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Down in the Valley (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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January 17, 2024 3:00 am

Down in the Valley (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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January 17, 2024 3:00 am

Great spiritual triumph can create an expectation of continued victories—but Scripture tells many stories of great victories followed by deep, dark despair! What can we learn from the failures of Bible heroes? Find out on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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It would be easy to think that a great spiritual triumph would be catalytic, that there would be continued victories that follow. But in the Bible we read about many people whose great victories were followed by times of deep despair. What can we learn from their trials?

We'll find out today on Truth for Life. Alistair Begg is teaching from 1 Kings. We're studying the opening verses of chapter 19. In biography, one of the great temptations is to try and gloss the faults of people, or perhaps at the other end of the spectrum to highlight them to an unhelpful and even an untrue degree. But the scriptures possess a tremendous balance when it comes to these things. And while many of us may have been tempted in addressing the record of the life of Elijah, to make sure that we portrayed chapter 18 in all of its success as it were in glorious technicolor, we may have decided that we would just excerpt chapter 19, because the tremendous success of 18 is more than matched by the defeat of 19. Scripture, however, makes no attempt to conceal or to excuse the blemishes or the faults or the failures of its heroes. That in itself is one of the pointers to the very infallibility and inerrancy of scripture, the divine record which God has left to us. The contrasts revealed by the chapters 18 and 19 of 1 Kings are clearly presented, and in considering them, we learn something of God's character, and we learn also of the frailty of God's servants—and in this case, specifically, Elijah.

In chapter 18 we could quickly summarize it. We see Elijah introduced to us as the man of prayer. We see him as an individual of great humility. We see him clothed in power as he goes on his journeys from there. And triumph is written all over the eighteenth chapter of 1 Kings. How remarkable it is, then, to simply glance down less than a paragraph and find that we are here confronted by this mighty servant of God, now displaying the fact that he was frail as well. In 18 he manifests his bravery before hundreds of prophets who were in allegiance to Baal and who were antagonistic to the servant of God. From the bravery before hundreds we find him panicking before one, and indeed panicking before this woman Jezebel. In 18 he is on the mountaintop.

In 19 he is down in the valley. And when you study this nineteenth chapter of 1 Kings, you may find yourself retreating to the psalms, for they are the medicine chest of the soul. And if you know your Bible well enough, you may end up at Psalm 107, reminding yourself that the believer's spiritual voyage is akin to that encountered by the sailors in that psalm, when it said of them that they mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths. In their peril their courage melted away. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. In the same way, as we walk the Christian pathway, we recognize, if we are prepared to be honest at all, that we do not always experience the highs of spiritual encouragement, but we also encounter the lows of discouragement. And sometimes it can happen to us almost simultaneously, almost from great victory to a moment of defeat, the encouragement of some success, as perhaps we've witnessed to somebody, a stranger concerning faith in Jesus Christ, and then almost momentarily to be confronted by discouragement.

Most of us find it okay to march when the band is playing and the crowd is out and all is going well. It is a little more challenging when the wheels come off our wagon in the way that we used to sing in that song, when you travel in the car with your grandpa, you know, four wheels on my wagon and I'm still rolling along, and then three and I'm still rolling along, and then down to zero and I ain't rolling along. And let's be honest enough tonight to say there are times when we get up in the morning or we turn around one afternoon and all of a sudden it would appear that every single wheel came off the wagon, and we are certainly not rolling.

We're stuck. God's servants at all levels of ministry, I don't believe, are immune to this. When I was invited for the first time to the pastors conference at Moody Bible Institute, they invited me, I think, eighteen or twenty-four months before I appeared. In the letter of invitation, they said that I had to give them the title for two seminars which I would conduct. So I thought, well, what will I conduct seminars on two years from now?

