Summary: What does it mean to be committed? Why is it important?
On April 21st, in the year 1519, the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez sailed into the harbor of Vera Cruz, Mexico. He brought with him only about 600 men, and yet over the next two years his vastly outnumbered forces were able to defeat Montezuma and all the warriors of the Aztec empire, making Cortez the conqueror of all Mexico. How was this incredible feat accomplished, when two prior expeditions had failed even to establish a colony on Mexican soil? Here’s the secret. Cortez knew from the very beginning that he and his men faced incredible odds. He knew that the road before them would be dangerous and difficult. He knew that his men would be tempted to abandon their quest and return to Spain. And so, as soon as Cortez and his men had come ashore and unloaded their provisions, he ordered their entire fleet of eleven ships destroyed. His men stood on the shore and watched as their only possibility of retreat burned and sank. And from that point on, they knew beyond any doubt there was no return, no turning back. Nothing lay behind them but empty ocean. Their only option was to go forward, to conquer or die.
Let me read you another story from the Old Testament book of 1 Kings [19:15-21]. It involves the prophet Elijah and the calling of his attendant and eventual successor, Elisha:
"The LORD said to [Elijah], ’Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint . . . Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet’ . . . . So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. ’Let me kiss my father and mother good-by,’ he said, "and then I will come with you.’ ’Go back," Elijah replied. ’What have I done to you?’ 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 attendant."
Here we see Elisha, a simple farmer, who is suddenly and unexpectedly approached by the famous prophet Elijah and invited to accompany him and serve him as his personal attendant. When Elisha requests time to first go home and say good-bye to his parents, Elijah makes it clear that the decision to come is entirely Elisha’s to make. "What have I done to you?" means, in essence, "What claim do I have on you?" And the implied answer is "none". In other words, Elisha is free to stay or go. In response, Elisha not only chooses to accept the call, but he slaughters his oxen and feeds them to his neighbors, burning his plowing equipment to cook the meat. By doing this, he publicly and irrevocably declares his intention to leave his former way of life and follow Elijah.
My topic this morning is "commitment," and so far I’ve given you two powerful illustrations of that concept. You’ve heard of "burning your bridges;" now you’ve heard of "burning your boats," and "burning your oxen." What does it mean to be committed? It means making a firm choice. It means not worrying about keeping your options open, or leaving yourself a way out. It means pursuing something wholeheartedly, with no contingency plans to fall back on. It means being 100% sold out to a person, or a cause, or a goal; not holding anything back, not keeping anything in reserve.