2020 VISION – PART 2b: GRASPING THE VISION
ELIJAH AND ELISHA
[THEIR RELATIONSHIP AND THEIR EXAMPLE TO US]
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (Ephesians 4: 11-12)
Our 2020 Vision is to see leaders equipping the people of the church through the “3 T’s” of “time, training and tools” so that each member of the church body might reach their full potential for Christ and might enter into the “works of service” to which they have been called. Leaders are to be looking for their successors. Leaders are to be looking to whom they can “pass the baton”.
Our 2020 Vision is to see the people of God earnestly desiring to take hold of leaders – to be “apprenticed” to them, learning from them, serving with them, rather than just sitting back and listening to them. It is to see the people of God rising up to “take up the mantle” of leadership whether it is eldership or putting out the chairs on a Sunday morning, singing in the Worship Team or making tea and coffee, preaching or praying – for ALL acts of service are necessary and of equal worth, and ALL of us are “ministers” of the Good News.
In this session we are looking carefully at how the relationship between Elijah and Elisha should be our example of how our 2020 Vision can be worked out. It is decidedly counter-cultural and so demands a real step of faith and paradigm shift of attitude to bring it about.
BIBLE PASSAGES TO READ
In order to understand, firstly, the way in which Elisha should be our example I encourage you to study the following chapters of the Bible:
1 Kings 19
2 Kings 2 – 6, 9 and 13
Two good family-friendly video clip that might help can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwJMTcCBoLs
B: ELISHA – OUR EXAMPLE IN “TAKING UP THE MANTLE” OF LEADERSHIP
ELISHA WAS A MIGHTY PROPHET OF GOD
2 Kings chapters 2-13 tell the incredible story of a mighty man of God – Elisha. We see a man used by God to bring healing to the leprous general Naaman; a man who took a small amount of food and with it fed a multitude; a man who prayed and water flowed to quench the thirst of the Israelite army; a man who raised a child from the dead; who brought blindness to the whole Syrian army; who advised kings and taught prophets.
But, he was not always like this you know. And he did not suddenly arise as if out of no-where. No! The story of Elisha is of a man who was called by God to follow a man – Elijah; to learn of him; to become his apprentice, his follower, his servant; until he was ready to take up the mantle and become everything that God had called him to be.
Let us learn from the example of Elisha how we should be equipped for ministry – to serve the Lord God Almighty.
JOINT RESPONSIBILITY IN PASSING THE BATON OF LEADERSHIP
Elijah was given the responsibility by God to anoint Elisha to be his successor as prophet of God. Leaders are given the responsibility by God to build up their people to service for God – effectively to “pass the baton” of leadership on to them.
But, Elisha had the responsibility to follow Elisha and to learn of him before he was ready to take up the role to which God had called him.
In the same way all of us have the responsibility to be ACTIVE participants in the task of becoming all that God has called us to be. We are not called to sit back passively and simply be taught what to do with our calling, or to wait passively until a “job” or “position” becomes vacant. We are called to actively join with those who are already leaders – learning from them by “doing” it with them – till we are truly ready to “take up the mantle” of our calling. And then…repeat…we are then to be the “Elijah” to the “Elisha” who will follow after us.
This is the Biblical pattern of passing the baton of leadership. This is the Biblical pattern of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers equipping God’s people for works of service that ALL may be built up to maturity in the faith.
And as we look at the life of Elisha we see the pattern, the example, of how we are meant to learn the role to which God has called us.
LET’S START WITH WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT ELIJAH AND ELISHA
Elijah was from an undistinguished town and had an undistinguished background. He was probably quite poor and well…undistinguished. He was – in human eyes – a nobody, but in God’s eyes (and it’s His eyes that count, is it not?) he was a somebody. His name – Elijah – means “my God is YAHWEH” – a powerful declaration of faith by this “nobody” at a time when most others were declaring (from the royal family downwards) “Baal is my god” – THIS is what distinguished him!
A natural depressive, who suffered from the belief that he was all alone, he had to be shown that it was not good for him to try to do all the work on his own and was commanded by God (as ALL leaders are so commanded) to:
anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet (1 Kings 19: 16)
Elisha was a bald-headed man (oh well! None of us are perfect!!!) from a wealthy (and probably highly-educated) background. In the eyes of the world this made him a “somebody”. But, in God’s eyes (and it’s His eyes that count, is it not?) he would have been a “nobody” if it was not for the testimony of his name: Elisha means “My God is salvation” or “God is my salvation” – a declaration that he depended totally on God for his life both now and in the future. God had His eye on him, and sent Elijah to him, and in a few short sentences we understand what he did to prove that he was worthy of his name:
He was ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. 20 Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. ‘Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,’ he said, ‘and then I will come with you.’
