Pastor G spends four weeks covering a few of the highlights of the prophet Elisha. He pulls out examples of how we can live our faith lives based on the experiences of Elisha.
This is week 1 of 4: “Burn The Plows”
We’re starting a new series today about Elisha. Week one is called Burn the Plows and Cook Some Cows. – “Hit Me Wit It G! I’m Ready!” Let me give you a little bit of context. Let’s talk about who Elisha was, then we’ll look at our text, then I’ll tell you where we’re going in this series, then we’ll dive in. Now, some people get Elisha confused with Elijah. The names sound very similar, they hung out together and Elijah was one of the great prophets of the old testament, bold, daring, full of faith, just like Elisha. We spent four weeks talking about him right before this series. In fact, Elijah was the mentor, the life coach, the disciples, of Elisha and Elisha wanted to be just like Elijah. In fact, Elisha was bold enough to ask for a double portion of Elijah’s anointing from God, and God, in His sovereign will, said yes. He gave Elisha, who studied under Elijah, a double portion of this anointing of a prophet. And Elisha actually performed more recorded miracles in scripture than anyone, with the exception of Jesus. Elisha’s story is a story of crazy, bold faith!
What’s interesting about Elisha is he was a very ordinary guy. He wasn’t the son of a priest, he wasn’t a monk, he wasn’t some sort of outward spiritual giant. He was just an ordinary guy who was living at home with his parents, working on a farm when God called him to do something incredible. The context is he lived during the 9th century B.C. in a time when Israel was divided. There was tremendous tension. You may remember from our series last month that many people were worshiping the false gods of Baal and Asherah.
God raised up this ordinary guy, Elijah, and did something extraordinary through his life and then God told Elijah to go find Elisha and anoint him as a prophet as well. So, today we are just going to look at 1 Kings, chapter 19:19-21
So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. 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?” So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing 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
Now, take this in. Elijah came and threw his cloak around Elisha, (we’ll talk more about that in a minute) and that simple act is all it took for Elisha to slay his pair of oxen, burn the plow to roast the oxen, and give the meat to his neighbors.
All he wants to do is kiss his parents goodbye before he follows Elijah on an unknown path of adventure. Turn to your neighbor and say “This is the beginning of a story of crazy faith.” Let’s jump back to verse 19 again, the middle of the verse where it tells us what he was doing. Scripture says that Elisha was plowing with 12 yokes of oxen and he, himself, was driving the 12th pair. What we’ll notice is he was doing the same job he had been doing for a long time. He was working on his parents’ farm, and he was driving a yoke of oxen. Think about the monotony of that job. Think about how boring it would be like to walk behind the plow behind a yolk of oxen every single day.
Think about this. What do you smell? You smell oxen residue. What do you see? What is your scenery every day if you’re behind a pair of oxen? Oxen rears. Oxen tails. Oxen behinds. Oxen backsides. Oxen hineys. Not a pretty sight. Especially during oxen residue removal time right? Now, some of you may feel a little bit like Elisha. You’re not looking at oxen rears, but you’re doing the same thing day in, day out. And it gets really really monotonous. You’re going to the same job, working with the same people and you’re like, “I feel like I’m staring at oxen rears.” Do not call your coworkers “oxen rears.” That is not what I’m saying. But that’s the way you feel. Some of you, you may be in sales and it’s just day in, day out. You make your quota and it starts over again and you make your quota and it starts over again. You’re like, “This is so monotonous. All I ever do is try to live up to some standard and then it starts over again.”
Some of you, you might be students and you think, “What do I do? I study and I study and I study and I take tests and then it all just starts all over again.” This of you working other kinds of jobs, you feel like it really is true: (PASTOR GREG SINGS) Everybody’s workin’ for the weekend! —- You are like, man, I just work to pay the bills. I work to bring money in and then all the money goes right back out. Day after day. Month after month. I see oxen rears and oxen residue everywhere I look. Those of you that are parents, what do you see all day long? Diaper, laundry and dishes, diaper, laundry, and dishes. It’s incredibly easy to lose your passion in life when all you see is oxen rears. Right? All day long.
