Elijah Series: Experiencing God's Call (1 Kgs 19:19-21)
Experiencing God’s Call
Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen; he was near the twelfth pair. Elijah passed by him and threw his robe over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Please let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, then I will follow you.” Elijah said to him, “Go back! Indeed, what have I done to you?” Elisha went back and took his pair of oxen and slaughtered them. He cooked the meat over a fire that he made by burning the harness and yoke. He gave the people meat and they ate. Then he got up and followed Elijah and became his assistant.
1 Kings 19:19-21 (NET)
How can we experience God’s call? For many, they struggle with discerning God’s call for their vocation, how to serve their church, or even who to marry. For many discerning God’s call is a mystery that seems to elude them.
In 1 Kings 19, Elijah meets with God through a whisper on Mount Horeb and receives marching orders to anoint Elisha to eventually replace him as a prophet (v. 11-16). After that, he travels 160 miles from Mount Horeb to Abel Meholah where Elisha lived (v. 16, 19) and threw his robe on Elisha, which symbolized his call to prophetic ministry and to be Elijah’s apprentice. Elisha responds by saying goodbye to his parents, burning his farm equipment, slaughtering two oxen, and having a going away party, before following Elijah.
From considering Elisha’s call to ministry, we learn principles about experiencing God’s call for our lives, including common hindrances which can keep us from discerning that call and obeying it when we do.
Big Question: What principles about experiencing God’s call can we discern from Elisha’s call to ministry?
To Experience God’s Call, We Must Be Faithful in Areas God Has Already Called Us To
Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen; he was near the twelfth pair. Elijah passed by him and threw his robe over him.
1 Kings 19:19
In considering Elisha’s call, we must notice that he was called while plowing his field. His call did not come through a dream or mountain top experience, but simply while faithfully doing the work he was called to. Likewise, when considering God’s calling of people in Scripture, many, if not most, are called while faithfully doing their work. Ray Pritchard said it this way:
God called Moses while he was tending Jethro's flocks. He called David while he was tending his father's sheep. He called Nehemiah, who had a hugely important job as cupbearer to the king. He called Peter when he was a fisherman and Matthew when he was a tax collector. He called Elisha when he was plowing the field. We are far more likely to encounter God by getting out of bed and getting busy doing our job than if we stay in bed waiting for a dream or a vision.
In general, to know God’s will for our future, we must be faithful with what he has presently called us to. The student must be faithful with his studies, the parent with raising godly children, the church member with faithfully praying for and serving his church, the teacher with faithfully shaping and molding young minds. When we’re faithful with what God has called us to, he often will call us to more. In Luke 16:10-12, Christ said,
The one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and the one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you haven’t been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will entrust you with the true riches? And if you haven’t been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you your own?
Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever you find to do with your hands, do it with all your might...” Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people, because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward. Serve the Lord Christ.”
As we’re faithful with what we know God has called us to do, he often opens the door for more or reveals the next step. No doubt, Elisha was one of the faithful remnant that God had preserved in Israel. He had faithfully run his farm, being a light to his family, servants, and neighbors. God saw that and called him for more; just like he saw David faithfully shepherding sheep and called him for more.
As we consider this, we must ask ourselves, “Are we being faithful with what God has already told us or assigned to us? Are we serving with the right attitudes and with all our might as unto the Lord?” As we’re faithful with our little, God often calls us for more.
Application Question: Why is being faithful to God’s revealed will so important for experiencing further revelation from God (cf. Matt 13:12)? How is God calling you to be even more faithful in the areas he has already called you to—family, church, friendships, school, and work?
To Experience God’s Call, We Must Be Willing to Be Discipled and Disciple Others
Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen; he was near the twelfth pair. Elijah passed by him and threw his robe over him.
1 Kings 19:19
When Elijah found Elisha, he was plowing the field with twelve pairs of oxen. Elijah passed by him and threw his robe over Elisha. Placing his robe on Elisha was a tremendous symbolic act, which meant Elisha was going to be trained by Elijah to replace him. In 2 Kings 2, when Elijah is taken to heaven around ten years later, he leaves his robe for Elisha as we would be Israel’s chief prophet.
