You’ve got a friend in me

Elijah and Elisha, have you ever mixed up their names? If you were asked to distinguish between the two, could you do it? If not, don’t be too hard on yourself. Their names sound so much alike and their careers and ministries so intertwined it is hard not to get confused. Nevertheless, they were two different men with two very distinct ministries and two very distinct messages for today’s believer.
Without a doubt Elisha lived in the shadow of his more famous forebear. In so many ways Elijah came first, followed by Elisha. Elijah blazed the trails that Elisha followed and enlarged. Elijah was a prophet of fire, living in the wilderness, eating strange things, clothed in animal skins. Elisha on the other hand was the son of a wealthy farmer, enjoyed city life and the comforts of home. Throughout most of his life his ministry was eclipsed by Elijah, you will have heard many more sermons on Elijah down through the years than Elisha. Even at the height of his own ministry he was still known as the one who used to pour water on the hands of Elijah. He will forever be the obscure understudy of a great prophet, yet it was a role he did not seem to mind, even although he performed nearly twice as many miracles as his predecessor! Yet he has so much to teach us, even from the very beginning of his time with Elijah.
Elisha’s story begins as Elijah’s public ministry is drawing to a close. The first mention of him is when God is counselling a bone-weary, thoroughly discouraged Elijah. It should have been the greatest moment of Elijah’s career. He had defeated the prophets of Baal, calling down fire on the drenched altar and as the people fell down and worshipped the true of God of Israel Elijah had all 450 prophets of Baal slaughtered. On accomplishing this Elijah again called to God in prayer and brought rain to Samaria where there had been a 3 and a half year drought. As the rain fell he ran a marathon from My Carmel to Jezreel. However once there he learnt that Jezebel was out to murder him and so he ran further into the wilderness of Judea. Exhausted and depressed he crawled under a tree thinking all his effort a waste of time and just begged God to kill him. Put me out of my misery was his cry.
But then God enters the account, he ministers to Elijah, he feeds him, he encourages him, he gives him rest. It is at this point that Elisha first gets mentioned. God knew that Elijah needed a successor to carry on his work, but there were ten more years for that because God knew that even more important than that was the need for Elijah to have a friend. He needed a companion to share the triumphs and defeats, the moments of joy and of despair.
Elisha’s first ministry may not seem to be much, yet it was so important. His first ministry was simply to become Elijah’s friend. To be a listening ear, to offer words of counsel. His first ministry was simply to be there. Yes, it was true, he did pour water over Elijah’s hands, but more importantly he poured the refreshing water of encouragement over Elijah’s heart as his true companion. For ten years, until Elijah went up to be with God Elisha served Elijah, walking the dusty roads with him, listening, encouraging, counselling.
This is a ministry that is easy to overlook. We like the dramatic, the spectacular and this ministry is often not noticed or overlooked as it neither grabs the headlines nor the attention. Think about David and Jonathan. Jonathan was David’s friend at a critical time in David’s life. David went on to take the throne, got all the fame and all the renown, yet it was Jonathan who had stood beside him and encouraged him when David had felt that life was not worth living. In the New Testament we often hold Paul up as a role model, after all he was the greatest of the first century missionaries. But as you read Acts and as you read his letters you begin to wonder, where would he have been without his friends? How able would he have been to carry out his great journeys without Luke, Barnabas, Onesiphorus, Timothy?
Some people are called to a background ministry of encouragement. I wonder if that is you? Has God given you the gift by his Spirit to be able to come alongside other people and strengthen them by your presence. If so, do not despise that gift. Don’t allow yourself to feel that yours is a lesser calling. Sure, you might never bask in the spotlight of fame and acclaim. You maybe do not have the aggressive, dynamic personality of a David, Elijah or Paul, but these are famous in part because they are few and far between. There are far more who have the gift of encouragement, there are more of these needed who quietly work behind the scenes far from the acclaim of other people. So, do not worry, but instead remember that the real evaluation of a person’s life is when the good Lord tallies up your life, and when that happens many who were first will be last. Many of those who are in starring roles will have to take a step back in wonder at a man or woman who emerges from obscurity to receive the acclaim of heaven for being a friend to those who need encouragement. Who knows, that might even be you!

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