Those of you who are retired, you see your spouse all day long or your neighbors or your golfing buddies or your swimming buddies or whatever all day long, and sometimes, just sometimes, they seem a little like oxen rears yeah? And this is where Elisha was. But I want you to notice he was being faithful in the task at hand. And I believe with all my heart that God loves to reward those who are faithful in the little things. When you’re faithful with a little, he can trust you with much. And Elisha, even though it might not have been the favorite thing to do, even though it could have been incredibly draining physically, emotionally, mentally boring, even mind-numbingly dull, he was faithful. And in the middle of his faithful daily routine, God sent something new to take him from where he was into a place of incredible impact. Look at verse 19 again, it says,
”Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him.” ~ 1 Kings 19″19
Now, what in the world does that mean? What is the big deal? Why does Elisha react in such an extraordinary way to this simple act? Well, Elijah’s cloak would have been a kind of coat made of animal skin or fur. This was his covering. And what Elijah did was he took his covering, and he put it on Elisha and basically, symbolically saying, “that which covered me will now cover you. That which was the mantle on me will now be the mantle on you. That which I was under, now you will be under. You will be my student; I will be your mentor. As God has been working through me, now God is going to work through you.” As I have been covered by the call and by the Spirit of God, you too will now be under the same covering and under the covering of my leadership. Now, I want to apply this story to your life and show you two principles of incredible commitment, and watch how the ordinary man Elisha responds to this extraordinary call. Two principals if you’re taking notes.
TWO PRINCIPLES OF INCREDIBLE COMMITMENT
1) You don’t have to understand fully to obey immediately.
God calls Elisha to follow Elijah and he’s not going to know all the details. When God calls you to do something, you don’t have to understand all the details to obey immediately. You don’t have to understand fully to obey immediately. Look at verse 20, here’s what happens. First Elijah puts the cloak around him, then in verse 20, the bible says then he immediately ran after Elisha. He simply said,
“Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye and then I will come with you.” ~ 1 Kings 19:20
Notice this: He didn’t have to pray about it. Oh, did a pastor just say that? He didn’t have to pray about it first? Right. He didn’t have to do a list of pros and cons first before he decided whether or not to do this thing he had just been called by God to do. He didn’t have to list out: “Here are the reasons why I should and here are the reasons why I shouldn’t.” He didn’t have to consult his counselor. All he did was said, “God, I believe you’re in on this. I don’t know the details but since YOU called me, I will obey immediately.” You don’t have to understand fully to obey immediately.
Now, if I can take a quick rabbit trail down a leadership thought, I want to give this to you because this could apply to some of your life as leaders. People ask me all the time “Greg, what’s your five-year plan for Waikoloa Community Church?” And I love strategic planning. I think it’s wise to think ahead but my answer has changed.
In the past, I used to always have a five-year plan in my professional life as a pastor but what I have noticed is the world is changing so rapidly, so quickly, there is no way for me to project ahead five years all the divine opportunities God is going to send our way. So I have totally and completely stopped making five-year plans. I honestly don’t plan more than 18 months out in advance for the church. Instead of planning for the future, what I do is, I plan to respond in the present. I want to be immediately able to respond to the voice of God, to opportunities that I am not smart enough to predict. I want us to have financial margin to be able to seize opportunities that we did not plan for. I want to have margin in our leadership and margin in our times, and margin in our family so we can jump on divine opportunities that we are not smart enough to predict.
I don’t know how this would speak to you but I believe with all my heart if you will get in a posture of spiritual readiness, you can’t plan what God might do a year from now, but if you’re ready, you can obey immediately when the time comes even if you do not understand fully what God is asking you to do. I want to be ready to say “yes” immediately to anything God tells us to do. And here’s the way God will lead you. God will rarely give you details. I believe God is often intentionally, strategically vague in his directions. You and I want lots of details, and I believe God looks at us often and says like Jack Nicholson in a Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the details. If I showed you everything, you wouldn’t show up. So I’m just showing you the next step. Just take the next right step.” God often will guide us even with just one word. I love the power of this. Just one word sometimes is all God will give, and that needs to be enough to go on.