Likewise, in experiencing God’s call, it is always a call to invest in and disciple others. While Christ ministered on the earth, like Elijah, he approached many people and called for them to follow him. Specifically, he chose twelve who he would spend most of his time with. They ate together, stayed in the same lodging, traveled together, prayed and worshiped together, and did ministry together. Throughout Christ’s three years, he invested in them so they could essentially take on his mantle—so they could minister to the world. When Christ ascended to heaven, he told them to go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them everything that he had commanded (Matt 28:19-20). This is still God’s call on our lives. We are called to share the gospel with people, disciple them by teaching them what we have learned from Scripture and through our experience with walking with God. We are called to make disciples.
Now, certainly, like Christ, we must share the good news with all, but we must also invest most of our time and energy into a few. This is just logical because we are limited in time and capacity, but it’s also strategic. We should invest in those who are most faithful, so they can do the same with others. In 2 Timothy 2:1-2, Paul said this to his disciple, Timothy:
So you, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well.
Paul told Timothy to train faithful people who will likewise train others. It has often been said there are four generations of disciples in this passage: Paul, Timothy, faithful people, and others. Likewise, we must do the same. Yes, we should encourage, teach, and build up many, but we should invest the majority of our time in a few—the most faithful ones. Their faithfulness will be seen in the fact that they faithfully attend church, seek to consistently read their Bible and be involved in church activities. They try to be consistent with both their outward profession of faith and their secret lives. They aim to be the same on Sunday as on Monday. And because they are faithful with little, they will be faithful with much. They are the ones we should invest the most in.
No doubt, this was true of Elisha. His name means “God is salvation.” When God said to Elijah that he had preserved a remnant of 7,000 who had not worshiped Baal (v. 18), obviously, Elisha and his parents were part of that remnant. They had been faithful. God saw this and consequently called Elijah to disciple Elisha.
Therefore, as we consider Elisha’s call, we must be reminded that we are also called to be discipled and to disciple. It’s often been said that we all should have an Elijah and an Elisha (or a Paul and a Timothy). (1) With our Elijah, sometimes that relationship is manifested through one-on-one mentorship where we meet with one more spiritually seasoned than us for coffee, meals, and in general just sharing life together. (2) At other times, these relationships happen in small groups. Christ invested in the twelve by groups, mostly a large group of twelve but at other times just with three. (3) Also, as in Paul’s letter to Timothy, sometimes God will choose to disciple us through the faithful ministry of others whom we may never meet in person, through their sermons, writings, or simply their example. With our discipling of others, we might say to ourselves, “I’m a young Christian. I don’t know much. How can I teach someone?” The simple answer is, “Find someone who knows less than you and share what you know, even if that is a nonbeliever or a child.”
In experiencing God’s call, we must know it is always a call to invest in others and to allow others to invest in us. Elijah would mentor Elisha, but Elisha would also serve Elijah. There would be a mutual giving and receiving in the relationship. Discipling is part of God’s call on our lives; it is essentially the Great Commission. People should invest in us; we should invest in others, who in turn will invest into others. This is God’s plan to reach the world, and he has called us to be a part of that. To not do this because of apathy or busyness, is to reject God’s call.
It should be added that these types of relationships are not always easy. Christ became very frustrated with his disciples. He constantly challenged them for having little faith; in fact, one time he rebuked them by calling them an “unbelieving and perverse generation,” they were faithless just like the world (Matt 17:17). Our mentees will fail us and so will our mentors. Any relationships that we truly invest in (family, friends, or discipleship relationships) have the potential to hurt us. That’s the reason some never become vulnerable enough to begin these relationships. However, Christ opened himself and made himself vulnerable though he knew they would fail him. He was deserted by his disciples in his last hour and one betrayed him. But, they were worth the investment. Those who deserted him eventually repented and turned the world upside down by their witness. We must be faithful in this ministry, discipling and being discipled. It is part of God’s call on our lives.
Application Question: Who is your Elijah and who is your Elisha? How is God calling you to cultivate these types of relationships? What makes discipleship relationships so special and what makes them so difficult to find and cultivate?
To Experience God’s Call, We Must Be Willing to Sacrifice
He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Please let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, then I will follow you.” Elijah said to him, “Go back! Indeed, what have I done to you?” Elisha went back and took his pair of oxen and slaughtered them. He cooked the meat over a fire that he made by burning the harness and yoke. He gave the people meat and they ate.
1 Kings 19:20-21
Observation Question: What sacrifices did Elisha have to make to experience God’s call on his life?
