Have you ever considered the importance of a mentor in your life? Just ask your kids, or think back to an influential teacher you had yourself and it won’t take long for you to realize this simple truth: My life would have been very different if I had never met…[fill in the blank]. Or, perhaps, for those of you who are regular Church-goers, there was probably a youth leader or volunteer who made a dramatic impact on your life. Additionally, there are also those who are career minded that might be able to remember their first boss who was the first to take a chance on them. We all owe our success to someone who paved the way for us first.Thus, the question must be asked, who are we paving the way for? The harsh reality is that the next generation understands the value in networking, yet if you were to ask many twenty-something’s fresh out of college if they have (or had) a mentor, they would most likely respond negatively. The reason for this is not as complex as we may think – a lack of international reflection by all on the question: am I being a mentor? I believe that if we all took a quick pause and recognized those who mentored us, we would feel a passion and responsibility to do the same for someone else. No matter who you are, you have something that someone else needs.
The Bible declares that mentor-ship simply cannot be ignored and there are many stories about the importance of sharing what you know with someone else. Jesus Himself did this throughout His ministry with His disciples. And, another example that comes to mind is actually found in the Old Testament: the story of Elijah and Elisha. Most people can get rather confused when it comes to these two prophets, so here’s a short bio: Elijah came before Elisha. However, Elijah miraculously never died but instead was raptured. Elisha famously asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit and Elisha’s ministry lasted longer and consisted of far more miracles than Elijah. These two men of faith were messengers of God and understood the importance of mentor-ship. Let’s take a look at 1 Kings 19: 19-21,
“So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.” “Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?” So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.”
As the Scriptures reveal in earlier verses, Elijah was lonely and coming out of a time of discouragement. Instead of a spiritual retreat, like most of us would have wanted, what does God provide? God sends him to find someone to mentor. Here we see Elisha enter the scene. Elisha, interestingly enough, is found plowing 12 pairs of oxen. This would mean that Elisha belonged to a family of great wealth, but was nonetheless amongst the people, working hard. There should be no surprise that God wanted Elijah to find Elisha in a pasture as God often used great men in ordinary places (Moses pasturing his father-in-law’s flock before being called to deliver a nation and David tending sheep before being anointed king are just two examples). There is so much that we can unpack from the verses above. Here are a few things that stood out to me, especially in reference to mentoring:
Mentor Requirement #1: Obedience
Elijah, while he had already proven to be a powerful prophet, listened to God’s desire for him to mentor. Elijah did not refuse or make excuses about being too busy, tired or inadequate to do what God had called him to. If Elijah had not responded with obedience to find Elisha, there would have been monumental repercussions for Israel. Regardless of who you are, mentoring is something that God uses for the good of both those who you are sent to empress upon and for your own personal growth.
Mentor Requirement #2: SacrificeThere is rarely something that happens extraordinary that doesn’t also come at a high cost. Notice that Elisha paid respect to his family by saying goodbye and then burned his equipment and killed the ox. This was not merely some dramatic emotional display – but a sign of sacrifice. Elisha knew that following Elijah meant he would have to follow him at all costs. He burned everything, in order to signify a new beginning with no back-up plan. From that day forward, he became Elijah’s disciple. Sacrifice was required from Elijah to obey God’s voice and from Elisha to follow.
Mentor Requirement #3: Willingness
Elijah’s life was undoubtedly interrupted. Mentoring Elisha didn’t mean a once a week Starbucks coffee chat. Rather, it meant a permanent change in both of the men’s lives. Hence, the relationship between these two began because of a willingness that Elijah had – a willingness to pass along what he had learned. Elijah understood that mentoring meant living out his ministry. He spent time living with Elisha, year after year, showing him what it meant to do all sorts of things – such as go to court, bury the dead, help the poor, preach God’s will and love others. The goal was not merely academic knowledge, but spiritual transformation. Elijah had to be willing, likely swallowing his own pride at times, in order to serve Elisha well.
Are you mentoring someone? It may be a friend, your children or even a younger employee that God has placed upon your heart to guide spiritually. The hope is that by reading this you will dig deep within your soul and ask this very poignant question: who would say that I am their mentor, making an impact on their life? We all need to have this honest discussion with ourselves because there are people who need what we have to offer. It always requires obedience, sacrifice and willingness – but it also produces endless rewards. The gift that mentor-ship gives is never one-sided, for I have found that by blessing the mentored, you are also forever blessed.