Embracing challenges in life and ministry
“And Elijah passed by [Elisha], and cast his mantle upon him. And [Elisha] left the oxen, and ran after Elijah” (1 Kings 19:19, 20).
Some people say that everyone has a calling. Everyone has that one thing they were meant to do. I never really felt called to anything.
I remember trying to think of a major for college during my senior year of high school. I thought about all the different subjects and things I had learned throughout my education, but nothing stood out for me.
Then I remembered one small thing: In tenth grade we had an amazing substitute teacher who taught us about the eye in anatomy and physiology. I loved that! It was the only time I truly enjoyed science.
I ended up choosing Biology, intending to be an optometrist. But much to my disappointment, it wasn’t “my calling.” I wasn’t made to be a science person. I decided to stick with it for the year, but I knew I had to change my major.
During my freshman year of college, I sort of “re-discovered” my love for music when I had my first orchestra experience. I loved it! Toward the end of the year, my orchestra director even approached me with the idea of majoring in music.
Of course! How could I not think of music! I’d been in every ensemble throughout middle and high school.
But was it “my calling?” In comparison to other music majors, several skilled musicians were more serious about performing than I was. I wasn’t fully convinced it was for me.
I shadowed my former music teacher at home before my sophomore year began. As a result, I added education to make it more complete.
Music education. I’d never thought about teaching, but at least it provides a bit more security than only being a performer. It’s worth a try, I thought.
And here I am, a music teacher. Because of the circumstances and experiences with that decision (too many to mention), I believe God wants me to be one.
But there’s something strange about what I said: “I’ve never thought about teaching”
If you think about all the teachers you know, even those who are still in college majoring in education, chances are that most of them knew before college that they wanted to teach. Assuming it’s a good fit for them, they dive into those education classes with more creative ideas than I can count. They form teacher friends immediately, and in their minds their classrooms have already been designed. Have you ever noticed that many teachers seem to have similar personalities?
Then there was me, discovering at the age of 19 that maybe, just maybe, I’m supposed to be a teacher. I felt so out of place.
But throughout my music education journey, I studied, I learned, I grew. It challenged me and caused me to evaluate myself. There were certainly moments when I doubted my capabilities. At times, I questioned whether I could really do this. I knew I would never be that musician who memorizes a concerto. I knew that my voice wasn’t soloist material. Whatever talent I held was far greater in other musicians. I had to accept the fact that maybe I’d just be in the background instead of center stage. That was hard.
But I was confident of one thing: God was leading me somewhere, preparing me for a job that would match the skill set He believes I have. For some reason, throughout everything that went on during the moments I questioned my talents, my faith that He would sort it all out for me never wavered. I’m grateful for that.
I hope that God will keep molding me into the teacher He wants me to be.
I thought a lot of my growth developed during my college years, but I had no idea how much growth was still to come. Truth is, working at Atholton Adventist Academy has caused me to deepen my knowledge on so many more levels. It wasn’t until I worked there that I realized that God has greater plans for me than I had for myself. That became more evident these past few months.
This summer, an offer was presented to me that I didn’t see coming. I was asked if I’d be interested in changing my title from “band director” to “music director,” taking charge of all the planning, working with all students, and adding nine new classes onto my already existing band load.
The offer scared me. It’s always been difficult for me to acknowledge my personal achievements. It feels awkward to take credit for something. With the band, I always wanted the focus to be on the students and their talents instead of on my own.
So naturally, one of my first thoughts when I was asked to be director was, Me? What have I done to make them believe I’d be the one for the job? What do they see in me that I can’t see myself? I’ve only been teaching for two years. There’s still so much more to learn. Am I ready for this? It all seemed like so much and I felt overwhelmed.
All About Mantles
In 1 Kings 19, Elisha is introduced to us. It’s assumed that he probably belongs to a semi-wealthy family because the point is made that he owned at least a dozen pair of oxen. But he’s not found on the sidelines or in his home; he’s found with the field workers. Despite his wealth, he assists with the farming. He demonstrates that he’s a hard worker, responsible; his work has built up his character.
One commentator writes: “I think it is interesting to note how many great men of the Bible were called into some special ministry after they had already demonstrated an ability and a willingness to work and where they had also shown faithfulness and loyalty. Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law. David was tending sheep for his father. Peter was a fisherman. Paul had a trade making tents. The Lord Himself was a carpenter by trade who was trained by Joseph.”