Another aspect of God’s call of Elisha which must stand out is the great sacrifices that Elisha had to make to follow this call. Like Abraham having to leave his home, family, and property (cf. Gen 12), so did Elisha. Apparently, Elijah put his robe on Elisha and continued walking away from him. Therefore, Elisha immediately left his oxen to run after Elijah. He asked if it was OK for him to kiss his father and mother goodbye and then follow. Elijah responded, “God back! Indeed, what have I done to you?” (v. 20). Since Elisha leaves to speak to his family and make a sharp break from his vocation, it is clear that Elijah’s response was affirming. Therefore, the NLT translates Elijah’s response as, “Go on back, but think about what I have done to you.” Elisha needed to remember the special call of God on his life, so he wouldn’t be tempted to stay home when he visited with family.
There is a similar story in Luke 9 where a young man says he will follow Christ wherever he goes, but that he also first must say goodbye to his family. However, unlike Elijah, Christ gives this man a stern reply. Luke 9:61-62 shares this account: “Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say goodbye to my family.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” Christ essentially tells the young man if he went home, he was not fit for heaven. Why so sharp? It’s clear that for this young man if he returned home, he would not come back. The love of family and friends would be too much, and therefore, he would never return. This wasn’t the case with Elisha. He returned home not to get permission but to pay his respects to his parents. We are always called to honor parents (Ex 20:12), but after we are adults and supporting ourselves, we do not always have to obey our parents in everything (Col 3:20). Elisha was leaving his parents; he didn’t know when he would return, but it seemed clear that if he returned it would only be short-term.
The Cost of Family
Family was one of the sacrifices that Elisha gave up to experience God’s call, and many others must give it up as well. Following God at times may mean disobeying family expectations to go into a career field or ministry they don’t approve of. It may mean moving across the ocean and raising your children without them being significantly involved. This is difficult and not ideal, but some callings, some ministry fields, will demand a greater cost. For many, this will be too much and will keep them from accepting the call. However, in Luke 14:26, Christ said this about following him in general: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” To hate means that we must put Christ and his call on our lives before everything else including family. Now certainly this doesn’t mean we should love our family less. Following God means that we must love our family more; however, Christ and his call must be first.
As Elijah said to Elisha, “think about what I have done to you” (v. 20), we must remember what God has done for us when considering his call. He has saved us from eternal damnation through Christ’s death on a cross and his resurrection from the dead. He has called us to give our lives totally to him, so others may know God’s salvation as well. To faithfully obey God, we must remember the great cost Christ suffered for us.
The Cost of Career
But not only did Elisha have to willingly accept the cost of being separated from family to experience God’s call, he also had to give up his successful career and the comforts that came with it. The fact that Elisha was overseeing twenty-four oxen plowing a field means that he probably came from a wealthy family. He wasn’t a mountain man wearing camel clothes like Elijah. They had different backgrounds. Elisha was now going to give up his wealth to follow an itinerant preacher who seemingly had nothing, and because of that, God often had to provide food for him miraculously. God provided food through ravens, then later through a poor widow, and then through an angel. Elijah was living the “seek first the kingdom of God and everything will be provided for you” motto (Matt 6:33 paraphrase).
The Cost of Persecution
In addition to the cost of leaving his family and career, being a prophet was not in vogue during that time. They were being hunted by the leadership of Israel. Many were living in caves. By following Elijah, Elisha was giving up his security and taking on great risk, even to his life.
Even with all these clear costs, Elisha chose the difficult path of being the prophet’s apprentice in a very matter-a-fact fashion. He took the two pairs of oxen slaughtered them, burned their yoke, and prepared a meal for his family, friends, and workers. He essentially had a going away party, which demonstrated that he wasn’t coming back to his career.
Likewise, for many, following God’s call on their lives means giving up the creature comforts they once had and that many friends and family members enjoy. It is might mean trusting God with our children’s college education, retirement, and sometimes even with month-to-month expenses. It also may come with many more risks as some are called to cities and countries where Christian views are not welcomed and even despised. Certainly, each person’s call is different. But, even serving in prestigious positions, like in government, come with many temptations and sacrifices. Whatever God’s call, we must be willing to sacrifice to do it, including the giving up of some of our intimacy with family, the security of career and creature comforts, and embracing some risks for the kingdom. In Luke 14:27, Christ said this to potential followers, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
As we consider our sacrifices for Christ, we must remember the greatness of those sacrifices demonstrates to God and the world how much Christ really means to us. In fact, it has been said that “sacrifice is ‘the ecstasy of giving the best you have to the one you love the most.’” Ecstasy means that in some sense our sacrifices for God can in fact be a thrill for us—an enjoyment because they’re given to the one we love and esteem the most. Second Corinthians 9:7 says, “God loves a cheerful giver.” In context that is dealing with money, but no doubt that is true of other sacrifices we offer to God as well—home, country, career, family, and other things we hold dear. God loves a cheerful giver. In Romans 12:1, Paul said, “Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service.” Because of all Christ has done for us, it is only “reasonable” that we offer him everything—our jobs, comforts, families, and even our bodies. He deserves nothing short of our best.
