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Following in His Footsteps

When selecting a career path, many young people are drawn to the same vocations practiced by their fathers or mothers. This is notable also in the church—sons frequently aspire to become pastors like their fathers, and sons and daughters to become teachers like their parents. It is not a self-chosen calling, but rather a calling from the Lord (see Ephesians 4:11). All a person can do is prepare for the public ministry and wait upon the Lord for such a calling.

Elisha’s “father figure” was Elijah, whom he succeeded as a prophet of God. In Elisha’s case, we have no indication that he aspired to the high office of Old Testament prophet, for his original vocation was farming—in which he was quite successful (see 1Kings19:19).

That the office of the public ministry is not a self-chosen calling comes across in the case of Elisha. The  Lord instructed Elijah to anoint Elisha as his successor (see 1 Kings19:16). It is interesting to note the manner in which Elisha learned he had received this calling, for Elijah simply walked up to this farmer plowing in the field and threw his mantle, or cloak, on him. This was a distinctive garb, identifying the wearer as one who had received the prophetic calling from the  Lord.

To follow in the footsteps of the prophet Elijah was undoubtedly quite daunting. After all, Elijah was singled out as one of the truly great prophets in Israel. John the Baptist was likened to the prophet Elijah in his ministry as the forerunner of the Lord Jesus (see Malachi 4:5; Matthew11:13-14; 17:10-13). It was Elijah whom the  Lord chose to appear with Moses and Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (see Matthew 17:3). How could Elisha follow in the footsteps of the great prophet Elijah? How could he be successful in such a high calling?

The  Lord revealed to Elijah that his work was done and that he would soon be taken up into heaven by a whirlwind. Elijah then went on a “farewell tour” to the religious schools of the prophets in Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho. Even though Elijah told his successor he didn’t need to go along, Elisha doggedly followed in his footsteps. Why was this? Was it because he was concerned about being left behind without receiving from the  Lord what was needed to carry on in the important work of a prophet? He certainly didn’t like to hear the students of the prophets repeatedly tell him he would soon be parted from Elijah (see 2 Kings 2:3,5).

Finally, in the following exchange between Elijah and Elisha, it is revealed what Elisha was hoping for in his kingdom work. “Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?’ Elisha said, ‘Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me’ ” (2 Kings 2:9). What was this all about? Elisha wasn’t asking to be two times more faithful or two times more effective than Elijah in the work of a prophet. Considering Elijah to be his spiritual father, and therefore he his heir, Elisha was asking for a double portion of the inheritance (see Deuteronomy 21:16,17). In other words, he was seeking from the  Lord all that was needed to successfully carry out the work of a prophet.

When a son follows in the footsteps of his father as a pastor, or when a son or daughter follows in the footsteps of a parent as a teacher in the church, it is important to guard against thinking that one must fill the shoes of the parent. Why? Because those shoes can be bigger than one is able to fill. We each have received a different measure of gifts and abilities. What is needed is to seek the  Lord’s help in faithfully carrying out our respective work in the kingdom of God according to the abilities He has given us. All this is true whether our vocation lies in the public ministry or in any other calling in life.

To God be all praise, honor, and glory in whatever calling in life we have.

Mark Gullerud is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Bowdle, South Dakota, and Zion Lutheran Church in Ipswich, South Dakota.