1 Kings 19:19-21
I don’t know whether Elisha knew Elijah or not. He’d surely heard of him. I imagine the whole country was talking about how Elijah had taken on Queen Jezebel and her 400 prophets.
I’ll bet there were lots of stories going around about Elijah. Nowadays, Elisha would probably have had a poster of Elijah in his room. Now here the great man was in the farm boy’s field — the extraordinary just arm’s length from the ordinary.
Elijah wears the roughest clothes — either sheepskin or camel’s hair. He doesn’t say a word. He takes off his cloak and lays it across Elisha’s shoulders. What would this mean to Elisha? Today, it would be like Billy Graham showing up in his backyard and handing him his Bible.
Then the older man is on his way. He’s barely broken stride to ordain Elisha. That quickly Elisha’s life has gone from ordinary to extraordinary.
Will he do it? Will he go with the prophet? He wants to say goodbye to Mom and Dad. “Is that okay with you, Sir?”
Elijah is a man of few words. He didn’t know but that Elisha might just be putting him off. So he says, “Do what you will. I’ve done my part.” In essence, Elijah says, I’m not calling you, God is.
Our mission is to bring people into Christ, build people up in Christ, and send people out for Christ. Ultimately it’s Christ who brings us in, builds us up, and sends us out. He calls ordinary people. The life he sends us into is a life less ordinary.
What is an ordinary life? It’s the average life, the “by and large” life.
The ordinary life is a life squeezed by time, i.e., by the things that won’t wait. Elisha had to plow and plant when it was time to plow and plant. He couldn’t put it off very long. He lived his life by the seasons and the demands of the seasons.
If time was demanding then, what is it now? We have a neat little invention Elisha never imagined. Let me see the hands of those of you wearing a wristwatch. There it is — what some call “the god on our wrists”!
In the ordinary American life, time claws at us like a wildcat on our back. We have people to meet, places to go, things to do — and sometimes all three at the same time! Do you drive to work? Can you go a week without hearing an angry car horn? There are appointments to keep, cars to beep, and miles to go before we sleep. Prayer doesn’t begin with, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” but “My God, look what time it is!” That’s an ordinary, everyday life.
For Elisha, a prosperous farmer, the ordinary life was full of stuff — oxen, plows, clothes, houses, fields. For us, it’s not a life full of stuff — crammed with stuff is more like it. The stuff has to be washed, dried, sorted, ironed, dry-cleaned, brushed, polished, mended and carted to the Salvation Army to make room for more. It demands more stores, bigger budgets, and extra closets. That’s just the clothing portion of our stuff. That’s just an ordinary life among us.
Elisha had a mom and dad and brothers and sisters. Family ties bind the ordinary life. He had people who worked for him and with him. Business associations burden the ordinary life. He would be expected to marry and have children to continue the family line. The expectations of our community bear down on the ordinary life.
I’m not saying any of these things — family, work, property — is bad. On the contrary, they’re good. It’s good to work hard, pay bills, raise children, and go to church.
It’s just that we get to thinking these things are the thing itself. We’ve got all this responsibility and all this stuff. Our lives are full; we’ve arrived! This is the American Dream. We want to be . . . ordinary.
Well, we can be. With hard work and determination, we can be like everybody else. As Jesus would say, “Truly, we have our reward.” We can ignore the call to a life less ordinary. We can stay in our field behind our plow, watching Him walk away.
Have you heard His call? You know it when you hear it. It’s an extraordinary call, as remarkable for what it doesn’t say as what it does.
What did God tell Elisha through Elijah? “Get out of your comfort zone and make a difference!” No. “Be a hero in the Big Game.” No. “Kid, here’s your chance to save the world!” Elijah says none of these things. In fact, he says nothing at all! He lays the cape on his shoulders and walks away in silence.
There’s the call. No pep talk, no sermon, no coaxes, threats, or promises. It’s an extraordinary call because it’s so stark, so bare. The call is simply to follow. God has spoken. Now Elisha will follow Elijah. Elisha will serve Elijah. Elisha will do whatever God tells him to do. Or maybe he won’t. It’s up to him.
That’s another thing that makes the call of God so remarkable. We don’t have to do anything about it. God forces nobody. Elisha asks, “Can I go kiss Mom and Dad goodbye?” Elijah, whose shoulders are certainly lighter now without his camel hair cape, shrugs: “Go back. What have I done to you?” If we want to stay ordinary, we can. The earth won’t stop turning. The world won’t end. We might even wind up happier than ever.
I’d be happy to do without a camel hair cloak! I have a poor enough fashion sense as it is! I don’t need more people looking at me, pointing at me! If you don’t know already, Elisha, if you take off after this weird man in his funny clothes, not everybody’s going to like it.
Remember what they did to Jesus? He was dressed funny, too, in an outfit he didn’t choose. They dressed him in a purple robe. Oh, not at first! First, they beat him until they tore the hide off his back and neck. Then they put their robe on him, his mantle of office! A garment fit for a king! The gore made it stick to his shoulders and back. Pilate brought this shambles out before the mob and said, “Behold the man!”
Elijah sets a cloak onto a young man’s shoulders. Jesus sets a cross onto ours. And, you know, we don’t have to wear it if we don’t want to. We can stay safe at home and ordinary in church. And maybe God will find someone else to send into this sick and dying world, someone who’s willing to look like His own dying Son. Maybe there’s somebody out there riding on a tractor, minding his own business, somebody who’ll get the call, climb down, and follow, someone willing to enter a life less ordinary.
What does such a life look like? It probably won’t look colorful or dynamic. In fact, the life less ordinary may not appear to be making much of a difference.
I know a man who’s taught in public school for 37 years. He’s a wonderful teacher, entirely suited to what he’s doing and dedicated to the task. Yet he’d be the first to tell you, he’s not Captain Marvel in the classroom — especially when he faces a group of overindulged, under-disciplined children. Some kids do appreciate him, though, and consider him a positive influence.
There are a lot of good teachers, but the ordinary teacher sees teaching as a job. The extraordinary teacher sees it as a calling. He doesn’t have to win every heart and change every mind. He has to answer the call of God.
I knew a man who read to his sons every night. The TV went dark. The light would come on in their bedroom, and I would hear his voice: “Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.” Or I’d hear words from the Bible.
The man died years ago, but the father lives on in the lives and memories of his children. These days in America, even an ordinary come-home-after-work dad is a great gift. But the extraordinary dad answers the call of God in fatherhood.
It isn’t that we sit around waiting on a mission from God, no more than Elisha sat around waiting for Elijah. It isn’t necessarily that we want to sacrifice like Elijah sacrificed his oxen. Many times we don’t even know we’ve made a sacrifice until we smell something burning: “Whaddya know? It’s me! I’m a teacher of ADHD students. I’m the father of an autistic son. I’m the wife with a sick husband, the mother of a rebellious daughter. I’m a helper of the helpless, a friend to those who can’t pay me back. It’s costing me; it might even be killing me, but I’m doing it. God wants me to.”
The life that sees all things as sacred to God is the life less ordinary. This is the life God calls us to, the life He brings us in and builds us up to send us into.
Can you pray this prayer with me? “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.”
Do you mean it?