As we consider the great costs that come with experiencing God’s call, we must remember that the great rewards of following God’s call far outweigh the cost. In Mark 10:28-31, Peter and Christ interact about the cost and reward of following Christ. It says:
Peter began to speak to him, “Look, we have left everything to follow you!” Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much—homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, fields, all with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
We must remember this as we weigh the costs and sacrifices of following Christ—being away from family, lacking creature comforts, and possibly encountering more risks including persecution, Christ said we will receive a hundred times more in this life and in the age to come eternal life. The rewards will far outweigh the costs. To experience God’s call, we must be willing to sacrifice.
Application Question: What are some of the costs which you struggle with most in considering God’s call or potential call on your life? How has God met your needs abundantly as you have followed God’s call in big or little ways?
To Experience God’s Call, We Must Be Willing to Humbly Serve Others
…Then he got up and followed Elijah and became his assistant.
1 Kings 19:21
Finally, we see that Elisha’s call was initially to be Elijah’s assistant. In 2 Kings 3:11, it says that he would pour water on Elijah’s hands (ESV). Elisha wasn’t leaving his wealth to start preaching to large crowds or doing miracles; he did things most people wouldn’t notice, and some would look down on. He served Elijah, fetching things for him, and washing his hands. Though minor, these would indeed lead to greater things. As mentioned, we will see Elisha again in 2 Kings 2. When Elijah is taken to heaven, he leaves his robe for Elisha. Elisha would receive a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, which led to him working miracles and being Israel’s chief prophet. However, Elisha’s greater ministry began with humbly serving Elijah—probably for around ten years.
This is one of the reasons many cannot experience God’s call. It’s because they’re not willing to humbly serve the Lord in places where they will not have the spotlight, and nobody will see them. This is even harder for people like Elisha who come from wealth and are probably used to having people serve them. No doubt, this is the reason that those God often uses greatly commonly come from the lower rings of society—fisherman, farmers, shepherds, etc.—who are used to serving others in minuscule ways. And when God calls somebody who might be considered great in society, he first humbles them greatly before he exalts them. With Moses, God took him from being a prince in Egypt to being a lowly shepherd, which Egyptians despised (Gen 46:34). God made Moses exactly what he despised and then exalted him to shepherd his people. God exalts the humble and humbles the proud (cf. Jam 4:6, 10, 1 Pet 5:5-6). Luke 14:11 says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 20:26-27 says, “whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.”
When following God’s call, often the way up is the way down. Elisha, as a wealthy man, lowered himself to serve Elijah, and later God exalted him. How is God calling you to humble yourself and serve others? God’s call always leads to humbly serving others, and the more God exalts us the more people we can serve.
Application Question: Why is it so difficult at times for people who zealously want to be used by God to humbly serve others, especially in minuscule ways? In what ways have you seen or experienced how faithfully serving others, even in minuscule ways, often leads to serving people in a greater way? How is God calling you to humbly serve others in this season?
How can we experience God’s call on our lives? From considering Elisha’s call to ministry, we can discern general principles about God’s call in general.
1. To Experience God’s Call, We Must Be Faithful in Areas God Has Already Called Us To
2. To Experience God’s Call, We Must Be Willing to Be Discipled and Disciple Others
3. To Experience God’s Call, We Must Be Willing to Sacrifice
4. To Experience God’s Call, We Must Be Willing to Humbly Serve Others
• Pray for grace to faithfully obey and serve God in the areas he has already called us to—our devotional time with God, serving our family and friends, being faithful in our studies or career, and serving the church—all for God’s glory
• Pray for opportunities to be trained and poured into by those more mature than us and for God to open opportunities to pour into others—whether that be one-on-one, in small groups, or by serving in various ministries
• Pray for grace to be willing and rejoice in sacrificially serving God and others
• Pray for God to speak clearly to his church—renewing his call on people’s lives or giving them new dreams and directions that will glorify him and bless many people.