Friend, as you begin another year, realize that your pursuit of a better world is to be relentless – like a farmer plowing his field until that work is done. Consider Jesus’ stark words: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). When Jesus spoke those words, he had us in mind.
And, although Elisha lived over eight hundred years before Jesus, perhaps Jesus particularly had Elisha in mind. For years, one of the ways Elisha extended God’s work was by plowing. What a productive way to overcome the curse and help the earth be fruitful. But, like our Rocky Mountains, what a difficult place the rocky soil of Israel was to plow.
When the author of Proverbs wanted to describe the hard work of “planning,” he used the verb also translated “plow.” “Those who ‘plan’ (‘plow’) what is good find love and faithfulness” (Prov. 14:22). But, even as planning can impact the hard “soil” of life, hard work in real soil can expand our possibilities. Hard work by Elisha’s family enabled them to acquire twelve pair of oxen to help with plowing.
One day Elisha’s “plowing” dramatically and suddenly changed. The Lord sent the distinguished prophet Elijah to anoint Elisha as his successor (1 Kings 19). When Elijah found Elisha, all twelve pairs of oxen were plowing – with Elisha using one pair. Elijah wrapped his cloak around Elisha, showing he had taken Elisha “under his wing.” Recognizing God’s call, Elisha slaughtered his oxen, burned his plowing equipment, then cooked the meat to give a feast to his people. He had set his hand to a new “plow” and did not look back. What a decisive way Elisha began the wonder-working ministry he would have.
“No idea short of God’s call can ground and fulfill the truest human desire for purpose and fulfillment” (Os Guinness, “The Call”). If we think of God’s call for you being your “plow,” what is God’s “plow” for you? Perhaps this year God is simply reaffirming – extending – callings he has already given you – so you can enrich them. But, as with Elisha, perhaps the One who makes all things new has a new “plow” for you.
In your busy-ness and distraction, how will you hear him?
We may not hear him because we get stuck in our own cynicism, desperation, and superficiality. Will we believe there is more to life with God?
We may not hear God because the din caused by so many being disconnected from work. An ABC poll found that seventy percent of us often dream of having a different job. According to Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, seventy-one percent of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work. Only the remaining third, the “engaged,” keep their hand on the “plow.”
We may not hear God because the din of our information-rich age. One study estimated seventy-one percent of us are overwhelmed by the amount of information we receive. Besieged, we neglect hearing God.
And, when the same study asked if social media meets our needs for companionship, twelve to twenty percent of us replied that we are lonelier now than before social media. Surrounded by the din of those who retreat from relationships, we may not hear God. Consider the young man convinced he could never get married because, given the instability of marriages he’d seen, he assumed any marriage of his would fail. His resulting fear of commitment made it difficult for him to rise above the failed relationships around him to consider he could – in God’s kingdom – grow a relationship.
How would we know we stepped away from the din toward God’s kingdom? We would move from our isolation or preoccupation and have ears to hear Jesus say: “Trust in God” (John 14:1). Simply put such trust knows God is God and we are not. In other words, we could say that when Jesus came to a “dark room” in his life, although Jesus may have initially considered asking God for a light, eventually Jesus simply put his hand in the hand of his Father who sees in the dark.
We step toward God’s kingdom when hear Jesus say: “Trust in God. Trust also in me” (John 14:1). When our souls are satisfied with Jesus’ life, death and resurrection on our behalf, we step toward God’s kingdom by partnering with others who trust him too. These are those who tell us: “Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water. Put your hand in the hand of the man who calmed the sea…you can look at others differently by puttin’ your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee” (Gene Mac Lellan).
Mixing metaphors, we step toward God’s kingdom when we ask God to plant us “like a tree by streams of water” so that we “delight in the law of the LORD” (Ps 1:3,2). “Plowing” our lives with the Bible, we challenge our own folly and self-righteousness as well as the folly and overblown pride of our world. We resist Satan. We learn to build bridges to one another and our places by building bridges to ancient people and places of the Bible. Confident that what we need to know regarding the issues of life “is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1,6), we ask the Spirit to illumine for us what he moved the authors to write.
We step toward the kingdom of God when – as we think about our lives – we ask God to direct us – giving us the “plow” he knows is best for us to prepare the soil for a future harvest of loving him and our neighbor.
And so we come back to our world – one where most of us are “on our devices” an average of eight hours a day. What a “plow” – what a tool to advance God’s kingdom. But, we may misuse it and advance our own “kingdom.” Then God starts plowing again.
God’s greatest “plow” for our hearts is the cross. Jesus would not have challenged us to take our “plows” and not look back unless he did the same. His “plow” was to irrevocably demonstrate the love of God and neighbor. The point of his plow that cuts through the hardness of our hearts is his cross. Jesus obstinately held on to that “plow.” The nails that skewered him to his cross did not hold him there – the love of God and his neighbor did. Christian and those who are yet to become followers of Jesus, Jesus firmly grasped the plow that brings love and faithfulness into our lives – and he has not looked back.
When our work gets too hard, we can hear Jesus say: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). He humbles himself to pull our “plow” with us. What an ox he is! And what a “plow” God has for our hearts in creation. What God has made – wonders that are still hidden or are now plain – may startle us to see beyond ourselves. And although God does not have our primitive smart phones or IPads, he gave us the ability to make these marvels. Understanding God’s priority can help us “take dominion” while not being so fascinated with what we do.
So we are free to make some rough allusions that may get our attention. Because of the good news of Jesus, even without the Internet, we can always be “connected” to God. He’s always “online.” Although God is not on Twitter, we want to “follow” him. With Jesus, we recognize the Father is our favorite “contact.” Although holy God is not on Facebook, we tell him: “You are my best friend.” All the while we wonder: “Jesus, why did you not let go of your ‘plow?’” But, now, because we are so gripped by Jesus’ relentless pursuit of us, with his hand on ours, we look ahead in hope – firmly grasping the “plow” of God’s kingdom – new “plow” or old.