What do you want to be when you grow up?That was the question we were probably all asked all of the time as children, and continue to ask children today. What direction is your life heading? What are your dreams, aspirations, hopes for the future? Who will you become?
In my primary school, in East Tilbury, near the mouth of the Thames Estuary in Essex, most of the boys seemed to want to be long distance lorry drivers. We didn’t live far from the port of Tilbury (you could just see it from my classroom window) and that was the jobs many of their dads did. The odd one fancied being a car mechanic, or a soldier, but lorry driver was definitely the in thing at my school.
I, however, didn’t really have a clue. I’d have loved to have been a footballer, but I am comically bad at football. I liked the idea of being an astronaut, but I can’t even handle a roller coaster, let alone a rocket launch.
At one stage in my life I worked in a call centre. One of the managers had a picture on his desk of a little boy looking, wistfully into the distance and saying “When I grow up, I want to work in a call centre”. The humour in that derives from the fact that almost nobody grows up wanting to do that, or work in an office, or a shop, or as a delivery driver, or sweeping the streets… most of us either don’t know what we want to do when we grow up, or never really make it and end up “making do”. Dreams go unrealised, lives feel unfulfilled.
Sometimes the direction we had planned for ourselves, though, does seem to work out until something gets in the way and we end up changing path, or it all falls apart completely.
I have no idea what Elisha’s dreams for his life were. It may be that working on his father’s land for the rest of his days, ploughing the fields with his oxen, was exactly what he had in mind or, at least, was how he expected his life to pan out. It may be that he had dreams of building the family business up, acquiring wealth and status. It may be that he hated working the land and wanted to try his hand at a different job. I simply don’t know.
What I do think, however, is that suddenly upping and leaving his home to become an apprentice prophet to Elijah was probably not foremost in his mind. Just a few verses earlier God had told Elijah to find Elisha and anoint him as his successor. Now, here was the great man of God putting his cloak around Elisha’s shoulders and following God’s instruction.
Now, I want you to stop for a moment and think – if something like this happened to you, a clear indication of God’s calling, one which would leave your own plans in tatters and completely turn your life upside down, how would you react? Now you have answered the question I didn’t ask you in your heads, which is “how would you like to think you’d react?”, imagine how you actually would. This is not a small request. Elisha isn’t being simply offered another job with great prospects. He is leaving his home, his family, his job; he is leaving behind everything he knows.
I would like to think that I’d be able to follow God’s command, trusting him fully in whatever he was asking me to do. Trusting that I and those I left behind would be given the strength to cope with the change, and that I would be equipped in the Spirit for whatever task I was to carry out.
I’d like to think that…
In reality, I really don’t know. I don’t know how strong my faith is to do something like that. Whether I would go, or could go. Or would I spend weeks, or years, pondering what to do in the hope that, maybe, God might change his mind?
Elisha acts in the way I’d like to think I would. He leaves to follow God’s path for him. And he does it, apparently unquestioning. Stopping only to say goodbye to his family and to slaughter the two oxen. It’s an astonishing display of faith and trust in both Elijah and in God.
Jesus appears to ask even more of us, saying to his followers that they need to leave without burying their dead or saying goodbye to their family, to follow him to a life of apparent homelessness.
This life of discipleship is not an easy life, and neither is any job we are given to advance the Kingdom of God. It’s a life of sacrifice, self-denial and obedience; something we find increasingly difficult to do in this secular, self-satisfying world.
The Church of Scotland currently has an initiative called “Tomorrow’s Calling”. It’s a campaign to get people to look at jobs within the church as opportunities they may want to take, rather than something for someone else, someone more holy or talented. Much of it is centred around training for full-time ministry, but it goes much further than that as well into all sorts of diverse roles.
On their website there is a quote from a minister from Stornoway, who says,
“I would have done anything to be honest, other than be a minister, but God made it very clear that’s what he wanted from me. I knew it would be demanding. I’m on call 24/7. Although it’s challenging, the more you give to people the more you see the beauty and diversity of life. You never lose from that.”
So often we find ourselves called to the one thing we don’t want to be called to. When I was a student I had to deliver a speech, as a member of the Student Union executive, to a lecture hall full of first year students. I was terrified at the prospect, I hated public speaking. I completely froze. I opened my mouth and nothing came out. It was an awful and incredibly embarrassing situation.
The idea that God might call me to a form of ministry that primarily involved public speaking would have been ridiculous to the 19 year old me, but here I am. And I’m here because, over time, not only has God equipped me to serve in this way, but has actually changed my heart from within to the extent that I’m never happier than when up here speaking to a church full of people.
You see, that’s what he does. He calls us to do things for him, not because we want to do them, but because he sees something in us that can be used to do his will. He chooses us, not because we are perfect for the job, but because we are perfect for the job only with his intervention. He chooses us and changes us and soon, without us even noticing, his will becomes our will.
Every single one of us is being called to service for God. Some have answered, some are denying it and some still haven’t heard it, but we are all getting that call.
Elisha got the call in a very obvious way, and he followed. For most of us that call is not so obvious, not so clear. We need to take time in prayer, not only to talk to God, but to listen to him as well. To sit, or walk, or drive or however you feel most comfortable doing it, in silence, just listening for the voice of God to guide you and to call you.
The call may come in other ways. You may find that people you know well and trust will give you that guidance. You may find that odd “coincidences” take place which seem to point you in the right direction. Any number of things could happen which answer that age old question to God “Please, Lord! Give me a sign!”
And then we need to be ready to actually answer it. If anything, this is the difficult part. Hearing a call can sometimes be fairly easy, but being ready and answering it is a whole different matter.
I think I first heard the call to preach about 15 years ago, but I either ignored it, or disbelieved it, or was just “too busy” to do anything about it. I wish I’d answered it sooner, but I did eventually. As another minister on the Tomorrow’s Calling website said,
“If you feel a sense of Calling in your heart you can’t run away from it.”
You only need to see the story of Jonah to understand that. Running from God is impossible; wherever you run to, he’s already there.
Elisha, however, was ready and willing. All he wanted to do was say goodbye, which he did with a meal consisting of his two oxen, and he was off on his journey to become the next great prophet of Israel.
We aren’t all being called to be a great prophet. Well, it’s possible none of us are, of course. We’re not all being called to preach, although some of us definitely are. But we are all being called, and Elisha is a wonderful example of what to do when it comes – We need to listen for the call, get ready for it coming and just act on it. Don’t run from it, or ignore it, but embrace it. God will be with each one of us every step of the way, guiding us and equipping us for his work.
And, above all, remember that to be called by God, by the creator and sustainer of the whole universe, to do his work is the most wonderful privilege we could ever hope for. He doesn’t need us to do his work, but he wants us for it because he wants to work with us, to share in our lives, our battles, our rest, our triumphs, our failures, our sadness and our joy. And, in return, he wants us to share in his glory and majesty.
If that’s not a reason to take a leap into the unknown, into God’s great adventure, then I don’t know what is.