This story linked to The Living Word study for June 26 explores the question ‘Who Has Your Heart?’
This is about spiritual commitment and this story comes out of three different but complementary pictures in the Bible, from the OT era, the NT with Jesus and the NT with Jesus risen but the Holy Spirit bringing His active presence to believers.
The first perspective of this commitment comes out of the Bible story in 2 Kings 2:1–2, 6–14 of how the prophetic anointing was assigned to Elisha after Elijah had been taken up into heaven, evidence of Elisha’s devotion to God and loyalty as Elijah’s apprentice.
Then in the NT Luke 9:51–62 we will join a conversation with Jesus, travelling down to Jerusalem — and conflict. Others were saying they would like to be counted among His followers and we’ll hear how Jesus tested their commitment.
And then, teaching from the New Testament Church Galatians 5:1, 13–25 will get us thinking about how Spirit and flesh want different things and create a tension in us — testing our spiritual commitment to Christ and His Way. When we are tempted to act or react in selfish ways, there is a different leading which is also an empowerment to respond in joy and peace and say ‘no’ to the desires of the flesh.
First this excerpt from Psalm 77:1–2, 11–20 about crying out to God to help, reflecting on how His past miracles and great works prove His faithfulness, serves as a backdrop to the story:
1–2 I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted.
11–12 I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will rememberYour miracles of long ago. I will consider all Your works and meditate on all Your mighty deeds.
13–15 Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; You display Your power among the peoples. With your mighty arm you redeemed Your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
16–18 The waters saw You, God, the waters saw You and writhed; the very depths were convulsed. The clouds poured down water, the heavens resounded with thunder; Your arrows flashed back and forth. Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, Your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked.
19–20 Your path led through the sea, Your way through the mighty waters, though Your footprints were not seen. You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Psalm 77:1–2, 11–20 NIV
Now we are going to dwell on the ‘changing of the guard’, as it were, between Elijah and Elisha. This part of the story starts with Elijah very aware that his prophetic ministry is coming to an end. But for him it was not to be stepping back from the front line and gently entering the ‘third age’. Instead, it was to be a different and almost unique way of going to be with the Lord. But would his apprentice Elisha be the one to succeed him in the office of prophet to the nation?
It becomes clear that what Elisha seeks is not the exalted status of the nation’s foremost prophetic voice. He is seeking something else. What’s the lesson for us that comes from this excerpt from 2 Kings 2:
1 When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.
2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel.”
But Elisha said, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.
6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.”
And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.
7–8 Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you, before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.
10 “You have 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.”
11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.
12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.
13–14 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.
2 Kings 2:1–2, 6–14
The obvious link between this story and the next is that Jesus, too, was aware that He would soon be taken up to heaven, but that His passage, unlike Elijah’s, had to be the most difficult one, one could imagine. He needed to show those who would continue the mission as His followers that there was a cost for following His way.
There’s another link to the previous story of how Elisha succeeded Elijah. Elisha wanted to be so close to God, that God could use him to bless others. And Jesus will talk about what it takes to be fit for service in the kingdom of God — and the cost.
• Watch the video (13 min) Who Has My Heart (also on Instagram)
Commitment to Jesus is not the route of popularity. It is the way of putting what God wants first and foremost. Sometimes other things, even important things, have to be put on hold for that — as Jesus explains here in Luke 9:
51 As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
52–53 And He sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for Him; but the people there did not welcome Him, because He was heading for Jerusalem.
54–56 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then He and His disciples went to another village.
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to Him, “I will follow You wherever you go.”
58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”
59 He said to another man, “Follow Me.”
But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
61 Still another said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus is teasing out from us how INTENTIONAL we are about the kingdom of God — not just agreeing with what it is, but accepting our part in bringing it, knowing we will be up against opposition from the world and control from its institutions, just as Jesus was.