What do I know anything about? Well, that reduced the opportunities dramatically, of course. And as a result of some study that I'd been doing, I wrote back to them and said that I would do a seminar on the subject biblical church discipline and then that I would do a seminar under the heading Dealing with Ministerial Depression. The church discipline one was good. The ministerial depression one, depending on how you want to look at it, was phenomenally encouraging or horribly depressing. It was the most attended seminar in the whole pastors conference, and that wasn't because I was giving it, because nobody knew me from a hole in the ground.

And it was a standing-room-only event, and pastors and some of them with their wives turned out in droves to hear if somebody had anything creditable to say concerning dealing with the blues or what do you do when you face discouragement. As recently as Sunday passed, after I had preached—and I had preached from a section of the Bible that was illustrative of the necessity for the person in the pulpit to be humbled and to point away from himself to Jesus Christ—I did my best. I stayed within the time.

We finished, and I stood around afterwards. The first lady up to me said, Here, read this. So I didn't read it immediately, but I read it when I got in the car to drive home. And without going into all the details, the lady basically said, You are the absolute antithesis of everything you spoke about this morning. You did everything that you said you were not supposed to do. You are this, and you are that, and you are the next thing. So I said, Well, let's see how much of this is true, how much of this is a word from the Lord.

Maybe if I read it upside down, there's an encouraging message or something. But I put it in my pocket. I said, Hey, you know, welcome to the ministry. I went home. I had my lunch. I did my thing. I got back to the prayer meeting at 5.30 in the evening.

I sat down. I wasn't leading the prayer meeting. One of the other guys on the pastoral team was leading it.

And I just joined in with a little group. And in a pause from prayer, the older lady with whom I had sat—there were a group of about five of us praying together—she took the bulletin for that evening, and she wrote on it. I didn't see what she was writing, but she started to write, and she passed it to me. And on it, it said, The word that God has given me for you tonight is this.

If God be for you, who can be against you? And I told her afterwards, I said, You know, did you do that on the spur of the moment? She said, No, I've been thinking about you all through the day. And I felt that I should give you that verse.

I said, Well, you can't tell anyone about this. I said, But your one verse counteracted what I have here in my top pocket. And so from the discouragement of this morning to the encouragement of this evening, and we keep going. There are no dull days in pastoral ministry.

I've never been bored in my life. There are delightful days, and there are disastrous days. And I found that God gives me enough of those morning notes or allows me to receive them, enough to keep me humble—relatively humble.

I don't want to be proud about being humble. And just enough of the evening notes to make sure that you don't leave the pastoral ministry. How long is it since you wrote your pastor just an encouraging note? Have you done it this year?

Done it in the last twenty-four months? Or do you just write him notes when the sermon was too long or the hymns were too old or too new or whatever it was? Some of you are from churches all over the place.

Well, maybe you go home and write the guy a note. It's not difficult to believe that God loves us, says one of the commentators when we're on the heights of Carmel. But it's not so easy when, like Elijah in the desert, we lie stranded, or as dismantled and rudderless vessels, we roll in the trough of the waves. Most necessary it is for our peace and comfort to know and believe that the love of God abides unchanging as himself.

Now, let me try and trace a line through this. I didn't mean to say all of that by way of introduction, but I've said it now, so I can't take it back. We're told of Elijah that he received a threatening message—a threatening message. You've never been in pastoral ministry unless you've had a threatening message or two, right?

The worst are the anonymous notes, because you don't know who to respond to. This one was not anonymous, but it reached Elijah. Jezebel sent a messenger, verse 2 says, to say to Elijah, May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them, one of whom, one of the prophets of Baal.

In other words, he received a death threat. His number was up, and he was going to be written into the history books if Jezebel had her way. Now, we ought not to come up with any of this nonsense about why a man would be afraid of a woman.

There are plenty of good reasons why a man would ever be afraid of a woman. You only need to read the book of Proverbs to understand just why he might be. Jezebel was not exactly what you would call a run-of-the-mill lady.

