With Elijah Under the Juniper Tree

Biblical translators can’t agree on what kind of bush the prophet Elijah sat under when he had his “meltdown.” (I Kings 19:4)  The New American Standard Bible, my study Bible of choice, agrees with the King James Version, calling it a Juniper tree. The New International Version translates it as a “broom bush.” The Christian Standard Bible calls it a “broom tree.” Whatever kind of tree or bush it was this is where Elijah’s meltdown began.

The timing of Elijah’s meltdown is also strange.  He had just experienced the greatest spiritual victory of his life, one of the greatest spiritual victories in all of scripture. He had been part of the thorough humiliation and defeat of the prophets and priest of Ba’al on Mount Carmel. He witnessed a demonstration of God’s might and power in a way that rivaled the plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. It was breath taking.

Yet, one threat from the wicked Queen Jezebel and Elijah’s faith melted like a double dip of Baskin Robbins ice cream on a hot Mississippi summer day.  She promised to kill him, and he ran.  Every shred of hope and faith he possessed seemed to vanish.

How does a prophet of God turn from victory to utter defeat so quickly? The Bible does not indulge us with a quick and easy answer, but I suspect it was the result of the buildup of pressure, anxiety and depression over a prolong period of time.

My long experience in the ministry has convinced me that most ministers of the Gospel spend time under the Juniper tree, or bush, or whatever it was.  I know I have.

According to Tom Rainer, President of Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, ministerial tenure in an evangelical church follows a predictable pattern.  There is a brief period of honeymoon, followed by a period of challenges and conflict, which leads to a crossroads – a conflict so difficult or a challenge so great, most ministers don’t make it.  This all happens in the first three to five years.

If a minister makes it past this point, a brief period of fruitfulness and harvest follow. Then the pattern starts to repeat: brief honeymoon, growing challenge and conflict, then a crossroad – every three to five years. After 20 years this pattern will have repeated itself four to six times. This explains why the average ministerial tenure in a Baptist church is 3.6 years.

Highland Baptist Church is not your average church.  Her history of ministers with long tenures is testimony to this.

Years ago I kept a daily journal.  I got in the habit evaluating each day, sort of like grading them good or difficult. When I started having more and more difficult days I stopped. Evaluating them just increased the frustration.

After a period of time, even after a great victory, one more challenge presents itself and it becomes the preverbal straw on the camel’s back.  Something snaps and a person finds his or her self under the Juniper tree, or bush, or whatever it was. I think this is what happened to Elijah.

You’ve probably been under that bush or tree yourself. In thirty-six years I’ve been there many times.  Always, His Holy Spirit is there, to comfort and to guide. I never lost my joy, at least nor for very long. God always brings a time of renewal.

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