It’s important to note how many of those people initially had the same thoughts I had. Moses, David, Peter, Paul, and several others were in a position where they probably doubted their capabilities; they definitely had others wondering why they were given that position. Yet God knew their hearts. Through Him, they became the best leaders.
Elisha is a bit different though. During one of his working days, Elijah shows up out of nowhere, apparently saying nothing to him. He simply throws his mantle over Elisha’s shoulders and walks away. Elijah didn’t need to say any words. Elisha understood.
I’d like to say Elisha was like me, questioning if he was worthy for such a task, feeling intimidated at the thought of taking Elijah’s place one day. Maybe deep down those concerns were there, but the Bible doesn’t express that. As soon as Elijah put his mantle on him, Elisha’s faith sprang into action; he knew exactly what to do.
Immediately, immediately, Elisha leaves his oxen and runs after Elijah. There was no hesitation. He decided right away that he was going to accept Elijah’s mantle, even if it meant leaving behind his wealth. Not only does Elisha get up to follow Elijah, Elisha turns back to kill his oxen and burn his plow as a way of saying goodbye to his old life, fully accepting the new challenge of being Elijah’s assistant and successor. His calling was clear, and He accepted it, no matter how daunting the new mantle upon him felt.
Size Doesn’t Matter
So what does someone like me do when it feels as if the mantle is too big?
Jonathan Cahn is the author of probably the deepest devotional book I’ve ever read. He converted to Christianity from the Jewish faith and writes devotionals as a teacher teaches his students. The teacher explains some of the Jewish history and words, allowing readers to bring life to their studies and connect them to their Christian experience.
A couple weeks ago, one of the devotional readings stuck with me. The teacher talked about the Hebrew word, “aderet,” which means “mantle.” Its meaning is described as “large, big, great, wide, powerful, excellent, noble, mighty, and glorious.” Cahn goes on to say the following:
[Teacher] “Each one is given a mantle, a calling. And you will be given yours. But remember, your mantle is your aderet, and the aderet always speaks of greatness. So your calling will be too big for you. It won’t fit. It won’t match who you are. And there will be times when you’ll struggle with that, with its magnitude in comparison to who you are. . . It will always be greater, more powerful, more noble, more excellent, and more glorious than the one who wears it and to whom it was given.”
[Student] “But why? Why does God give us mantles that are too big and don’t fit?”
[Teacher] “Your mantle is not meant to fit who you are. It’s meant to fit who you are to be, who you are to become. . . . Your mantle must be beyond you, that you can grow into it, that you can rise to it. So never be discouraged at the difference in size. It must be that way . . . that you might become greater, more excellent, more noble, more powerful, and more glorious than you are now.”
Now, it feels like the mantle I’ve been given is too big for me. It all seems like so much work, so much pressure, so much responsibility. I’ve noticed that the little doubts I heard during my college years sometimes creep back into my mind. But I have to trust that all my years “working in the field,” like Elisha, have been enough to lead me to work for Him and accept His plan.
As it seems to be in almost every life situation, the key to taking hold of my mantle is to remember. Remember that God led me to music education. Remember all that He’s allowed me to learn in my education from the two colleges I attended. Remember the answer to prayer on finding a job. Remember my love for the Atholton students, and how much I enjoy them. Remember how clearly God opened this door for me to walk through. Remember all the times when I doubted, thought I couldn’t do it, and thought it was too much to bear, only to have God prove me wrong and allow me to see His mighty hand at work.
I don’t know what this coming year will bring, but I hope that God will keep molding me into the teacher He wants me to be. As John Ortberg says, “Where God calls, God gifts.”
And Henry Blackaby wrote: “Some people say, ‘God will never ask me to do something I can’t do.’ I have come to the place in my life that, if the assignment I sense God is giving me is something that I know I can handle, I know it is probably not from God. The kind of assignments God gives in the Bible are always God-sized. They are always beyond what people can do, because He wants to demonstrate His nature, His strength, His provision, and His kindness to His people and to a watching world. This is the only way the world will come to know Him.”
Lisa Poirier graduated from Southern Adventist University. She is music director at Atholton Adventist Academy in Columbia, Maryland. This is a blog entry from July 25, 2017. Her blog, Teaching Lisa: Teaching While Being Taught, is updated as she finds time in her teaching schedule.
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