Train Up Your Child in the Way They Should Go

Meditation on 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

June 26, 2022

Link to livestream video

15 Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel, and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.

So he set out from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. 20 He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” 21 He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah and became his servant.

What a joy to baptize another precious child of God in our congregation! Welcome, Ariya, our newest member of the church!

We have two more baptisms scheduled, so far, this summer! Isn’t it wonderful? God’s Kingdom is growing, right in our midst.

When I was preparing for this baptism service this week, that familiar scripture from Proverbs came to mind. “Train up a child in the way they should go” —and what’s the rest? “When they are old, they will not depart from it.”

My experience as a mother, teacher, and pastor is that it’s hard work to train a child in the way they should go. Each child has a unique personality and gifts and talents for building the Kingdom that are revealed over time. God has a plan, a vision, a dream for every person—a future filled with hope. This, too, will be revealed over time.

So how do we know how to train up a child before we know the way they should go? I struggled with this question a little bit this week. I’ve decided to answer it as if you asked me personally, “What does it mean to me to be a Christian parent”—because it means different things to different people.

For me, it meant trying to be faithful in my own life and talking about God and God’s love with my kids from an early age. The conversations about God weren’t always planned; they would just happen. When they were little, I prayed with them simple prayers that came to my mind, and I prayed for them—and I still do! It meant reading children’s Bible stories and singing children’s Christian songs and doing the motions.

It did mean bringing them to worship, beginning when they were small, though it was exhausting getting 3 young children ready for church. We didn’t go every week. But we went enough so that they would feel comfortable there.

As I look back at those hectic and emotional years, I remember that being a Christian parent meant just being a normal, flawed person, living in the real, imperfect world. Both parents working long hours, commuting to jobs, and rushing to fit our living into each 24-hour day.

It meant loving my children so much and crying when they were hurt by the world and having honest conversations with God, sharing my hurt, anger, and disappointment. It meant, at times, not feeling that I was good enough or worthy enough for this task. It meant accepting help from family and friends when it was offered.

The one regret that I have is that I wasn’t involved in a small, close-knit church family like First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown. We attended larger churches in the Baltimore Metropolitan area. I never knew any of my pastors personally.

I wish I knew, back then, that it takes a whole faith community to raise a child in the Lord. And that the Church had promised when my children were baptized to support us in our calling to train them up in the way they should go.

So that when they were old, they wouldn’t depart from it.

***

In our passage from 1 Kings today about the call of Elisha, we hear from everyone involved, except for his parents! I find myself longing to hear their voices and their side of the story.

I am longing to hear their dreams for their son. Were they realized? What did training up Elisha in the way he should go look like?

We only learn the name of the father in this brief passage—and it’s repeated, so emphasizing his importance in the raising up of a prophet. I am longing to hear his mother’s name, as well. His father’s name is Shaphat of Abel-meholah. Shaphat is Hebrew for “Judge.”

Obviously, they had raised him in the faith, giving him a name that means “My God is Salvation.” The young man doesn’t hesitate to respond to Elijah’s invitation to follow as his disciple. This makes me wonder if maybe Elisha knew his calling from God before the moment God actually called him.

The town of Abel-meholah, an ancient city west of the Jordan River, became famous as the birthplace and hometown of Elisha the prophet.

Here he is, out working in the fields, honoring and obeying his father, concerned for the well-being of his family. It’s just another ordinary day, until it isn’t.  Elijah lays his mantle, a wide, loose-fitting garment, on his shoulders as he passes by him.

Elisha is ready to respond to the call, with one request. Verse 20—my favorite verse of this passage–says, He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, ‘Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.’”

His words reveal that he has been raised in a loving home, and his parents have done a good job training him in the way he should go! Elijah wouldn’t have been led by God to choose Elisha as his helper and successor if they hadn’t taken their calling seriously!

When I read Elijah’s response to the younger, would-be prophet-in- training’s request, tears filled my eyes. This is still verse 20, “Go back again,” the older man says, “for what have I done to you?”  In other words, he is releasing him from the call!

The call of God is never an easy thing, and it is an INVITATION, my friends, not a command!

When Elijah sends Elisha back to his family, I wonder if Elijah is remembering his own goodbye to his parents. Verse 20 allows us to see the strange wilderness prophet in a new light—as a sensitive man and not just God’s warrior who fought the forces of evil Queen Jezebel. Elijah, in this rare moment, reveals that he understands the sacrifice Elisha and his parents will make as this young man answers the call to ministry.

When Elisha burns the yoke and slaughters and cooks the oxen for the people to eat, I think of Christ’s disciples dropping their nets to follow him. They are done with fishing –for fish, that is! And Elisha is no longer a farmer! There’s no turning back.

I cannot help but wonder how the Lord prepared Elijah’s parents for this day when their son would leave for prophetic ministry. Did they and his community of faith recognize his spiritual gifts long ago when he was young? And was the slaughtering of the animals for the people to eat a celebratory feast?

Did they ever, at times, like us, struggle with feelings of unworthiness and doubts and fears –still learning to trust in God’s grace for them and that the Lord would continue to guide their son in the way he should go?

So that when he is old… Well, you know the rest.

***

The mantle won’t actually be worn by Elisha and belong to him until his training for ministry is complete. The two will suddenly be separated by a chariot of fire and horses of fire near the Jordan River. Elijah will be taken up into heaven in a whirlwind. His disciple will look up and cry out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” The mantle will be left behind.

Receiving a double portion of Elijah’s power before the older prophet ascends in the whirlwind, Elisha would go on to perform twice as many miracles as his teacher. He would help soldiers and kings of Israel in the official capacity of “prophet in Israel” for six decades (892–832 BC).

The one remaining question I have is, “Did Elisha ever go home to visit his parents?”

I hope that someone was encouraged by my sharing personal thoughts on Christian parenting—how I’ve struggled and wrestled with feelings of unworthiness. I pray that my flock will take to heart the Church’s responsibility in helping our young families raise their children in the faith. We promise at every baptism!

May you be stirred to say a prayer for a young family this week, and perhaps reach out to a young mother or father with a card or call. Maybe to ask, “How can I help?” 

And to the family of little Ariya, I hope that you will feel emboldened to reach out to us—any of us—whenever you need a friend or a nonjudgmental, listening ear.

As Christ’s followers, we welcome the Spirit’s loving presence in our lives, persistently inviting us to follow and leading us in the way we should go, though the journey may not be easy.

May we never depart from it.

Let us pray.

Holy One of Power and Might, Wisdom and Glory, Goodness and Grace, we thank you for your loving presence in our lives. Help us to hear your voice and feel you leading us to right paths—to the way you desire each of us to go. Help us to trust that in our weakness, you are strong, and your power is revealed. Teach us to be your loving, obedient people, forgiving others as you forgive us, caring for others as you care for us; helping to carry one another’s burdens as you long to carry our burdens for us. Stir us to believe that you are always at work in the hearts and lives of our loved ones, especially our children and grandchildren—and trust in the promise that you will forever and always hold us all in the palm of your hand. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Minnie, a toy poodle.

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