Chosen. Does the word make you squirm a little, or make your chest puff up with pride? Maybe you're wondering where I'm going with this!? Come on a journey with me—one I've been on the last few weeks.
In the midst of another busy summer season, I've been reflecting on a lot of things. Things like my never-shrinking to-do list at work and my weekly inability to plan a meal menu and shopping list instead of creatively "winging it." I've spent many quiet hours in prayer, searching for the answer to the question of where I need to focus my limited time and energy. In the process, I've studied the lives of a few people that I think had a clear focus in life. The first is Elijah.
Elijah was a great man of God. When I think of him, I immediately remember the showdown at Mt. Carmel, his seven prayers for rain, and the great sprint in front of Ahab's chariot that turned into a marathon. He had tremendous focus.
Then I remember just how Elijah responded after these epic scenes of faith and courage. Jezebel issued a death threat, and Elijah fled for his life out into the wilderness. This mighty man of God sat broken and alone under a tree—weeping and begging God to let him die. He'd had enough. You and I might call it pastoral burnout.
God didn't give up on Elijah. He said to him in 1 Kings 19:9: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" Elijah responded with a message from his heart, crying out that he was alone, the last remaining believer. God called Elijah to step out of his cave, and sent him up a mountain. You'll remember, first there was the windstorm, then the earthquake and then the still small voice. In response to God's, whisper Elijah again said, "I am alone, the only one left." Here is God's response:
"Then the Lord said to him: 'Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. . . . I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him." (1 Kings 19:15-18)
In spite of his perceptions, Elijah was not alone! God told him about 7,003 men who were still committed to following Him! One of those men was Elisha—another man of God whom I believe had his life focused on what God called him to do.
Elisha was out plowing his field with a team of oxen when Elijah found him. The man of God threw his mantle, or cloak, on Elisha's shoulders and walked away. Elisha ran after him, and after a brief conversation, he was all in. Elisha made his decision to follow Elijah, and the calling to serve God. He slaughtered the oxen, broke down the plows, made a fire to cook the meat and enjoyed a feast with family. Elijah didn't choose Elisha—God did, just as he chose Elijah before him. Elisha saw the mission clearly and responded almost immediately.
Another man clearly chosen by God was Paul. While Paul was still Saul, he was a staunch Pharisee, focused on ridding the world of the cult known as "The Way." He had a plan of action, and set out for Damascus. Paul had a proverbial three-ring binder with his project scope and plan of action all ready—he was set to roll out the persecution.
"Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem." (Acts 9:1-2)
Along the way to Damascus, his mission changed—dramatically. The plan of action fell by the wayside, and Paul had a whole new focus. Jesus dramatically got Paul’s attention and redirected his energy in a brand-new direction. It was a direction that contradicted what he'd set out to do just that morning as he'd fastened the straps of his sandals. Paul accepted his new assignment readily. "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel." (Acts 9:10-15)
Elijah was chosen. Elisha was chosen. Paul was chosen. After studying the lives of these men, I believe that being chosen by God is not a mysterious thing. It is a matter of a repentant sinner accepting the mission to which God calls him or her.
In spite of his perception, Elijah was not alone. As I've struggled with completing unfinished tasks both at home and at work this summer, I have been reminded that I'm not alone. I have fellow believers and very competent colleagues at work. At home, I have great kids and a husband, and they are willing to help when asked. I am not alone.
Elisha's quick response to the call of God reminds me that I have a habit of overthinking things. Elisha heard where God needed him and he accepted—and burned what might have held him back—and moved toward that call with focus and passion.
Paul's story reminds me of the malleability of a person committed to Christ. Once God got ahold of him, he didn't cling to his past. Paul focused on his new passion and on His Savior. He allowed God to show him the error of his ways as he turned in the opposite direction.
It has been a slow journey, but God is gently nudging me back to what He wants me to focus on in life. He's reminded me of just why I'm where I am, and that has reminded me to praise Him for His goodness! Every unfinished task represents an unmerited blessing that He's given me. Focusing on what is most important to Him has given me renewed faith and strength. My experience is not as dramatic as that of these great men of God, but God is often blessedly practical. What has He chosen you to focus on for Him?