Ross W. Graham
"Shoot those arrows into the ground," said the prophet to the king. That was a strange command that Elisha gave to Joash in 2 Kings 13:14-19. But the prophet was dying, and his godly influence on the Lord's wayward children in the northern kingdom would soon be removed. God was taking his faithful servant home, and faithless Joash would be left.
The king needed to understand what was at stake. He needed a message so clear that it could not be missed. "Take a bow and some arrows. Shoot one of those arrows out the east window." (It was from the east that Syria would attack Israel.) "That arrow represents victory over Israel's enemy, the Syrians, and you will defeat them at Aphek, and you must destroy them," said Elisha. And the prophet put his hands on the bow with Joash and helped him shoot. The message should have been clear.
"Now, Joash, with your bow in hand, take some arrows and strike the ground." This time, however, the prophet did not help. He waited for the king to carry out this command on his own. It would be a test of his willingness to seize God's opportunities. So he struck the ground three times and then stood back. That made Elisha angry: "You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck Syria till you had destroyed it. But now you will strike it only three times."
In a sense, this was nothing new. The leaders of the nation of Israel had never done it right. They had not lived in covenant faithfulness. They had not followed God's instructions to drive out the inhabitants of the land that God had given to them. And instead of being content with having the God of heaven and earth as their king, they wanted a human monarch like the other nations.
So now, because of the faithlessness of the king of Israel, the northern kingdom, weakened from wars and poor leaders, would go more quickly into captivity. Among them would go some of the church of the Old Testament into exile. Because of a failure to seize God's opportunities, some of God's covenant people would suffer.
But with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the new covenant era was ushered in. Now there is a covenant faithfulness that is insured by the finished work of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Now the kingdom of God has come, and Jesus is honored and obeyed as king by his subjects. But God still gives opportunities to his people for the blessing and advancement of his work. "Lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest," says Jesus (John 4:35). "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest" (Matt. 9:37-38).
It is not surprising, then, that when the apostle Paul had God's opportunity placed before him in Corinth, he seized it. "Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city" (Acts 18:9-10). In the very next verse, Luke records, "And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them."
In today's world, the opportunities are not quite so clear-cut. But when the Eritrean government made it clear to us that they would like the OPC to resume the work of our historic clinic in Ghinda, and that we would also be free to preach the gospel as well, we seized the opportunity that God had provided. We found the necessary preachers, doctors, clinic workers, and builders-and the money to pay for it all. The result was the establishment of Mehrete Yesus Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Eritrea.
Similarly, when the clan chiefs and elders in the Karamoja region of Uganda indicated their openness to the preaching of the gospel along with the establishment of a medical clinic in that remote area, we were quick to seize the opportunity that God was providing. Raising the men and materials for the work seemed to be the natural response to the opportunity that God had set before us.
It is the same on the home front. We could not deny that God had raised up a preacher and a small core group in Key West, Florida. This southernmost city in the United States is filled with tropical beauty and moral decay. Tourists stream down U.S. Highway 1 for a visit, or flock from the cruise ships that dock there as a port of call on their tour of the Caribbean. But every year, at the end of October, a so-called Fantasy Festival reveals the wild sexual decadence of one of the largest homosexual strongholds on the East Coast. And there, in the midst of the beauty and decay, as vacationers and "conchs" alike gather to watch the sun drop over the horizon and enjoy the spontaneous, nightly Sunset Festival, an Orthodox Presbyterian organizing pastor preaches the gospel to hundreds of people at a time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on a pier known as Mallory Square.
The power of that gospel preaching has changed lives from Massachusetts to Utah and among the natives of the Florida Keys as well. So when Bill Welzien asked for help with the church that God had raised up, how could we say no? OP Home Missions, along with the Presbytery of the South, seized God's opportunity and took pastor and people under its wing. They helped buy an old office building next to the Purple Porpoise Pub at mile marker #10 on U.S. Highway 1 and refurbish it into the Keys Bible Center and an apartment for the Welzien family. God has built his church there, and Orthodox Presbyterians have a fearless ambassador who takes the gospel to one of the neediest places in the United States.
When groups have come to us from such places as Hughson, California, and Colville, Washington, small towns with fewer than four thousand residents, we have become accustomed to looking at them as God's opportunities, just like the ones in the booming Detroit suburb of Brighton and in the fast-growing Washington, D.C., suburb of Germantown, Maryland.
The Committee on Christian Education has noticed a similar pattern. In the early days of the OPC, there was a need for solid, Reformed Sunday school materials. The Committee saw an opportunity provided by God and founded Great Commission Publications. God has blessed and enlarged the work of GCP, so that today it serves both the OPC and the Presbyterian Church in America. Subsequently, when it became clear that there was a need for more specialized training and preparation for new OP pastors, the Committee seized God's opportunity, reached out in faith, and began the Ministerial Training Institute of the OPC. MTIOPC has become a blessing to many in the church and is seen now as a structure we could not live without.
Seizing God's opportunities to expand the work of his kingdom and the ministry of Christ's church is costly business. It costs gifted men who are called to be Christ's ministers the price of more lucrative careers. It costs all of us sacrificial dollars that could be used for other things. It probably seemed foolish to faithless king Joash to waste too many arrows merely to please an old, dying prophet.
It might similarly seem foolish to us to sacrificially support the annual OPC Thank Offering for Worldwide Outreach. Those arrows could be put to better use, you might think. But if these are really God's opportunities that lie before us, and if our dollars can truly make a dent in the work of the kingdom and bring glory to the Lord, doesn't it make perfect sense for us to go over and above our regular tithes and offerings and to reach out in faith with an outstanding Thank Offering this year? That would be seizing God's opportunities.
The author is the general secretary of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. He quotes the NKJV. Reprinted from New Horizons, November 2000.