Walk of Despair


1 Kings 19:3,4 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 broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD ,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

We have previously commented along these lines, but it bears repeating, that the idea that the Christian life is always smooth and easy is unreal. Christians have to live in this Fallen World and so things go wrong and people are nasty. To see the reason why Elijah was running for his life, we have to see the previous two verses: “Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “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.” This was a very real threat from a very nasty person! There was a contract out on Elijah’s head! But, you might say, wasn’t Elijah this great prophet of the Lord so he could simply stand up to the Queen? Well actually, no, because that is the problem.

The problem is not only the Queen, it is that Elijah has just been through an amazing spiritual battle and would be feeling exhausted mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Please realize that this was all in the service of his Lord. Even Jesus took time out to rest after his busy schedule. The reality is that when you are giving out spiritually, it can leave you drained. Yes, the Lord will be your strength and yes, He will restore you, but for that moment you are empty, needing to be refilled, and it is often that at that moment the enemy attacks, when he sees you are vulnerable. The response? You feel weak and fearful and want to run, escape to a quiet place and fall asleep (v.5). Did the Lord chide him for this? No! Instead He sent an angel who provided supernatural provision for Elijah to enable him to get to the place of meeting with God again. This is a very real experience and we need to really take on board the elements of it.

First note that we live in a state of war with Satan and sometimes he seems to come like a roaring lion (1 Pet 5:8) and when he comes like that he seeks to create fear in us.

Second, note that he comes to attack like this when we are vulnerable and probably when we have just been giving out a great deal, and even when we have just had a great victory.

Third, the crucial thing here is to be aware of what is going on. When Peter in the verse just referred to warns about Satan coming as a roaring lion, he starts, “ Be alert…..” Very often Christians become casualties simply because they did not realize what was going on and did not take steps to counter it. Emotional responses when you are at this place of attack are fear, doubt, feeling down, worrying and so on. They are all things the enemy seeks to impose upon you. Realise what is happening.

The fourth thing is to get out of the firing line. It was sensible, in the absence of a word from the Lord, to get out of range of the Queen. When you are feeling weak and vulnerable step back from the front line until you can be restored. While you stay there you are simply a target for more blasting from the enemy, and that isn’t necessarily the big obvious things, it can be the subtle temptation that brings your downfall into sin.

The fifth thing is to get with God. Elijah made for Horeb, or Sinai, the known place of encounter with the Lord. Even to get there he needed supernatural help. It may be that you need help from the Lord and that ‘angelic’ help can actually be through others. If you have those who are close to you, ask them to pray and carry on praying for you. (If you don’t find them!) I have a small group of people I confide in who pray for me all the time, but they find it particularly helpful if I share with them what is happening to me. Perhaps we need a retreat – it can be a day or a week. We would like to say that the ‘walk of despair’ should only be temporary, but unless you do some of these things, it can extend. Prov 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” It is the same principle that applies here. If you stand alone you are vulnerable. If you have those who can be made aware of the battle and the subsequent weakness, you are on the way to recovery.

The ‘walk of despair’ is all about resources, or to be more precise, shortage of them. In your daily walk with God, when you are in the midst of the battle, those resources can run low. Listen to the apostle Paul: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” (2 Cor 1:8,9). Did you see that? “pressure, far beyond our ability to endure” Why does the Lord allow that? Listen to Paul again, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.” (v.10,11). There it is, exactly as we were saying. This happens, share it, get prayer support to get to the Lord and “he will deliver.” Hallelujah!

17. Needs within Despair

The Anguish of Job – Meditation 17

Job 6:14 A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty.

Our opening verse today sums up what follows. Job has just expressed his sense if inability to help himself. This is an important point for those of us who would call ourselves ‘friends’ or even ‘comforters’. In the depths of despair, our friend feels utterly unable to do anything about it. I have rarely experienced depression, but on the odd occasion when it has occurred, I have been aware that there was no point someone saying to me, “Come on, snap out of it!” You just feel utterly incapable of doing anything that will change what you feel. Now that may not be so in reality but that is what you ‘feel’ at that point. Job identifies himself as a ‘despairing man’. That is what he feels – despair – a sense of utter loss and hopelessness. Have you realised that these studies are not only about how to be a comforter, but also about the depths that human experience can go to?