‘Go back,’ Elijah replied. ‘What have I done to you?’
21 So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the ploughing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant. (1 Kings 19: 19-21)
THE TWO ACTIONS OF ELISHA
- He slaughtered his oxen and burnt his ploughing equipment:
Symbolically this showed that he was WILLING to let go of all that was important to him up to this time – his job, his home and his wealth – anything that might get in the way of his becoming everything that God was calling him to be.
- He set out to follow Elijah and became his servant:
Here we see an active decision to make himself AVAILABLE to become everything that God was calling him to be…by following the one who was going to teach him, train him, apprentice him to take over the role of Prophet to which he had been called by God.
THE TWO ACTIONS THAT ARE NEEDED OF US
The challenge to us is that of Elisha.
Are we wanting to become the truth of the name that we have? Our name is “Christian”. Our name is “disciple”.
- Are we WILLING to let go of anything in our lives that might get in the way of our becoming all that God has in mind for us to be? This might be our job, our family and our wealth. The great Henri Nouwen, called by God, left behind a stellar academic career to go and work one-to-one with a severely disabled man – because this is what God called him to do – and he was WILLING to do whatever it took. Now are we being called to give up on the things that we have? Maybe…but maybe not. What is important is that we are WILLING to do so.
- Are we AVAILABLE to do what God is calling us to do to become equipped to be the person that God is calling us to be? Maybe God is calling us to be “anointed” to be the “successor” of the one who is already leading – be it as elder, deacon, preacher, Sunday School teacher, cleaner, coffee-maker of chair-putter-outer. Maybe it is not yet. What is important is that we are AVAILABLE. But…what does being “available” actually mean?
WHAT ELISHA HAD TO DO IN TO “TAKE UP THE MANTLE” – AND WHAT THIS MEANS FOR US
For Elisha, being available to succeed Elijah as the prophet of the LORD literally meant the following:
- He had to HEAR the calling of God through Elijah – out ploughing the field (doing his daily work) he could well have been too busy to entertain the great man, too busy with what he was doing to listen to what he had to say.
What about you, and what about me? Are we going to be constantly looking and listening to what God is saying – not just through His Word and through His Spirit, but through those who are leaders amongst us? This is counter-cultural – we are increasingly conditioned by society to NOT listen to others but to listen to our own feelings alone – which is often termed “post modernism”.
- He had to ACCEPT the calling of God on his life that came through Elijah. Yes – it was right for Elisha to be seeking God’s will for his life directly. But, he was willing to accept that the cloak that Elijah threw about him was the calling of God upon his life to make a big change right now. He had to trust that Elijah was a man of God and that God was speaking through him. But, even now he could have thrown the cloak (mantle) off and said that “this is not for me – I’ve got my life cut out for me and stretching out ahead of me”. Elisha trusted the MAN of God and accepted his calling to be his successor.
What about you, and what about me? Are we willing to listen to the voice of a man (or woman)? Are we willing to accept THEIR calling us to follow their lead? Are we willing to accept their call to come and learn of us and then succeed us in the work? This is counter-cultural – in a society where we do NOT listen to others but listen to our own feelings alone!
- He had to FOLLOW the one who gave him the call. Scholars estimate that for 8 years Elisha was called by Elijah to go with him where he went, help him in what he did, live alongside him, eat and sleep with him, stand with him when he challenged King Ahab over the killing of Naboth, be by his side when he told King Ahaziah that he was going to die. And Elisha wouldn’t stop following Elijah even when the master told him to do so! When Elijah knew his end had come he told Elisha to stop following him and Elisha replied time and time again:
‘As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.’ (2 Kings 2: 2)
What about you, and what about me? Are we willing to follow a man (or woman) who is leading and who is calling us to succeed them? This is hugely counter-cultural! We don’t, in our society, spend time – give up our time – in following a man. We have our own homes, our own families, our own hobbies and interests. The example of Elisha is to closely follow our Elijah! Are we truly willing to accept that this is what we might be called to do? And what would this look like in practice? I have for years been both challenged and awed by the attitude of the young man who told Terry Virgo – the founder of “New Frontiers” that he would not leave him alone but would bother him day and night till he had learnt everything that he needed to know. That young man succeeded Terry Virgo as the leader of New Frontiers (for more on this BIG issue see the notes at the end of this session).
