A New Beginning

Today is January 1st, a time for new beginnings.  What do new beginnings look like?  How do we begin again?  There is an ancient and somewhat obscure story in the Hebrew Scriptures that help us know how to do this (1 Kings 19:19-21).  Elijah the great prophet, who once called fire down from the sky to demonstrate to Israel the existence of the real God, was ending his prophetic career and picking a successor.  He found Elisha in a field plowing.  He put his cloak on him.  This cloak represented Elijah’s prophetic office; by giving it to this young man he was offering a new life to Elisha.  Elisha took the cloak and asked Elijah if he could say goodbye to his parents.  The old prophet said yes.  The young man then went and said goodbye to his parents and slaughtered the oxen that he was using to plow his field and used the wood of the plow for the fire to cook the meat.  He hosted a farewell meal for those closest to him and then went and followed Elijah as his apprentice and successor.  I see much to learn from this simple story about new beginnings. 
     First, wherever you are, walk in hope.  I think it is intriguing that Elisha is plowing a field right after a three year drought has ended.  I think this act marks Elisha as a man of hope.  Elisha could have easily decided not to plow based on the troubles of the past three years.  It is significant that the old prophet goes to a man of hope, not despair.  It might seem overly optimistic to hope 2021 is going to be better than 2020, but we should do it anyway.  Hope is simply confident expectation based on the God we serve that eventually a better future awaits.        Second, Elisha answers the call of God quickly.  He immediately engages with the old prophet and indicates that he is willing to start this new adventure.  It would have been easy to put off this important decision.   Elisha is called and he jumps to obedience without hesitation.  What is God calling you to do in 2021?  Start a business, volunteer in your church or community, repair a relationship?  Act now rather than later.  Slow obedience to God is actually disobedience.
     Third, Elisha says goodbye to those who have helped him.  He has no idea when he will next see his parents or his community.  I think it is implied that Elisha says thank you to those who have poured into his life up to that point.  Be a person of gratitude.  Even as a tough year closes, when you look back in reflection, I bet there were sweet moments: moments of kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity.  Take the time to say thank you to those individuals, and ultimately to God, for He is the source of all good gifts (James 1:17). 
     Finally, we see Elisha commit.  He slaughters the oxen and burns the plow.  His old life as a farmer is done.  He is making a powerful statement that he is going “all in” on answering his call from God.  Every call has a cost.  The leadership of Israel was very evil; the call of a prophet was dangerous.  Elisha had to be willing to die for God.  While it doesn’t compare to Elisha’s dangerous call, 17 years ago my wife and our four kids and I packed up a minivan in Indiana and drove thousands of miles to Fairbanks, Alaska because we felt called to start a new church.  I left my parents and took their only grandchildren (at the time) and moved to the frigid north to spend seven years working a second full time job to complete our mission.  Today, thanks to God’s kindness and the sacrificial service of many dear friends we’ve met along the way, Journey is a thriving congregation sharing the gospel and serving this community. 
     2020 has been rough for all of us.  Today offers a new beginning.  Be like Elisha; burn your plow and don’t look back.  A flourishing future awaits.
Pastor Derek Dickinson
Journey Christian Church