This morning I am excited to begin a new series. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I always enjoy the stories of some of these fantastic Old Testament Bible characters. Guys like Ehud – the left-handed man who saved his country by driving a dagger deep into the belly of the fat King Eglon. Or guys like Benaiah – one of David’s mighty men – who climbed down into a snowy pit to fight a lion. Or guys like Jehu who was known for driving his chariot like a madman.
These fascinating stories. I love ‘em! And so for the next few weeks we want to spend some time looking at another fascinating character of the Old Testament – We’re going to be looking at the Exploits of Elisha. Now Elisha is one of those guys whose name you probably recognize, but you might have a hard time named exactly what it was that he did. Probably part of the reason for that is that we often confused Elisha with Elijah. These are two different prophets who lived at the same time at the same place – and sometimes they’re in the same story – so it’s easy to get confused. God did some amazing things through both of them.
And while Elijah certainly had his share of amazing stories, (and I don’t know if you know this or not) but God used Elisha to perform more miracles than anyone else in the Bible – except for Jesus. Did you know that? The Bible records that Elisha was involved in 14 different miracles. And they include things like raising people from the dead, healing people from incurable diseases, feeding large groups of people with just a small bit of food… And of course, this is all God doing these things, but He used Elisha carry them out.
And sometimes I wonder, why did God choose Elisha to be used in such an fantastic way? Why not his neighbor Larry? Why does God choose the people He does to do His work?
I mean, think about Billy Graham, for example. Why did God choose to use Him in such a powerful way? He grew up on a dairy farmer in North Carolina. He didn’t come from a long line of evangelists or pastors. He didn’t have a doctorate in evangelism. But God chose Him to bring the Gospel to millions.
Or think about John Newton, the guy who wrote the song “Amazing Grace.” He was slave trader, He was the captain of a ship, buying and selling human cargo in the 1700s. Why on earth would God pick Him to write a song that has impacted the lives of millions of people all over the world. His song is probably the most well-known Christian song ever. What made God choose to use that slave trader in such a powerful way?
How does God choose people like that? And maybe more to the heart of the issue – is it possible that God could choose you or me to be used in fantastic way like that? To impact the lives of millions – or at least hundreds? What kind of people does God choose to use?
Well, that’s the question that I want us to think about as we begin looking at the Exploits of Elisha.
We begin the story of Elisha in the book of 1 Kings chapter 19. We’re going to start at verse 19, but just to give you a little background here before we read this verse, in the chapters ahead of this, we read about a man named Elijah – again, not to be confused with Elisha, but Elijah. Elijah was a prophet of God and had just had this big contest on Mount Carmel to show the people of Israel who was the true God. Was it Baal – whom the evil King Ahab and his wife Jezebel worshipped? Or was it the God of their ancestors – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who was the true God?
Long story short, through an amazing display of fire falling from heaven, God made it very clear that He was God, and as a result, Elijah put to death 400 of Jezebel’s false prophets of Baal. This of course, made her very upset and she vowed to kill Elijah and Elijah ran for his life.
And its at this time that God tells Elijah to go find Elisha and to anoint him as his successor. In other words, Elisha was to become the next prophet after Elijah. And this is where we pick it up in verse 19.
“So Elijah went and found Elisha son of Shaphat plowing a field. There were twelve teams of oxen in the field, and Elisha was plowing with the twelfth team.” 1 Kings 19:19a
Now hold on a second. This is Elisha guy was a farmer! He’s out plowing his field. Would God choose a farmer to be God’s messenger to the Kings of Israel? Would God choose a farmer to do more miracles than anyone else in the Bible – less Jesus? Would God choose a farmer to heal the sick and raise people back to life? Why, yes. Yes He would.
And not only farmers, as you read through the Bible, you see that God also chooses fishermen.
He chooses tax collectors.
He chooses doctors.
He chooses house-wives.
He chooses butlers.
He choose soldiers.
He chooses tent makers.
He chooses slaves.
He chooses widows.
God chooses all kinds of people. Regular people, just like you and me. He doesn’t require us to get our PHD before He uses us. We don’t have to be in ‘full time ministry’ like a pastor or missionary. God uses regular people to do amazing things. It doesn’t matter if we are just ordinary people – because we have an extra-ordinary God! He’ll take you where you are, as you are, – and He’ll use you to fantastic things for Him!
If God can use a farmer like Elisha to become great prophet of God – if God can use a fisherman like Peter to become a founding father of the church, if God can use a slave trader like John Newton to touch millions of lives with a song – well, think of what God can do through you!
But there is one requirement. While it’s true that God can use anybody, and he does use just regular people just like you and me – there is a certain kind of person that He’s looking for. The people that God uses in great and fantastic ways all have one attribute in common. And we see it in the life of Elisha.
