Summary: Uses Elijah’s mountaintop experience on Carmel followed by his pity-fest in the desert to talk about the highs and lows of life. You can’t live on the mountaintop. Fortunately, our God is God of the valleys also. Student Ministry PowerPoint format.

[Living in the Valleys]

Slide Graphic - photo of tall mountain and deep dark valley

Slide Text - Elijah came to a juniper tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life” (1 Kings 19:4)

I love mission trips! I had such a good time on this one. I think Kimball Camp was an excellent experience. {discuss various highlights of the mission trip} That’s what a mission trip is supposed to be. Greg calls it a “working witness”. That’s what it was, and it was wonderful.

One thing that’s true about every mission trip, though, is that they eventually have to end. Eventually, you have to come home. Going on a mission trip is what people call a “mountaintop experience”. Things are happening, God reveals Himself, lives are changed. But you can’t live there. You can’t stay at Kimball camp forever. You have to come back to your house, your school, your job – your life. We don’t live on the mountain. We live down in the valley.

One thing that you will find is true is that Satan waits in the valley. Just when you get filled to the brim from that mountaintop experience, and you are really feeling great about how God has been using you, there’s Satan waiting in the valley to knock over your wagon, let the wind out of your sails. The higher you have been, it seems, the more likely it is that you will be kicked into a crevasse when you get home. All that power and potential is suddenly gone. It seem like after every great spiritual experience in your life, you are guaranteed to have a time of great discouragement. Why? We are not as cautious at that point. We are spent emotionally and physically.

This is true in my own experience. Today I want to talk about one of the many times this happened in the Bible. In this case, it happened to a remarkable man named Elijah. Elijah was a great prophet of God in the Old Testament, about 2800 years ago. He was one of only two men mentioned in the Bible who were taken up into heaven, never experiencing death (2 Kings 2:11).

[Mt Carmel]

Slide graphics – topographic maps of holy land, showing location of Mount Carmel and the surrounding terrain.

{note: I have a bunch of history and geography buffs in my group who eat up factoids like the ones on this slide – especially the tie between Mt. Carmel and Armageddon. The purpose of this slide was to paint a picture of this country – high mountains, low valleys – the sound of marching armies echoing through it for the last 3000 years. If this stuff isn’t for your group – skip the whole slide – it isn’t central to the topic}

Elijah had a classic “mountaintop experience” at Mount Carmel in 1 Kings, chapters 18-20. Before we get to Elijah, though, let’s take a moment to understand this very interesting and important area of the world. The Entire history of the Old Testament was played out along a three-thousand mile corridor known today as the “fertile crescent” – a narrow band of farm-able land which extends up the Euphrates and Tigris river valleys, down through the Jordan river valley, across the Sinai along the Mediterranean, and down the Nile river valley. In some places (along the Sinai) the width of this crescent may be measured in inches. At its widest (in the Jordan Valley), it is barely thirty miles wide. From end to end this three thousand mile long oasis averages less than ten miles wide. This was not a tranquil band of farming communities, building pyramids and ziggurats, of peaceable civilizations. There was never a time in recorded history when this corridor did not echo with the sound of marching armies, when it was not lit at night with the fire of burning cities. In fact, many archeologists don’t call this area the fertile crescent – they call it the “crescent of fire”.

Mount Carmel is actually a mountain range which juts into the Mediterranean Sea, splitting the coastal plain of Israel into two parts: the Plain of Sharon to the south and the Plain of Akko to the north. This mountain range and the plains around it have featured prominently in history for thousands of years:

• The first historical mentions of the mountain are found in writings dated to the reigns of the Egyptian pharaohs Thutmose II, Ramses II and Ramses III where it appears under the name Rosh Qidshu, meaning "holy cape." This strongly suggests that the mountain was an early sanctuary or holy place. Megiddo is the only place in the holy land mentioned in the records of all the ancient super-powers of this region – The Egyptians, Assyrians, Sumerians, Hittites, and Babylonians.

• The Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III defeated the armies of Canaan by chasing them through a narrow pass between the plains of Sharon and Acco, into his waiting cavalry on the northern side (Joshua 12:21).

• The Israelite judge Deborah defeated an army of Philistines there.

• The plain narrows as it extends inland to the east. The Jezreel Valley connects it to the Jordan River Valley. This is the site of Gideon’s famous battle, when his 300 picked men defeated the Midianite army by confusing them with torches and trumpets, causing them to slay each other.

