1 Kings 19:19-21 – No Turning Back, No Turning Back…

Posted: March 8, 2019 in 11-1 Kings

1 Kings 19:19-21

The Call of Elisha

Today’s passage, 1 Kings 19:19-21, reminds me of this journey that I am on now in full-time ministry. I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was 39 years old, a late bloomer compared to some, particularly when you consider that I was born into a preacher’s household. Regardless, though, there came a time when I had to make a choice rather than just talk about going into full-time ministry.

In my previous job, it was safe and secure. I had that job for 10 years. I was the chief financial guy for the buy/resale division of a global telecommunications and electronics company. Our division bought all the electronic goods manufactured by our foreign sister companies that were not manufactured here by our US group. We then resold all those goods here in the US market. It was a great job. Fujikura really took good care of us financially. We weren’t wealthy but we weren’t hurting at all. We were able to be generous to our church, our family and our friends. It was a time of great blessing that has played its part in helping secure our financial future.

During that time, we also began living more simply and were able to pay off debts except for our mortgage and some of my oldest daughter’s school loans. So we downsized our financial desires and were ready if the call to be in full-time ministry ever came. After finishing seminary, that’s when God decided that He was going to teach us patience. It was three years after finishing North Greenville University that the first offer for full-time ministry came. It was during that time that, I think, God was testing us to see if we would continue to live simply and to continue to serve at our local church where we had been in leadership and worked on staff as part-time volunteers and I for a while as a part-time paid employee. But yet all the while, I had my job at Fujikura that was blessing us in a mighty way financially. Although we were serving our church in so many ways on so many days, it still was not the full source of our income or the full focus of our vocation. We had the best of both worlds at that point. We had the comfort provided by a secular job and part-time fulfillment from serving the Lord whenever and wherever we could.

We talked about our desire to be in full-time ministry. We even talked over the three years after graduation from North Greenville about how I was frustrated that the call had not come. Finally, in December 2017, we began interviewing with Calvary Church here in the Quad Cities. After the third interview (an onsite weekend set of interviews here in the QC), the offer came. We then had to decide. The decision of a lifetime. Are we going to move from talking about full-time ministry to actually living it? Are we going to go and live in the Midwest when our family is back in the South (including our adorable granddaughter, Ralyn)? Are we going to begin living on about 40% of what we were making as income at my job at Fujikura? Are we going to really do this?

That was what I thought about this morning as I read 1 Kings 19:19-21 this morning about the commissioning of Elisha by Elijah. From these short three verses, we can surmise that Elisha had it going on financially. He may not have been a super wealthy farmer but he wasn’t doing too bad at all (in those days the more oxen you had to plow, the bigger your farm, the more money you made, the more oxen you could buy…you get the picture). He had a secure life if he had that many oxen and a big enough farm that required twelve teams of oxen to plow the fields. Not too shabby of a life, I imagine. He was doing alright. As the old song from the 80’s went, “my future’s so bright I gotta wear shades!” could have been his favorite song.

Additionally, from the way he reacts to Elijah, he must have been a man of faith. He does not turn down Elijah so there must be a deep well of thanksgiving to God in Elisha for the blessing of life he had been given. So, maybe, there had been thoughts already in Elisha’s heart (prompted by God) about “what if…” What if I was in full-time service to the Lord like that Elijah guy I have been hearing about?

Maybe, that was going on in his heart before this “God intersection” of his life and that of Elijah? As we have discussed before, the Bible does not record every minute of every day of the lives of biblical characters (including Jesus). As John says in John 21:25, “Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.” The same would be true for other biblical characters, we see their highlight and lowlight moments but we do not see all the moments. So, to me, the calling of Elisha is one of those highlights but I bet God had already been working in the heart of Elisha before that moment that made him ready for that moment.

Having said all that, Elisha comes to that decision moment. Are you going to do this? Or are you going to stay or are you going to go? It’s that rubber meets the road moment. What are you going to do? That’s the thought that ran through my head as I read this passage – how Elisha had that moment of where any talk that was going on within him was over and it was decision time and how that is similar to my own life. Let’s read the passage together now:

19 So Elijah went and found Elisha son of Shaphat plowing a field. There were twelve teams of oxen in the field, and Elisha was plowing with the twelfth team. Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak across his shoulders and then walked away. 20 Elisha left the oxen standing there, ran after Elijah, and said to him, “First let me go and kiss my father and mother good-bye, and then I will go with you!”

