Burn the Ships

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

Elijah had just encountered God on Mt. Horeb. The Lord commanded Elijah to stop hiding and to get back to work. One of his assignments was to anoint Elisha as his prophetic successor. So one day, as Elisha was plowing with a team of 12 oxen, Elijah walked up to him and threw his cloak over Elisha. This was a prophetic act of offering to Elisha his own prophetic mantle.

After saying goodbye to his family, Elisha does something really powerful. By sacrificing his oxen and burning the plowing equipment, Elisha was declaring a total surrender to the life of a prophet. He would have no economic back-up plan. He was leaving his past behind him. He was burning all the bridges and risking everything to become Elijah’s prophetic apprentice. And it was an act of gratitude to the Lord for choosing him.

Jesus asks us for something similar when we decide to follow Him. This is what Jesus told those following Him early in His ministry:

Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:62

I’ve experienced this moment a few different times in my life of faith. This feeling of leaving everything to follow Him happened first when I decided to give my life to Jesus when I was 9 years old. I sensed it again when I was 12 and I was surrendering to an authentic life of having a relationship with Jesus. I remember choosing between who I knew God called me to be and the cool kids in middle school.

This kind of choice was before me once again the summer I turned 17 when I felt God call me into full-time ministry. I remember struggling with this decision and asking God, “But how am I going to make any money, and how am I going to provide for a family?” I distinctly remember God’s answer, “Mark, I am your provider and I will be the provider for your family.”

More recently (6 years ago), I was faced with the choice to follow Jesus as He led me into the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. At 34 years of age and after a decade of pastoral ministry, I was being invited into something scary, uncertain, and new. A cloak had been thrown over my shoulders, and I had to decide what to do. Would I embrace the new mantle or go back to plowing the field? Would I follow Jesus knowing it would mean sacrificing so much of what I had built over the last decade of ministry? Would I sacrifice the oxen and burn the equipment?

By God’s grace and because of His pursuit of me (not by my own initiative), I decided to once again take the risk to follow Jesus into uncharted territory. God was kind enough not to have me go alone. He brought people around me in the journey so that I could walk through the process in community. He did the same for Elijah and Elisha. Before sending Elijah to anoint Elisha, God told Elijah, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him”(1 Kings 19:18). We’re never as alone as we might think we are.

What about you?

Is God calling you to sacrifice the oxen and burn the plow equipment of your former life? Is God calling you into something new and uncertain? Are you willing to leave it behind to follow Jesus?

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