In the Old Testament, whenever God was giving Moses direction, you could summarize the directions in one word. “Moses, go.” “Go.” “Abraham, go.” “Go. Go to the land I will show you.” Recently on a Sunday we talked about this. Remember Peter? Jesus was walking up on water. Peter was like, “Hey, that’s awesome. Jesus is walking on the water. Far out man! Jesus, if that’s you, tell me to come.” And Jesus gave him one word. What was the word? He said “come.” One word. Peter didn’t know the details, but Jesus gave him a command, so he obeyed. And he got to walk on the water with Jesus. Don’t you wish you could walk on the water with Jesus? If you always obey even when you don’t know all the details you might just get the chance. You never know.
Some of you, you may hear one word from God; I don’t know what it will be, but in your marriage, maybe you’re struggling right now and you’re thinking about cashing it all in, and you hear one word and that one word is “stay.” And you don’t have to understand completely to obey immediately. You just stay. Some of you, you might have a health situation and it doesn’t look good, or maybe you are concerned for the health of someone you love, and God gives you one word and it’s “trust,” and you hang on that word and you obey and you trust. Some of you, you’ve got an idea, some business idea or a ministry idea or a book idea and you’re like, “How are we going to pay for it”, and “Where do I even begin” and “I don’t understand what to do next.” And God gives you one word and that word is “start.” You don’t have to understand immediately. Just obey and start.
Some of you, you’ve been hanging around the church for a while and you’re kind of starting to grow with God but you’re still observing. And God may just give you one word, “commit.” Commit. Don’t just watch what God is doing, don’t wait until you think you have all your questions answered. Get involved now. Commit and trust. Some of you may be praying about the future of your family and you hear one word, maybe it is the word “adopt” or “foster.”You’re like “wait, wait, what age and from where, domestic or international? Boy, girl? I don’t understand.” You don’t have to understand everything to take the next step. Just obey and trust. Maybe you are a great single girl or a great single guy right now and you’re dating a jerk, a loser, a punk. Girls can be punks too. Not just guys. Everybody knows it and God may give you one word and when He does, you need to obey. What is God’s one word? “Break up with the jerk.” Ok, that’s five words, not just one, but maybe you NEED to hear five words instead of one because you are too special to settle for a fixer-upper punk like that. Break up. Don’t settle for less than you deserve. Don’t settle for less than God has in store for you. You don’t have to understand everything to do what God tells you to do. Right?
When Annette and I lived in North Carolina, we were in between pastoral positions for a year and we were serving as full-time volunteers in pastoral ministry at a church. We loved the church but we needed some income as well. So I was applying to other churches around the country. I finally was offered a position at a church in Colorado, where I had always dreamed of living one day, ever since I was fourteen years old.
The night before we were to take a plane flight to seal the deal with this church in Colorado, the church in North Carolina had an emergency meeting of their leadership and called us at 10 pm and asked us to stay. They wanted to hire both of us as paid staff there. Again, one of my life goals was to live in Colorado. I had prayed for it for years. Pushed for it. Looked for opportunities to do it. Now, finally, after all those years, now I had that opportunity to go. The problem was, I also loved the people of New Song Church in New Bern, NC and our kids had great friends there and we had great friends there. The Colorado position was a Senior Pastor Position, the position in NC was an associate position. Colorado was a higher salary, and a dream come true. And so we prayed all night. ”God, what do we do? What do we do?” We weighed job against job salary against salary city against city, you know, all this stuff when you are making a decision. Pros and Cons. And we just kept hearing one word from God. One word. And that word was “stay.”
And I was like, “Ok, yeah, but what about, what about, what about?” God just said: ”Stay.” So I called the church in Colorado the next morning and told them I couldn’t come after all, that God was saying “Stay.” And they shared a word with me, they actually shared several words with me, and none of them were kind. They were very angry and upset words that I had canceled on them at the last moment. I hope they eventually got over it but I don’t know for sure if they ever did. So, it was a good thing I didn’t go out there. That would have been the wrong answer, clearly. Thank God He is wiser than we are.
