“I shouldn’t be hearing that file!” The shout came across the room to me from our high school industrial arts teacher. Our class was working on a metal project, and my file was making the metal “sing.” My immediate reaction was to use the file more carefully, ensuring that it would not make so much noise. A few minutes later, I realized why my shop teacher was shouting about the noise. It wasn’t because I was using the file incorrectly. I wasn’t supposed to be using it at all—class was over and it was time to clean up!
Last week during my quiet time, I came upon an unexpected revelation in 1 Kings 19. Near the end of the chapter, Elijah met Elisha for the first time, and the young man was plowing a field with a pair of oxen. In response to Elijah’s invitation, he said, “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye.” This phrase which drove me to the end of Luke chapter 9 where people gave similar replies to Jesus, such as “First let me go and bury my father.” Jesus demands great loyalty if we wish to follow Him.
Jesus goes on to say, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” I’m sure you’ve heard many interpretations of this phrase. Don’t rely on the past. Pay attention to your work. Keep your eye on the goal. My dad ran a horse-drawn plow back in the 1940s, and he told me that looking back was a sign of pride in making nice straight furrows.
As Jesus spoke these words about exacting discipleship, I have no doubt that He wanted His hearers to remember this story about Elisha, the soon-to-be disciple of Elijah. I was struck by what Elisha did next: he went home, slaughtered the oxen, and burned his plow to cook the meat!
Now I understand what Jesus means about putting our hand to the plow and looking back. Pointing back to this story, Jesus isn’t hoping we will plow better. He is looking for faithful ones who are ready to burn their plows and follow Him wholeheartedly.
The very next verses in Luke confirm this: “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10.1-2, NIV). He was skilfully preparing faithful people to leave their plows and enter into a spiritual harvest field.
I misunderstood my high school shop teacher and tried to use my file better. In the same way, I misunderstood Jesus and spent a lot of effort “plowing” with greater accuracy. Now I understand that Jesus expects more. I’m ready to be like Elisha—I’m burning my plow. What joy I have in offering both my hands for His service.