Study 19 - Pass the Baton
Relay racing must be among the most exciting of all the competitive sports. I love watching the runners hurtling around the track, slapping the baton into the hand of the next person, panting with exhaustion but straining to see if their team will finally win.
The technique of baton-passing is very crucial. Within brief seconds safe communication must take place from the one who has finished his course to the one who’s just beginning. For fleeting moments they run together, then the fresh athlete is away. Races are often won or lost in those vital exchanges. Pure speed around the track can never win such a race. In this team event, you must make sure you’ve grasped what was passed on to you.
God’s plans go beyond the part played by individuals. Naturally, you want to fulfil God’s purpose for your life, but don’t think that he’s concerned only about your leg of the race. Passing on the baton is part of your job. It can’t be allowed to fall but must be passed, received and carried on.
From early times, God wove this principle firmly into the lives of his people. Fathers were given very clear instructions on how to raise their families: ‘Impress [these commandments] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up’ (Deut. 6:7). So the fathers were to tell their children, ‘We’re God’s special people, his light to the nations, and he’s given us his holy laws to follow. This is the lifestyle he wants us to have. These are his commandments. I’m teaching you these things so that you will obey them and in turn teach them to your children after you’ (see Deut. 4:9). As children quickly grow up and leave the family home, you realise how rapidly the baton-passing opportunity is gone. Don’t miss it.
Not only were fathers exhorted to pass on God’s commandments, they were also encouraged to recount his mighty acts. ‘We will tell the next generation … the wonders he has done’ (Ps. 78:4). They were to tell succeeding generations about the escape from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the crossing of the Jordan, the taking of Jericho. They also had to pass on the great hope of Israel, the glorious future awaiting them when the Messiah came.
Children were similarly instructed to take note of what they were told. ‘Honour your father and your mother,’ God commanded them (Exod. 20:12). In other words, ‘When they teach you about me, don’t turn your back on them. Honour them and take their words seriously.’ Scripture also advises, ‘A wise son heeds his father’s instruction,’ and, ‘He who ignores discipline despises himself’ (Prov. 13:1, 15:32).
Certainly Moses made sure that the Israelites understood the law of God, but he had more than that to pass on. Resting upon this national leader was a gift, an anointing from the Holy Spirit, and God wanted that anointing to rest on Moses’ successor. When Moses knew that Joshua would be the next leader of the nation, he laid hands on him, and Joshua was ‘filled with the spirit of wisdom’ (Deut. 34:9).
God wants to raise up leaders, but sadly, leaders are sometimes hard to find. The book of Judges records a dark period in Israel’s history. Leaders occasionally emerged, but none of them imparted anything of any real value to the next generation. Gideon came and went; so too did Samson. For a while the nation profited from their leadership, but then it fell away because no one was building on the foundation that the previous man had laid. The final comment in the book is a sad reflection on the state of a directionless people: ‘In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit’ (Judg. 21:25).
When leaders simply dropped the baton and died, the nation lost its way again. All that these individuals had learned about God died with them. How many mighty men and women of God through the ages have taken most of their secrets with them to the grave instead of passing them on like valued family treasures?
At this point in Elijah’s story, God had already chosen his successor, the man who would carry on his prophetic ministry, and Elijah spent maybe ten years with him. The next phase of God’s plan for the nation had to continue through a new servant, Elisha, and part of Elijah’s calling was to make him an excellent disciple.
‘Marriage is for making children into disciples of Jesus. Here the focus shifts. This purpose of marriage is not merely to add more bodies to the planet. The point is to increase the number of followers of Jesus on the planet… God’s purpose in making marriage the place to have children was never merely to fill the earth with people, but to fill the earth with worshippers of the true God… When the focus of marriage becomes “Make children disciples of Jesus,” the meaning of marriage in relation to children is not mainly “Make them,” but “Make them disciples.” And the latter can happen even where the former doesn’t.’
John Piper, This Momentary Marriage – A Parable of Permanence, Desiring God Foundation, 2008, p.138-139, www.DesiringGod.org