Becoming a Spiritual Son
As we have considered what it takes to become a true spiritual father, the clear indications are that it is a considerable undertaking. Added to the characteristics prerequisite of fathering, are the responsibilities of fathering. Among other things these responsibilities include the fact that true spiritual fathers do not accept their sons choosing them, but rather they choose their sons. While it is true and will be seen that such fathers are willing to touch the lives of all the neighborhood children, there is something different about the relationship that they have with the sons that God has directed them to choose.
Becoming a true spiritual son is not something that we can simply decide one day to do. It is not a relationship that should be taken lightly and just as in real life, in most situations, the child has no influence over who their parent will be. This is a point that we should consider carefully, especially in the culture that we live in today. The modern day conference scene is filled with examples of individuals who are desperately seeking to get themselves adopted. These “groupies” travel from church to church, from city to city and from state to state in an effort to be noticed by those who they look up to in the spiritual world. While I certainly do not intend to criticize their hunger for knowledge and spiritual understanding, the idea that they will one day be great because they have shadowed someone they consider great is far removed from the spiritual growth that results from the parent/child relationship. While there are those who desire to grow and become great, there are also those who are less ambitious as well. Those who seek only to follow in order to gain an occasional benefit or blessing will rarely gain any true knowledge or spiritual understanding.
Simply put, disciples are called by the one who will disciple them. In other words we don’t get to pick our mentor, but rather they pick us. This may be a literal, spoken call as with Jesus and his disciples, or it may be a symbolic gesture as when Elijah threw his mantle over Elisha. Whether spoken or symbolic, one thing is clear, it was the spiritual father, acting on the leading and directing of the Holy Spirit, who chose the spiritual children and not the other way around. It is from this type of selection process from which true spiritual strength will emerge.
The Conscription Process
It can be considered that this is the type of spiritual fathering that produces true soldiers and champions. Two examples come to mind that help us understand the importance of the process by which spiritual sons are chosen. The first example can be seen in the realm of the historic military draft. When a nation’s military finds itself in need of recruits, it does not wait on individuals to recognize the need and come to the aid of their nation. Rather, conscription has been the historic method of obtaining new soldiers. Although, in times of great distress, the draft has been used to gather all who were available with no examination of qualifications, this is not the normal process. In fact, in America the entity responsible for conscription is commonly known as the Selective Service. The name itself implies that discernment is used in determining who can actually fulfill the necessary obligations. A set of criteria is established against which every individual will be judged. Some will fail at the most basic level, as they have not yet reached the proper physical age or maturity level. Still others will pass these minimum requirements, but fail when it comes to other standards, such as those who are flatfooted or have vision problems. Even after passing these physical requirements, still others will fail during the process of basic training and be unable to fulfill their duties. Finally, some will enter into the enlisted ranks of military service and a selected few may advance to Officers Candidate School (where a whole new set of selection criteria awaits them). In the spiritual arena, this example reminds us of the warfare to which we are called. God has established His on set of selection criteria and He is the one who recruits us. He takes us through a process of preparation until the day that He determines that we are ready to enter into the battlefield as fully trained soldiers. Some will be chosen to enter the battle as foot soldiers and others as generals. One is not better than the other, but each have skills and expertise that allow them to fulfill the role for which they have been selected.
The second example comes from the world of sports. In this arena a process also known as “the draft” is used to select from the cream of the crop. Every high school and college athlete has dreamed of playing for their sport’s version of the NFL or NBA. Today, it is possible that most of these dreams actually begin in little league sports. After years of waiting and preparation, of try-outs and practices, of game day victories and defeats, the day of the draft finally arrives. Though many young men and women may dread the military version of the draft, in the world of sports, this day is a day of excitement and celebration. The military draft chooses men and women who will fill the front lines, while the sports draft chooses the best of the best to become champions in their field and role models for a generation. It is a lifetime of effort and achievement that prepares one for this day, yet when it arrives; it is totally out of the control of that individual. They may have worked for countless hours to make themselves the best in the world, yet it is someone else who will decide the number one draft pick. Some will be devastated that they did not make the top ten, while others will feel fortunate to have been picked at all. Sometimes the process will identify those who are truly the best and at other times it fails to do what it was intended to do. Over the years top draft picks have fallen into obscurity, while low level athletes have risen to the occasion and become the toast of the town. In the spiritual sense, this draft reminds us that spiritual sons are called to be champions of the faith and ultimately spiritual fathers who will become role models for a spiritual generation. While God does not determine who is number one among those He chooses (all are of equal value in His eyes), it remains true that what we become after He has chosen us is to some degree or another within our own control.
