So last week as we ended, Ryan helped us listen more carefully, faithfully to the voice of God. What is his tone like? What does he sound like? How does he move toward a weary child of his? And I hope you had time to wrestle with that throughout the week and listen to his voice.
But as you saw at the end of the passage that Ryan touched on last week, God lifted Elijah up in order to send him out. He gave him three tasks. This is in 19:15 and 16. He said,
“I want you to anoint Hazael king of Syria, anoint Jehu king of Israel, and anoint Elisha as the prophet to take your place.”
So, Elijah goes out of the wilderness to do what God had called him to do. What’s interesting is, if we keep reading through the end of 1 Kings into 2 Kings, you will notice that Elijah did not do two of those three things that God sent him to do. So, what’s going on with that?
He anointed Elisha, called Elisha to take his place. But laying a foundation for what we’re going to look at today, I think it’s important for us to see, to jet forward and see that there are things God called Elijah to do that he never did, but he actually did them through people he invested in.
You could say it this way: some of the greatest things you will ever do, you will never do. Some of the greatest things you will ever do, you will never do. Isn’t that wild? God will call you to do things, he will take you home before you get a chance to do them, but he will do them through the people that you invest in.
This is what is so important about this point. This isn’t just a cute little point we can we can fly over it because it really shapes the way we view calling. Today when people talk about calling, it’s all about finding my inner self, and feeling fulfilled, and experiencing that inner Nirvana, and fulfilling my bucket list, and whatever it is you think will give you a fulfilling life. But when you get a glimpse of who God is, the idea of calling goes to another level. It’s so big.
Yes, it has to do with our inner fulfillment, like what truly satisfies and what truly makes a worthwhile life, but it is much bigger than that. It has to do with the vision of God that extends through multiple generations, from everlasting to everlasting, and he calls us in a moment of time. But his picture of our lives is much bigger than anything we could see or imagine. And when we talk about calling, like we’re going to talk about in a few minutes, we have to have that conversation on a foundation of a God view of calling because if we looked at what God called Elijah to do, we would say, “Dude, you died too early.” Well, actually he didn’t die. He got taken up to heaven too early… like he should’ve waited for a later train.
But when you realize that God calls us to things that he knows we aren’t going to completely finish or do all that he calls us to, but he gives us a much bigger view than our own personal agenda and says,
“Listen, that seed you planted right there, you’re never going to build a tree fort in that, but somebody in the future will, and your job right now is to water it and maybe weed it.”
When you get a glimpse of that idea of calling, and you begin praying for your great great great great grandchildren, Lord willing, you know what he’s going to do through people you invested in, people you shared the gospel with at work, people you loved, in ways that you won’t ever see the fulfillment of or the fruit from, but God is up to something big through you. 2 Timothy 2:2 stuff, where you’re pouring into faithful people, who pour to faithful people, who pour into faithful people, and it goes. One generation to another. This is bigger than a bucket list. This is like a mountain list. s
Remember in Numbers 27 when God called Moses up to the mountain and said,
“Moses, I know you’ve given your life to rescue my people from Egypt and to bring them to the Promised Land. Well, I want you to come up on the mountain, and I want you to look into the Promised Land, and I’m going to take you home. You’re not actually going to go into the Promised Land, but you’re going to equip, call, and commission Joshua, who is actually going to take my people into the Promised Land. I want you to come home.”
How does that resonate with you? If we’re people who are our view of calling is getting God to do my plan, that’s going to be deeply offensive. But if we’re people who come to God and say,
“God, you’ve called me, you’ve gifted me, you’ve saved me. You have a plan for me that I can’t even envision. And I want to follow you. And if you call me to do something here that I don’t ever get to see the fruit of, I’m in! I want to play the part you have called me to play, whether it’s visibly spectacular or fruitful or not.”
So, with that view of calling, what can we learn about Elijah’s call that may help us understand what it’s like to receive? And I’m calling this “Calling 2.0” because Elijah already had a call, but God said, “I want you to do something different.” And some of you are there. Like right now. And you’re hearing the voice of the Spirit say, “I’ve blessed what you’re doing, but I want you to get ready for something else.” And others of you, He has something different to say to you.
So, we’ve been praying that the Spirit of God would – this is so amazing how the Spirit of God will do this because you can have hundreds of people in the same place, hearing the same sermon where the Spirit of God is specifically applying the message in personal ways to you right where you are. So, let’s talk about his calling, which is unique in detail. There are things about Elijah’s call that aren’t replicated with everybody, but not unique in practice. God is still calling people. Three timeless truths.