She had a number of operations which she was running that would have allowed her to hold her own in various families, let's put it that way, in North America. And so, to receive this note from Jezebel was to be confronted by a real potential ordeal. But aren't you surprised to discover the response here in verse 3? It may read in your Bible, And Elijah saw and ran for his life. Or it perhaps reads in your Bible, And Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. Surely not!

I mean, why? He has just come from a situation where he was on his own, in front of 450 guys who were totally opposed to who he was and what he did. They were possessed of lances and swords, and as surely as they slashed themselves with him, they might have just as well have slashed him with them. And he had seen God come down in mighty power and vanquish the host of the enemies. And yet here, on the strength of just a message that had come from a lady about the fact that he may find himself like the prophets of Baal, Elijah runs for it, splits, and is gone. Let me ask you, can defeat so quickly follow upon success?

And if so, why? Well, the fact of the matter is that when we read our Bibles, we discover that this is perpetrated time and again. Think about the victory of faith expressed in Noah's life as he continued, without a drop of rain, to build the ark. And then think about the sorry description of all that happened to Noah in his drunkenness. Think about Abraham as he sets out on the journey of faith, and then think about what happened to him when he went down into Egypt. Think about David as he triumphs over Goliath. Think about David in the moment that kings go out to war as he finds himself embroiled in adultery and in murder and in total chaos.

I mentioned A. W. Pink, but let me quote from him tonight. He says concerning these things, God suffers it to appear that the best of men are but men at best. No matter how richly gifted they may be, how eminent in God's service, how greatly honored and used of him, let God's sustaining power be withdrawn from them for a moment, and it will quickly be seen that they are earthen vessels. No man stands any longer than he is supported by divine grace. The most experienced saint, if left to himself, is immediately seen to be as weak as water and as timid as a mouse. Therefore, it is vitally important that we pray faithfully for those that God has raised to places of leadership and responsibility amongst the people of God.

Let me say to you again—and I'm not speaking about this place, because I recognize you're from a variety of places—that your pastor may preach the same messages as he has been preaching right up until this day to far greater effect if the congregation will only pray for him prior to, during, and subsequent to his proclamation. You have all read of Spurgeon and how when he used to show people around the Metropolitan Tabernacle, he would take them downstairs into a lower room, he would open the door, and he would say, And this is the boiler house. And people would say, The boiler house?

There's not a boiler to be seen. It just was full of seats. Spurgeon said, No, no, you see, every Sunday morning when I preach here to the four thousand people who are upstairs, there are three and four hundred people downstairs in the basement who pray for me as I preach. Spurgeon never gave an evangelistic appeal. He only invited those who were troubled in their spirit to meet him in his vestry on a Monday morning. And it is recorded by the biographers that there was never a Monday morning in the history of Spurgeon's ministry that he did not have inquirers concerning their soul and its condition before Almighty God.

What was the key? Well, people would say, Because Spurgeon was a phenomenal preacher. The reason that you know about Spurgeon tonight, and I do too, is because of the five hundred people who were down in the boiler room when Spurgeon preached. Elijah represents the failure of a hero, and the failures of the heroes of the Bible are there for us not to hide behind but as warnings to deliver us from expecting too much of others and, indeed, from expecting too much of ourselves. There is a limit that everybody faces, and Elijah maxed out at the end of 18. Elijah was drained. Elijah was bushed.

Elijah was done in. And so it only took the briefest of messages from a distance through a third party to send him running for it. And his experience is mirrored in the experience of others. In the aftermath of spiritual triumph, it appears that the potential for defeat is at its height.

Robert Murray McShane said, although he died at the age of twenty-nine, he said, I have found that the seeds of every sin known to man dwell within my heart. A reminder to us that the individual who thinks he stands better take heed lest he falls. Martin Luther said how when he received some notable encouragement of God's grace, he almost immediately knew the experience of the devil riding on his back and seeking to drive him to the ground. We mentioned earlier in the week Paul's words concerning Ephesians 6 and the necessity of the armor of faith because of the fiery darts of the evil one. And so it is that for many of us two of the darts that come with greatest frequency is the dart of complacency, thereby neutralizing us, or the dart of despondency, thereby rendering our ministry also somewhat obsolete. I think there are people here tonight, and despite the fact that the hymn singing has been great and the opportunity for fellowship has been fine, you are not exactly on the mountaintop.