Matthew 22:14 reminds us that “Many are called, but few are chosen”. In the context of spiritual fathering, this scripture reminds us that we have all been called to become the sons of God (Galatians 3:26 - For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus), to receive the free gift of eternal life. However, it also reminds us that not all who have been called to this place of salvation are chosen as spiritual sons to ultimately be set into places of authority as spiritual fathers themselves. This elevated state of sonship is described as:
He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.
Revelations 21:6 affirms that He “will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts,” and thus salvation is assured, but here in verse 7 we find that the bar has been raised for sonship. In order to recognize our true potential, to be spiritual sons who begat other spiritual sons, we must not merely just get by, but rather we must overcome. To put it another way, I am reminded of an old saying that when life hands you a bucket of lemons, it is those who make lemon-aide form them that have overcome.
While it is the focus of the following chapter to identify the qualifications of a true spiritual son, it should prove helpful to examine the selection process from a Biblical perspective. In order to identify how a person becomes a true spiritual son, we can look to three specific examples from the scripture: the selection of the disciples by Jesus and the selection of John Mark by Barnabas and finally the selection of Elisha by Elijah.
Jesus and His Disciples – The Call is Personal
While the terminology may be difficult to grasp, the Scriptures identify the ultimate spiritual father as the one whom we identify with as the Son. Jesus is the ultimate role model of all things spiritual, including the proper process of being a father in the spiritual realm. By examining the method by which he selected those who would become His spiritual sons, we can learn valuable lessons about how this process works.
Jesus related to those whom He called on the level where he found them. He did not happen upon Peter and Andrew along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and tell them that He wanted them to come and help build the Kingdom of Heaven. These were rough and rugged fishermen and when He encountered them, He did so in language that they could understand. Matthew recounts their initial meeting:
And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.19 Then He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."20 They immediately left their nets and followed Him.
He called them to become “fishers of men”, not “carpenters for Christ”. Jesus himself had been a carpenter and the idea of building the kingdom would have been part of His own life experiences, but to these fishermen, it would have been totally foreign. This call to sonship was relevant and personal.
Jesus changed His method of invitation based upon the individuals to whom He was speaking. When he came upon Levi, the tax collector, He approached him in a manner that he would understand. Jesus could not speak to this tax collector in the same way that He had called the fishermen. Instead, he simply said “Follow Me.” (Mark 2:14) This was much more of a command than an invitation. When Jesus had approached Peter, he described the benefit of following Him. Peter would become a better fisherman, there was an incentive. However, when He approached Levi, Jesus dealt with him as a superior giving a directive – Follow Me. This would have been much more real to Levi’s life experience. He had become accustomed to following the directives of his Roman superiors. In fact, he had become so accustomed to it that he had grown callus to the feelings of his Jewish brethren. Receiving and following the directives of a superior met Levi right where he was.
To become a true spiritual son, we must be open and ready to receive that personal call of a spiritual father. We may have our own ideas of what we want to be and who we want to be like, but God will meet us in a personal way and extend his invitation to us on a personal level. If the essence of our calling is as an altar team prayer minister, God will not send an Apostle to be our spiritual father. On the other hand, if the essence of our calling is to be a prophetic voice, then God will not send one gifted for visitation to be our spiritual father. While the role we are called to fill may change and grow over time, our spiritual fathers will always teach us what we need for the moment we are in. He will send the one to be your spiritual father who has the anointing to impart what you need and He will make the invitation a personal one.
Barnabas & John Mark – The Call Will Meet You Where You Are
John Mark provides an interesting profile in a spiritual son. The book of Acts indicates that John Mark was initial chosen jointly by Barnabas and Saul to travel with them and become a spiritual son to them:
And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark.
