Steven Furtick — The Hidden Cost of a High Calling
I came to our church recently and asked for prayer. You know, as a pastor, I feel like that my job is to minister to the people, and so I don't like to put my personal burdens on my church, but we had a situation in our family that I thought it would be appropriate to call the whole church to pray for support and encouragement.
My kids had banded together and decided they wanted a dog, and it became a prayer request because the pressure became so great from all sides when you have a ten-year-old and an eight-year-old and a five-year-old little girl simultaneously begging you for a dog. It's relentless, and the thing about it is now I'm a good dad. You have to understand. I consider myself probably in the top ten percentile. I mean, I would put myself up against most dads on a good day and yet there's no chance I'm getting them a dog.
They've tried everything, and they tried manipulation. My middle son, Graham, he was the primary culprit. I think he was the ambassador. He's the one they sent out and the reason they sent him out is because he's got techniques. He's almost got puppy dog eyes. He's got a little raspy voice. He just has a way about him and that middle child thing. He's very subtle, but he's sneaky, he's stealth, but he just worked me over and over again.
When I would wake up in the morning, the first thing I would hear from him, not I love you, dad, thank you for this beautiful home, not I appreciate the food that you fed me last night and the fact that there are granola bars in the pantry for me this morning. The first thing out of his mouth, "Can I have a dog?" When I would get home from dog, I would be met in the garage.
Not, "Dad, how was your day? Thank you for going forth into the world and bringing home provision for us that we might live and be sustained." "Can I get a dog?" One day, I came home. There was a sign on the garage door, "I want a dog." Now, we've from asking to demanding.
Now this is a hostage negotiation situation. We're no longer pleading. Now we are simply declaring what we want. And so I told my church pray for me, and the reason I want you to pray for me is because under no circumstances are my children getting a dog, and it's not because I'm not a good dad and it's not because I don't love them and it's not because I don't want good things for them. It's because I know my family, and we are not a dog family. We are not a pet family.
Graham has an iguana that he barely keeps alive. He can barely give the sucker three crickets a day. Okay? Or it's a gecko or it's something, but I know that the thing has almost died several times. If you can't take care of the gecko, I'm not getting you a German Shepherd.
So, NO is my final answer. You don't want a dog. You wouldn't even like a dog. You like the concept of a dog. The concept of a pet, but sometimes there's other stuff that comes along with the dog. There's the concept of the dog that's cute, but who's going to clean up the other stuff?
There's a big difference between falling in love with a concept and making a commitment because a dog is a commitment. I've had a dog. It's a commitment. It's a commitment to train it. It's a commitment not to kill it. It's a commitment to keep the dog from killing its stupid self. Can you tell how I feel about this?
I'm very passionate that there are some people who are just not dog people, and I am not a dog dad and my children are not dog kids, and so I told Graham if you can keep your room clean for three days straight, then maybe I'll consider getting you a dog, but until you can demonstrate some form of commitment, this conversation is over. And for now, I think I've gotten them to shut up because what's often attractive in concept form is a lot different when it comes to commitment.
Now we've been talking for a whole series about how God uses broken people to do big thing, and my premise has been that there is a calling on your life and when I talk about that concept of calling, I notice that people get excited. Regardless of their age, I notice that regardless of economic status or ethnicity, people seem to get excited about calling.
College students get excited about calling. Moms get excited about calling. There's something about believing that my life could be on purpose, believing that there's something that I'm mean to be and meant to do and meant to accomplish and that I could wake up with a sense of assignment. It sounds sexy. I want a calling, a high calling, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. How many want to fulfill your calling, and hands go up when I ask that. But when it comes to the commitment, there's often a disconnect.
To illustrate this, let's look at an Old Testament passage, one of my favorites. I've even wrote a book about this Bible character called Elisha, and his story is told in the pages of annals of 1 and 2 Kings. We're just going to take a small snippet of the story. There's no way I can get across the magnitude of this ministry in this one session, but let me try to communicate something about calling, and I want to use as a title for this challenge that I want to bring to you today, "The Test Before the Transfer".
The test before the transfer because the Bible says that in Verse 9 of 2 Kings 2 that Elijah and Elisha were crossing over. Now, Elijah, you think of him kind of like the mentor. Elisha is the successor. He's going to take over Elijah's ministry which is no small thing and just before Elijah is about to be taken up to heaven in a season of transition, and this message will specifically speak to you today if you feel in a sense that your life is in transition.
To be alive is to face transition. And so this passage gives us some principles about transition. It ways that when they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?" Now, this is a big question. What do you want? What do you want? And Elijah, he's a mighty man of power, so he can make things happen.
What is it that you want? Elisha has been following Elijah for six years some scholars say at this point, and now before Elijah leaves and puts the authority of the ministry on the shoulders of Elisha who has been in training, he says, "What can I do before I'm taken from you?"
And Elisha says in Verse 9, Part B, "Let me get a dog." It doesn't say exactly that. He says, "Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit." In other words, I want to do twice as much as you did for God. I want for my potential to exceed your power. I want to go further than you've gone. I want to do greater things that you've done. And I love Elijah's response because he sounds like a dad. He sounds like me talking to Abbie or Graham or my son Elijah.
