When the prophet Elijah calls Elisha to be his successor, Elisha makes a clean break from his past. Elijah finds Elisha “plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and [Elisha] himself [is] driving the twelfth pair.” It’s good, God-honoring farm work. But when God calls Elisha to something new, Elisha says good bye to his parents, slaughters the oxen, and burns his plowing equipment.
In short, there is no going back for Elisha.
Elisha reminds me of Hernán Cortés, the Spanish Conquistador who added large portions of Mexico under the rule of Spain. In 1519, he ordered that the ships that brought his troops to the Americas be destroyed. (It is commonly held that Cortéz ordered the ships burned, but historical records indicate he had them sunk instead.) In destroying his fleet, Cortés took away from his soldiers the possibility of failure and turning back. They had no choice but go forward with their mission.
I wonder what “plows” or “ships” Jesus is inviting me to burn. What things am I tempted to go back to instead of wholeheartedly pursuing Jesus’ calling on my life? Selfishness? Arrogant self-reliance? Pursuit of prestige? Idolatry of money? Desire for control?
In his song “Burn the Ships,” Steven Curtis Chapman ponders how Satan tempts us to turn back from following Jesus, exhorting us to burn the ships if it means staying close to Jesus.