Elijah replied, “Go on back, but think about what I have done to you.”

21 So Elisha returned to his oxen and slaughtered them. He used the wood from the plow to build a fire to roast their flesh. He passed around the meat to the townspeople, and they all ate. Then he went with Elijah as his assistant.

In this passage, we must understand that the cloak was the most important piece of clothing a person owned in the ancient Middle East. It was used as protection against the weather, as bedding, as a way to make a place to sit more comfortable, and as luggage. It could be given as a pledge for a debt. It could be torn into pieces to demonstrate grief. Needless to say, in that day and age, it was an important symbolic gesture. The moment of Elisha’s “anointing” happens not with a pouring of oil, but rather with the throwing of Elijah’s cloak. The precise cultural resonances of Elijah’s mantle-toss are lost to us today. It is unclear whether this was a recognized symbol of apprenticeship, a common custom among prophets, or a gesture unique to Elijah himself. In any case, Elisha seems to understand the significance of the move.

When Elisha slaughters the oxen that had previously provided his livelihood, he makes a powerful statement of vocational commitment. There is no going back to his former way of life. Elisha must be prompted to make this move, cued by Elijah: “Go back, for what have I done to you?” This statement may be a rhetorical rebuke, but it may also be a question for which Elisha, at least for himself, must provide a real answer. What claim does this call make on his life? What ties must he leave behind?

By killing his oxen, Elisha made a strong statement to follow Elijah. Without the oxen, he could return to his life as a wealthy farmer. It was decision time. He made it clear that he was going to go full-time into service to the Lord with Elijah. No turning back. He did not have any clue what his future with Elijah was going to hold. But he made the commitment to move into full-time ministry. He made sure that he could not come back to farming on breaks during “the Elijah tour”. He made sure that he did not have anything to come back to. The farm was done and he left it behind to others in his family I assume. It would no longer be his. He had no fallback. This was it. Full-time service to the Lord with Elijah.

I can identify with Elisha. We had a decision to make. It was this time last year – all the way to February 17, 2018, we could back out. But we did not. God had been working in our hearts for a long time to be in full-time ministry. So we walked away from our comfortable life in Upstate South Carolina. We sold the house. I quit my job at Fujikura. We had a day of sad and heartfelt tears as we walked away from our leadership positions at our previous church – big crocodile tears. We left our families behind. And we moved 850 miles away here to the Quad Cities. Like Elisha, we were going into this thing full on or not all. Elisha made sure that he could not fall back to his old farming life. We too have no home to return to in South Carolina. It was sold and another family lives there. My old job, someone else has it. LifeSong leadership, they have found others to fill our spots, I imagine, in that church’s leadership structure. Our families miss us but have adjusted to the distance between us. We are full-on in service to the Lord now. No turning back. No turning back.

The synchronicity of this scene in Elisha’s life with what Elena and I have been through in the same manner reminds me of the Christian song that has been around for a long, long time. It’s even in some traditional church hymn books. It has been done as well by numerous Christian contemporary musical artists over the years as well. It is often a song sung by children on children’s worship Sundays much to the delight of parents. Simply stated, it’s a timeless classic in the Christian world. Here are the lyrics:

I have decided to follow Jesus;

I have decided to follow Jesus;

I have decided to follow Jesus;

No turning back, no turning back.

Tho’ none go with me, I still will follow,

Tho’ none go with me I still will follow,

Tho’ none go with me, I still will follow;

No turning back, no turning back.

I have decided to follow Jesus;

I have decided to follow Jesus;

I have decided to follow Jesus;

No turning back, no turning back.

My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;

My cross I’ll carry till I see Jesus,

My cross I’ll carry till I see Jesus;

No turning back, No turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me,

The world behind me, the cross before me;

The world behind me, the cross before me;

No turning back, no turning back.

I have decided to follow Jesus;

I have decided to follow Jesus;

I have decided to follow Jesus;

No turning back, no turning back.

Many times in life we have those decision moments. To go full-on with God or to stay in the comfort zone. It does not have to be a choice to go into full-time ministry. It can be as to whether you are really going to follow Jesus or follow the world. We are living in a time in history now where being a Christian is no longer the default. In fact, Christians are being marginalized in our society by a growing secular and me-centered set of beliefs. The day is coming where we will have to choose between going along with the crowd (the more comfortable route) or standing firm in God’s Word no matter the cost (the least comfortable route).

Are you in? Are you all-in? Now is the time to decide? Now!

Amen and Amen.

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