The people that God uses are all FAT. They are all FAT! They’re not over-weight – not obese – but FAT. F.A.T. Faithful Available Teachable.
Let’s look at the example of Elisha. Where was he and what was he doing when Elijah found him? Verse 19 says…. “So Elijah went and found Elisha son of Shaphat plowing a field.”
You’ll notice that he wasn’t found sleeping in his tent. He wasn’t found feasting with his friends. He wasn’t out just cruising the countryside in his chariot.
He was doing what he needed to do. He was plowing a field. He was providing for his family. He was doing his job. He was faithfully doing what he needed to be doing.
And God’s looking for people who are faithfully doing what they need to be doing. God’s not interested in people who shirk their duties. God will not greatly use people who neglect their responsibilities. God is looking for people who are faithful.
The other part of that verse says that “There were twelve teams of oxen in the field, and Elisha was plowing with the twelfth team.” I’m guessing that it wasn’t much fun to be the twelfth guy – eating the dust of all the other eleven teams of oxen ahead of you. But there he was. Faithfully doing what needed to be done.
How many people here have ever hired someone to work for you? Have you ever had someone work for you who was not faithful?
Look at Proverbs 10:26. It says…
“Lazy people irritate their employers, like vinegar to the teeth or smoke in the eyes.” Proverbs 10:26
I think you can change the word lazy to “unfaithful”. People you can’t count on. People who don’t do what they are supposed to do. They irritate their employers. It’s like drinking vinegar or getting smoke in your eyes.
But on the other hand – have you ever had someone work for you who was faithful? How awesome is that? I love having faithful people work for me. It’s such a relief.
Most of you have a bulletin in your hands this morning. I don’t know if you know this, but John does up the bulletins each week. And I love it! I never have to wonder if the bulletins will be done right or on time. I know they will, because John has proven himself to be faithful. I can count on John!
Another person that I’ve come to appreciate their faithfulness is Barbara. She faithfully cleans the church every week! I don’t have to call and reminder her or check up to see if she’s doing a good job. I know she will do a great job every week because she has proven herself to be faithful!
And that’s exactly the kind of people that God is looking for. So what kind of person are you? Are you vinegar to teeth – smoke in the eyes – unreliable – undependable? Or are you faithful?
The second part to our FAT acronym is “Available”. Continuing in verse 19….
“Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak across his shoulders and then walked away. 20 Elisha left the oxen standing there, ran after Elijah, and said to him, “First let me go and kiss my father and mother good- bye, and then I will go with you!” 1 Kings 19:19b:20a
Now this isn’t really something we do in our culture. This whole “Cloak over the shoulders” thing seem a little odd. If someone came and threw a cloak over my shoulders while I was working, I’d be like “Thanks for the coat man! Have a great day!”
But Elisha understood that this action. When Elijah threw his cloak over Elisha’s shoulders, Elisha was being invited to come and be Elijah’s student – his apprentice – his disciple.
And I find it interesting that Elijah didn’t say a word. He didn’t coerce him. He didn’t lay out the benefits of being a prophet of God. He just lay the cloak over his shoulders and walked away. The invitation was there.
And how did Elisha respond? He left the oxen standing there and ran after him. He said to Elijah, “Let me say good bye to my folks, and then I will go with you.”
Elisha was available. He could have said, “Look, I appreciate the offer, but I gotta finish plowing this field.” If you read back in chapter 18, you’ll see that a three year drought had just ended. They had just had the first rain in three years – so you can imagine how eager the farmers would be to get some seed in the ground while they could. No wonder they had twelve teams of oxen out there working!
It would be quite understandable for Elisha to say, “Look, I’d love to go with you, but now is a really bad time. I’ve got all these fields I’ve got to get planted.” But he didn’t say that. He simply said, “Let me say good-bye to my folks, and I’ll go with you.” Elisha was available.
Are you available? When God brings a new opportunity to you – do you make yourself available – or do you make yourself excuses?
And you know, this is applicable in all areas of life. Of course, in our church context, we might ask “Are you available for certain ministries in the church? Are you available to run the powerpoint, or help with youth group, or shovel the sidewalks? God can’t use you if you’re not available.”
And that’s true, but that’s just a limited scope. Think a bit broader for example.
You’ve got your plan for your life. You’ve got your dreams. You’ve got your goals. But are you available when God brings you an opportunity to take your life in a totally unexpected direction?
Like Beryl years ago when God called her to be a missionary to India. It wasn’t her plan to leave her family and go to a foreign country on the other side of the world. That wasn’t the script she had in mind for her life. But God came by and laid that cloak across her shoulders and walked away. Would she be available or would she make excuses? I’m sure she’s glad that she decided to be available.
