A couple of years ago, we as a family had a terribly important decision to make. It was one of those life changing decisions; one where the impacts would be far-reaching, whatever Dana and I decided. It was one of those moments where threads in life intersect and, to move forward, you must decide which thread to follow.
How did we make that decision? Prayerfully, first and foremost. With silence and listening for God, to be sure; another form of prayer. And then, through calling people whose opinions I respect, people who have had an important impact on my life, people who are farther down the road of life than I am and who have an uncommon wisdom to show for it.
In other words, I called mentors in my life.
And to a person, they all gave the same advice, without having consulted with each other. They all helped clarify the right decision. After speaking with all of them, the decision before Dana and I became far easier to make.
That’s the power of having mentors in life.
Proverbs says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person does another.” (27:17) Here, in these phone calls to select individuals, mentors, was such a case.
We’ve all known people who have influenced us in our lives, for better or worse. Those who’ve had a positive influence we often call mentors. I’m sure we’ve also been mentors ourselves, a deep honor and privilege to walk alongside someone on their life’s journey, offering wisdom and guidance to build up that person.
Sometimes, that mentoring is so influential, it causes the mentee to take up your mantle; to move to walk in your shoes. Perhaps some of you have known this in turning over the family business to a relative or close friend, or having your mentee follow you into your career, or in any other numerous ways in which someone who came behind you picked up your work, your life’s purpose, your mantle, and kept going. Or perhaps you are the one who picked up someone else’s work and kept going, having been mentored ahead of such a privilege.
That’s exactly what happens in our story this morning: Elisha picks up Elijah’s mantle and keeps going.
As he walks with Elijah in our scripture this morning, he knows that he will soon inherit his work. And that’s a big job. Elijah’s work is speaking truth to power, especially to a power that usually doesn’t want to hear the truth. That is an unpleasant and often dangerous task. Yet, he will do it, picking up Elijah’s mantle.
Let’s read that story together. It comes from 2 Kings 2:1-14.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person does another.
Elisha rips his clothes, an old-school sign of mourning. He’s deeply sad that his mentor is gone. Even though he stood amazed at the way his mentor went, still, a major, important, deeply valued relationship is gone from his life. Elijah spent much time raising up Elisha to pick up his mantle, to take on the role when Elijah was gone. They walked together, they shared the journey of life together, Elijah telling Elisha all he needed to know.
At the start, in 1 Kings 19, Elisha seems like an overly eager child, wanting so badly to be like Elijah. But here, when we reach this moment in the scripture, Elijah’s mentoring has had its impact: Elisha is more mature and has proper understanding of the nature his role, formed and shaped by Elijah’s presence in his life.
As iron sharpens iron, so Elijah sharpened Elisha.
That’s what mentoring does.
Consider mentors in your life. Who comes to mind? Maybe a teacher of old, or a college professor. Maybe someone who showed you the ropes of your profession as you were getting started. Maybe someone who came along later in life at just the right moment, with the right information to help you make sense of that season of life. I remember sitting in a classroom at James Madison University as I was pursuing a graduate degree in counseling and higher education administration. That particular class taught group counseling by practicing group counseling. I came in hot one day and started unloading, it being a safe space. Somehow, and I’m not quite sure I remember how, the conversation turned to a shared love between the professor and myself of Harry S. Truman, former president of the United States. The professor was from Missouri and had worked as a college student cataloguing all the papers from the Truman administration in preparation for the opening of his presidential library.
That particular day was super encouraging. I left feeling like I had received a gift in my soul and that was that. Days later, in my interoffice box on campus, there was a large package. Inside was a set of first-edition memoirs of Harry Truman, given to me by my professor. He wrote inside, “Ted, these were given to me many years ago. It would please me to know you will carry these on in the years to come. Jack.” It was a wonderful, extraordinary, gift, and one I still cherish to this day. And it fostered a relationship that lasted for a season; one that taught me many things about how to interact with colleagues, students, and now church members. Those first editions sit on the mantle of our fireplace, along with a couple of other special books; a key reminder of the impact of Jack Presbury on my life.
Sometimes mentors are for a season. Sometimes, they’re for much longer. But always, there’s an indelible impact.
Think in your life of those who have mentored you. Think of the time they invested, the care and concern they showed for you personally. That could be a parent, a close relative like an uncle or aunt; it could be a professional in your field or the former owner of your business; it could be an old teacher or professor. It could be anyone who showed deep care and concern for your life and then chose to invest her or himself in you. What mentor comes to mind for you?
In my life, I could name several people who have had such an impact, sometimes for a season, sometimes over a longer term. One person especially comes to mind for me. She has been such a blessing and I am a much better person because of her presence in my life. Our relationship did not begin all that well. She hired me to work at Mercer and things were a bit rocky to start. I was obstinate, full of myself, convinced I could do everyone’s job better than they could; the typical thing you’d expect of someone right out of graduate school. But she kept reaching out, she kept the channel of relationship open. And over the course of months, our relationship grew to one of fondness and respect.