First of all, we can learn from Elijah to be where you are. Be where you are. Worship where you are. Look at verse 19. This is where we pick up from last week, 1 Kings 19:19.
“So, he [Elijah] departed from there [the wilderness] and found Elisha, the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him and he left the oxen and ran after Elijah.”
Now there’s a lot about this story. I know we’re only going to look at a few verses, and one of the reasons I think it’s important just to look at a few verses is there are so many questions that come up when you read this. First of all is, what’s with 12 yoke of oxen? That is a lot of oxen. You’ve got to have a big shovel. How can you plow with 12 yokes? That’s twelve pairs, sets of oxen!
So, for a while you’re like, “OK, my brain is burning trying to figure out what is going on here.” So first understand, what does it look like to plow with one yoke of oxen? This is the way it was done back with Elijah and Elisha and it’s still done in many places the same way. [Shows image] Well, that’s happening times 12.
I asked Tommy to give us an aerial view. What should it look like if Elisha is plowing with the last set of oxen and there are 12 sets, teams of oxen? From a drone view, it should look like this. If you go all the way to the right, picture Elisha behind that last set and then 11 other teams with 11 other workers moving across the field. That tells us a lot about Elisha, doesn’t it? First of all, he had to have vast fields to need 12 sets of oxen. If I did that in my garden, I could fit one ox moving across one of the beds at a time. This is the modern-day equivalent of two combines moving across fields. So, he had vast farmland.
Also, we can learn from Elijah. He was an organized guy. He was in charge. Notice how the text emphasizes he’s with the last team, which is the team that keeps track of all the other teams to make sure – if you’re in the front, you can’t see what’s going on behind you. He’s in the back to make sure all the other teams of oxen are going just the way they’re supposed to, and nothing is being missed, which, again, implies a guy who is very successful because in order to have all that land and all those oxen and all those workers, he would be today like a modern millionaire: very successful guy, very organized, lots of workers, careful man.
This what I mean by “worship where you are, be where you are” He obviously devoted himself to what God had called him to do as a farmer before – and this is a big principle here when we talk about calling – before he could hear where he was to go, he had to embrace where he was.
This seems to be a fairly common practice in the calling of God. Think of Moses. What was he doing when God called him? He was shepherding the flocks of his father-in-law. Think of Peter and Andrew and many of the other disciples. They were laboring in fishing boats. Matthew was working in a tax office. Jesus was working with his hands as a carpenter. There are times when people fairly regularly will email me or call me and say, “Hey, I love what’s happening in North Hills. You guys seem to really enjoy working, ministering together. You have an incredible unity and fruitfulness. Do you have any openings?”
And typically, we have to say, “no,” but often when I’m talking to someone about this, I ask a few questions like,
“Tell me what you’re doing now. And tell me, what kind of sense of worship do you have in what you are currently doing? Do you have a sense of the call of God? Do you have a sense that God is empowering you to use your gifts? Do you enjoy what you’re doing?”
Because, I know this is painful, but nine out of ten times if someone isn’t worshiping where they are, they won’t worship where they think they need to be. If somebody is grumbling where they are, they’re going to eventually grumble where they’re going. Geography doesn’t change things. Even different vocational shifts don’t change things. It’s so interesting in the Bible, God calls people who are worshiping where they are.
The text goes out of its way, not just to say, “and Elijah went and called Elisha.” No, it explains what he’s doing. Why? Who cares if he had 12 sets of oxen? What does that matter? God thought it mattered. He was doing what God called him to do. And so, when God extended “Calling 2.0,” he was ready to respond with whatever God had. And you look at verse 19,
“Elijah cast his cloak on him. And he left the oxen.”
What? I know it’s easy to read the bible and just think, “yeah, that’s the way Bible characters work.” But no, he was a real businessman. Imagine in the middle of a hot day, with all his oxen and all the teams, he’s flying across a field. I guess oxen don’t fly… He’s stomping across the field, and, all of a sudden, somebody throws a coat on him.
He knew exactly what that meant when he saw it was Elijah, and he knew that that prophetic garb symbolized prophetic power. Elijah threw it on him like he was casting this prophetic call on Elisha. There is no way in reality that Elisha would have responded so quickly, left his business, and followed Elijah if he wasn’t already worshiping where he was. If we aren’t listening to the Spirit where we are, are we going to listen to the spirit when some big change comes along? Most likely not.