But of course, that big life-changing stuff only happens once in a while, what about the little day-by-day stuff? Are you available when God prompts you just to walk over to your neighbors house and talk with them for a few minutes? You don’t know what opportunities God has waiting for you when you do that. But are you available?
Or how about when you’re super busy at home and your kid just out of the blue asks you a question of spiritual significance? Do you brush him off with a quick Sunday School answer and keep doing what you’re doing, or are you available to seize that teachable moment that God brought to you? If you want to be used by God in amazing ways, you have to make yourself available.
So we have to be faithful, we have to be available – what else do we need to be FAT? We need to be teachable. Let’s read on at the end of verse 20.
Elijah replied, “Go on back, but think about what I have done to you.”
21 So Elisha returned to his oxen and slaughtered them. He used the wood from the plow to build a fire to roast their flesh. He passed around the meat to the townspeople, and they all ate. Then he went with Elijah as his assistant.
1 Kings 19:20-21
Now the first thing I noticed in this part is that Elisha was committed. There was no going back for him. He slaughtered his oxen and fed them to the townspeople, cooked over the fire that he made with his own plow. That’s a fantastic example of someone who is totally committed to following God. But committed starts with a ‘C’ and that would make us a FACT not FAT. So I’m going to skip that one and go right to the ‘T’. Elisha was teachable.
Commentators say that Elisha’s family would have had to have been pretty wealthy to have twelve teams of oxen after three years of drought. And as the guy running the twelfth team of oxen, Elisha would likely have been the farm foreman. The guy in charge – the manager.
So if that’s true, Elisha would have been giving up not only comforts of living in a wealthy family, but he would have gone from being a man of authority and position to being… What does it say in verse 21? Elijah’s assistant. The NIV says his “attendant”. In other words, his servant.
He had to start again from the bottom. He had to submit himself under the authority of Elijah. He had to be willing to learn. He had to be teachable.
So many people are NOT like that. You can’t teach them anything. They think they know it all. Their way is always better and they are always right. They’re not willing to listen. They’re not willing to learn.
But for God to be able to use you, you have to be teachable.
You know, that’s kinda what this whole “discipleship” thing is all about. It’s being teachable. It about learning to be like Christ. If you’re not teachable – really, you make a pretty lousy Christian. We have to be teachable.
That’s why I encourage you spend time reading God’s Word each morning – I want God to teach you something new. That’s why you come and listen to a sermon each Sunday – because you want God to teach you something new. (Or at least remind you of something that He tried to teach you earlier.) Many of you have signed up to attend “Breakforth” – why? Because you want God to teach you something new. Even this week, a group of us will be going to a seminar in Red Deer in hopes that we’ll learn something new.
We always need to be willing to learn something new. To be teachable. A phrase I picked up some years ago and I try to live by it is “Leaders are Learners.” The minute we stop learning is the minute we stop leading. For God to use us in amazing ways, we have to stay teachable.
So this morning, I want to give you the FAT Challenge. Growing FAT doesn’t just happen automatically. It takes practice.
So #1. I want you to practice being faithful. Don’t just sit around waiting for God to use you in some amazing way. Faithfully do what God has already given you to do.
If God has given you a family to take care of – then faithfully continue to care for that family.
If God has given you some job or ministry to do – then faithfully continue to do that job or ministry.
If God has put it on your heart to pray some people or some organization or some situation – then faithfully continue to pray those people or that situation.
Whatever God has already given you to do – continue to faithfully do it.
Practice being faithful so that when God is ready to use you in amazing ways, He’ll already know that He can count on you.
#2. I want you to practice being Available.
Practice saying “Yes” instead of “No”. I realize there are some people who take on too much busy-ness and need to learn to say no to all the extra-curricular activities of life, but I think for the majority of us, we need to practice saying “Yes” to the opportunities that God brings us. Perhaps we need to free up our schedule so that we can be available for God’s. Let’s practice being available.
#3. I want you to practice being Teachable.
Instead of offering your wise advice in a given situation this week, try the other guys idea. Practice being teachable. Let your kids show you how to do something. Ask them how to play one of their video games or something. Practice being teachable. Spend some time reading some books – and make sure one of them is the Bible. Ask God to show you something new about Himself. Practice being teachable.
Because you just never know when God is going to show up and throw a cloak over your shoulders. When he’s going to call you to do something amazing! I know you’re just a bunch of regular people, but so was Elisha.
And if God can use Elisha the Farmer, then God can sure use you. But only if you are Faithful, Available, and Teachable.