The prophet Elisha’s call to ministry (1 Kings 19:19–21) is one of the most bizarre stories in the Bible (though the Bible doesn’t really major in mundane calls). Elijah shows up, throws his coat around Elisha’s shoulders, and keeps on walking. Elisha responds by throwing the barbeque of the year, cooking up all 24 of his oxen and even burning his plowing equipment. Then he runs after Elijah.
You see, Elisha had a good life, but God was calling him to something greater. But for Elisha—and for all of us—the path to “something greater” goes through the valley of surrender, sacrifice and service.
Surrender: Elisha walked away from his lucrative position as CEO of Elisha Farms, Inc., literally cooking his old way of life and having it for dinner. Elijah was his new master. There was no “plan B,” nothing to fall back on. Sacrifice: what had been Elisha’s foundation, his delight, his treasure source, was now the means by which he blessed others. Service: Elisha went from being the top dog to being an unpaid intern for a wanted man. For the next several years, Elisha would be doing menial tasks for Elijah—doing his laundry, making his breakfast, bringing him coffee.
This is not something unique to Elisha. Whenever God calls people in Scripture, they nearly always first go through a time of humbling. Moses is God’s man to liberate the Israelites from Egypt, but first he has to spend 40 years in the desert. David is anointed the next king over Israel, but he then spends the next few years in the wilderness, on the run from the homicidal maniac, king Saul.
In the kingdom of God, the way up is the way down. Most of us hate these times of humbling, but they are crucial if we ever expect to truly serve God. If we cannot be good employees, students, sons, daughters, and door-holders, we will never make great prophets. A lot of us need to quit worrying about where God has placed us, and worry instead about being faithful in that place.
Elisha illustrates exactly what Jesus said in Mark 8:34: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Not, “deny money,” or “deny illicit sex,” or even “deny sin,” but deny himself. That means saying “no” to all we want from life so we can say “yes” to all that God wants from it.
When he invites people to follow him, Jesus doesn’t hold back. “Taking up our cross” is hardly touchy-feely terminology. Crosses were symbols of oppression, images that evoked horror in the hearts of all who beheld them. It is the exact opposite of self-empowerment and upward mobility. But that is how Jesus calls us. Then as now, he promises: “Finding me is finding everything you’ve been searching for. But you have to be willing to abandon everything to follow me.”
What does this mean for us? The call to follow Christ will look a little different for each of us, but the common feature is that nothing will be off limits to God. Our lives will begin to take on the flavor of the surrender, sacrifice, and service of the cross.
God will lead some of us to be missionaries, and others to be bankers; some to take care of foster children; some to serve in prison ministries; some to lead a small group; some to simply take that step across the room to share Christ with their co-worker. But whatever it is, I can guarantee that following Jesus means that your life will take on the air of surrender, sacrifice, and service.
If you’re into power and personal fulfillment, become a Muslim. The head of Islam rode on a horse and conquered cities. But our Savior rode on a donkey and washed feet. He called himself a servant and died on a cross for those who had betrayed him. Which one commands your affection? Which one would you want to follow?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” He offers all of himself, but he requires all of us. All of his power, his grace, his forgiveness, his righteousness, in exchange for all of our sin, our shame, and our stubborn self-will. All of him for all of us: it’s a trade worth making.
For more, be sure to listen to this entire sermon here.