Do you ever find it hard to say “Follow me” without feeling arrogant? I’m not perfect; who am I to be the example? As leaders – and all of us are leaders in one capacity or another – we have to get over that fear. Asking people to follow us is an integral aspect of leadership. We can’t change the world unless we understand our own value. Unless we consistently give ourselves away, we are wasting what God has entrusted to us.
I’ve been working on my next book, exploring how to give away what many people invested in me all through my life. I’m hoping the book will help me know the best way to do that in the 21st Century.
Back in my university days, in the late 1970s, I heard Chuck Madden, one of my spiritual leaders, describe how he was mentored by Leroy Eims (who served with The Navigators for over 50 years). We asked Chuck about the process of being discipled and he said it wasn’t as rigid or structured as we imagined. They lifted weights together every morning, went running, worked on writing books, and like that. There was no structure or step-by-step plan, just the rubbing off of spiritual depth from constant exposure.
Maybe that’s how it really works for all of us; the qualities and depth of people we admire rub off on us. And we rub off on other people.
My writing took me back to a familiar Bible story about Elijah and Elisha. To be honest, I’ve always thought God played a joke on us by sending two powerful prophets back-to-back who almost had the same name. I got these two men confused for years until I realized they served God in alphabetical order – Elijah was first, then Elisha was second.
In 2 Kings 2 we can read about the aging Elijah who knew his ministry was winding down. He made a farewell tour around the country checking in on other prophets and giving his last words. Elisha went with him.
At every stop on the journey, Elijah tried to talk Elisha into staying behind. I can’t tell if Elijah wanted to walk those last steps alone and having Elisha around was bugging him, or if he was graciously giving Elisha a face-saving way to drift away. Or maybe Elijah was checking Elisha’s resolve, as in, how bad do you want to come?
Elijah said, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”
Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” This same conversation occurred several times.
It reminded me of what Sam Gamgee said to Frodo Baggins, “I made a promise, Mr. Frodo. A promise. “Don’t you leave him Samwise Gamgee.” And I don’t mean to. I don’t mean to.”
Later, Frodo said, “Go back, Sam. I’m going to Mordor alone.”
Sam said, “Of course you are. And I’m coming with you.” Sam Gamgee was just like Elisha.
I think Elijah knew he had a loyal follower in Elisha, but maybe it was hard to believe someone would stay with him for so long. Elijah spent most of his prophetic career alone, and it probably didn’t seem real that anyone would want to follow him all the way out to the edge of his life.
But Elisha was having none of the “why don’t you stay here” talk. He wanted to stay with Elijah to the very end. In fact, he said to Elijah, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.”
Elijah replied that whether or not that happened was up to God, not him. He couldn’t pick his own successor, only God could do that. It wasn’t his gift to give.
It seems a bit presumptuous for Elisha to say “I want twice what you have,” but I doubt he meant it that way. He was paying honor to Elijah, saying he understood the most important and valuable part of Elijah’s life, and he wanted some of that. A double portion.
As leaders, mentors, teacher, disciplers, or trail guides, we are obligated to give away what has been invested in us, but it often comes as a surprise that people are willing to follow us all the way to the end.
However, investing in people is our call, and we have to stay with it. In his book, The Lost Art of Disciple Making, Leroy Eims referred to Jesus’ prayer in John 17: “I have brought your glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” In that same prayer Jesus referred forty times to the men God had entrusted to him. Those men were the work Jesus was so proud of. Eims wrote, “His ministry touched thousands, but He trained twelve men. He gave His life on the cross for millions, but during the three and a half years of His ministry He gave His life uniquely to twelve men.”
I’ve told myself when I’m teaching a large room full of men and women the real audience for that particular lesson is probably only one or two people, not the entire crowd. I do that partly to tamper my own expectations, but more because of what Leroy Eims said, that the real work we have before is the few. It is our opportunity, our obligation, to pour our lives into those few who’ve been entrusted to us by God.
So follow me. Let’s go together.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32