So, the first thing we got to understand about calling is,
“Lord, what are you calling me to right now? Before I move forward to something that I think will be your calling or I long to be my calling in the future, Lord, am I listening to you right where I am? Am I worshiping you right where I am?”
That coat got thrown on Elisha. It’s kind of like Superman throwing his cape on somebody, or Spiderman handing his web off, or Tom Brady handing his ball pump to the next quarterback. Like Jack Welch giving his GE secrets to the next CEO. That was a real casting of prophetic authority and power on Elisha, and Elisha knew exactly what it was, and Elisha was in a posture of worship to receive that call.
So, let’s apply that right where we are. How are you doing there? Do you have a sense of worship where you are? I was listening to Alan Scott this week as he talked about worshiping at work. And he referred to the athletes, he said, “I think we can learn something from athletes.”
You know how a lot of athletes when they score a touchdown or do a big play or even many of the Christians when they lose, they will do a Tebow, you know, and get down on their knees in the middle of the field. Or some of them – and I know they’re not all Christians pointing to God – but many Christians will point up to God, communicating the fact that all the athletic ability, all the opportunity, everything comes from one source, and I want to make sure to give glory to God.
Now some people can say, “Well that’s showboating,” or “my personality is different.” I get that – we’re all different. But think about it. What would it be like doing what you currently do to visibly in some way or verbally in some way reflect glory for what you do every day? But you’re a civil engineer, let’s say. So, you have gifts and training to be able to design infrastructure, which if we don’t have it, nobody notices it until it fails. And so, let’s say you’re hired to design storm management for a large facility. You design water flow and parking and storm drainage and retention ponds. You get the whole project done.
In the very first massive thunderstorm occurs right after you’ve finished the projects. You drive to the location. You pull into the parking lot. It’s pouring rain and you watched the rain go down the parking lot, as you designed it to go. It’s going down, and it’s going in drains, and it’s going down pipes, and it’s not flooding the neighbors down the hill. Their homes are not getting flooded. It’s going in a retention pond, and it’s retaining until it flows out at a reasonable rate. So, you’re out in the parking lot, running through the rain, giving glory to God.
And if you’re a soccer player, you may take off your shirt to show those cool abs, which most of us should not do, less we gross other people out. So, what is it with you? How can you, doing what you currently do, verbally, visibly make sure glory goes to God for the gifts and abilities he’s given you that don’t just earn money, which is a blessing, but like that civil engineer, is blessing so many of his neighbors, using his abilities or her abilities? And I’m looking around, I can see teachers, company managers, and accountants, and editors, and just moms, who are changing diapers to the glory of God, investing in future generations to the glory of God. So, do you have a sense of calling where you are? Can you say,
“God, I don’t like everything I do.I don’t know who anybody who does like every single thing they do, but I know you’ve put this before me, so glorify your name and bless my neighbors. I want to worship you right where I am.”
And if you can’t think of verbal, visible ways to give glory to God where you are, consistent with your own personality, like you don’t want to run across the parking lot when it’s raining and slide on your knees like soccer players do because it’ll probably rip your knees up, but whatever you do, finding a way to appropriately give God glory. That’s what we mean by start where you are.
Number two: decide what you want. Look at verse 20.
“And he [Elisha] left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother and then I will follow you.”
And Elijah said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?”
It’s another one of those parts of this tiny passage that is so confusing.
What is going on here? It’s so amazing that Elisha’s first response is he left his oxen, he ran after Elijah. So, implied in that is Elijah just walked up, threw his cloak on him, and kept walking. No time wasted.
And Elisha is, you know, like “Whoa, oxen, I don’t have time for you. Got to go.” And he goes after Elijah and he says, “Listen” – apparently he understood exactly what just happened – he said, “but I really want to go, say, kiss my mom and dad goodbye.” And Elijah responds, “No, go back again, for what have I done to you?”
Now some people go to Luke 9, and you know the passages where Jesus confronted the undecided followers who said, “You know I’ll follow you, but I want to have a nice house. I’ll follow you, but I want to have lots of time with my family, and I want to have a plan so that if this doesn’t work, I can come back,” and Jesus nails it when he says, “No! Are you with me or not?”