While this seemed to be an exciting beginning with tremendous potential, something happened along the way that threatened to jeopardize the entire process. By the time we reach the end of Acts chapter 15, a serious threat to John Mark’s sonship seems to have developed and there is a real question as too whether the father/son relationship will continue to exist. The following story is recounted there:
Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing."37 Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark.38 But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work.39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God.41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
While we do not know exactly what happened while John Mark was with these two great men of God during their journey to Pamphylia, it was certainly something significant. Evidently whatever had taken place resulted in John Mark’s departure and return home without fulfilling his commitments to the mission that he had first set out upon. This created a serious issue in the relationship between Paul and John Mark. In fact, the breach was so serious that it carried over into the relationship between Paul and Barnabas.
By this point, you may be considering what relationship this story has to the issue of how to become a spiritual son. On the surface it appears to have more to do with the breaking down of relationships rather than the establishment of them. However, when we dig a little deeper, it becomes apparent that something more is going on here. Barnabas has always been seen as a champion of the underdog’s cause. His very name means “son of encouragement” and he has lived up to that name on more than one occasion. Actually, it is highly unlikely that Paul would have ever even reached this point in his ministry if it had not been for Barnabas. Here we find Barnabas effectively releasing Paul to his on destiny and choosing again to champion a difficult cause. So great is Barnabas’ love for John Mark that he actually risks his relationship with Paul (who is clearly now capable of standing on his own two feet), in order to ensure that John Mark (who appears to be barely able to crawl) is given another chance.
The lesson learned from this exchange is vital to the understanding of what it takes to become a true spiritual son. This passage opens our eyes to the understanding that it is God that chooses us, not we who choose Him. God had chosen John Mark for a work and He had every intention of seeing that the good work He had begun was going to come to completion. (Philippians 1:6). The spiritual father that God had prepared for John Mark was unwilling to see him fail. He was willing to extend the call and meet Mark where he was to insure that he would one day succeed.
Perhaps, John Mark had been one of those who so wanted to be like Paul that he had manipulated the circumstances to ensure his participation in that first mission trip. Perhaps he would have been considered a modern day groupie of the Apostle Paul. We may not have the answers to these questions, but what we do know is that whether he had pursued Paul or Paul had pursued him, the spiritual sonship was not Paul’s to grant to him. It was in the hands of Barnabas and, in that case, nothing was going to stop the offer of sonship from being extended.
This should give us hope. While it may not be our job to choose our spiritual father, we can rest assured that God will orchestrate our lives to such a degree that our spiritual father will find us. And there is no substitute for the impartation that comes from the one whom God has ordained to train us up in the way we should go. If this were the end of the story, it would be sufficient, but there is still more. After many years, the value of forging such a strong father/son relationship becomes apparent not only to John Mark, but to the church of his day and to believers throughout history. Later in life, during one of his terms of imprisonment Paul will write the following words to Timothy:
2 Tim 4:11-12
Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.
These words give us final confirmation of the value that becoming a true spiritual son can have in our lives, as here Paul is requested the very same man whom he once rejected so firmly that he parted ways with Barnabas over his role in the ministry. The rational for requesting John Mark is of equal significance to the request itself, as Paul now considers this young man “useful to [him] for ministry”.
Elijah and Elisha – The Call is for the Son to Accept
As we have seen, the relationship between Elijah and Elisha is filled with lessons on the father/son discipleship relationship. On this topic, the initial interaction between the two provides us a final piece of valuable insight into the way the process works.
1 Kings 19:19-20
So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him.20 And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah, and said, "Please let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you."
And he said to him, "Go back again, for what have I done to you?"
Certainly, the fact that no words are uttered in the initial invitation to Elisha to become his spiritual son is a point that must be considered. God has always used imagery to convey his message and this picture is no exception. By throwing his mantle upon Elisha, Elijah is indicating that he has been chosen and that he will provide a spiritual covering for Elisha.
