1 Kings 19:4 KJV But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.
l. INTRODUCTION – PILGRIM’S PROGRESS – GIANT DESPAIR
There is no way for me to be able to stress to you the value of the work of John Bunyan called Pilgrim’s Progress. John Bunyan’s own words have the ability to arrest even the casual reader when he says, “Ponder my metaphors. . . . What if my Gold is wrapped up in ore?” Throughout that incredible book there lays vast amounts of gold wrapped up in ore. He traces the path of every weary traveler who is attempting to gain entrance into the Celestial City or what we commonly understand as heaven. There is nothing in this life that is as important as to making it to heaven. But to die well you must live well.
One particular scene in this book has provoked my thoughts more than once in the last several days. It is a scene later on in the book where Christian and Hopeful are traveling along the river and find themselves faced with the possibility of a shortcut. This shortcut is very appealing to them and after a brief conversation, Christian is able to persuade Hopeful into climbing the fence and taking the path along the shortcut. It has everything that they think they may want and need. The meadows are deep green and peppered throughout are white lilies. There is abundant amounts of fruit and it is incredibly serene. Perhaps the only thing that is missing is the background of classical music or maybe some Hillsong music which ever your choice may be.
For three days, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, they are in a state of bliss as they meander throughout what Bunyan terms “the Bypath.” I might add that shortcuts generally are not really beneficial to any of us. You will not gain spiritual power with shortcuts. There are no shortcuts to greatness. It requires time, discipline, effort, and just a day-in and day-out walk with God to succeed at this Christian life.
For three days, not much energy is expended, not much effort is required. It is a time of rest and recuperation. Then a series of events overtakes them, one of which is a severe storm. This storm floods the river and brings to them thunder and lightning. They are miserable in the cold and weariness of their travels. Finally, they find a sheltered place to stop and to rest for the night. So down they fall into a troubled, wearied sleep. What they do not realize is that they have trespassed on the land of a fearful giant, whose name is Despair.
The next morning, Giant Despair finds the two miserable pilgrims and captures them and takes them to the dungeon that is within Doubting Castle. This dungeon is dark, wet, and has a terribly foul odor to it. It is in Doubting Castle that they almost lose every bit of their faith and hope in finishing the race. Giant Despair starves them and gives them nothing to eat and they have to endure a fearful beating that leaves them lying almost dead on the damp dungeon floor. But this is not the worst of the dreadful punishment that Giant Despair brings to them.
In the three days that they stay there he starts talking to them. He finds them after the severe beating and knowing they are sore, weary, and hungry, he begins to whisper to them foul things from hell. He suggests to them whisperings that wilts them even further. He tells them that their life is over and they may as well go ahead and kill themselves. He tells them that he is going to leave a knife, some rope, and a bit of poison in the dungeon with them and that when they get sick enough of where they are they can end their lives as they see fit.
Upon his exit they begin to reason among themselves that it would be better to end their lives than to just continue in the state they are in. Giant Despair has already asked them, “Why should you choose life when it has been accompanied with so much bitterness and pain?”
-There is more to this little story but I will get back to it in a bit. However, what you must understand is that no matter how close your walk with God is and how grand and great that things are right now, periodically life comes along and knocks the stuffings out of us.
-There is not a man here in this room who has not had his own share of trouble and difficulties in life. Whoever it was that said that just because you served God would eliminate the problems in your life obviously had not read their Bible.
ll. THE STORY SURROUNDING THE TEXT
-The text in 1 Kings 19 picks up just beyond one of Elijah’s greatest victories. He had faced down the prophets of Baal in a confrontation on Mount Carmel and had won. Israel at this point was under the rule of Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel. Israel no longer resembled a godly nation. She had pursued other idols, gods, and all sorts of deadly distractions.
-Now God was using the iron within the soul of Elijah to counter the attack of evil. The gauntlet had been laid down by Elijah: The God who answers by fire will be the one that we are going to serve. In fact, Scripture lays it out like this:
1 Kings 18:21 KJV And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
-So the little contest started. An altar was made, in fact the Bible declares that Elijah took a broke-down altar and rebuilt it (that is a whole message in itself). A dead animal was placed on it, it was soaked down with water, and then he prayed a 63 word prayer and fire fell from heaven and consumed the sacrifice. Elijah’s God was the one that answered by fire after all of the antics that came from the prophets of Baal.