Some of the best experiences I have ever had in pastoral ministry happened at that church in NC over the next 3-4 years and a huge part of my development as a pastor and my style of preaching and teaching and using music in ministry all happened while we were there. So everything I’m doing at this moment is the result of ridiculous obedience that made no sense whatsoever, on one word. Some of you, you’re going to hear one word from God and you’re going to be crazy enough, ridiculous enough to say, “I don’t know all the details but I don’t have to understand fully to obey immediately.” Thought number one is: You don’t have to understand fully to obey immediately. Thought number two, and I love this with all my heart:
2) Those God uses the most are the ones that hold on to the least. This is going to speak to somebody; those that God uses the most are the ones who hold on to the least. Look again at what Elisha does in verse 21.
“So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing 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 19:21
Okay? These oxen were the animals that brought about Elijah’s livelihood. And what does the bible say he did with the oxen? The bible says he slaughtered them, he killed them, dead. Then what did he do with the plows? Scripture says he burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people and they ate. He made a bonfire out of the plowing equipment and cooked steak for his buddies.
He basically dumped his entire business, his savings, his inventory, his 401k and walked away with nothing but the clothes on his back. Then he set out to follow Elijah and he became his servant. That sounds ridiculous to our modern, American sensibilities right? I mean it sounds crazy through and through. God is calling me to go and follow this prophet, become a prophet, become like him, maybe even become a greater prophet than him. So what do I do? I kill my cows and burn my plows. That’s what I do. That’s ridiculous right? It’s almost like he’s saying, “I’m burning my plan B. There is no longer any plan B. There’s only ‘obey God.’ There’s only plan A.” Our modern sensibilities make us what to say, “Hey, that’s cool that you want to follow God and I’m inspired by your faith when it comes to being willing to leave everything behind and go do whatever God tells you. But listen, no harm in having a plan B to fall back on if things don’t work out. Why don’t you hold onto a least one cow and the plow, right?”
But what we see in Scripture is there are often times when people are so moved by God that they do these kinds of ridiculous sounding, crazy-sounding, things to follow Him. The Bible tells us about how Jesus’ first four disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John, left everything at once and followed Jesus. They did it just because Jesus invited them to do so. Okay? They just walked away from their businesses, their livelihoods, their life’s work., from their families. They just instantly, without any hesitation or second thoughts, dropped their fishing nets, walked away from their fishing boats, taking only the clothes on their backs, and followed Jesus.
Isn’t it strange how we can just read about them doing that and about Elisha doing that and not even think about it. You contextualize that to your life. Instantly decide to leave your job, you know, you trained for this; you got a degree, or two degrees or three degrees in college for this. You know, leave your comfort, leave your family, leave your home, leave your church and just walk off into the Great Adventure, into the glorious unknown, to follow God. These Bible heroes of the faith did that! The disciples left everything to follow Jesus. Elisha left everything to follow Elijah and God. There are some of you that God is going to speak to you at some time and give you a plow burning, oxen cooking faith command. And let me just say, and qualify, make sure God is speaking to you; you don’t just go in and say, “I’m sick of my job,” walk in and say, “I hate you all, I am outta here” and burn the building down. Okay? That’s not what I’m talking about. You will go to prison if you do that. I’m talking about when you know that you know that you know that it really is God calling you to leave where you are, stop what you are doing, and go where He wants you to go and do what He wants you to do instead. That’s how Annette and I ended up here in Hawaii. You’ve heard that story a lot lately.
There are some times when you’re so convinced that you just burn all the bridges back because you know you’re never turning back. Something has happened in you and you’re never going to be the same. You can’t go back to the way it was because God is so strongly calling you forward. There are some of you, God is going to give you a plow-burning, oxen roasting, faith where deep within, you’re willing to do whatever it takes to follow God to the next place.
