It happened in such an unremarkable way. No booming voice split the skies to address him. No fiery flash grabbed his attention. He was simply prodding the oxen along in the field when a man stepped forward and threw his robe at him. But the robe hurler was Elijah and the farmer knew what it meant. Elisha recognized both the person to whom the robe belonged and the significance of its being cast upon him. As the account from 1 Kings 19 indicates, Elisha was being called to special service, to eventually succeed Elijah as the Lord’s prophet.
The divine summons was so ordinary. The whirlwind, fiery horses and flaming chariot would come much later in the Elisha story to sweep away his predecessor. But the call itself was certainly without thrills. This is how the Lord usually calls us. Every one of us will likely have times when God suddenly summons us to some special service. We’re well past the age of burning bushes, glorious visions and blinding lights. God’s call normally comes through His written Word, His enablement and being impressed by a definite need. And since God has the right to command our obedience, we should always be ready to do His will, no matter where it takes us or what it costs.
Speaking of cost, if there’s anything dramatic about Elisha’s calling, it’s his response to it. By killing his pair of oxen and burning them with the wood from their yoke (v21), his sacrifice indicated that he was done with his previous work and would depend upon the Lord to meet his needs in his new sphere of service. God’s call always comes with a cost, but we can always trust Him to provide.
But Elisha’s new work was just as unimpressive as his initial call. Yes, he would perform magnificent miracles and be God’s mouthpiece in days to come, but not at the beginning. Elisha “arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him” (v21 KJV). He was later referred to as “Elisha the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah” (2Ki 3:11 KJV). Pouring water over the hands before and after meals was a sign of respect shown by a servant to a master. So Elisha went from plowing fields to pouring water. Not a very exciting transition.
Understanding our call to no-frills ministry is critically important. None of us have been commissioned to cast out demons and heal the sick, but we are called to serve the Lord and do His will, whatever that might mean, wherever it might be, whatever it might cost. Some are easily lured into “exciting” ministry opportunities, hoping to be part of something grand. Some want to be recognized and admired. Most of us have more of James and John within us than we care to admit (Mar 10:37).
We need men and women who will respond to the call to ordinary Christian service, who will simply carry on the unglamorous work of those before us, and who will do so without having to let the world know all about it. And although the call itself may be without thrills, the work may have its thrilling moments. The big thrill occurs after the work is done, when as servants we will stand before the Master – “then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1Co 4:5 ESV).