• The crusaders landed in the plains of Acco, and built the castle of the Knights of Saint John at Acre during the first Crusade. Saladin recaptured all the crusader castles except the city of Tyre. Guy of Lusignan, who had been made king of Jerusalem the year before, fled to Tyre to establish his kingdom again there, but the commander of that castle refused him entry. Guy took the remainder of his army and besieged the castle of Acre, now held by Muslim warriors. The castle was very strongly built, with two towers. The Accursed Tower faced the land, and the Tower of Flies protected the bay. The Castle held until 1191, when Richard the Lionhearted arrived. He had two enormous siege engines constructed: A stone throwing catapult they named the Evil Neighbor, and a Mangonel they named God’s Own Sling. With Richards leadership and the new equipment, the tower fell. After Richard returned to England, Saladin arrived and recaptured the castle at the beginning of the Third Crusade.

• In 1918, the British army under General Allenby faced the Turkish army on the plains of Acre. Allenby used the Biblical account of an earlier battle between Egypt and Canaan to plan his own campaign, and defeated the Turks, after which Palestine passed from the Ottoman Empire into British hands. Over 75,000 men surrendered to his forces, and a new peerage, Viscount of Megiddo, was created for Allenby and his descendants. 30 years later, Britain allowed Zionists to declare the free state of Israel. Genesis 48:8-10 – Your brothers shall give you power…The scepter will not again depart from you until He to whom it belongs comes again to claim it. Within hours of the agreement, the surrounding nations attacked. The Israeli forces made Megiddo the base of their operations.

• The hill of Megiddo on the Carmel range overlooks a pass between the plains of Acre and the Plains of Sharon to the south. This hill (Hebrew “Har Meggido”, Greek Armageddon) contains the remains of 30 cities dating back 5000 years, built one on top of the other. It was situated on the Via Maris – the “way of the sea”. The first time a Pope of the Catholic Church met with representatives of the new Jewish states (Paul VI in 1964) the site chosen for the meeting was Megiddo. It has been the site of many important battles, and is prophesied to be the cite of the great battle at the end of the world. The Two Witnesses will prophesize for the whole world to see. Some Bible Scholars have thought that these Two Witnesses may be Elijah and Moses, but this is just speculation as who they will be. Malachi 4:5 mentions Elijah the Prophet will be sent before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. ("Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.") And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon. (Revelation 16:12-16)

[Elijah on the Mountaintop]

Slide graphic – Elijah calling down fire

Slide Text - 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. "O Baal, answer us!" they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.

27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. "Shout louder!" he said. "Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened." 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. (1 Kings 18)

In 1 Kings, Chapters 17-19, the Bible records the incident at Carmel during the time of the prophet Elijah. This point in history was after David and Solomon had died, and Israel was split into a northern kingdom and a southern kingdom. At this time, Ahab was king of northern Israel. Ahab had married a woman from Sidon who was even more evil than he was. Together, they built temples to the Phoenician storm god Baal and Ashereth, and searched out and killed all the prophets of God until only Elijah the Tishbite was left. Remember when we talked about “the land”? How God promised that he would provide water from Heaven as long as the Hebrew nation was faithful to him, but that he would withhold water if they became unfaithful? This is just what now happened. God told Elijah to tell Ahab that because of their unfaithfulness, he was withdrawing the rain.

Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word." (1 Kings 18:1)

Then God hid Elijah from Ahab in the Kireth Ravine and had ravens bring him food each day. When the brook dried up, God sent Elijah to Sidon, where he lived with a widow and her son, while God provided meal and oil for them miraculously through jars that were always full. After three years of drought, God had Elijah go before Ahab, who had been looking for him to kill him all this time. Elijah proposed a contest on top of Mount Carmel. Ahab would assemble the 450 prophets of Baal. Two bulls would be brought to be sacrificed. The prophets of Baal would choose and prepare one, and Elijah would prepare the other. Then each would attempt to call down fire from heaven from their god. The god who lit the sacrifice would be worshiped by the entire country, and the prophets of the loser would be put to death. Ahab accepted the terms.

All the prophets of Baal were summoned. They chose their bull, and Elijah generously allowed them to try first.

26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. "O Baal, answer us!" they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.

27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. "Shout louder!" he said. "Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened." 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.

When nothing happened after many hours, it was Elijah’s turn. He repaired the alter of God, then prepared the bull and the wood for the sacrifice. Then he had the people repeatedly pour water over it until it was soaked, and would be nearly impossible to light. Then he called upon God to ignite the alter.

38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. 39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The LORD -he is God! The LORD -he is God!"

Elijah had all 450 prophets of Baal seized, brought down into the Kishon valley, and slaughtered them. Then he told Ahab that the three-year drought was over, because the people had returned to God. Elijah went up on the mountain and prayed for rain. He sent his servant to look out over the ocean for clouds, but there were none. Seven times he prayed and sent his servant to look. After the seventh prayed, the servant returned and said there was a small black cloud. Elijah told Ahab to hitch up his chariot and return to his palace before the rain came and flooded the valley, then, as the skies grew steadily darker, the power of God filled Elijah, and he raced Ahab’s chariot on foot and beat it back to the palace, 28 miles away.

