When You Get To The End Of Your Rope
I Kings 19:1-8
It can be said of only a few that the world was not worthy of them. Elijah was one of the few. He was a man marvelous in his courage, splendid in his strength, and astounding in his zeal for the Lord. And yet for all that, he was not unlike any one of us. I’ll show you what I mean…
You remember when Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to a dramatic duel to the death atop Mt. Carmel. There he goaded them, prodded them, and humiliated them as they pleaded for their god, Baal, to reveal himself in some miraculous way. Baal never answered. Then, in an awe-inspiring demonstration of faith, Elijah called down the power of God. It came in one mighty blast of fire. And in that moment of victory, Elijah felt that all his problems had been solved, that his place in history had been secured, and that all would be right in the nation of Israel. Elijah felt higher than Mt. Carmel itself. He was on top of the world.
But what a difference a day makes. For just 24 hours later, Elijah received a message from the wicked Queen Jezebel. It read: “You will be dead before tomorrow.” That was enough to bring Elijah crashing back to earth. He suddenly realized that, while he may have won a victory, the war was not yet over. Evil was still on Israel’s throne—and Jezebel had the power to back up her threat. Elijah’s understandable response was to run. He took off for the wilderness, hoping to lose himself there. It was then that he crawled up under a juniper bush and said: “Lord, I’ve had it. I can’t take it anymore. I’m at the end of my rope. Lord, please take away my life.”
Have you ever felt like that? I have—and I daresay that somewhere along your life’s way you’ve had the same experience. Well, I believe that what God did for Elijah in the wilderness, He will do for us when we feel that we have gotten to the end of the rope.
The first thing that God said to Elijah was this: “Get some rest and eat some food.”
God understands, you see, that when your body is weak and weary, your thinking is likely to be weak and weary also. So God said to Elijah: “Before we talk about the business of being at the end of your rope, get some rest and get some refreshment.”
Oh, the strengthening power of rest and refreshment. I remember reading once about two men who were in the Carlsbad Caverns. They were moving down a dark, narrow passageway when it suddenly crashed in about them. They were panicked, filled with stark terror. With their bare hands, they began desperately clawing at the rocks, until finally their hands were bruised and bleeding. It was all to no avail. At last in utter exhaustion, they stopped and stepped back and sat down for a moment. As they did the light of their flashlights illuminated the darkness overhead, revealing a myriad of diamond-like crystals. It was so spectacularly beautiful that they stretched out on their backs and looked at it for a few minutes. They were so exhausted that in that reclining position they quickly fell asleep. They slept only a few moments, but that was enough. They awakened refreshed. Now, calmed and controlled, they returned to their task—and in a short while the way to safety opened up before them. Those few minutes of rest and refreshment had made the difference. The Psalmist was right: “The Lord gives to His beloved sleep.”
So when you feel that you are at the end of your rope, do first what God told Elijah to do: “Get some rest and some refreshment.” Believe me, that is divine counsel!
Now, the second thing that God said to Elijah was this: “Stop wallowing in self-pity. “
You begin to see how true that was when you read what Elijah said to the Lord. His words literally reak with self-pity. “Lord,” he said, “I have worked so hard that the people have forsaken the commandments. They’ve knocked down all the altars. They’ve slain all the prophets, so that I—even I only—am left. And now they are after me.”
Self-pity. Feeling sorry for ourselves. We know what that’s all about, don’t we? We all have a tendency to maximize the hardships in our lives and to minimize the blessings which are ours—like that familiar couplet:
Two men looked out from behind bars,
One saw mud, the other stars.
Same window, same view. But it all depended on which way they were looking—whether they were looking up to God or looking down in self-pity at the circumstances in which they found themselves.
Elijah cried out: “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” And God replied: “Listen, Elijah, there are 7000 other people in this land who have not bowed their heads to Baal. You are not alone. So cut out this feeling sorry for ourselves. When God. says “No,” we must seek to understand why and then move ahead on the basis of that understanding. God loves us. He made that abundantly clear in Jesus Christ. We can count on that. The difficulty is that so often we are looking down at our problems and handicaps, and we don’t see Him. It’s only when we start to look up that we begin to see Him and the love that He has for us.
So the story of Elijah reminds us that when we feel that we are at the end of our rope, we ought to look around to see if we are misreading the situation simply because of our feelings of self-pity. You see, it might not be the end of the rope at all—it just might be the beginning of it. That’s what it turned out to be for Elijah.
Then the third thing God said to Elijah was this: “You need to get things in the proper perspective.”
