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Tuesday
Jan162018

Ready for the Call of God

1 Kings 19:19-21.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 14, 2018.

There is this situation that we see in professional sports on draft day.  There is a big pageantry about who is going to be picked and who is going to “get the call” saying that they have been chosen.  Typically those who have put their name in the draft and have a very good chance will be sitting at home with their family waiting for just such a call.  I am not knocking the process, but rather, using it as a glimpse at how Christians can sometimes fall into the trap of doing a similar thing with the call of God.  Spiritually we can fall into the rut of sitting on our backside with our friends and family around us and waiting for God to call us to something great.

Today we are going to see that this is not how things work in God’s kingdom.  Those who are called by God are those who weren’t expecting it and they were not sitting around waiting for it.  This is true whether we are talking about the call to salvation, or whether we are talking about God calling us to a specific ministry or station of life.  Let us see that God calls us to be faithful in whatever He has given us.  Instead of looking past our situation today towards the hope of some “other glory,” we must keep our eye on the ball and learn to serve the purposes of the Lord that are right in front of us.  Being ready for the call of God is not about moving to the next level.  Rather it is about having a heart of faithfulness in everything that we have been given in life; regardless of how “great” it may appear to us.

In our short passage today we see God calling Elisha to become a prophet.  In this story Elisha represents what we want to be, a person who is ready when God comes calling.  But, let’s first make clear what is meant by the “call of God.”  The calling of God or the call of God upon a person is used to refer to God’s invitation to an individual to serve a purpose for Him.  There are generally multiple layers of God’s call upon our life that begin with those that are general to most everyone up to those that are highly specific and even rare.  The most basic level of the calling of God on our life is to become a faithful believer in Jesus who is the Savior of the World that God has sent.  Almost synonymous with this is the basic call to live our lives as Jesus would have us live it, or to honor God in how we live.  Colossians 3:17 says, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  Other general calls involve children heeding the authority of their parents, parents raising their kids for the Lord, and husbands and wives portraying the love between Christ and His Church.

However, there are times that God has a more specific calling that He gives to individuals.  In our story, Elijah had been the main prophet (not to say that he was the only one) and it is clear that he is reaching the end of his time on earth.  God calls Elisha to replace Elijah as a prophet to the nation of Israel in the 9th century B.C.  In real time, God speaks to Elijah, who then speaks to Elisha about God’s plan.  Yet, we should take notice of what Elisha is doing when Elijah shows up.

It is important to see that Elisha is not seeking to be a prophet.  He is not taking night classes on how to be a prophet, and neither is he following the prophet around like a groupie.  Elisha is clearly one of those 7,000 faithful believers that God had told Elijah about in verse 18 of this chapter.  He is not just faithful in that he refused to worship Baal and continued to worship the God of Israel.   He is also faithful to those general calls that God had put on his life.  We find him out in the field plowing with the oxen and eleven other teams.  It is enough for him to be a faithful servant of God within Israel, and faithfully serving on the family farm with his extended family.  It is also clear that Elisha comes from a wealthy family, in light of the previous drought and the large number of oxen plowing.  There are many who want to be a prophet so bad that they can taste it.  They study prophets and even seek them out and try to get them to notice them.   It is as if they are trying to call themselves.  This is a mistake and involves our flesh more than the Spirit of God.  It is our flesh that wants notoriety rather than faithfulness that gets no press.  Just as James warns people about seeking to be a teacher (because they will receive a stricter judgment), so we should recognize that desiring to be a prophet puts one in a similar position.  You do not want to be a prophet if God hasn’t called you to it.  “Calling ourselves” is not the proper way.  We must learn to be content with the calling that God has given to us, to simply live our life in honor to Jesus.  1 Corinthians 7:20 says, “Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called.”  Today, there is a general sense in which all who follow Jesus are prophets to this nation.  We are called to invite everyone to follow Jesus and receive God’s salvation.  We do this on behalf of God and for the benefit of the lost.  However, there are times when things come into our life out of the blue and we weren’t expecting them.  Yet, in those moments God may be calling us to serve in a different way, or at least an added way that is very specific and not general.

