Elisha at the Jordan

Dear Lord,

   Well, it's started. I am now more eager to write than I am to write well. I don't know whether that's good or bad. I only know that my "vaulting ambition," as Shakespeare calls it, can throw a body block to my spontaneity. I keep wanting everyone to like me, my work, my book.

   Even while I write about the all-sufficiency of Your grace, I keep plotting for means of personal gratification not necessarily of Your grace!

   Last night Cliff Barrows taught me a new meaning for an old verse, and I claim it this morning. ".. bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ..." (2 Corinthians 10:5).

   I take the thought of my own ambition for this book and by my choice place it under the domination of obedience to You. I give You the right to my every whim, thought, or purpose. You can use that as a goad for my typing fingers, as a delay in my progress, or as a blocking of my intentions.

   In the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Amen.                      

   Elisha and Elijah worked well together as teacher and student, master and servant, prophet and protégé. Then came the time for final dress rehearsals.

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   For those of you who do not know the experience of theater, let me make you aware of the sodden significance of dress rehearsals. At best they are organized confusion; at worst they are not to be described at all!

   It is at dress rehearsal that you learn that all levels are higher, entrances longer, steps steeper, and changes shorter than they were simulated to be. You hope to learn these things at dress rehearsal, because if you learn them at a later date you are in serious trouble.

   Elisha's dress rehearsal is described in 2 Kings 2. The master Elijah, in preparing for his departure, conducted a farewell tour of all the seminaries he had established in Israel. Elisha followed him, although he was given the opportunity to turn back at every stop.

   Each new trial toward getting a show on is another opportunity to quit. Finally wearing fatigue like an oversized coat, your whole being glistening with the blistered sunburn of nervousness, all your doubts and anxieties exposed by the strange manager's tap on your dressing-room door, you learn that the final challenge is just to endure. Not to leave town, not to fake laryngitis, not to have a tantrum and cancel the show, but to be there — win, lose, or draw. To be there!

   Elisha firmly told Elijah, "I'm staying!"

   The seminarians were quick to question Elisha as to the wisdom of following a lame duck prophet. "Don't you know," they said, "that your master will be leaving you today?"

   I can imagine Elisha's tone of voice when he answered all those questions. "Believe me, I know. Just

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keep quiet! I'm dealing with it."

   Finally they came to the Jordan River. This is always a place marking a decision — a place of ultimate choice. With fifty of the students watching.

   ... Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.

2 Kings 2:8                

   And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee...

2 Kings 2:9                

   "What do you want of me, Elisha?" I've taught you, coached you, directed you, encouraged you, criticized you. What else can I do for you?"

   I imagine Elisha could almost hear the opening strains of the overture as he answered, because he asked for the one thing he needed: power for his ministry. Not for a star on his dressing-room door, not for a full-page ad in Variety, not for a run-of-the-show contract, but for power for the task assigned.

   Elijah replied, "If you see me go, you have it."

And it came pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried,

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My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces. He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan.

2 Kings 2:11-13              

   The dress rehearsal was over.

Elisha's Opening Night

   The fifty seminarians filed into their seats in the audience, waving at one another, rattling their programs, and checking their ticket stubs. Yes, the audience was all assembled. Fifty of them, over here across the Jordan.

   "Isn't this the show that Elijah made famous?"

   "Yes, this boy studied under him. But I hear he can't touch him in the part."

   "Well, an Elijah comes along once in a generation. I don't see why this young fellow is going to try to do Elijah's act."

   I can tell you why: He had to! He was on the wrong side of the Jordan — his ministry was on the other side.

   This is the place where you and I watch Elisha's footprints for help as to where our steps should go. The house lights dim. The curtain opens. The scene is set. Elisha enters!

   That in itself takes a lot of nerve. He strides right to the middle of the stage, where everyone can see him. He takes his place right at the banks of the river Jordan. He lifts that old wrinkled coat of Elijah's over the waters and speaks his first line: "Where is the Lord

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God of Elijah?" ( 2 Kings 2:14).

   Have you been there? Did you exercise your choice to accept the call to service? Did you give your agreement to the Lord and sever the bonds that held you to your past? Did you study and seek for that which would prepare you for your mission?

   Did you prepare and purpose and pray and practice — and forget that someday you, all by yourself, would have to be perform? I did. When I stood at the point of beginning, I was too surprised to wave the mantle!

   There is really nothing like the first time you are in front of an audience. There are other kinds of terror, in performances much greater, but none quite like that first experience. One year, the After Dinner Players (a Christian drama group) opened a show with a young man who had never been on the stage before. Early in the play he had a brief line, securely tucked in between lines of our more seasoned troupers. He was very casual about the whole thing and enjoyed rehearsals and all the preparation time.

