As a Pastor, I can recall numerous times sitting across from earnest youth and young adults who are pouring their hearts out to me. And time after time, I get hit with the statement (or something like it), “I just want to do God’s will for my life…but I don’t know what it is”
Sometimes this is followed by tears, other times with frustration or even desperation in their voices. Inevitably, they will ask me “Caleb, what do you think God wants me to do?” Oftentimes I may have an inkling of an idea. Maybe God has placed an idea in my head even. But most of the time I simply say “I don’t know.”
At this point I often get one of two responses. Shock, as they think to themselves (or even say to my face), “Aren’t you supposed to know?” The other response is relief, “I’m glad you feel like you don’t have to have the answers”, they say to me.
However, I don’t just simply say nothing. I often draw from a story in the Bible to comfort (and challenge them). In 1 Kings chapter 19, we hear about the calling of the Prophet Elisha by the Prophet Elijah. I believe this story can help you discern the will of God for your own life. Here are three points we can glean from this story about that:
In your comfort, be interruptible
Elijah, having displayed one of the most powerful signs of God’s power at Mt Carmel against the prophets of Baal, is sent to find his successor. He finds Elisha on his rich family estate,
One of 12 men ploughing the field with 12 pairs of ox.
And then, we hear that Elijah goes up to him and places his mantle on him, which symbolically means that Elisha was to become his apprentice. Then he walks away.
Elisha is faced with this interruption to his normal life An interruption that demands his attention in ways that are life-altering. Elisha had a really good material life. He had resources, he had wealth, he had options.
Elisha was blessed. He was obviously favoured by God. He didn’t have to add anything else to his life. He had it all. As far as he was concerned—God was with him. He didn’t need anything else from God—he already provided it!
Most of us who live in the West are wealthy. Very wealthy. We are creatures of comfort—existing in consumer cultures. And we know that Jesus had much to say about wealth and comfort (i.e. read the whole New Testament!)
We see in the story of the rich young ruler that he was unable to be interrupted in his lifestyle. Unlike, Elisha, who had the ears to hear and the eyes to see that God was moving in his situation. When the mantle is placed on his shoulders, he doesn’t shrug it off and keep ploughing. No, he stops, and he considers his options… he allows himself to be interrupted.
Count the cost (and potential benefits)
Christians place a heavy emphasis on decisions. Altar calls, “I see that hand” responses to guest speakers, “decisions for Christ” are just some of the cultural phenomenon we employ in our vernacular and actions to display this.
And so it makes sense that when it comes to finding out God’s will, we get so stressed. But often, we don’t simply look at our circumstances and realise that in our relative wealth and safety—we are not open to what God might say because of the potential cost.
Here were Elisha’s costs: leaving behind his career, his family (potentially to never see them again), leaving behind wealth (his inheritance) and the potential cost of lives (prophets were targeted by the ruling authorities and lived in fear of death).
Discerning the will of God involves considering the consequences. It is not a blind leap. It takes proper assessment of your current situation. Why? Because God appreciates careful consideration. He knows following him will cost.
The problem is we are so inoculated with safety, comfort, wealth and excess—that we simply can’t hear God’s will as our ears are tuned to a different frequency. What kind of frequency does God’s voice speak in? Well, he tells us that to gain our life we must lose it. He says that to follow him is to die quite literally, by taking up our cross (which remember, is a tool of execution) and to follow him. Paul agrees, declaring that to live is Christ and to die is gain.
But that doesn’t mean it will be all dark and gloomy—when you trade in your old life for a new one, with that comes things you never thought you would experience! Elisha traded in his old life for one filled with miracles, defeating enemy armies, and helping Kings! (There is also a story about a bear, but I wont extrapolate on that one!)
Burn the oxen
The writer of 1 Kings tells us that when Elisha goes back, he does something interesting. He burns the oxen. For Elisha, the oxen was his fall-back option. It was his previous job and credentials. It was his CV. It was everything he and his family had worked for their whole lives. It was his inheritance.
And he burned it down to the ground, literally. He gathered all the oxen and, using the wooden ploughs attached to them as the wood, he lit a giant fire and BBQ’d them.
He made it so that he had no option of turning back. There was no plan B. There was nothing else that would pull him back He was all-in.
What is your ox? What is the thing or things that pull you back? Your career? Your degree? Your Parents expectations? Your life choices? Your relationships?
And who knows, you might end up discerning God’s will for your life.
Caleb Haurua is a young dad, a NZ Warriors supporter, and Youth Pastor in Central Auckland. A proud Maori & Cook Island man, he gained his Masters in Applied Theology at Carey Baptist College and has been in ministry since 2017. He loves to openly muse about things in articles like this one.