You are rather in the valley. There has been a change in your life from faith to fear. Well, then, let's just learn here from Elijah, because the reason that he found himself in this condition was largely because his focus changed. He started, as it were, to look at God through his circumstances rather than to look at his circumstances through God.

There is a reason that the King James Version translates verse 3, and Elijah saw and ran for his life. He looked at things but looked at them differently now. Perhaps it was simply that he was so tired. And when you get really tired, you're usually the last one to know. People come up to you and say, My, you're awful tired. Doesn't that make you feel great when they tell you that? Oh, you're looking awful tired. And you go immediately look in the mirror and say, Do I really look that bad? But the fact is that we're often the last to know.

We keep going and going and going, and eventually somebody says to us, If we don't give out first, they say, Hey. Let me tell you something. When you're tired, there are a number of things you mustn't do. When you're really tired, don't write important letters. When you're really tired, don't quit your job or get a new one. When you're really tired, don't try and assess your spiritual condition.

And when you're really tired, definitely don't try and assess the spiritual condition of anybody else. Because with that fatigue comes a change in focus, and the focus shifted for this individual. He began to walk by sight and not by faith, and so his peace was affected. His spiritual prosperity was eroded.

He had magnified the difficulties, and he was beginning to become paralyzed. Elijah had not only begun to focus on the circumstances and clouded God in it, but he had begun to focus on himself. Verse 9 of 1 Kings 19, he had gone into a cave to spend the night. This was after he had been strengthened, as we'll see in a moment, and the word of the Lord came to him, What are you doing here, Elijah? You call this a place for a vacation, Elijah?

What are you doing in a cave? Listen to his reply. I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty.

The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, put your prophets to death with a sword. Now get this. I, even I, am the only one left.

Do you ever have one of those days? I'm the only person in here that cares about this. I'm the only one that's doing anything around here. Any time we find ourselves doing that, we're probably in great danger, because the fact is, the only reason that we've ever known any faithfulness in our lives is because we have been kept by God's power, as Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1, verse 5. It is because through faith we have been able to stand. Anybody here tonight, and you've been coming into these meetings and you've been congratulating yourself, saying, You know, I'm the only one.

The fact is, you're not. You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life with the message he's titled, Down in the Valley. Learn more tomorrow. Here at Truth for Life, we know life's circumstances can sometimes feel overwhelming. It's easy to get caught up in the issues we face here and now. It's our prayer that the Bible-centered teaching you hear on this daily program provides you with encouragement, with a change of focus as you reflect on God's Word.

And I hope you're finding this topical series titled, Dangers, Toils, and Snares to be helpful. As Alistair mentioned today, we believe in the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible. We often refer to the Bible as the guidepost for our lives. That's why we teach the Bible every day, with the expectation that God will work through His Word to bring unbelievers to saving faith, to establish believers, and to strengthen local churches. In fact, that's a mission you're supporting when you donate to Truth for Life. And if you make a gift today, we'll invite you to request a book titled, Divine Providence, a classic work for modern readers.

It's our way of saying thank you for your support. This is a book that delves deep into the timeless questions about God's sovereignty throughout all history and in our world today. As you read Divine Providence, you'll explore the intricate relationship between faith, free will, and God's providence. You can request your copy of the book when you give a gift through the Truth for Life mobile app or online at slash donate. Thanks for listening today. Tomorrow, we'll hear more of Elijah's story and learn how we're able to press on even after we've given up. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-01-17 05:20:35 / 2024-01-17 05:29:17 / 9

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