However, it must also be remembered that this challenge issued by Elijah was more then merely a symbolic gesture. It was an invitation that had to be accepted by his disciple Elisha, for it could not be forced upon him. Elijah’s statement “what have I done to thee” indicates that he did not wish to place any constraint upon Elisha, but rather gave him liberty to choose to follow a call not issued by Elijah, but rather issued by God. Some may assume that Elijah is chiding Elisha for his desire to go and bid his parents farewell, but this is not the case. In a more modern context Elijah’s statement might be view something like this: “I haven’t offered you anything Elisha, it was God who offered. If you need to go and kiss your father and mother and God has told you it was alright then it is fine with me, make up your mind and let’s get on with the Father’s business.”
This example offers us a tremendous challenge. Since God will not force us to accept His invitation to become a spiritual son, there is the potential for us to carry a tremendous burden if we do not heed His voice. The acceptance of the invitation is ours alone to give, however, failure to hear the call of God has its own set of consequences, not the least of which is that His voice becomes harder to hear in the future. However, we should also recognize that the call to this father/son discipleship has not come through an audible voice of God in any of our examples (remembering that Jesus operated in the earth as fully man). Each invitation came at the hands of human flesh by way of the one who would be the father figure, and we can reasonably expect that our own invitation will come in much the same way. This requires discernment on our part, so that we may learn to hear the Heavenly Father’s voice, as He speaks through the mouth and actions of His servants. Perhaps this itself is the first step to becoming a spiritual son.
The Neighborhood Kids
As was alluded to at the beginning of the chapter, true spiritual fathers do not ignore the other children in the community, but rather choose to pour out a special impartation into the lives of the ones that God has instructed them to lead. Clearly there were multitudes that followed after Jesus to learn from his teaching and Jesus did not turn them away, but His deepest insight was reserved for those quiet times with His disciples. Additionally, while Elisha was Elijah’s spiritual son, we know form 2 Kings Chapter 2 and various other passages, that Elijah certainly had relationships with other individuals as well.
Those men who are identified in 2 Kings 2 as the sons of the prophets certainly had some form of relationship with Elijah. In fact, it would appear that they felt as though their relationship was equal to or even exceeded the relationship that Elisha enjoyed. Notice how they speak to Elisha, as the time approaches for his master to ascend into heaven.
2 Kings 2:3
Now the sons of the prophets who were at Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?"
And he said, "Yes, I know; keep silent!"
This same pattern was repeated in each town that Elijah and Elisha visited. While it can be seen here that these “sons of the prophets” were hearing the plans of God, it also suggests something further. It would appear that these men felt that their relationship with God and perhaps even with Elijah was sufficiently greater than Elisha’s that they knew something about his master that he did not know. Their very question implies that they considered themselves closer to Elijah than Elisha was.
We know of the role that Elijah played in establishing schools of the prophets. We can assume that he may have even known some of the men in these towns for a longer period of time than he had known Elisha. Perhaps Elijah had even spent individual time with men in these schools and instructed them in the things of the Lord. Maybe he had done conferences or taught classes in these cities and these were the organizers of the events. Whatever the relationship that these men perceived that they had, it was not evil in any way. Neither Elijah nor Elisha gives us any indication that their statements or the relationship that it implies was presumptions. Therefore, a relationship of some kind clearly existed, but it was not on the level that they assumed it to be. They were the neighborhood kids – children who Elijah cared for very much and into whom he had evidently poured a part of his life – but this was not the same as being true spiritual sons. There was nothing whatsoever wrong with this relationship and it was in fact a very beneficial relationship, however, something more was there for Elisha.
Notice the response that Elisha gives to them, “Yes, I know; keep silent!” This response alone shows us that Elisha’s relationship was of a more significant character than that of these son's of the prophets and in fact that deep down they were aware of this fact. Elisha has the authority to silence these men. He is clearly more than a servant of his master, for there is no negative reaction whatsoever to this stern acknowledgement of their accuracy and rebuke for their presumption. Additionally, we can see the difference in the relationships by what transpires later. It is not the sons of the prophets who travel with Elijah and see him ascend into heaven, but rather Elisha (his spiritual son) alone and when Elisha returns it is apparent to all that there has been an impartation of much greater significance than any of them had enjoyed, for the spirit of Elijah rested on Elisha.