Overcoming the Juniper Tree Complex or
Don’t Run on Empty When Serving in a Leadership Role
A little over forty years ago, while still a student at Practical Bible Training School, I had the great opportunity of preaching every Sunday night at a downtown Binghamton church. The salary was $15 and one tank of gas per week. Sometimes the gas tank was pretty low by the end of the week. In fact, on one occasion I remember driving on fumes as my little car sputtered and stalled.
I had run my 1963 Ford for a full morning while the gas gauge on the dash board registered E. That big, bold letter on the gas gauge did not stand for entertaining, exciting, expecting and not even exceptional! It stood for empty. To the other motorists around me, everything looked “fine.” But I knew I was on borrowed time. I could not go on much longer if things continued as they were. The weekly $15 and gas allotment came just in time for me. I was off to fuel up. Though my car stalled, fortunately I was going fast enough to coast into the station. That was way too close for comfort!
Sometimes we as the Lord’s servants have a lot in common with my little Ford running on E. To everyone around us, things look rather normal. It is ministry as usual. Everything appears as dynamic as ever; however, we are running on fumes. It happened to Elijah and took the Lord’s servant from a Mount Carmel ministry (1Kings 18) to a juniper tree sputtering and stalling out (I Kings 19).
Elijah was exhausted, and full-fledged discouragement overtook him.
Discouragement seems to be more predictable in at least five common situations.
- When the work is heavy (Numbers 11:10-15).
- When the way is hard (Numbers 21:4).
- When the sickness is serious (Isaiah 38:9-20).
- When Satan knows we are low (Ephesians 6:11, 16- wiles and fiery darts).
- When the ministry is demanding and successful (1 Kings 19).
For me, the discouraging times have hit especially after demanding and successful ministry have taken place. I know you will identify with these dynamics. The already full week becomes even fuller with unexpected needs and demands. Devotions become a little more rushed or missed all together (“I will get back to them later in the day, right now there is no time.” Though I had good intentions, on those days, I never made it back.) The pressure mounts, and I have to rush from one commitment to another. The weekend ministry goes very well, and many people comment on how blessed they were. Decisions were made, and apparent victories are taking place. Everyone is pleased, but the tension builds as I know there are more and more expectations and demands.
Then it hits. In spite of all the good things taking place, someone is critical and complains (1 Kings 19:1-2), and I plummet into discouragement (19:3-4a). My earnestness and passion sputters, and I want to quit (19:4b). Am I the only one who has experienced this?
How do we get out from under the juniper tree and back on the track of joyful ministry? The answer is that we do it much the same way Elijah did. Check out these principles from 1 Kings.
- I need to get my rest. I am not a machine that is capable of working non-stop without a break (19:5).
- I need to take time to eat well and care for my physical body (19:6-8a).
- I need to come to the place of personal worship (19:8b).
- I need to allow the Word of God to confront any weakness, failure or sin that is in my life (19:9). When the Word becomes just my tool for study and counseling, I am missing the blessing and power God intends for me personally.
- I need to get over my own little pity party, thinking I am the only one left that has a difficult ministry (19:10).
- I need to come back to the place of intimacy with God once again. The rush of ministry can never replace the close, quiet intimate moments with the Holy One (19:11-12).
- I need the partnership of another godly man who will share the load of ministry. While never replacing my Lord or my wife, men need men who will encourage them and help shoulder the work and carry the load (19:15-21).
Questions to consider today.
1. Am I so busy at times that I find myself “too busy” to enjoy my marriage, my ministry and my walk with the Lord?
2. Do I find myself dwelling more on the critical remark of a rude person than the blessings that are occurring around me?
3. Am I honestly caring for my physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual life?
4. Are my thoughts a place that seek to honor the Lord or have they become a spiritual wasteland? Do I often find myself thinking unwholesome thoughts?
5. Is my mate truly my best friend? Do we have a growing, vibrant and intimate marriage?
6. As a man, though my mate must be my best friend, do I have any men in my life that are close to me for friendship and fellowship?
7. Do I daily invest time in the Word of God as my personal source of food and direction? Probably it could be asked, “Do I personally follow the same counsel I give to others?”