Is that what’s happening here? No, I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. In verse 20, when Elijah said, “Go back again, for what I’d done to you?” it almost sounds, if you take those words literally, Elijah is lamenting what he just did to Elisha, like “You used to be a good farmer, and I wanted you to be a good prophet, but now you’re neither! What have I done to you?” Is that what he’s saying? Lamenting the fact that you’re caught in the middle, you’re sitting rather uncomfortably on a fence. I don’t believe he’s doing that.
There’s some real textual and historical evidence that Elijah is using an idiom. Are you familiar with that word? Not idiot, idiom. An idiom is a way of saying things that does not follow or flow from the actual or individual words. It’s like if somebody says to you, “you got to bite the bullet.” What are you talking about? Biting bullets. I’m going to hit the sack. I’m feeling under the weather. Is it possible to not be under the weather?
The Latin Vulgate and numerous older commentators loosely translate this Hebrew idiom quote, “you’re free to do as you please.” Like an American idiom that is similar would be “the ball’s in your court.” “You’re in the driver’s seat.” And Elijah seems to be saying to Elisha, “Bro, this is on you.”
That’s what he means by “what have I done to you? This isn’t me. This is God’s call, and it’s on you. I just threw that mantle on you! And this is on you in the sense that you need to do what you need to do!
So, go back again.” And this is why this is a big point. Compliant people can at times follow with either not really thinking through the implications of their following and, therefore, hesitating later, or following in a way that allows them to have an out if it doesn’t go well. I’m following but it’s only because of my family. I’m following because people put pressure on me, but I didn’t really mean it.
And so, Elijah’s saying,
“No, dude, this is your call from God, and you got to go back again and decide what you’re going to do. Decide what you really want.”
This is sound advice. This isn’t Elijah questioning the call. This is “Dude, get alone, ask yourself some really tough questions. Talk to friends and family. Seek wise counsel. Decide what you really want. Do you want to follow God’s call?” Because we can glamorize this, but remember Elijah has a price on his head! Elisha is being called to leave his million-dollar farm and follow a potential dead man! To lose it all.
And so, Elijah is basically saying, “Hey, take time. Think about what you really want.” And this is perhaps the most difficult part of calling, like asking ourselves, first of all, “Did I hear your voice clearly, God? Is this consistent with your word? Are you really speaking to me?”
And then secondly, “Am I aware of what’s happening in my heart?” If I’m running from something or thinking I’m running to something, delusionally, I need to know what’s going on in my heart. So, get quiet. Get Alone.
I love what Parker Palmer talks about when he talks about our own souls. He compares them with a wild animal. Listen to what he writes,
“The soul is like a wild animal – tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out.
But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of the tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.”
Think about that. He’s talking about our souls. They’re like wild animals in the sense that you’re not going to kick the door down and find your soul. Ask, “What am I really fearing here? What am I really wanting?” There is so much complexity and duplicity to what’s happening inside of us, right? So, in a sense, Elijah is saying, “Dude, go take time. Examine your own heart. Listen to God. Get some counsel from other people, and evaluate, where are you on this?”
This is really sound counsel. Proverbs 20:5 says the same thing with a different illustration.
“The purpose of a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”
Like a wild animal or like deep water, you’re not going to be able to look on the surface and know exactly why you’re doing something or what you’re after. Slow down. Listen carefully. Psalm 37:4,
“Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
That’s what we’re praying for is “Lord, I think I understand what you want. I want to bring my wants in line with your wants so that you will give me what I want. That’s really what I want. I want what you want. I don’t always know what I want, so I want to hear what you want, and I want to line up under what you want so that I can move forward in faith with confidence.” That’s what I mean by “decide what you want.” It’s not a selfish “I just want what I want.” It’s a “Lord, I want to delight in what you delight in, so when I move forward, I’m following you with all that is in my heart. I’m wanting the same thing.”
And that leads us finally to: Go all out. Verse 21:
“And he [Elisha] returned from following him [Elijah] and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.”
That is bridge burning. Do you know what I mean by “bridge burning”? He is all in. He holds a farewell feast. The family celebrates his big sendoff. The possibility of going back to his oxen farming is removed because the oxen are the dinner. And he moves forward to assist. Notice at the end of verse 21 “assist Elijah,” and you know what that means? If you look forward to 2 Kings 3:11 when Jehoshaphat was looking for a prophet, and Jehoshaphat’s servant said,
“Hey, you know maybe you want to get Elijah. He is [and he says it this way] He is the one who poured water on the hands of Elijah.”
