Ravens and the Prophet

When My People are One - Chapter Twenty One

‘So Elijah went . . . and found Elisha son of Shaphat . . . Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant.’
(1 Kings 19:19,21)

The young man was ploughing quietly in his field, driving the hindmost of twelve pairs of oxen. Looking up he saw a man waving to him, his cloak billowing out behind him as he strode across the field towards him. Something about the way he walked seemed strangely familiar. Surely not – his eyes must be deceiving him! It looked just like the prophet Elijah, whom he had seen so recently on Mount Carmel, confounding the prophets of Baal. Whatever could he be doing here?

Without a single word of greeting, Elijah came up to him and threw his cloak over him. Elisha understood all that was implied by that gesture. Elijah’s cloak was the symbol of his authority in the prophetic office, and his mind reeled at the implications. Whatever the reasoning behind Elijah’s unexpected visit, he, out of all the young men in Israel, was being called to become Elijah’s apprentice and ultimate successor.

An Authentic Leader

As we have studied Elijah’s lonely struggles, have we not longed for him to be blessed with a worthy friend and companion? Obadiah may not have been suitable, but God delights to bring together those who will bless and refresh each other. Here indeed was one of the 7,000 who had never bowed the knee to Baal, a man ideally suited to share life with God’s chosen prophet.

The call of Elisha is strikingly similar to that of the first disciples. For him, too, there was a clear choice that had to be made, a willingness to break with all that was settled and certain in his life. Those who respond to such an invitation discover that God has the very best in mind for them.

Elijah’s response to Elisha’s request to be allowed to return home to kiss his parents goodbye is ambiguous. ‘Go back,’ Elijah replied. ‘What have I done to you?’(1) On the one hand, it is as though Elijah is saying, ‘Of course you can go back home. What claim do I have on your life?’ These would be the wise words of any leader, who wanted people to make decisions for themselves, and to avoid them becoming too dependent on them.

On the other hand, Elijah may well have wanted to impress on Elisha what an honour it was to have been called to the prophetic office. It was extremely important, therefore, that he did not forget what had just taken place. From now on, Elisha’s life would be governed by a completely new set of priorities.

It is a sign of Elisha’s rightness of spirit that he allowed nothing to hold him back.

Like David himself, he was being called from the fields into the service of the living God, and everyone must know the news.

As a sign that he had reached a decisive cross-roads, he broke his yokes, and turned them into fire wood. Then he slaughtered the oxen, and served them as food for his friends and family: a freewill sacrifice of momentous significance.

Elijah was, in every way, a trustworthy model for the prophet-in-training. We might have expected a man entrusted with so difficult a mission to have become aloof and unapproachable, driving others even as he drove himself. Elijah may at times appear austere (especially when compared with Elisha himself) but he had shown himself a gracious guest in the home in Zarephath. Now he was to spend the best part of a decade in the companionship of his young apprentice.

Elisha was destined to exercise a ministry that lasted twice as long as Elijah’s, and which would glorify the Lord by performing perhaps twice as many miracles. Yet Elisha would have had no ministry but for Elijah’s faithful obedience through the long desert years. Moreover, he would benefit from an advantage that had been denied to Elijah himself, learning his craft at the side of one who was already moving in the power of the Spirit.

I can think of a host of reasons why I prefer to say, ‘Follow Jesus, not me!’ Yet Paul did not hesitate to say, ‘Join with others in imitating my example.’(2) We learn so much just by being alongside godly men and women. Something of their faith and anointing – as well as their graciousness and wisdom – rubs off on us. We are blessed if we have fathers and mothers in Christ who will nurture, train and care for us. We are equally blessed if we are prepared to serve in such a capacity ourselves.

Two are better than one

All who have enjoyed fruitful friendships or a happy marriage would whole-heartedly agree that ‘Two are better than one because they have a good return for their work; if one falls down, his friend can help him up. Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.’ ‘A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.’(3)

The mystery of these verses lies in the unexpected reference to the cord of three strands. It is a pointer to the glorious truth that when two or more are gathered in His name, the Lord Jesus Himself is present in our midst.

Milton was right when he wrote that ‘Loneliness is the first thing which God’s eye named not good.’ Apart from the friendship of God, what can bless us more than the care and affection of good friends? Was not Jonathan’s friendship a major stay in David’s life? Did not Timothy’s love and support revitalise Paul? To develop and maintain friendships that refresh our spirits and bear fruit for the Lord repays the effort involved a thousand times over.(4)
The friendship that flowered and flourished between Elijah and Elisha was to have enormous implications for the nation. In God’s economy, one plus one equals far more than two.(5) It is the strength of the ties that bind us together which will determine how fruitful we will be in carrying forward the work of Christ.

Where there is friendship, and effective discipleship, there we will find honest counsel and heartfelt prayer. Where there is no such trust, we may be inclined to pray self-consciously and to act in secret. But when the companions of the Lord give their hearts to one another, there is no limit to the creative initiatives the Lord can lead us into.

The success of our task as a Church depends on us being a united people. In the chapter ‘Angelic Restoration,’ I referred to a prophetic word which a visiting speaker brought at one of our conferences. It has become deeply etched in my understanding of what God is doing among His people: ‘I am setting My people free in these days; and when you are one, I will do great wonders in your midst.’

It is when we are together in heart and spirit that God moves among us in the fullness of His power. Yet we also know that much of Church life is soured by petty jealousies and outright hostilities. By far the biggest problem missionaries face is not the food or culture, but the sheer difficulty of getting on together.

