The end goal of spiritual fathering or mothering is to raise up sons and daughters who become spiritual fathers and mothers. If we are going to be spiritual fathers and mothers—and if we are truly disciples of Christ we have been called to that work—the account of Elijah and Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21 (where Elijah becomes a spiritual father to Elisha) 2 Kings 2:1-17 (where Elijah is taken to heaven and Elisha becomes a spiritual father himself) gives us some clear direction on how to do it.
First, the reality is that God decides who we are to take on as spiritual sons and daughters. God told Elijah that Elisha was to be his spiritual son (1 Kings 19:16). He did not just throw his cloak on the shoulders of one of his favorite students or who he felt was most qualified, but on the shoulders of the person God chose. In the same way, Jesus did not randomly chose His disciples but spent a whole night in prayer about it and chose the men His Father wanted Him to have (Luke 6:12-14). The only exception to this is if you are a parent with children of your own. But even then, you don’t really pick them do you? You are given them by God.
Second, good spiritual mothers and fathers put their cloaks on their spiritual sons and daughters. When Elijah put his cloak on Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19 he was intending two things.
By cloaking Elisha he was committing to teach him how to live for God, he was inviting him to follow his good example, to copy it, to imitate it. It reminds me of what Paul said in Philippians 4:9 (NIV) Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
And what exactly does that mean? Paul tells us in Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV) Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Spiritual fathers and mothers wear these clothes well and teach their spiritual children to dress the same.
- In dressing Elisha in his cloak he was telling him that God was empowering him with His Spirit, authority, and blessing. When Pharaoh made Joseph the governor of all of Egypt, he took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck (Genesis 41:42, NIV). When the lost son returned home to his father in Jesus’ parable of The Lost Sons, how did his father prove his love for his son and his blessing of him, by calling to his servants and saying, Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet (Luke 15:22, NIV). To be a good spiritual parent means to empower our spiritual children with the blessing and authority to be fathers and mothers themselves.
The third thing we learn from these passages is that it needs to be made clear to our spiritual sons and daughters that they are expected to grow into fathers and mothers. When Elijah placed his cloak on Elisha, he was telling him that he would not always be the student. Someday he would be the master with students of his own. When Elijah told him that he was going to be taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, he was preparing Elisha to make the transition from son to father.
Again, we see the same thing in Jesus’ ministry. When He sent out the disciples on their own He was preparing them to be on their own (Matthew 10:5). As His time drew near, He also told them that He was not going to be with them long (Matthew 16:21). Part of being a spiritual parent is making it clear that just like natural children, we expect them to be able to grow to spiritual adults who can be on their own.
Spiritual parents know that God is who enables us and who enables our kids. When Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, Elijah responds in 2 Kings 2:10 (NIV) saying, You have asked a difficult thing…yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not. Elijah knew he could only do so much. Even though he was told by God to mentor Elisha to be his successor, he could not actually accomplish that, God needed to do it. He could, from a human father’s perspective prepare Elisha to be his successor, but all he could do—no matter how well he did—was prepare him. God had to do it.
We need to acknowledge that there is a limit to what we can do. Like Elijah, we can put our cloak on our Elishas, we can clothe them with wisdom, we can show them the power of the Spirit as Elijah did in parting the water by hitting it with his cloak. Elijah’s cloak was not divine, it had no intrinsic power of its own. It was only a symbol. The cloak illustrates that we need the Spirit of God to rest on us if our cloaking of them is to be of any value. Spiritual fathers know that they are not enough. Spiritual parents are a great blessing, but they are only a blessing, they are not the Blessor. We don’t want to make people dependent on us, we want them dependent on God. In the end, the cloak must be given by God.