot of fire, but he kept his focus on what was happening to Elijah and so received what he desired.

A key point is that the chariot and horses of fire were like a sign on the highway. They pointed to something but were not the thing in and of themselves. The references below suggest that the chariots and horses of fire marked Yahweh’s active presence but point to Him rather than being Him.

17  The chariots of God are twenty thousand, Even thousands of thousands; The Lord is among them as in Sinai, in the Holy Place. Psalm 68:17 (NKJV)

3  He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters, Who makes the clouds His chariot, Who walks on the wings of the wind, Psalm 104:3 (NKJV)

17  And Elisha prayed, and said, “LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:17 (NKJV)

14  Elisha had become sick with the illness of which he would die. Then Joash the king of Israel came down to him, and wept over his face, and said, “O my father, my father, the chariots of Israel and their horsemen!” 2 Kings 13:14 (NKJV)

15  For behold, the LORD will come with fire And with His chariots, like a whirlwind, To render His anger with fury, And His rebuke with flames of fire. Isaiah 66:15 (NKJV)

8  O LORD, were You displeased with the rivers, Was Your anger against the rivers, Was Your wrath against the sea, That You rode on Your horses, Your chariots of salvation? Habakkuk 3:8 (NKJV)

So how do we apply this to our walk with Jesus? We need to recognize that when we see things that indicate His presence they are generally pointing to something else. Just as trees waving in a breeze indicate the presence of the breeze. Similarly when the Holy Spirit moves upon someone and they weep or rejoice they point to the need to discern what the Holy Spirit is doing in that situation.

Think back. Have you ever been distracted by events in a church service and missed what the Holy Spirit was doing? Whether in a church setting or events or presentations at work I like to sit at the back or somewhere that I can observe the whole room. This was deeply established for me in 1995. A friend and I were in Whistler BC at the first Gathering held by the Watchmen group. We ended up at the back of the room (there were between 1,500-2,000 people present) and many times when we discerned something was heading in the wrong direction or needed to happen we would pray and in minutes one of the leaders at the front would address the issue. I’m not suggesting we were the only ones effecting change, just that I saw the benefit of observing and praying. Often we were scanning the room rather than focusing on the platform. I know that decades ago the Vineyard would train ministry teams to pay attention to what they observed the Holy Spirit doing in people and then direct ministry that way. The point being we need to attend not to what people are doing, which can be a distraction, but rather to what the Holy Spirit is doing, which leads us in the right direction.

When in a group I look around seeking to hear, see and discern what the Holy Spirit is doing and respond to that. While I have over the years missed a lot of what the Holy Spirit was doing, even at times going in the opposite direction, my desire is to follow His leading. To do this requires focus. Among a number of other reasons, this is one reason I don’t like really loud services or services with any type of frenetic activity. This type of environment makes it harder to focus on His heart and see what He is doing.

We are called to be like Jesus and He said He did what He saw His Father doing.

19  Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. 20  For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.” John 5:19-20 (NKJV)

To see what His Father was doing Jesus had to simultaneously pay attention at the natural and spiritual levels. Developing skill in this requires a trained awareness and focus. It is not a magic gift, it is the fruit of maturity that comes about through intentional practice. Where are we looking as we walk with Him? Are we seeing what the signs are pointing to?

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I have been walking with Jesus since 1985. I am currently retired from my career in the helping professions but still focused on ministering to others. I completed a Doctorate of Philosophy in Apologetics in September 2020.

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