What is Job’s primary need in this state of despair? Devotion of his friends! What does devotion mean in this context? It means stick-ability! The ability to stay close to our friend! Now that needs thinking about. Our friend has gone down into the depths of despair and they feel alone, utterly isolated in their blackness. What they need is a sense of someone alongside them, there in the blackness, someone who understands it and is there for them, utterly accepting and without judgment. I have commented before about a girl I knew who was in the depths of mental illness, in the blackness of utter confusion, and yet, as I related to her, I sensed the presence of the Lord with her, right there in the midst of that confusion, a loving, caring and accepting Presence, there for her. Can we be Jesus to our friend in these circumstances? Only with the grace and enabling of God!

That is what Job needs, but what has he received? See how he continues. He paints a vivid picture: “But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams, as the streams that overflow when darkened by thawing ice and swollen with melting snow, but that cease to flow in the dry season, and in the heat vanish from their channels.” (v.15-17) Oh, what a condemnation of us perhaps! My brothers are undependable. Job wants people he can depend upon, people who will always be there for him, but they are not like that, these ‘friends’. They are, he says, like streams that get filled and deep in the winter but in the summer dry up and disappear.

He paints the picture some more: “Caravans turn aside from their routes; they go up into the wasteland and perish. The caravans of Tema look for water, the traveling merchants of Sheba look in hope.” (v.18,19) He imagines Arab caravans in the wilderness, searching desperately for water in these streams, but there is done, just like he’s searching desperately for a life-giving resource in his friends. He sees how those Arab traders respond to their plight: “They are distressed, because they had been confident; they arrive there, only to be disappointed,” (v.20) just like he had been. When his friends had turned up there had been confident hope, but as Eliphaz started out, he was disappointed. He concludes: “Now you too have proved to be of no help; you see something dreadful and are afraid.” (v.21). They had come and seen him and saw him as ‘ something dreadful’ and their hearts fell and they were fearful. What, they thought, had happened to him? What had God done to him? And they jumped to wrong conclusions.

As he thinks about this, he muses, what have I ever asked from you except simple friendship: “Have I ever said, `Give something on my behalf, pay a ransom for me from your wealth, deliver me from the hand of the enemy, ransom me from the clutches of the ruthless’?” (v.22,23). Had he ever made demands of them that required them to pay out, or come to his aid against enemies? No, never. He only asked for simple, accepting friendship. Look, he says, I’m open for you to show me if I am genuinely wrong: “Teach me, and I will be quiet; show me where I have been wrong.” (v.24). I realise that honest words can be painful, but I’ve listened to what you’ve said and you prove nothing: “How painful are honest words! But what do your arguments prove?” (v.25) Why are you bothering to try and correct the words of a despairing man, words which you want to write off as just meaningless like wind : “Do you mean to correct what I say, and treat the words of a despairing man as wind?” (v.26). This seems so heartless that you give me the impression that, “You would even cast lots for the fatherless and barter away your friend.” (v.27).

And then he makes a final plea: “But now be so kind as to look at me. Would I lie to your face?” (v.28) Please, look me in the face. I’m trying to be honest, I wouldn’t lie to you, I would tell you if I had sinned (implied). He goes on, “Relent, do not be unjust; reconsider, for my integrity is at stake.” (v.29). Please, step back from this stand you’ve taken against me, be fair, because this is my integrity and my reputation you are talking about here. And finally, “Is there any wickedness on my lips? Can my mouth not discern malice?” (v.30) Please, listen carefully. Am I saying anything that is patently wicked? Have I not always been careful what I say, please be gentle with me!

These are the pleas of this man of integrity whose only ‘sin’ is to be in the midst of immense suffering for apparently no reason. The reason, as we had the privilege of seeing, is that he is going through God’s testing process, but it’s a process that doesn’t only test him; it also tests his three friends! If we are such a ‘friend’ we need to realise that when our friends are in trouble, it is also a test for us!