Then, one day as I came in to give her a purchase order to sign, she asked me if I’d ever considered becoming a pastor. She knew that I had an inner wrestling going on, she knew that I was searching for something, and she’d thought about this idea when on one of her frequent morning runs, a time of exercise and prayer for her. That conversation launched me into ministry, even to the point where you see me today. As I was leaving my job at Mercer to take my first appointment, she asked if we could meet on a regular basis to continue mentoring-style conversations. Those meetings, even though she now lives in Florida, have lasted all these years later and she continues to be a mentor for me.
In some ways, especially as a professional, I have picked up her mantle, taking it with me into how I engage my job, my colleagues, and the communities I serve.
As iron sharpens iron, so our mentors have sharpened us.
Presence is key. Time invested through presence leaves a lasting effect on the people we mentor and on ourselves when we are the mentee. Elisha knew that. Scripture doesn’t tell us, but Elijah certainly had a mentor who raised him up in the way he should go. And Elisha undoubtedly mentored someone to take up his mantle.
The succession matters because the work that Elijah did, that Elisha took on, was work being done before Elijah and was work carried on from Elisha; work that is certainly continuing to be carried out today, even though those serving in the ways of Elijah and Elisha have no idea they come from a long line of mentors raising up prophets to take on the mantle of speaking truth to power.
And that’s just the point. The work here is God’s work. Elijah knew that. Elisha knew that. They were simply continuing the prophetic work of speaking truth to power that God had established from of old and has continued into our present day. Mentoring is the responsibility of all who claim God, for if we are to pass on the work God has given us to do, we must raise up others who will come behind us, just as someone raised us up to take on the work we do or have done.
This is the model Jesus set. He invested his life in twelve men. He spent the vast majority of his earthly ministry time with them, teaching them, training them. Eleven of them succeeded him to carry his mantle into the world, founding the church. And the very first thing they did after he left them, rising up to heaven in ways reminiscent of Elijah in this story, was to select a replacement for Judas Iscariot. Then, they mentored Matthias, that replacement, just as Jesus had mentored them.
Twelve men, mentored by one man. That’s the model Jesus left us. And the world was changed and continues to be changed.
It’s the same model we see here between Elijah and Elisha. And the world was and continues to be changed.
Mentoring matters. Mentoring is the example for how to change the world.
It’s easy to imagine that, at some point down the road, Elisha began to mentor his replacement, the person to whom he would give his mantle. We see that model all over Scripture: Abraham mentoring his son Isaac, Moses mentoring Joshua, Jesus and his twelve disciples. In fact, discipleship itself is modeled on mentoring. Each of the twelve disciples picked up new disciples whom they mentored. Paul discipled individuals like Apollos, Timothy, Silvanus, and Titus. As we have been mentored, so we go and mentor others. As we have picked up mantles, so we prepare to give that mantle to someone else. Discipleship happens in relationship. Positive change in the world happens through mentorship.
I have folks whom I have mentored and am currently mentoring; some for a season, especially when I was in higher education, and some for longer than that. It is a privilege to watch them grow, to see how God is using them in their careers, to discover afresh and anew my own vocation through their eyes. These relationships formed over time; they did not just begin with mentoring, but rather the relationship evolved to that point as trust was built, as a common sense of purpose was realized.
This is also how mentoring works: as we have been blessed by mentors in our life, so we are called to be a blessing to others. It’s one of the grandest and most common motifs across scripture: blessed to be a blessing. As God has blessed us, so we are called to go and offer that blessing to others. Mentoring is a primary way of doing that.
Elijah and Elisha show us the example of the power of mentoring this morning, both as the mentor in Elijah and the mentee in Elisha. And they demonstrate a pattern lived out across scripture; a pattern we today call discipleship, where we are changed because we are in relationship with one another.
Because change happens in relationship. Discipleship happens in relationship. This is God’s work: for we are to pass on the work God has given us to do, raising up others who will come behind us, just as someone raised us up to take on the work we have done.
Who are the mentors in your life? Even if they’re now gone from this world, consider the legacy they left you. What mantle did they give you to carry? How did they positively shape your life? How are you better because of their presence in your life?
And then, after considering this, who are the people you need to mentor? How are you investing in some quality relationships right now?
That is the challenge today: consider who mentored you and whom you are mentoring. Make sure that you have at least one person in whom you are investing your life. God uses those relationships to pass mantles, to pass legacies, so that God’s work might continue in this world and thus change the world.
And here’s one additional challenge, a very tangible one. If your mentors are still among us, write them a card this week and tell them how much you appreciate them. We all know from experience that one of the best things is to receive such a card in the mail.
And then, write your mentees cards and tell them how proud you are of them. Spend time this week making that investment through cards.
God has called upon us to mentor so that we might positively influence the world. Remembering that Jesus, and then twelve men, created a movement that changed the world, we remember that quality of relationship matters more than quantity of relationship.
Because it’s God’s work we are charged with. Like Elijah and Elisha, mentor others. Be mentored yourself.
As iron sharpens iron, so we sharpen each other.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.