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?

Married Life

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 

Ephesians 6:31-32

I’ve had friends fall away from their relationship with Christ just as I’ve had friends get a divorce. The similarities in these two scenarios are striking.

When we get married we happily choose our spouse. What we may not realize is that we will have to continue to choose them. It’s easy enough to choose them when we are in that honeymoon phase and we see them at their best. But what happens when you’re a decade or more into marriage? What happens when they are not at their best and you are not at yours?

The challenge of marriage is not what you will do when everyone is 100%. The challenge is to still choose your spouse when they are running on fumes after sleepless nights with kids, job changes, hospital visits, unpaid bills, credit card debt, misunderstandings, arguments, and life transitions. The challenge is to still choose them after you see all their failures, weaknesses, and shortcomings. It’s much harder to choose them when they change on you and it feels like you’re married to someone completely different. This person standing in front of you isn’t who you signed up for, after all.

In the midst of this, the enemy will often provide you an “out.” The way out of the marriage can come in a variety of forms. It can come as a secret escapism that you hide from your spouse. It can come as the numbing distance of living parallel lives. It can come as an addiction that you try to keep private. It can come in the form of an affair. It can come as a strong desire to throw in the towel and get a divorce. Choosing your spouse will feel like fighting a force that is pulling you apart because that is exactly what is happening. The enemy is intentional.

My point in highlighting this reality of marriage is not to give marriage counseling. My point is that this is the same pattern that applies to our relationship with Jesus. Our intimacy and connection with Him will often go through a similar cycle. We willingly choose Jesus at the beginning of our faith journey, but we will have to continue to choose Him if we want to stay connected to Him. It is a relationship that must be cultivated and cared for.

A decade or two into your relationship with Jesus you will have to decide to choose Him again. Only this time you will not be naive about the obstacles you will face. You will have to choose Jesus not as He invites you to drop your nets and follow Him (Matthew 4:19-20), but you’ll have to choose Him as He invites you to take up your cross and go with Him to Golgotha.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 

Luke 9:23-24

The disciples faced a moment of decision like this with Jesus. They were all so excited to follow Him and witness all the healings and miracles that Jesus performed. They were excited to leave behind their old life and join the Messiah on His quest toward Jerusalem. But then Jesus decided to prune the crowds with a hard teaching, and most of them turned away.

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

…From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:60, 66-69

Each of us who follow Jesus will face this same question. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” In this moment, we’ll have to deny ourselves, lay down our “right” to understand, give up our plans, and choose Jesus all over again, knowing that we’re not headed to the palace but to the cross.

Will we say “Yes” to Jesus again?