Hitting the Wall | 1 Kings 19:6-14
Have you ever hit the wall? I mean, literally hit a wall? I had a similar situation once. I was in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church of Fisherville, Kentucky doing some chores. As I finished I flipped off the light and began making my way to the door on the other side of the room. Even though it was pitch dark, I walked across the open room. I forgot one small detail. There were three support polls spaced evenly across the room. It was an experience I hope I never have again.
As I collided with that immovable post, my knees gave way and I found myself sprawled out on the floor. Head aching. Heart racing. Feelings hurt. I lay there wondering if I was going to live. Then I realized how ridiculous I must have looked as I plowed into that post. I laughed. Then my head hurt worse and I became angry at myself for turning out the lights and trying to make it across the room.
Just as painful, in different ways, are the times when we hit the wall figuratively speaking. Who hasn't had times when we feels that we have taken all we can take and with clenched fists and clenched teeth we scream, "I've had it!" What brings a person to such despair?
Pat Fortner, the pastor of Morris Hill Baptist Church, took all he could take. The gunshot was his scream of desperation, "I have had it!" What about the teenager who has just had it and rebels against their parents? Or, the wife who finally call it quits after several years of marriage? Or, the CEO who just can't take it anymore? These times of isolation and desperation is part of the human condition. They are part of life.
Scott Peck in his best-selling book, The Road Less Travelled, describes this condition perfectly:
Life is difficult. This is one of the greatest truths. Once we truly know that life is difficult - once we truly understand it and accept it -then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.
Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy. They voice their belief as if their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visited upon them. I know about this moaning because I have done my share of it.
Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them? Disappointment and pain crops up in careers, romances, parenthood, trying to find a parking place -anywhere expectations are found. We may find ourselves disappointed with others or ourselves. We need to see that God does not give up on us, even when we're tempted to give up on Him.
If you were to draw a picture of the difficulty that you are facing today, what would it look like? What are the circumstances? What does your face say? How do you feel inside? Afraid? Depressed? Anxious? Overwhelmed? What other things disappoint you? Frustrate you? Discourage you?
John F. Kennedy once wrote that the greatest enemy of truth was not the lie. It was myth that is accepted as truth. One of the common myths that we accept as truth is that only weak people face temptation and despair. Yes, even people who see great things in their walk with God and people have done wonderful things in their lives face the great challenge of disappointments. This one precisely the experience of one of God's most famous servants, Elijah.
Elijah was a prophet of prophets. He was so great that the Jewish tradition places him side by side, shoulder to shoulder, with Moses. To this day in the Jewish Passover meal, a cup of wine is placed on the table and left un-drunk in honor of Elijah.
We are abruptly introduced to Elijah in I Kings: "And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, 'As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word'" (17:1). His greatest triumph, you remember, was when he confronted the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Baalism was the religion of fertility - the worship of nature and its cycle of the seasons. It was the religion of success, self, and sensuality. The religion of success: if it works, do it. The religion of self: if it serves me do it. The religion of sensuality: if it feels good, do it.
Baalism knows no right or wrong; it has no ethic. Whatever gets results is OK. Whatever advances me is OK. Whatever feels good is OK. Baal is a god named Wall Street, a god named Madison Avenue, a god name Hollywood. Baalism is the religion of success, self, and sensuality. It is the pagan religion of every nation, tribe and clan. And the Lord fights Baal in every generation.
Through the conniving of Jezebel, Ahab made Baalism the dominant religion of Israel. Darkness covered the land as the light of God's Word grew dim, a candle flickering, about to go out.
Then crisis in the form of drought and famine. This was not only an economic crisis for Israel - but also a religious crisis. What happens when Baal, the harvest god, stops producing? What happens when you worship success and success lets you down?
The drought continued for three and a half years. After that long period of time, the Word of the Lord came to Elijah. "You can for now to face Ahab. I am ready to let it rain over the land” (18:1). The stage was set for a dramatic showdown between Ahab and the prophets of Baal and Elijah.
Here is the scene. Two altars were erected on Mount Carmel, one to Baal, the other to the Lord. There were two altars but only one God, so Elijah challenged the people that a choice had to be made between the Lord and Baal. "How long will you go limping between two opinions? If Baal be god serve him. If the Lord is god, serve him?" Said Elijah. "Bring two bulls. You prepare one on your altar and I'll prepare one on my altar. The God who answers by sending fire, He is God!" (vv.23-24)
The prophets of Baal went first. The begged and pled with Baal. The danced and cut their bodies for Baal. They did everything that knew to do in order to entice their God and their God was silent. Nothing. Then it was Elijah's turn.
Elijah dug a trench around his altar and commanded someone to fill four large jars of water and douse the bull, not once but three times, until the altar area looked like a swimming pool. Then he prayed, "Answer me, Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, Lord, are God, and that as you let them go from you it is yours also to bring them back."
Then the fire of the Lord struck the altar. The offering was consumed in flames, and when the people saw it they fell on their faces and cried: The Lord, He is God. The Lord, He is God.
Words that described Elijah during this chapter of his life are words like: Courageous, uncompromising, single-minded, God-centered, confrontational, obedient, prayerful, and victorious.