I’ll give you a couple of stories of people that I know that had plow-burning faith. One guy, his dad was very successful in the fast-food industry and so his dad generously went to pass that on to his son. The problem is his son didn’t like the fast-food business. But his dad said, “I can make you rich” and the dad would have been right. The son, all he wanted to do was teach junior high and coach boys’ basketball. His dad gave him this business and he tried his best and he was successful but he was miserable because he wasn’t called to make money, he felt called to invest in the next generation. So finally, he very respectfully went to his dad and said, “Dad, I love you. I honor you. You’re one of my heroes but I can’t do this anymore.” And he, in a sense, burned the bridge and said, “I’m giving all this business, all this wealth, back to you,” and he left a tremendously lucrative career to go and teach junior high and coach boys’ basketball. To this day, he is ecstatically happy and fulfilled and content with his life and glad he made that decision. He had to burn some plows and cook some cows to leave where he was so he could go to where God wanted him to go.
I heard of another family that is really on fire for God, they’re really strong Christians, but quite honestly, in the summer, something changed for them in their connection to the church and to God. They are so in love with a lake near their home that nobody in the community, nobody in the church, sees them between early May and early September each year. They disappear completely every weekend, and it’s all about the water recreation life on that lake.
But it was so severe that the nine-year-old daughter of the family, one day said, “Daddy, why is it that we love God all year long but we don’t love God in the summer?” And when he heard that, he realized what had happened. They would say to anyone that they loved God but their lives said something different. Their lives said, in the summer, God and the church and serving God through the church, go on hold. They didn’t serve anybody in the summer, they didn’t make a difference in the summer, they didn’t worship in the summer. In the summer, it became all about their enjoyment. And when the dad realized this, he said, “This is wrong. We can’t have this,” and so he burned the plow so to speak. He sold the boat, sold the lake house, and this wouldn’t be for everybody but this was for them. He said, “I’m not going to let something send an example to my nine-year-old that God is not important to me in the summer. The lake is not more important than my relationship with God or my witness to others about my faith.”
Would you look at the person sitting next to you and say, “Maybe you need to burn a plow.” Go ahead and go right now. Just lean over. Now, look at the other person on the other side who was your second choice, and tell them, “Maybe you need to burn a plow.” Maybe you don’t even know them. Maybe you have no idea what that plow would be for them in their life. That’s fine. Let’s just plant the seed that maybe we might need to burn the plow. Maybe God is calling us to burn a plow. I don’t know what it would be in your life, I don’t know what your plow would be, but if there is anything keeping you from serving God, you’re going to burn that plow. If there is sin holding you back, you burn that plow. If there is a doubt in your life, you burn that plow.
If there is a relationship holding you back, somebody’s going to burn that plow. You’re not going to let anything keep you from following God because you don’t have to understand fully to obey immediately. Those that God uses the most are those who hold on to the least. When I was a kid I had a think cotton blanket that was well worn and soft and felt cool to the touch. I called it my cold blanky and I needed it to go to sleep. To feel comfortable and secure. Maybe you had a blanky or a teddy bear or something that provided you a feeling of security as well. As we get older, we sometimes place those feelings of security in our job, in our homes, in our relationships, in our living location. But God wants us to look entirely to Him for our sense of security. Some of you, you’re still holding onto your security blanket and refusing to let go even when God tells you to do so. Never ever forget this: To step towards your destiny, you have to step away from your security.
I believe God is going to speak to somebody tonight and give you the faith to believe that he’s calling you to something new, to burn some plows and cook some sacred cows in your life. To walk away from what you know and experience what God has in store for you in the great unknown. Because, you may be looking at oxen rears today, but in your faithfulness, God may be getting ready to call you to do something great for his kingdom. You have to have the faith to go and you don’t have to understand fully to obey immediately. Because those that God uses the most, are those who hold on to the least. Amen? Maybe it’s time for you to let go of something and move on as you follow Jesus. Amen?
~~~~~ LET’S PRAY ~~~~~