- He had to BECOME A SERVANT to Elijah. Elisha willingly chose to do this. We are told that when Elijah called him:
Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant. (1 Kings 19: 21)
And what did this look like? We are later told:
‘Elisha son of Shaphat is here. He used to pour water on the hands of Elijah.’(2 Kings 3: 11)
Being Elijah’s servant meant more than simply doing what he was told to do. It literally meant looking after the needs of the great man! Doing menial tasks.
What about you, and what about me? Are we willing to become a servant to the one who has commissioned us to succeed them? This is TOTALLY counter-cultural! We live in a society where we will be no man’s servant! Are we willing to become counter-cultural in whatever form it takes (for more on this BIG issue see the notes at the end of this session)?
- He had to COPY his master and he had to PRACTICE the art of being a prophet of the LORD. Much of this is inference – but I consider it a pretty sure and certain inference. Elijah spent 8 years training his apprentice. 8 years of talking to him, discussing with him, showing him, telling Elisha to copy him and then practice – maybe in the “company of prophets” the lesson that he was learning.
What about you, and what about me? Are you willing to copy the example and methods of the “master” whom God has set over you? Again, this is counter-cultural. We don’t like to emulate others (unless they are distant heroes like football stars and pop stars) – in the words of Frank Sinatra we want to do it all “my way”
- He had to HAVE A BIG VISION. God (I believe) gave Elisha a passion to be the best he could possibly be in succeeding Elijah. So we are told that when he knew that Elijah was about to go to Heaven, he asked him:
‘Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,’ (2 Kings 2: 9)
And his request was granted – as can be seen when you look at Elisha’s ministry AFTER Elijah had gone to Heaven – the written record is of him doing so much more than Elijah ever did!
What about you, and what about me? Are you willing to get alongside the one who has called you to succeed them and ask them to ensure that you become twice as effective as ever they were?
- He had to finally TAKE UP THE MANTLE AND ENTER INTO HIS MINISTRY. Refusing to leave Elijah he witnessed the incredible spectacle of Elijah being taken up to Heaven (2 Kings 2: 11). He then literally took up the mantle that fell from Elijah – this symbol of the ministry to which he was now succeeding. And trusting in God and well-prepared by the man who had been his master for many long years, he struck the River Jordan with the cloak with a cry of:
‘Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ (2 Kings 2: 14)
And the company of prophets knew that the baton had finally been passed as they declared:
‘The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.’ (2 Kings 2: 15)
It was time for Elisha to finally walk into the fulfilment of his calling.
What about you, and what about me? Are you ready for that day when it is time for you to enter into the calling that God has called you to?
CONCLUSIONS AND CHALLENGES
In the story of the relationship between Elijah and Elisha we see the Biblical principle of how leaders are called to build up their successors to ministry through teaching and example. And we see the Biblical principle of how God’s people are called to apprentice themselves to leaders in order to “learn their trade”, to become ready to have the baton of service and leadership passed on to them.
We saw in Elisha a man who was willing to “do what it takes” to become the man God had called him to be; a man who was willing to follow and serve and not let go of the man whom God had called to teach him and prepare him. In the fulness of time Elisha was ready to take up the mantle that Elijah left behind and embarked upon a life of service (maybe) even greater than that of his master.
Here are the challenges for us – and they are counter-cultural challenges – they demand a paradigm shift in how we see things and do things:
- Are you willing and available to take up the baton of service and leadership from those already working hard for God?
- Are you willing to follow, learn from and even serve the one whom God has caused to prepare you?
- Are you prepared for a (perhaps) long period of preparation before you are finally released into the role for which God has called you?
Let us learn the lesson of Elisha!
FOR FURTHER STUDY ON YOU OWN OR IN HOUSEGROUPS
The example of Elisha, and his relationship as apprentice to his master Elijah, is counter-cultural. This is not how we “do things” these days. Elisha literally left his home, family and work and literally followed Elijah wherever he went and literally lived with him, ate with him and served him as he learnt from him.
- How do we feel about the whole concept of following a man/woman and becoming (as it were) their disciple? Is it Biblical? Do we do this kind of thing these days?
- How do we apply the lessons of Elisha to our cultural ways today? Can we REALLY follow, live with and serve a “master”? Is it actually practical? What might it look like today?
- How can we prepare those who are called to be our successors?
- How do we know who our successors are meant to be?
- What about “training”? Elisha learnt from Elijah how to be a prophet of the LORD. Nowadays we have media, training courses and colleges, on-line study guides. How do these fit into the Elijah-Elisha relationship method?