So, he went from being this big farm owner-manager guy to pouring water on the hands of Elijah. It’s not too glamorous. If you keep on reading, you’ll see what God is going to do through Elisha, but for right now, I think we can pull at least these three lessons from this little text.
One of my favorite examples of a second calling is a man by the name of Charles Mully. Mully was an orphan at age 6, begging for food, walked over 43 miles from where he lived to Nairobi, Kenya. In order to get work, he took any job he could get a hold of and worked his way up to a farm supervisor, and married Esther. They had eight children, started buying and building businesses to the point he became a millionaire.
So, orphan to millionaire. Rags to riches. But in 1989 God spoke to him. The mantle fell on him and said,
“Sell Everything. Sell everything and rescue orphans like you were.”
And he did. Now when I was watching that part of the movie about a year ago, that part was driving me crazy because inside I’m thinking, “Dude, keep your businesses.” They’ll finance rescuing orphans, and there’s obviously a place for that because God uses business, right? Every day more children are fed through business than any other means combined. So that’s not a bad thing at all. But God had a very specific call for Mully, and he would fulfill that calling in a very specific way, which required him to eliminate everything. And he did.
Today Mully Children’s Family (MCF) has almost 3000 children living in their homes. They have schools, hospitals, farms, businesses run by, in many cases, the orphans who had been rescued. Since 1989, Mully and his team and family have rescued over 23,000 orphans.
One man, heading in one direction. God saying, “I’ve got a different call for you now. Are you willing to follow me?” So, what is the Spirit of God saying to us today? Again, I think he’s speaking in very specific ways.
Let’s review: Worship where you are. Be where you are. The Spirit of God is speaking to some of us saying, “Listen, I don’t want you to even think about a second calling right now. I want you to embrace the calling I have given you. Will you worship me where you are with gratitude, with diligence, with creativity?” I think he’s saying that to many of us.
Secondly, he’s speaking to others of us, calling us to decide what we want. Are our wants, are our goals, our objectives, our desires, our affections – are they consistent with what God is up to. Because if we’re saying, “God, I believe you may be calling me over here to do this,” have we taken time to say, “God, unite my heart with your heart so I want what you want.”
Are we willing to slow down, count the cost, ask our Father to open up our heart? It may be for some of you, taking a half a day off or a day off and going up to Lake Robinson with your Bible and your prayer journal and just saying, “God, I need to hear your voice. I’m flopping around in no man’s land here, going nowhere fast, feeling pulled in multiple different directions. I really need to get clarity.”
I think some of us are there. And then others of us have heard his call, but one foot is on the dock and the other foot is on the boat. And the boat is pulling away from the dock. And you’re not a good gymnast, so at some point, that is not going to end well.
Are you willing to go all out? Are you willing to take a big step? For some of us here, that’s going to mean some bridge burning. That means pulling away from a friendship that is so toxic and keeps yanking us back into junk, or for others of us, it’s saying, “This craving for security. Lord, I got to let that go. I’ve got to follow you in what you are calling me to do.”
So, where are you? What is the Spirit saying to you? You’ll notice in the bottom of your notes, there’s a place to respond. I would like us to be willing to take just a moment and do that right now. For some of you, I know we won’t have enough time to fully write that out, but for some of you, the Spirit of God has specifically spoken to you and to even right now, jot out a quick prayer to remind you that once you go from here and you start getting caught up with other things you may forget. So, let’s just take a few minutes right now, quietly before the Lord, hear his voice.
Don’t try to respond to everything. Try to respond to something that the Spirit of God has spoken to you about. Let’s pray individually and write that prayer.
Father, it is so ironic that when we begin to hear your voice of love, gentleness, confidence arises within us that we are yours, that the response is boldness. When you fill us with confidence from you, humble dependence on our Father, an awareness of your love and your forgiveness, You actually fuel us to go out and love others and be light in this world in crazy ways. We can burn the oxen if you’re calling us to do that. We don’t have to fear: oh no, this is not going to work out. We’re going to be in a desperate condition. We can move forward with confidence because our confidence is in you.
We thank you, and, Lord, I pray that for my brothers and sisters that we would go from this place today with our eyes fixed on you, our faith fully in your Son, fueled by your love, with a heart for this world. Empower us and send us out with your peace, and show us the specific ways you are calling us to live out what you have taught us from Elisha’s call. We pray in Jesus’ name.