Verse 10, "You have asked a difficult thing." You don't know what you're asking for. You've seen me do the ministry, but there's a big difference between watching somebody do big things for God and doing them yourself. There's a big difference between petting a dog and walking a dog every morning. "You've asked a difficult thing," Elijah said, "yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours. Otherwise, it will not."
You know what's interesting? While they were walking along and talking together, the Bible says suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them. Can you hear the soundtrack in your mind, "Chariots of Fire" soundtrack? I just need you to get that in your mind right now. Maybe we can add it in as an after effect.
Just imagine it right now and here come the chariots of fire, but these are not just the chariots of change. These are the chariots of transition that are going to take Elisha's spiritual father away and everything that has been familiar to him and everything that he's been following now and left his familiar life behind to run after.
It's going away in a moment, and the Bible says that the two were separated and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind and Elisha saw this and cried out, "'My father, my father, the chariots and horsemen of Israel', and Elisha saw him now more, and then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two, and Elisha picked up Elijah's cloak that had fallen from him."
Can I have your jacket Holly. As I was thinking about this cloak, it's this cloak was the same kind of cloak that six years earlier when Elisha was plowing in a field and Elijah came by, he threw the cloak on him. Threw it on him. It was a symbolic gesture. It represented the mantle of ministry that Elisha was walking into. And so now, when Elijah leaves and God is taking him, he leaves something behind. He leaves the cloak behind, and the Bible says that when Elisha saw it, he picked it up and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan and took the cloak that fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it, the Jordan, which represents transition.
You see, the theme of transition in this passage? It's what you do in transition. It's the connection in transition, the test before the transfer, and he took the cloak, and he struck the water with it, and he asked a question, "Where now is the God of Elijah?" And when he struck the water, it says that it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over it. When he took what was left from the one that he had followed faithfully and had the faith to perform a simple task to strike the water, God did something supernatural.
You know, friend, you are going to face some moments in your life where what you have been taught will be tested. Where the patience that you've learned about will provide an opportunity to be put into practice. The tools of transformation are not usually workbooks that God lets us fill in or highlighters which we use yellow for adjectives and green for verbs in our study Bibles. The tools of transformation that God uses in our life are pain, tears, trouble.
All of these are represented in 2 Kings. All of these are the tools that God uses so that broken people can do big things, and I've been thinking a lot about this because usually when I sit down with somebody who's just getting started in ministry, and in many ways I feel like I'm just getting started in ministry, but I've been a pastor now for a little over ten years at the same church. I've been preaching longer than that.
So, I guess I'm not a rookie anymore, and now when someone sits down with me and they ask me how can they prepare for their calling, I feel like God wants to do something big through my life, and usually they'll start speaking futuristically about what that looks like. So, I'm kind of like Graham. I want big church or sometimes it's somebody who's not married or married and doesn't have kids. You know, something that they want, and those are good desires. It's great. I mean, we all have dreams and we should.
But I think sometimes we miss the connection between what's next and what's now. The only question you have to answer, where is God at work now in my life? Where is God at work now? Boy, we sound so silly as a church sometimes talking about I wish we could go back to the Bible days. Do you really? Are you sure you want to go to jail for preaching about Jesus, really? Because you're not going to have your ichthys on your car if you go back to the Bible days. Okay? You're sure? ]
There's no Christian radio stations in the Bible days. Are you sure? There's no T.B.N. or Christian Broadcasting Network in the Bible days. Maybe these are the Bible days. Where now is the God of Elijah? Jesus said that greater works will we do in His name because He sent His spirit. He's given us a double portion. He said we would do greater things than he did while He was here because we are one in his name. Where now is the God of Elijah?
So when I talk to somebody, who's talking about what God's going to do through their life. I try to get them to take a look at what He's doing because whatever God is going to do, is going to start with what He's doing and your faithfulness in this season will determine your future. Why would God open another door when you not willing to walk through the one that He's put before you? It's so simple that tomorrow's success is dependent on today's sacrifice.
See, if you think about Elijah, he really wasn't looking for a new job. He wasn't looking for a next level or new assignment. The Bible says that when Elijah came by Elisha six years before the passage that I read to you that Elisha was plowing. He was the twelfth in line plowing, you can read this in your Bible in 1 Kings 19 for later study, and all of a sudden, he feels something that represents something, and he follows after Elijah, and he follows him not in order to work miracles, but in order to serve the one who would work miracles.
Now, I hear a lot of us talking about doing big things for God, but would we be willing to spend six years in obscurity? Would we be willing, 'cause here's the interesting thing. The Bible says that Elijah threw the cloak on Elisha, but then he took it back, and he took it back so that Elisha could learn what he needed to learn and become who he needed to be to handle what God had in store for him.
Sometimes it's God's mercy that He doesn't give you what you want the moment you ask for it. Sometimes it's God's mercy that He says, "No dog for you." It's God mercy that He puts you through six years of testing, six years of testing, six laps around the Jericho wall, six times to go look at the cloud, six years of testing, six years of training, six years of transformation, six years of infrastructure.
Some of you are in a period right now where it seems like nothing's happening, but you're being tested for the transfer. You're being tested, you're in transition, and your faithfulness in this season has everything to do with how you will experience the next season. Trust me, you don't want to go forward into what's next without picking up what God wants you to learn now. You're going to need this mantle. You're going to need all of these lessons. You're going to need what you learn in the lonely times. God's going to use all of it as a test.