When we compose a C. V. or job application, we expect to list our achievements and accomplishments; we aim to impress potential employers with our past prowess. When a person dies, an obituary tends to focus on achievements and accomplishments, defining a person’s worth and value by these things. It comes as something of a shock, then, to realise that God’s recommendations are very different and the job specifications in His kingdom tend to focus less on our prowess and more on our heart attitudes.
When the kings of Israel and Judah were debating wars, Jehoshaphat stopped to ask if there was a prophet of the Lord through whom they could seek God’s will and mind. (2 Kings 3:11) He was told, ‘Ellisha son of Shaphat is here. He used to pour water on the hands of Elijah.’ (2 Kings 3:11)
We know Elisha to be a prophet of God, mightily used by God in a host of miracles. To hear him described as the one ‘who used to pour water on the hands of Elijah’ is not the recommendation we would have expected (or given.) It’s a qualification for wisdom and godliness which seems odd to us. After all, what has pouring water on a man’s hands – the menial task of a servant – got to do with hearing God’s voice and proclaiming His will to kings?
The job was a servant’s. It implied closeness, yes (and Elijah was probably the greatest prophet in Israel after Moses), but there are plenty of servants mentioned in the Bible who were not qualified for their master’s role simply by propinquity. Nonetheless, Elisha’s job description in this instance perfectly marked him out for his role as Elijah’s successor.
Because servanthood is at the very heart of greatness in God’s kingdom. Jesus said that whoever wants to be great in God’s kingdom has to become as a lowly child  (Matt 18:4), has to become a servant of all. (Mark 9:35) He demonstrated the principle of serving when He washed His disciples’ feet (John 13), and made it plain that even He did not come to be served, but to serve. (Mark 10:45) The ‘qualification’ for a disciple of Jesus is not how much theology we know or how many miracles we have performed. It is the mark of loving service.
I’m sure most of us would have resented this description of Elisha if it had been applied to us. We don’t really want to be known simply as ‘the one who made cups of tea at church’ or ‘the one who smiles at people when they come in.’ Such descriptions seem insignificant. We don’t value servants and never have.
But God does.
We do ultimately remember Elisha for far more than his role as Elijah’s servant. His words to the kings and their fulfilment in 2 Kings 3 show his closeness to God and how God was able to use him in miraculous ways. But it all starts with a servant’s heart, where no job is too lowly, where personal aggrandisment is simply not a part of our mindset. If we want to be great, we must learn to serve.