-Then Elijah just commenced with an old-fashioned whipping and destroyed the prophets of Baal. It was at this point that he was at his greatest point in his life. No victory had rivaled this one nor would another equal it in his life.
-No doubt Israel stood in awe of the power of God and the power of the man that God used. Grace had visited the life of Elijah and he had outshone them all. It was by the very power of God that this occurred.
-But then the word got back to the Queen what had happened at Carmel and she was overtaken by a maddening rage. She then declared that the scalp of the prophet would belong to her in 24 hours or less.
-This declaration paralyzed the faith of Elijah. It unnerved him in such a way that he went into a mental and spiritual slump.
-Here it is in Scripture that a man who was in his strongest place failed. That is often the way that it is with men. At best men are still just men.
• Elijah failed in his strength and fled from an angry woman.
• Abraham failed in his great faith and sired a son out of doubt.
• Moses failed in his great meekness and in anger and bitterness struck the rock.
• Solomon failed in his great wisdom and in folly pursued many wives and their idols.
-Elijah could stand in the face of Ahab the king and tell him that he was Israel’s greatest problem and that God was not pleased with his actions and then flee from his wife. Even more remarkable was that he would despair even of his life.
-When the supernatural work of grace had moved out of Elijah’s life, he was just as any other man. It is only when the power of the Holy Ghost is working within a man that he is able to rise above himself. That is why week-in and week-out you hear me say that a “good old-fashioned praying through” is good for all of us and there is no way to place a monetary value on such an experience.
lll. GIANTS UNDER JUNIPER TREES
-This is where we find him at the juniper tree. But there is not just a juniper tree, it appears that Giant Despair was waiting for him at the foot of the tree. We all have “juniper tree” moments. We all have days that there is that prevailing sense of the blues, the blah’s, or whatever you want to call them.
A. Reasons for “Juniper Tree” Moments
-There are some reasons that we periodically find ourselves scrubbing around at the bottom of the barrel.
1. We are not thinking realistically or clearly, so the Lord sometimes needs to correct our perspective.
-Was Jezebel really stronger than Jehovah? Of course not! Was Elijah the only one serving the Lord? Absolutely not! There was a hidden hundred (18:13) and seven thousand more who had not even bowed a knee to Baal.
-It is a trick of the enemy to get your perspective all out of sorts if he can do so. When this happens, we allow fear to distort out thinking and we run instead of pray.
-The Scriptures spill over with examples of those who found themselves in utter despair.
• David flagrantly sinned.
• Asaph bewailed his unjust treatment.
• Job was afflicted beyond comprehension.
• Jonah wanted to die after God spared Nineveh.
• Peter denied the Lord.
• Elijah despaired at the threats of Jezebel.
-Yet all of these were ultimately rescued. The despairing Philippian jailer nearly killed himself after the earthquake had freed the prisoners. But he chose life and that night he and his entire family were eternally saved.
-No matter how deep the pit may be, we should keep hanging on, hoping against hope for God’s solution to our trouble. Betsey ten Boom told her sister Corrie in the Nazi concentration camp, “There is no pit so deep that he is not deeper still.”
2. We separate ourselves from relationships that strengthen us.
-Elijah had left his friend at Beersheba and had traveled the wilderness alone. The servant was faithful to him, he did not abandon Elijah, Elijah had abandoned him.
-When fear, confusion, depression, and despair invade your life, withdrawing is not good. Depression has a way of feeding on loneliness and that is why every person needs a close friend that they can talk to.
-That is why you need this church. Whether you feel like it or not you need this church and this church needs you. It is here and in fellowship with others of like faith that you can find strength for the journey. Courage to take another step. Faith in another day.
3. We sometimes must understand that the Kingdom advances in quiet, unnoticed and often subtle ways. This is hard to grasp when we are in the aftermath of great victory.