The mission trip we just completed was a mountaintop experience. Mount Carmel was Elijah’s mountain-top experience. God had showed up in a dramatic way, and Elijah had been allowed to play a part in it. Can you imagine? He must have been so pumped! So pleased with were his life was and how God was using him. Where would he go from here? What would happen next?

Note: I don’t really like that phrase “God showed up”. It implies God wasn’t there. Rob Bell, in his book “Velvet Elvis”, has a similar complaint about when people say that missionaries “take God” to the lost. Carrying God is a very big burden. God is heavy. In truth, God is always at work, al around us. Most of the time, however, we are just blind to it. When I say “God showed up,” what I really mean is that we suddenly become aware of the presence of God, who was actually there all along. When I get relayed a request to pray for people I don’t know who are going through a difficult time, this is usually my prayer. I don’t pray specifically for healing or for relief – I don’t know that God may very well intend this as a time of correction or purification. But I do know that it is always a good prayer to ask God to reveal Himself to those in the situation. He is already there, involved, but we are blind to Him. Open their eyes, Lord, and reveal your power and glory in this situation – show them you are in control and love these people deeply.

[Elijah in the Valley]

Slide Graphic – Elijah under the juniper tree

Slide Text - Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a juniper tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. (1 Kings 19:3-4)

When Jezebel found out that Elijah had killed all 450 prophets of Baal, she sent word to him that she would do the same to him. What would Elijah do? He had seen the power of God on the mountaintop, but he wasn’t on the mountaintop anymore. Would he laugh in her face? Would God rain down more fire on her?

No, Elijah ran and hid in the wilderness under a juniper tree, and begged for God to kill him. What was going on here? Why was Elijah running away? What was the difference between the mountaintop and the valley? Isn’t our God the same in both places?

The difference is that the mountaintop was not where Elijah lived. It’s one thing to pray for and see God work in some foreign place in the lives of other people. It’s quite another to trust God to work in the same way in our own lives, right where we live. Elijah was as bold as could be on the mountaintop, confident in God’s power to deal with these prophets. But Elijah had trouble trusting in the transforming power of God at home.

17Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (James 5:17-18)

The King James translation says Elijah was "subject to like passions as we are“. Elijah is just like you and me. We trust God to work in a powerful way at Kimball Camp, and are not surprised when God’s power shows up. But Satan does a great job of preventing us from bringing God’s power home with us. At home, Satan convinces us that we only have our own power to depend on.

Elijah found problems at home and sunk into his own private “pity party”. He actually prayed to die. He was confused, dejected, and dismayed. It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. He ran away from the problems he found at home – he failed to trust God. Elijah felt powerless – he was overwhelmed and unhappy. But he was not the first to feel like this, and he was also not the first to pray for death. Job and Jonah both prayed for death in their times discouragement, deep in their own pity parties.

We might be tempted to say “He failed. He was defeated. He failed to trust God and is allowing himself to be consumed by self-pity, depression, and loneliness.” I am not so naïve as to believe that none of you are under this same juniper tree right now – overwhelmed by problems in your life, desperately unhappy, wanting to run away or even die. If you have not been there yet, you will. But God doesn’t want you or Elijah under a juniper tree.

"And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him" (1 Kings 19:5)

The angel could have just called him by name, but he didn’t. He reached out and touched Elijah, just like Jesus reached out with human compassion and touched the people he healed. The angel brought Elijah food and prepared it for him and told him to eat – restore his strength. Elijah didn’t eat very much, so the angel touched Elijah again and told him to get up and eat. This food strengthened him supernaturally, and sustained him while he walked 40 days to a cave in Horeb. God still did not abandon Elijah.

[God of the Mountains AND the Valleys]

Slide Graphic – topo map of holy land showing relatively flat Syria and Jordan

Slide Text - Meanwhile, the officials of the king of Aram advised him, "Their gods are gods of the hills. That is why they were too strong for us. But if we fight them on the plains, surely we will be stronger than they. (1 Kings 20:23)

In 1 Kings 20, the Aramean army had attacked Israel and had been routed, but immediately they began planning another assault the next year. 1 Kings 20:23 says, "The officials of the king of Aram advised him, ’Their gods are the gods of the hills. That is why they were too strong for us. But if we fight them on the plains, surely we will be stronger than they.’"

Sure enough, the Aramean army came against Israel the following Spring, sure that the Jews had a God that was only good on the hills. Listen to what God’s prophet tells the king of Israel: "This is what the Lord says, ’Because the Arameans think the Lord is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the Lord.’" And sure enough, God proved to be the God of the valleys every bit as much as He was God of the hills.