I find it rather amusing the way God teased Elijah out there in the wilderness. You see, Elijah was so impressed with that awe-inspiring experience on Mt. Carmel that he decided that the success or failure of God’s game plan was going to be determined by Him alone. So God said to him: “Elijah, if you want to see something awe-inspiring, step up to the top of that hill. I’ll give you a real show.” So Elijah did. And there came a great wind—a wind so strong that the mountains were split and the stones were cracked in half. That was awe-inspiring. But God wasn’t in the wind. Then came the earthquake that threatened to slake the whole of creation back into the dust. That was awe-inspiring. But God wasn’t in the earthquake. Then there came a blast of fire ten times more powerful than anything that Carmel had ever known. That too was awe-inspiring. But God wasn’t in the fire.
Then God said in a thin, small voice: “Oh yes, Elijah, I can do spectacular things when I want to do them. But I don’t want to force or frighten people into my arms—I want to love them there. And please understand this, Elijah. My plans were made before you were born and they will still be being worked out when you are gone. I am in charge.” That’s the King’s perspective.
I think that’s where Jesus and Elijah were different. Jesus had the King’s perspective. Elijah did not. Elijah, crouching under a juniper bush cried out, “It is enough!” Jesus, hanging on the cross, cried out, “It is finished!” Elijah, running to save his own life, cried, “I can’t take it anymore.” Jesus, pouring out His life’s blood to save us all, cried, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” That’s the King’s perspective—knowing that God’s still in control.
You know, I think we have a tendency to see Jesus on the cross as he was depicted during the middle ages, a pale, ghostly, ghastly figure, spreadeagled against the sky—bloody, beaten, battered and besmeared. But that’s not the way the early Church saw Him. They pictured Him on the cross, but they pictured Him wearing the royal crown on His head and driving the enemies of God before Him like He drove the moneychangers out of the temple. They saw the cross of Jesus Christ as being a part of God’s ultimate plan for the redemption of the world. They saw the cross as God’s trump card, God’s master play, God’s checkmate on evil. And that’s what it was. There on the cross, when Jesus was at the end of his rope, He searched out and took hold of the sure and certain knowledge that the victory belonged to God—and because it belonged to God, the victory would be His as well. That’s the King’s perspective.
And when you have the King’s perspective, you can face anything in life—anything, no matter how hard or difficult or frustrating it may be. I think here of Paul.
I love to read chapters 7-12 in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In the 7th chapter Paul gets all tangled up in his own sin and guilt, and he cries out: “Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me?” Then he remembers that the victory belongs to God and he is in God’s hands, so in the 8th chapter, he writes powerfully: “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” But then in the 9th chapter, he slips back into the hole again as he begins worrying about what’s going to happen to his friends and loved ones in Israel. So in chapter 10 and 11, he wrestles through the problem until he begins to realize that they, too, are in God’s hands. So what does he do? He sings a joyful doxology: “O the wonder of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge and the power of God. To Him be the glory forever.” Then it all comes together in the 12th chapter where, in light of God’s final cosmic triumph in Christ Jesus, all Paul can say is: “I appeal to you, my friends, present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to this triumphant God.”
That’s looking at life from the King’s perspective. And I say it again: when you’ve got the King’s perspective, you can face anything in life—anything at all—and you can win over it. And when you feel you’ve gotten to the end of your rope in life, in the name of Jesus Christ, hang on! Ultimately, God will give you the victory.
You and I are completing our 11th month together. In that time a lot has happened. We have shared births and deaths and baptisms and weddings and funerals and joys and heartaches. Some of our people have gone to be with the Lord. Some have moved away. Many more have come to be with us. There have been some changes made; most of them, I pray, have been for the good. God is building a deep love in my heart for you, and from your expressions to me, I feel that He is building a love in your hearts for me. And that makes me feel very good. Yes, a lot has happened in eleven months. And I have to confess to you that there have been times in the midst of it all when I have said: “Lord, I’d like to sit down for a while.” And God has replied: “Not on your life, get up!” “But, Lord, couldn’t we just coast for a little bit?” “Not now; forward march!” “But, Lord, I’ve seen it all—it’s enough.” “Howard, you haven’t seen the half of it yet.” “Well, Lord I can’t do it all by myself.” Then open your eyes and look around you—there are more than 2000 people in that congregation who are truly committed to Jesus Christ and the work of His Church. “But, Lord, can’t you see that I’m running low on hope?” “Well, quit feeling sorry for yourself, and you keep right on giving everything you’ve got to those people, and don’t you forget this for a single moment—you and I are in this thing together!”
I love this story of Elijah, for it reminds me that no matter what happens to me in life, this is still God’s world. And it reminds me that no matter what, God still has a plan for the world. And it reminds me, best of all, that you and I—together—have a part in God’s plan. For someone who feels that they have reached the end of the rope, that’s very good news.
Thanks be to God who gives us His victory in Jesus Christ!