-Everything in Elijah’s life had been geared to prepare him for the confrontation on Mount Carmel. The work of Baal would be destroyed forever. But it was not!!! Elijah probably decided that his whole life had been a waste and counted for nothing.
-It would be very shortly that Elijah would find God in the silence. This is often God’s greatest pattern. He hides in obscurity. In fact, God glories in obscurities. He revels in the silence and finds us with the still, small voice.
-In some dark cave after the juniper tree, among the shredded rocks and trees, Elijah lodged. He waited in the loneliness but as he waited in that loneliness of despair, apparently there was a fire raging in the soul of Elijah.
-While the fire raged, he waited. But he did not have to wait long. “Behold, the word came unto him.” So Scripture declares.
-That word had come often to him before.
• It had come to him at Thisbe.
• It had come to him in Samaria after he had given his first message to Ahab.
• It had come to summon him from the solitudes of Zarephath to the stir of active life.
• Now it had come to him again.
-There is no place on earth that is so lonely, no juniper so high, no cave so dark, that the word of the Lord cannot come to you again. In the cave, the question came, “What doest thou here, Elijah?”
-How often do we need that question asked to us again and again. “What doest thou here. . ?”
• It needs to come to us when we have deserted some job that were accomplished at.
• It needs to come to us when we sit on the couch of laziness and attempt to secure ease.
• It needs to come to us when we dig a hole in the earth and bury our talents.
• It needs to come to us when we stand idle and lounging with those in the market-place.
-The question rings out, “What doest thou here. . . .?”
-Life is the time for doing. The world is a great workshop where there is no room for sluggards. There is much to do.
• Evil to put down.
• Good to lift up.
• Doubters to be directed.
• Prodigals to be won back.
• Sinners to be saved.
4. When we are physically exhausted and emotionally spent, we need to find rest and food and strength for the journey.
-The stress and adrenaline from Mount Carmel, Jezebel’s unopposed opposition, and his long trek into the wilderness drained Elijah. In his depleted and dangerous state, all he could do was sleep.
-Sometimes the best way to fight the giant is to go to bed. God treats discouragement with gentleness.
5. When we submit to self-pity, the Lord wants us to submit to Him.
-Often self-pity sets in when we have underrated our own efforts and have forgotten the contributions of others. Self-pity finds formation at the point that we have set unreasonably high expectations for ourselves.
lV. CONCLUSION – ESCAPING FROM GIANT DESPAIR
To return back to Doubting Castle, the story goes that the giant would begin to beat Christian and Hopeful in the early morning hours a long time before day. These attacks of depression seem to hit the severest in the early morning hours when Giant Despair comes to beat his prisoners. As much as he wants to kill them, he cannot.
Quite independently of him or of his prisoners, the sun comes out causing “fainting spells” to come to the giant. These glimpses of the sun are like little rays of hope protecting the pilgrims from being destroyed completely.
Finally, late on Saturday night, Christian and Hopeful find themselves involved in a prayer meeting. They pray most of the night and suddenly it comes to Christian that he has had a key in his pocket all the time. He pulls out the key and places it into the lock of the prison cell and it opens up the cell and they are able to escape from Doubting Castle.
-Every one has a key deep down in the pocket of their soul. However, it is very often that we forget that it is there. This key is called the Word of God and at any point we can take it out and use it.
-When Giant Despair tells you that your sins are too great and cannot be forgiven, there is a key to that doubt:
Ephesians 2:13 KJV But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
Colossians 1:14 KJV In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
John 6:37 KJV All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.
-When Giant despair tells you that God is through with your life and nothing ever will be accomplished with it, there is a key to that:
John 15:16 KJV Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
Philippians 1:6 KJV Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:
-When Giant Despair tells you that God no longer loves you and that you are hopelessly lost, there is a key that will open that dungeon:
Jeremiah 31:3 KJV The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.
Hebrews 7:25 KJV Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
-Things are never what Giant Despair wants you to think that they are. There is a Key of Promise to every situation that you may battle with and God is able to deliver us!
February 1, 2004