Exeter Temple Message notes: Sunday 7th February 2016
Bible Readings: 1 Kings 19:19-21, 2 Kings 2:1-18
The role of the prophet in Israel was to deliver God’s word for specific situations, particularly political crises, interpreting the meaning of events and proclaiming God’s will. In time the prophetic role became institutionalized. It formed the third office of the Hebrew government and many prophets became puppets of the King. Becoming a prophet had little to do with divine calling, young men could join a school of prophets as a career move without having any sense of individual calling or personal encounter with the living God.
Today we still have a remnant of people who get baptized or in our case become soldiers because it was what their family expected? It is very difficult to try to live on inherited faith and a number of things tend to happen, the person eventually encounters God for themselves, they live a dual life, which often explodes at some point, perhaps in moral failure, some find they can’t stand their hypocrisy and choose to walk away, others are fine whilst church life remains comfortable but flee when the hard times come.
1. Be faithful through the drought
Elijah was the head of a school of prophets and Elisha was one of his pupils but operated at a time when the majority of prophets, for political and personal security had adopted the mix of pagan worship and Hebrew faith that was advocated by King Ahab.
Elijah, however would not compromise and was persecuted as a result. At times he felt his isolation and despite the fact that he led a school of prophets who were supposed to be his followers he says to God, “I am the only one left.” (1 Kings 19:15)
God reassured him. “There are 7000 in Israel whose knees have not bowed to Baal and all who mouths have not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18)
Among them God told Elijah to select 3 people to take up significant roles in the life of the nation. Two were to be kings and one was to be his successor. He was Elisha.
Elisha had remained faithful to God getting on with the responsibility he had and did that faithfully until God called him to serve elsewhere. Thought It is often said, it is still true that that we need to be faithful in the little things before we start dreaming about doing great things for God.
Joseph, Daniel and Paul are all examples of people who had to faithfully serve in the background before beginning their more public service. Paul spent three years in a local church before he set off on his missionary journeys.
Jesus had the master in the parable of the talents say to servants who had been good stewards of what they had been given, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!” (Matthew 25:21)
Whilst some churches are seeing growth most of us have lived with the decline of the Church for many years now.
We must be faithful to God in the drought as Elisha was. Keep being obedient to God where you are.
Elisha could not rely upon other people to keep his faith alive and healthy. Part of the cost for Elijah as a leader of the school of prophets was that he would deliver an oracle and then have to flee into the desert, not knowing when he could return. This left his school of prophets holding on, leaderless through a physical and spiritual drought.
Holding on is not about hanging on in the hope that we can preserve what we know and love.
“If you love your church more than you love your city you will never have revival.” (Anon)
Holding on is about keeping on believing that the lost can be found, that the prodigal will come home, that a hunger for God’s word will be evident again, that worship in our church and others will be more than performance, that fellowship will be deep and truly inclusive, that radical sacrificial service will be the norm rather than the exception.
2. Decide to commit to the vision
Elijah symbolically placed a cloak around Elisha’s shoulders as a sign that he had chosen him as his apprentice.
It was a moment for a dream to be born. He wanted not only to be appointed to a position but anointed in a position.
“Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.” Robert F Kennedy
Do you have a dream, something in your heart that God has put there? Do you sense that this might be the time to act upon it? We must move and take action on our dreams. Nothing will happen until we begin to move forward. Elisha had to follow Elijah to see his dream fulfilled. Faith is active not passive. Time, sacrifice, energy and even money have to be given to it. Elisha destroyed his farming tools as a sign of his decision to break with the past so that he would not be tempted to go back on his decision.
Many talk with passion about what is needed to bring change and what needs to be done to replace those like Elijah whose days are coming to an end. There are not so many who are prepared to make their dream known and give up their present lifestyle and commit to a new one. This does not mean that everyone like Elisha has to give up their day job or in our context that everyone has to become an officer, but it does mean that the vision God has given you must become your priority.
3. Defend yourself against distractions
Elisha became Elijah’s attendant and he was in that position for a long time, watching and learning from the great man. It is easy to become discouraged having taken a leap of faith things take a long time to happen. We start to ask, “Did God really say that to me?”
There are distractions that divert our attention from the fulfilment of our calling. Sometimes these are from the devil and sometimes God leads us into situations to test our commitment to our dream.
Nearing the end of his life, Elijah took Elisha on a tour around the locations where his school of the prophets were based. The trip was designed to give Elisha the opportunity to opt out for something other than succeeding him. There was an alternative ministry for Elisha at each place.
Gilgal = home - the chance to go back and train the next generation of prophets, in a place where he would be honoured.
Bethel = a place of spiritual heritage where Jacob had his dream and built an altar but now true faith needed to be restored.
Jericho = a place with a glorious past but a barren present.
Each stop offered appealing ministry opportunities but God had not given Elisha any task than following Elijah.
How many of us have stopped along the way? We have not pursued the dream for long enough. We have allowed things to distract us on our journey, sometimes good things, justifiable things but they are not the real call, they are not the real dream.