So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him...Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.
- 1 Kings 19.19, 21
The service of the Lord is light, wonderful, and pleasant. It is an excellent thing to place oneself in the hand of a holy mentor, that he may direct one's path through life.
- The Rule of Comghall, Irish, 6th century
Celtic Christians practiced several kinds of mentoring for those who devoted their lives to the Lord.
Parents who hoped for a holy vocation for their son could send him off to fosterage at a school run by a bishop or nun. Later, that child could enter a monastery, where he would be tutored in Scripture and theology and taught the rudiments of ministry. He might go out from there under the mentoring care of a proven evangelist or itinerating pastor, to help him in his ministry as he continued preparing for his own calling.
Along the way a young man preparing for ministry would acquire a soul friend or two, life-long prayer and accountability partners, who would look after his soul as earnestly as their own. The relationship was mutual, so that soul friends provided edification and encouragement for one another for life.
Such relationships could help make the arduous work of ministry more light, wonderful, and pleasant. They could also ensure, as in the case of Elijah and Elisha, a continuity of ministry from one generation to the next. So important was the soul friend relationship to Celtic Christians that St. Brigid once said that a man without a soul friend is like a man without a head.
Soul friendships were not restricted to those preparing for or engaged in formal ministry. They’re simply the ones about whom we know the most. Do you have a soul friend? Do you meet regularly with someone to encourage and be encouraged, exhort and receive exhortation, share, plan, and pray? If so, then you know the value of this venerable institution. Give thanks to God for your soul friend, every day.
If you do not have a soul friend, then there’s no time like the present. Jesus, of course, is the soul friend Who sticks closer than a brother. But He knows that we can be sharpened and strengthened by soul friendships with other believers. Ask God to help you become established with a soul friend – men with men, women with women. Having a soul friend could mark a true turning-point in your walk with the Lord, and that of your soul friend as well.
Psalm 34.18, 19 (Alleluia [Lowe]: “Mighty God, While Angels Bless You”)
When for help we cry to Jesus, He will save, for He is near.
He delivers us from trouble, for He holds us ever dear.
Magnify the Name of Jesus! Let us lift His Name in praise!