Summary: Change or transition is hard, but we can face it bravely and powerfully with God's help. The transition in leadership from Elijah to Elisha reminds us to pay attention, to seek the Holy Spirit's filling, and to bravely take up the task given us.
Prophets with a Purpose – Week 5
Today we’re finishing up a five-week series looking at various Old Testament Prophets and what they have to say to us. Little Samuel reminded us that God still speaks if we are listening. Jonah reminded us that all people matter to God. Moses advised us on how to know a true prophet when we see them. Isaiah reminded us that God is both great and good and very involved in our crises. And today we look at Elijah and Elisha.
These two were similar in names, and also in their spectacular miracles. They probably performed more miracles than any prophet other than Jesus. Yet, they were quite unique as individuals. Elijah was a loner who preached repentance and brought down evil kings in sensational challenges. Elisha lived among the people and showed a deep concern for the poor and downtrodden.
Today’s scripture points to their transition, which caught my attention. We all go through times of transition. At home, we’re watching the Winter Olympics. Last night we saw Red Gerard win the United States’ first gold medal at PyeongChang by taking victory in the men's snowboarding slopestyle final. How exciting for him and his family and his Colorado town. At his young age of 17, he might have two or three more Olympic events in his future, but the truth is, at some point, Red will transition. He might become a coach or a sports commentator for snowboarding, or he might sell cars. But he won’t be making triple flips forever.
I tried snowboarding once, but once was enough. Give me back my skis, thank you very much! Even if you’ve never snowboarded, each of you has gone through times of transition, of change. It happens to us all. Some of us get married, and later lose a spouse to death or divorce. We start a career, perhaps in the military. We retire. We go back to work in a different field, and we retire from that. We take on a committee position, and later we resign. We move from house to house, from church to church, from one level of care to another. We make friends and we lose friends. And most profoundly, we’re born and we die.
Every one of us faces transitions in life. So I wonder, can we learn anything from Elijah and Elisha about transitioning well? I think so. Consider the points on your outline. First, I want to encourage you to...
1. Pay attention to transitions.
This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised how often we ignore them, pretending they’re not happening. Change is hard. We don’t like it when friends move away. We don’t like saying good-bye. We have trouble facing a terminal illness. Everyone believes in heaven, but no one wants to go, at least not yet.
Elijah and Elisha faced head-on their great transition, sort of a change of command ceremony for the lead prophet of Israel. Elijah notably went to each of the seminary extensions to personally say good-bye. That’s what these little companies or schools of prophets were. They were like our modern-day seminaries. That’s what Elijah was visiting when he traveled to Gilgal and Bethel and Jericho. He was saying good-bye to all of his “sons” in the faith.
As Elisha contemplated the loss of his great mentor and friend, he was understandably a little raw in emotion. You can see it when he snapped at each group as they asked him if he knew about Elijah’s imminent PCS. Change is hard, isn’t it? But the cool thing is, Elisha refused to leave Elijah’s side. Elijah offered three times for Elisha to stay behind, and three times Elisha adamantly refused. Elisha wanted every possible moment left with his mentor.
Pay attention to the transitions happening around you. Express appreciation to one stepping down from leadership. Build up the one taking on new tasks. Be sure to say good-bye to friends who move away. (I’m reminded of Paul’s tearful good-bye on the seashore with the elders of Ephesus, recorded in Acts 20.) Don’t ignore the changes happening; embrace them, even when they hurt, because there is love behind the hurt. And #2,
2. Seek the Holy Spirit’s filling.
In verse 9, Elijah asked Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” Elisha replied, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.” What was he asking here? Was he selfishly wanting to upstage his master? I don’t think so. Elisha was using the language of Hebrew inheritance law. The firstborn always received a double portion over all the other kids. Elisha was basically saying, “I want to be your firstborn. If I’m going to be able to step into your shoes, I’m going to need twice as much of your spirit as anyone else would need!”