   Opening night he was very much at ease. He thanked the Lord and each of us for the opportunity of being with the Players in this show. As director, I make a special point of leaving the stage area and watching all opening performances from the back of the audience, so I had an excellent view of our young actor's debut.

   He walked out on stage with the group, smiling pleasantly and in character. He did very well until he happened to glance out toward the audience. We had prepared him for every contingency — except the fact

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that there would be people in the seats. He saw them. His eyes widened. His whole body swayed forward, as if drawn by a magnet in the front row. Then he swayed back, with his jaw dropped — still smiling — and his body tensed into unnatural quiet.

   I thought he was going to faint, but he didn't faint, he didn't move. When the time came for his line, he didn't speak. He just gazed at the audience in open-mouthed amazement at their presence.

   The actors on either side of him covered his one line and prodded him gently from time to time to move him about the stage. Somewhere in the second five minutes he seemed to thaw, just as suddenly as he had frozen, and he completed the show as rehearsed.

   Elisha must have known something of that feeling. He must have known that sudden appraisal of one's own capacity that sends up a flat negative. Let's consider a few questions, God may have answered for Elisha, who faced his first performance at the Jordan.

   "Why can't I swim across?" You can, but if God planned you to walk it, you might drown by swimming. God has you there for a purpose. He wants you to learn something and He wants to teach through you at the same time. Life is filled with a lot of adjustments that we have to make. Don't start out with one that isn't necessary. Try to walk it — that's why you and everyone else are here.

   "Could we have another quick rehearsal?" This is one of those things that can't be helped by another rehearsal. Besides, now is the time for you to learn one of the greatest principles a performer even learns: Trust the rehearsal you have had! More importantly,

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you've been working under an absolutely perfect Director-Producer. He has never had an error in His timing, and He never will. When He says you are ready for the show, believe Him, you are!

   "How did Elijah do that?" Elisha smote the waters just as Elijah did, the waters parted, just as they did for Elijah, but this time Elisha went over. The waiting audience applauded because they saw the spirit of Elijah rested on Elisha. It was Elisha's ministry that waited on the other side. It was not Elijah's trick that got Elisha across the river, but the work of the God of Elijah though Elisha.

Elisha on His Own

   Soon after I became active in outspoken Christianity, I met a lovely Christian leader who has become one of my dearest friends. Her name is Marge Caldwell, and I know of few women who have accomplished more unto the glory of the Lord.

   I heard her speak and saw the reaction and immediately assumed that that was what a Christian speaker was supposed to be. I tried to be just like her. I laughed like she does, I copied her approach to an audience, and I even told her jokes. It was terrible! I was miserable, my audiences were miserable, and I'm sure if Marge had seen me, she would have been miserable!

   I went limping back to the Lord. I explained to Him that I had tried my best to be like Marge and wanted to know where I had gone wrong. The Lord let me know He had a Marge, and she was doing a fantastic job of being Marge. However, He did have an empty space

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on His team. He didn't have anyone being Jeannette.

   It was difficult for me to deal with the fact that my own personhood — created by Christ, grasped by Christ, maintained by Christ — was important to the plan of Christ. I was startled to learn from Scripture that Christ loved me in my own being. Instead of teaching me to be just like someone else, He is teaching me the technique of my full personal potential: the technique of my own authenticity.

   God will go to any lengths to get us to trust Him so we will risk being ourselves. He'll call us, prepare us, teach us, direct us. He'll whisk away our Elijahs, that we might stand at the riverbank alone and begin the greatest adventure of them all: Being ourselves under God's authority.

... and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.

2 Kings 2:14            

   Elisha's feet had to find their own path for his beginnings. He had to step out in his personal authenticity under the creative authority of God.

   My personal authenticity is a gift from God, but I claim it only as I move out in instant obedience and constant availability to Him who made my authenticity valid. That is why we must first be obedient in the small, frequently tedious details of God's directives.

   That is why the grandeur of what may be our ministry frequently depends on our willingness to submit to the discipline of Bible study, the dependence of

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prayer, and the structure of fellowship. Those are God's directives. Acceptance of them is reliance on God's preparation for our performance at the Jordan.

   Elisha learned that lesson before the waters parted. He stood with a secondhand coat and a first-hand assignment and took action in obedience and availability unto the Lord. He had crossed the Jordan the first time as the servant of Elijah, but he crossed back as the servant of the living God.

   What about that critical audience? When they saw Elisha strolling across the river, they recognized the One whom he served. They gave him a kneeling ovation.

.... they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.

2 Kings 2:15            

   In the next chapter I'll talk about failure, because all reviews aren't good, but this audience saw the personhood of Elisha and recognized the Personhood of God.

Chapter 6  ||  Table of Contents