Elijah had reached the pinnacle of success. He could include on his resume: "Victory at Mount Carmel" and prophet search committees would be extremely impressed by his credentials. Elijah had it made. Every goal that he had ever set out to accomplish was accomplished. He could now live the rest of his life in ease and comfort. He was successful.
If Elijah's story had ended there, we might think he was someone more than human - that he didn't face the kinds of disillusionment that we face.
When Ahab returned to the palace after the contest on Mount Carmel, he told Jezebel everything that had happened. Jezebel's face blackened with rage. She swore to avenge the death of her prophets with the death of Elijah. Within twenty-four hours she said she would have his head.
She sent the death threat to Elijah. The words were short, but Elijah got the point. "If you are Elijah, I am Jezebel." Get the point? "You may be a prophet, but I am the queen." It frightened Elijah so that he headed toward the Juniper Tree.
You've gotten the same kind of message before. You disobeyed your parents and the day of reckoning comes: "You may be David, but I am your father." You find yourself retreating to your Juniper Tree.
You get a paper back at school and have to do it over: "You may been the student, but I am the teacher." You find yourself retreating to your Juniper Tree."
You get fired at work: "You may be an employee, but I am the boss." You find yourself retreating to your Juniper Tree.
Or you pretend you're still a teenager and play a game of softball. The next day your body says: Your name is John, my name is middle age. You find yourself retreating to your Juniper Tree.
You stunned in disbelief at the words of the Doctor, "You I understand. But remember, you are the patient, I am the Doctor." You find yourself retreating to you Juniper Tree.
Words that describe Elijah in the next chapter of his life are words like: fearful, unconcerned, selfish, self-centered, insulated, hesitant, passive, and immobile. What happened to Elijah? If he was truly a man of God, why did he feel this way? Trembling in fear, heavy with despair, and overcome with self-pity, Elijah sat under the juniper tree. He came clean with God and aired his complaint: "It is enough! I have had it! Take my life! You don't need me!"
Who of us has not felt like Elijah, sitting under the juniper tree, discouraged, depressed, and ready to throw in the towel? Who has not felt like praying: "Lord, enough! I've had it! Perhaps you look around and you see that life is just unfair. You've had all the evil you can stand. The evil prosper. The good seem to have it rough. Lord, just go ahead and take me!
Or perhaps you've sat under the juniper tree of sickness or sadness, of failure or doubt. You feel like the weight of darkness is too heave to carry. It all makes so little sense. We are afraid to pray for fear God will not answer. Afraid not to pray, we blurt out our need to God. We sit under the juniper tree and say with Elijah, "It is enough; I’ve just about had all I can take.
For you who now sit under such a tree, know that you do not sit alone. This One beside you who under the shadow of another tree called Calvary cried, "My God, My God why has thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)
But note what happened next. Elijah went to sleep. As he slept, someone came, woke him up, and said, "Wake up and eat." He looked up and there was a biscuit and some water. With new strength he traveled on to Mount Horeb.
Still shaken, fearful, unsure, Elijah went to Mount Horeb for a repeat performance of Mount Carmel, for some dramatic sign that the Lord was still God, that Mount Carmel was no fluke and that he, Elijah, was still God's prophet. Elijah climbed the mountain and lodged in a cave.
What happened next was one on the holy moments in history. Elijah was hoping to see the Lord in the wind, just like the wind that had parted the Red Sea for Moses, but the wind came and God was not there. Hoping for to speak in the earthquake like the one that shook the mountain when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, but the earthquake came not God. Hoping for God to reveal himself through fire, just as he led Moses and his people through the wilderness with a pillar of fire, just a He had rained down fire at Mount Carmel, but the fire came and God was not there.
All the ways through which God had revealed himself were now empty. God was not there. Imagine the terror of the moment. Have you had time like that when God does not seem to be acting as He once did? The old words don't mean anything. You sing the hymns, but they no longer move you. Sermons seem vain and void. You come and go to church, but the feeling is not there. Prayers seem to never go higher than the ceiling. The symbols are empty. It seems as though God has turned his back. Not in the wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, not in prayers, not in worship, not in church; God is not there.
In times like these our choice is: do we go on listening, hoping, waiting upon the Lord, or do we call it quits?
What the scriptures record next gives hope in the darkness. "And after the fire - a sound of utmost silence. And...Elijah covered his face with his robe." The still small voice. The sound of crushed silence, a hush, utter quiet. But God was there; unexplainable, unexplained, God was there.
In the movie, The Right Stuff, there is a scene where Chuck Yeager is a test pilot in the Air Force and he is attempting to fly faster than the speed of sound. He try many times and can't seem to get past the barrier. As the flies faster and faster and approaches that barrier, the plane begins to shutter and shake so violently that it appears that it will explode. Since no one had flown at that speed before, Yeager does not know what to do when that begins to happen each time. So, repeatedly, he back the throttle off and slow down, thus not breaking the barrier.
On one of his most courageous flights, he attempts once again to break the barrier. His speed increases. The shaking and jolting began as before and he maintains his lightning speed. At the very moment it appears that the plane is going to explode and Yeager will not survive, the miraculous occurs. The plane breaks the sound barrier and there is a serenity that is completely unexpected.
When I find myself against the wall - feeling as if I want survive this one - I am reminded of the words of Isaiah:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, He does not faint or grow weary, and his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increase strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; But they that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.