The reasons for this may lie far beyond mere awkwardness of personality. Demonic spirits of division are ever on the prowl to target key leaders, in the hope of causing dangerous splits within the body of Christ. We need to keep our guard up, for these powers are skilled at exploiting our particular weaknesses. It was in just such a way that they entered Judas Iscariot. We must recognise suspicion, resentment and mistrust for what they are, and renounce them quickly.

Together together

On the day of Pentecost, when the Church was born in such power, the disciples were ‘all together in one place.’(6) The Greek text makes the same point twice. They were ‘together together;’ in other words, together in heart as well as in the same building.

We can derive deep meaning from the twelve stones that Elijah gathered together to form an altar on Mount Carmel. Just as the Lord saw the nation of Israel as one, so He views His Church as one, despite its many splinterings and schisms.

There is no place for narrow sectarianism. It is so easy to talk of unity, when all we often mean by it is that others should agree with us. It is powerful if we are able to bless and honour those whom God has raised up, even if we personally do not happen to agree with them on every point. If we cannot own God’s workmanship in their lives, is it fair to expect others to recognise it in us?

Arrogance soon has a way of turning into outright division. The moment we assume our perspective to be the best, we leave ourselves stranded on our hilltop, flying our little banner: ‘There’s only thee and me left – but I’ve got serious reservations about thee!’

Will those who love the Lord wholeheartedly serve Him as one man, and so fulfil the Lord Jesus’ heart-felt prayer that we may be one? Is it just a comforting cliche to speak of God’s people as being one? Let me put the question another way round: to what extent are we prepared to heed the impassioned Scriptural exhortations to be one? ‘I appeal to you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that there may be no divisions among you, and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought . . . I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.’ (7)

True doctrinal soundness is crucial for the well-being of the Church, yet we are not called to refuse fellowship with those who express their faith in somewhat different ways from ourselves.(8) Differences in the body of Christ are rarely sinful – but arguing over them can be. As George MacDonald put it, ‘It is not by driving away our brother that we can be alone with God.’ We are doing the enemy’s work for him when we pick endless fault with those who have been washed and cleansed by the blood of Jesus.

It is only when we focus our attention on Jesus Himself, our one true Shepherd, that we move in harmony with all who have a real love for the Lord.(9)

A man called Salik said, ‘When the rams are looking at the Shepherd, their woolly coats rub up against each other companionably; but when they look at each other they see only horns!’

The more we are seeking to encourage and pray for each other’s ministries the less chance there is of relationships breaking down. We will also waste less time comparing ourselves with each other. Such comparisons can only ever lead to pride, if we think that we are better than others, or to despondency, if we feel inferior.(10)

Instead of trying to apportion ourselves our place in ‘Fame’s Hall of Honour,’ as C.S. Lewis so eloquently put it, the heart must relearn its first lesson, that it is loved and accepted by the grace of God. What cause can there be for bragging, since every anointed ministry has been given for the benefit of the whole Church, and is but the Lord’s gift anyway?(11)

Satan’s kingdom cannot stand against a united, praying people who constantly affirm their love both for the Lord and for each other.(12) The Psalmist urges us to shout for joy when we see others faring well.(13) Here is the perfect antidote to competitive jealousy. We are to rejoice when others go further and faster in life, and with the Lord, than we do.

Since by grace we belong to the Lord’s world-wide Church, we are to think globally, but act locally. Each fellowship throughout the world, like every tribe and nation, is a jewel in the Lord’s crown, each making its own special contribution. It is especially good for us to spend time praying for His richest blessing on people, churches and ministries we do not normally associate with.

Reflections

‘If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life,’ wrote Samuel Johnson, ‘he will soon find himself left alone. A man, sir, should keep his friendships in constant repair.’
Pray and ponder the example of Elijah setting out to disciple Elisha.
Who has most effectively discipled you?
How did they do it?
Then consider: how faithful a friend are you to others?
Are there particular people the Lord would have you befriend and nurture?

Finally, take Paul’s eulogy of love in 1 Corinthians 13, and substitute ‘Am I’ instead of ‘love is’. For example,
‘Am I patient and kind?
Do I envy or boast?
Am I proud, or rude, self-seeking or easily angered?
Do I keep a record of wrongs?
Do I always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere?’ (14)

Selah

Father, we can never thank You enough for all the friends that You have given us.

Especially for those who have affirmed and nurtured us, and cared enough to challenge and correct us.

Make us sensitive to guide and guard each other’s hearts.

I pray that You will harness our friendships to accomplish many good things for You. I wait on You now to see if there is anything that You would have us do together, or if any are in special need . . .

I pray that You will lift the veil that stops my other friends and family from seeing You as You are. Reach their hearts with Your saving grace and let them see the light of Christ.

Help me to build bridges between Your people. I open my heart to my Christian brothers and sisters across the world, and pray for the work of Your Church to go forward. Join me in spirit to the people You would have me come alongside. Send Elijahs into my life to disciple me, and Elishas whom I may disciple. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Previous chapter – The Judgements of God
Next Chapter – The Importance of Rest

References

1 1 Kings 19:20
2 1 Corinthians 4:16
3 Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
4 Proverbs 18:24, 27:17
5 Cf Romans 14:7-13; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31; 1 John 4:20-21
6 Acts 2:1
7 1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians, 4:2 cf 2:1-5
8 Cf Romans 14:2-4
9 Ephesians 4:2-6, 11-13
10 Cf 2 Corinthians 10:12, Galatians 6:4
11 1 Corinthians 4:7
12 Matthew 23:8; cf Ephesians 6:18
13 Psalm 20:5
14 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Chapter Index