Circuit-riding should not be totally unknown to us. Modern competition cowboys ride circuits as well as horses and bulls. Judges in the sparsely populated Old West traveled their circuits of responsibility. And so did some pastors in earlier days, when congregations or preaching stations outnumbered them.
One story passed down by my uncle had to do with a pastor traveling his circuit of congregations. With no hotels available, the man would stay at the homes of parishioners. On one occasion he was welcomed by a couple not well-known by him. But they were hospitable and willingly shared what they had. At bedtime they directed him to his room. Awaking at sunrise, the pastor was shocked to find that all three of them (pastor, husband, husband’s wife) were sleeping in the same bed. One bed was all they had, and they shared it.
One gets the impression that the Prophet Elisha was such a circuit-riding prophet, as gleaned from
2 Kings 4:8-11. His travels evidently brought him often or occasionally to the village of Shunem, where the king of Israel had his summer palace.
Shunem was also the home of a notable woman and her husband. That lady constrained the prophet to dine with them whenever he was in town. She also saw another need—sleeping accommodations. So she persuaded her husband to remodel their house, thereby providing a furnished room for the prophet. Thus, whenever Elisha traveled there, he had his own private room and bed on which to sleep.
The notable lady was rewarded for her kindness beyond her wildest expectations. Formerly barren, she conceived and bore a son. And years later, when the son suddenly died, God, through Elisha, raised him back to life.
How are we doing in the chamber-preparing department? The Shunammite woman had already prepared one such chamber before the one in her house. And that was in her heart, for she confessed Elisha to be “a holy man of God.” And that is what made her such a great and notable woman: her God-given faith.
That faith had consequences—for her and for us. In fact, Jesus taught the great connection and result between faith, love, and keeping His Word. “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:23) A few verses earlier Jesus had spoken of the Spirit of truth coming to and also dwelling within His disciples on a permanent basis. So Luther prayed, in his familiar Christmas hymn, that the dear Lord Jesus would make within his heart
“A quiet chamber kept for Thee.” (85:13 TLH).
Once that quiet chamber is prepared, the believer is compelled to build another or even many other chambers. The writer to the Hebrews exhorted, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some have unwittingly entertained angels.” (Hebrews 15:2) Surely Abraham had prepared a chamber of hospitality for his heavenly visitors. So also Lydia in Philippi constrained St. Paul and his co-workers to stay at her house. Many CLC families have welcomed delegates, pastors, and teachers into their homes. Faith must speak; faith must build and prepare chambers of kindness and hospitality. Indeed, Jesus taught that, in the Final Judgment, such fruits will give evidence of saving faith.
We proclaim not a “prosperity gospel,” but a “blessedness Gospel.” For blessed are those who hear, believe, and do God’s Word (Luke 11:28). The Shunammite woman was blessed with a son conceived, born, and raised again. Our blessings might include everything from children and joy to wisdom, confidence, greater faith, good health, and long life. But the greatest will be our own resurrection to eternal glory, where we will live in the heavenly room Jesus has prepared for us.
David Fuerstenau is pastor of Holy Truth Lutheran Church in Ketchikan, Alaska.