Technically Elijah doesn’t tell Elisha that he is called.  Instead he uses his mantle as a word picture that says it for him.  The mantle spoken of here would have been an outer cloak that typically still had the hair attached to it.  It was an article of clothing that was associated with kings and prophets, and was a symbol of their calling and authority.  When Elijah throws his mantle onto Elisha, Elisha knows immediately what Elijah means by it.  Now, as symbols go, we see in the Bible a tendency of humans (i.e. us) to be overly fascinated with the object rather than the truth that it represents.  Later, Elisha will be given the mantle of Elijah as Elijah is taken away from this earth.  But the mantle is not some kind of talisman that will ensure Elisha’s success, any more than the ark of the covenant could ensure the success of the wicked sons of Eli (see 1 Samuel 4).  Rather, the mantle points to the God of heaven who is calling a person and puts a heavy job upon them.  Those whom God calls, He has prepared spiritually.  He will also place His power and authority upon them in order to do the task at hand.  At this moment Elijah is still alive and the mantle still belongs to him.  But if Elisha will follow Elijah like the disciples followed Jesus, then the role of prophet will come to him in the proper time.  Thus Elisha has a decision to make.  He can keep the wealth of his family, the security of working a farm and not meddling in politics, or he can leave it all and follow Elijah onto Israel’s Top 10 Most Wanted list.

Elisha accepts the call, but wants to say goodbye to his family.  Note that no words have happened yet.  Elijah threw his mantle on Elisha and just kept on walking.  So Elisha runs to catch up with Elijah in order to explain that he will follow him.  Now this situation is somewhat reminiscent of a couple of verses in Luke 9:61-62.  This passage speaks of a person that was called to follow Jesus but said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”  Jesus replied by saying, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Typically the words of Jesus are presented in the sense of saying the guy failed for asking to say goodbye.  Thus Jesus is telling him he “failed the entrance test.”  We should be careful of jumping to that conclusion in light of our passage today.  Elisha is not rebuked and goes on to follow Elijah.  It is most likely that Jesus is not rejecting the guy, but rather warning him.  Family doesn’t always understand when God calls us to something out of the ordinary or general call of God.  Even family of Jesus thought that he was going crazy at first.  Yes, you can say goodbye.  But recognize that the pull on your heartstrings can put you in a situation of only half-heartedly serving God.  If you are going to go out into the field you need to plow looking forward.  Perhaps Jesus is even alluding to this passage.  God has nothing against family and saying goodbye.  However, good things can get in the way of a hard task that God calls us to.  Like Elijah, Elisha is about to become a hunted man that the Lord leads, who knows where, and for many years at a time.  Just as Israel followed Moses into the wilderness only to keep thinking about the things that they left behind in Egypt, and just as Lot’s wife looked back to the city of Sodom that she was leaving behind, so our hearts can get stuck looking backwards to things that we think were better.  The point is not about saying goodbye, but about where your heart is.  To follow god is not always easy, and is not always understood by others.  In the end we see that Jesus warns the man in Luke.  But Elijah let’s Elisha go back without any such warning.  In fact his retort is basically, “Do what you want, what have I done to you.”  Yet, even this phrase has a subtle and unsaid aspect to it.  It makes one think, just what has Elijah done to Elisha?  This subtle reminder points out what is at stake.  Do you want to be a prophet or not?

Elisha does go back.  But he slaughters the oxen that he plowed with and used their yoke and equipment as fuel to cook them.  In a sense he is burning his bridge behind him and sending a message to his family.  I’m done farming.  I will now follow the prophet of God.  Obviously with such expressions as “burn your bridge behind you,” the situation is glossed over.  The truth is that even when we “burn our bridges,” or as in Elisha’s case burn our oxen, there is a way back.  One can follow the river long enough to find another way to cross.  Elisha could return and his family would gladly receive him regardless of the oxen he slaughtered.  So with all symbolic gestures they are that, symbols.  The symbol has no meaning if the thing to which it points is not lived out.  Thus it says in verse 21, “Then he arose and followed Elijah, and became his servant.”

Becoming a prophet is not about having power and prestige in the presence of others.  The true prophets of God have always been hated by most of the people of their day.  It is only when they are dead that people tend to honor them and decorate their graves.  If we are to put the calling of God into a single word, it would have to be “servant, or service.”  A prophet served God as a voice to the people, and they served the people as a means of hearing what God thought about their life, king, nation, etc.  God does not call everyone to a specific task of being a prophet to their nation.  However, put aside what you think would be great.  Instead, focus on what God has given you in the present.  Jesus is inviting you to live your life for His purposes instead of your own.  Your relationships, job, etc. all can be a means of serving yourself, or a means of serving God.  When you are using these things to whole-heartedly serve Jesus, and you are content with the tasks that He has given you, then and only then are you truly ready to receive any further call from the Lord.  Let’s be a ready people.

Ready for the Call audio