God doesn’t just want us to live on the mountaintops. He wants us to live in the valleys as well. He wants us to LIVE, not just exist, not just endure until the next mountaintop. I’ve often heard people talk about “mountaintop experiences” and “living in the valley”. It seems that many people believe that God only shows up on the mountaintops, and that the portion of their lives where they are walking through the valleys are the barren times in between. They say that “Life is a series of ups and downs” – times when you are on the mountaintop and times when you are down in the valley, “far from God”. People can’t wait for the next mountaintop. They live from mountaintop to mountaintop as if their lives were a game of spiritual hopscotch. This is simply not Biblical. God is not just God of the mountaintops. He is God of the valleys as well. Jesus takes us up to the mountaintops, but he also sends us through the valleys. His power is there to fill our lives in both places. The Christian life is not the occasional exciting high surrounded by mostly boring valleys. The whole Christian life is one wild ride. There will be high points, yes, and there will be deep valleys. There will be unexpected twists and turns, dark tunnels, and even some places where you will be turned completely over.

I was thinking about this during the mission trip. And suddenly it hit me – a great illustration for what our lives are like as Christians.

[Life is a Roller Coaster]

Slide Graphic – Roller Coaster

Slide Text A - “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection…” (Philippians 3:10)

Slide Text B - “…I am with you always, even unto the end of the age” (Mathew 28:20)

How do you keep from freaking out on a coaster? You trust that the engineer that designed the path knows what he is doing, despite how out-of-control you feel at the moment, and you have to have faith that if you hang on and stay in the car, it will bring you safely home. You trust that he knows how bumpy the ride will get, and designed the lap bar sufficient to hold you in place. That lap bar is called faith. Most of the ride you probably don’t really need it, but when you do need it, it better be there. Emergency equipment is just a nuisance until you need it, and faith isn’t faith until its all you’re holding on to.

Jesus was not only the architect who planned your ride through life, he actually became flesh and rode the ride himself. Jesus’ life was filled with twists and turns, high places and low. One moment he was Entering Jerusalem as a King, surrounded y cheering crowds. The next he was betrayed, tortured, and crucified. Jesus never got off the track designed for him. He rode the whole ride with his hands in the air.

Elijah rode the coaster on the mountaintop, but when it came to a dark valley, he got out of the car and walked. It is tempting to condemn him. When the car in your life goes over the crest of the hill and plummets to the ground, we forget about having faith in the roller coaster designer. Our human nature is screaming out as loud. It yells in our ears and in our soul, telling us to hang on to the physical things around us and trust in them for our survival. You can tell the ones who really trust the designer – they let go and raise their hands. This is a great metaphor for the Christian life. The next time you find yourself anxious or fearful, simply let go, raise your hands to the heavens and surrender it to Jesus. You’ll be amazed at how enjoyable the ride really is. As we enter the valleys its natural for us to concentrate so hard on the problems at hand that we are no longer conscious of much else taking place around us. Just like a roller coaster when you grab the safety bar holding you into the seat and stare straight ahead at the tracks below, we can easily become so concerned about our immediate situation that we loose sight of everything around us, including what we call the big picture.

Jesus did not intend for you to sit on a bench and watch people riding the coaster of life. He intended for you to experience it for yourself. When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-42), she experienced life with Christ. She went back to her village filled with excitement and told everyone she knew about it. Later, after meeting Christ themselves, the villagers said:

They said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world." (John 4:42)

There’s one more thing you should keep in mind; and that is the difference between a physical roller coaster ride and the roller coaster we ride through our Christian lives. A physical roller coaster begins with the highest peak at the beginning of the ride. As the ride progresses, each peak gets lower and lower while the valleys, or dips, stay the same. This is an excellent picture of a life without Christ. A person without Christ will spend his or her life looking for any way possible to climb above the valleys. As they progress along the track of ups and downs, it seems they find fewer and fewer things that lift them up. Those Christians who walk close to the Lord find just the opposite to be true. Each low point is often not as low as the previous low point. But, the best part is how each high point is always bigger and better than the previous high point. As we progress through life’s roller coaster ride we climb higher and higher, making it possible to better visualize the big picture. Thus, making it easier to keep a strong faith in the fact that God really will take care of everything we need.

So hang on, feel the power, and enjoy the ride. When the ride is over, and your car comes out of the last bunny hop and rolls back into the terminal, you’ll get to shake hands with the designer and tell him how much you enjoyed the whole ride. You only get to ride this ride once – there is no “next year”. Then you have to live forever with the results. When you get to heaven and are looking back on your life, what is your souvenir photo going to look like? Will you be surprised to find that Jesus was in the seat beside you for the whole ride?