This is a hard word — or so it would seem. It records what seem quite reasonable responses from some who seek to be Jesus’ followers. His reply about the ploughman needing to be single-minded about keeping a straight furrow, not looking around, isn’t easy to accept.
God knows all about how we need a work-life balance, and He is not in the business of growing workaholics. At the same time He needs people free from holding their own agendas, free to hear Him and to respond to His kingdom priority of the moment.
This seems a bit like being on call as a first responder — but let’s remember, He’s not asking us to take a shift, but rather to be free and available for HIM to work through us. That’s a significant difference — it’s a spiritual call to be people who have come into spiritual and emotional freedom to be empowered by Him.
That’s a process of believing and receiving. It starts with us taking hold of who Jesus really is, the Son of God and our Saviour. Then we ask Him into our heart and willingly defer to Him as Lord of our life and our priorities and our decisions. This is a spiritual transaction where our commitment results in the burden of sin and guilt and poor self-image is lifted off and we see both Jesus and ourselves in His kingdom, with new eyes.
The new life of the Spirit is the life that celebrates being set free by the One who has taken the burden of our sin and independent wrongdoing, and nailed it to the Cross, to pay the price that gives us the gift of freedom.
And this is where Paul starts where he writes in Galatians 5: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” It’s a memorable phrase and he continues by explaining it.
1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
14–15 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19–21 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22–23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
He means that we were set free to BE ABLE to do what Jesus said to do -– truly love one another without condition. If we get jealous, ambitious for ourselves, part of a faction, or any of the other hurtful and divisive things he mentions, we are reverting back to the characteristics of the flesh, the old unregenerate human nature.
Receiving Jesus as Lord of our life is a choice and an event, but it continues in the new life as a transition and a learning curve. As we take that decision, a lot of freedom comes at that point. But there will be deeper issues within us which will take more time to bring under the lordship of Jesus, more time for Him to bring His change in us.
Just as Jesus wanted those who are intentional about following Him, and committed to see His rule and reign spreading. So He is calling us to be intentional about allowing the Holy Spirit space and influence in our lives. And as we do, He will, with our help, rearrange things and change the priorities and point out some things we need to give a bit more attention to.
So living with Jesus is both a step of freedom, but also a course of increasing freedom as we learn to make Him more part of our lives and become more comfortable with saying ‘no’ to our ego.
In this passage, Paul explains the difference between living in a free way, led by the Holy Spirit, contrasted with the old bound-up existence, bullied by the desires and reactions of the old flesh nature. That old nature still wants to have its say — what we like or don’t like, what we think we can or can’t do, what others may think — all the time, bringing the focus back to me and what I want or don’t want.
The new life is about Jesus. I may have accepted Jesus into my heart as my Saviour and my Lord, and I may in truth belong to Him, but that flesh nature will always be trying to get back what it lost. His call and His encouragement will always find opposition, both from outside, and from within, tempting us to revert to that selfish and less spiritual part of us. We have to learn to live intentionally in a spiritually-aware way.
Elisha was showing his desire for advancement to be spiritual, not ambitious. Jesus wanted those who proclaimed that they would follow Him, to have the spiritual resolve to remain His followers. Would they still be standing firm when He had been taken from them and publicly humiliated? Paul addresses the tendency of our spiritual life to revert to the long-established habits of the former life — and how we avoid that trap.
Spiritual life has to be worked at, has to be maintained. But we have the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who takes up residence in our human spirit, where He can lead us and show us His better way — if we are intentional about living for Jesus.
If we have resolved that, whatever life brings, Jesus has our heart.
Father, I thank You for Jesus taking my sin and independence, so I can be close to You. I ask Jesus into my life as my Saviour and also the One I look to as Lord of my decisions and priorities and actions. I ask to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus so I can say ‘no’ to my flesh nature. Fill me with Your Spirit so I can be free to serve the kingdom of God, and be growing in love and joy, peace and patience, kindness and goodness, faithful steadfastness and self-control. To be more and more like Jesus, through whom I pray. Amen.