As parents, Mandi and I have been charged by God with the responsibility to raise our three girls so that one day they can be mature and responsible women who will be ready to live on their own and to have families of their own.
Christian parents are by default spiritual parents of their children, and are called (as much as it depends on them) to pass their faith on to their kids by teaching them about God, what He has done, and to show them what it means to live for God through Christ in how we work, relate, and deal with problems and disappointments…to show them what faith looks like in practice so that they can mature and grow to the point where they can be spiritual mothers and fathers themselves.
But parenthood—fatherhood and motherhood—is something every Christian is called to. Every Christian is meant to become a spiritual parent to someone else. That is what the Great Commission means. We start out as disciples and mature to the point where we make disciples.
In closing let me share some thoughts I am taking away from this study of Elijah and Elisha in 2 Kings 2:1-18:
First, are you wearing your cloak well? Spiritual fatherhood requires that we be a good example, and not only in thought but in practice. Living for God through Christ is just as much caught as it is taught—perhaps even more so. The fruit of the Spirit is not good doctrine but good practice. Good doctrine leads to good practice. That is the point of the doctrine. If we are not clothed ourselves in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; if we do not bear with each other and forgive one another as the Lord forgiven us; if we are not clothed in love, we will not be successful at growing mature sons and daughters.
Second, your cloak was given to you to give to someone else. It is a wonderful thing to hear the Gospel, to have the Spirit descend on you and open your eyes to the beauty of the Father, the love of the Son and the grace of the Spirit. When that happens there is a love and joy created in us that longs to learn and to grow in knowledge and practice. But if we find ourselves always the student and never the teacher we are missing out on one of God’s greatest blessings: becoming a spiritual father or mother. Do you know that? Are you acting on that?
Jesus is not only our Lord, but our example. He prayed to His Father about who He should take on as His disciples. We should too. Have you asked God who He wants you to take on as an Elisha, who he wants you to throw your cloak round?
If you have spiritual children, have you put your cloak on them? Are you taking the time to live and walk with them? I can tell you from personal experience that parenting is a real commitment. It requires a serious investment of your time. My girls need me to be with them. I need to make time for them. I need to be available to them when they need me. When they are sick or hurting I have to alter my schedule to care for them.
Spiritual parenting is not that much different. Those God has given us as spiritual sons and daughters need our time, they need our care. They need our prayers when we are not with them. They need access to us. Because of that, you are never going be able to have that many at any one time. I have said it before, Jesus was God and He had twelve, if we have more than a few (which is defined as 3-8) we are doing really well. Just like parenting our natural kids, at times it is going to inconvenience us. At times it is going to be messy. At times it is going to get downright confusing.
Again, that is how it was for Jesus and His disciples wasn’t it? Don’t we read the same thing in Paul’s letters? Therefore we should not be surprised when we run into the same challenges. It is part of parenting. It is part of being a disciple.
If you are discipling someone, have you made it clear that your goal is for them to become a disciple themselves? Like Elijah, Jesus, and Paul we need to be clear that after a time our spiritual sons and daughters should become fathers and mothers.
To those of us who are being discipled, do we know that we are expected to grow up? The spiritual son or daughter that never becomes a parent to someone else is the spiritual equivalent of the thirty-something person living in their parents’ basement. It means there was a failure to launch! I think we will always need spiritual moms and dads in our life, but at some point we need to get to the point where we cease being only sons and daughters and become fathers and mothers.
Are you spiritual fathers and mothers giving them to God? Are you teaching, leading, and parenting in such a way that your kids are learning you are not enough, and that Christ is enough? Spiritual parenting is a partnership. It is something you do with Christ, for Christ, and through Christ. You cannot do it in your own power. While it is a partnership, you and I are the junior partners. We can only do so much. We are called to wear our cloak well, to place our cloak on the shoulders of others God leads us to, to teach them, walk with them, love them, pray for them, and spend ourselves for them. But we need to know that that is where our responsibility ends. For our cloak to become their cloak, Jesus must give His Spirit to them. In the end it is His to give to whom He chooses. If we make them dependent on us and not on Christ, if we are not becoming less while Christ is becoming more, we have somewhere gone astray.
And last, to those of us who have spiritual fathers and mothers: It is a great blessing to have such a person or persons in your life who are willing to be spiritual parents. Be careful not to make them more than they are. They are not enough. They will never be enough. They were never meant to be. Only Jesus is enough, and when you have Him, you will always have enough. Spiritual fathers and mothers do not want you dependent on them, they want you dependent on Christ. They may serve you as a father or mother to their last breath as Elijah did to Elisha, but in the end you need to grow up and be the next father, to be the next mother.
I would have you heed the last words Jonathan Edwards ever spoke. He spoke them to his daughter Lucy. He said,
Dear Lucy, it seems to me to be the will of God that I must shortly leave you; therefore give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her, that the uncommon union, which has so long subsisted between us, has been of such a nature, as I trust is spiritual, and therefore will continue forever: and I hope she will be supported under so great a trial, and submit cheerfully to the will of God. And as to my children, you are now like to be left fatherless, which I hope will be an inducement to you all to seek a Father, who will never fail you.
There are few blessings as great as being a spiritual parent and having spiritual parents. All of us who are Christians are Christ’s disciples and are called to be spiritual fathers and mothers to others in whatever place we find ourselves. That means learning from our spiritual parents how to live for God through Christ well. It means we will prayerfully be about looking for those whom God wants us to throw our cloaks over; and when we find them to teach them, walk with them, love them, pray for them, and spend ourselves for them. It means we will be preparing them to grow up into people who will one day be spiritual mothers and fathers themselves. And through it all, realizing that while we are privileged partners with God in this process, that we know and make it clear to them that we are only junior partners, that our responsibility is to prepare them for God’s call but only God can call them. And after he does that He must become greater and we must become less.