Depression in the Bible - Elijah
Despair to live, extreme exhaustion, loneliness and failure - not really phrases one would consider belonging to the great prophet Elijah, are they? Certainly, we can read Elijah's entire story in the Word of God and see that this is far from a true reflection of his life’s story. The problem is that this is how Elijah saw himself at one point in his life. Over the next several posts, I desire to show you the effects of depression as seen in some of our heroes from the Bible. Truly it is no secret that Elijah is my favorite character in the Old Testament, so I decided to start with him. I hope that you will grab your Bible and look at these great happenings with me. Let's look in 1 Kings and see this great person, Elijah, and how God helped him with depression.
Our narrative in the Bible begins with the rise of Ahab to the throne of the kingdom of Israel and his rearing of altars to Baal. God said of him in 1 Kings 16:33 that "Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him." With this great atrocity, God raises up Elijah in the next chapter (17) to stand against this wicked ruler. He begins by proclaiming God's judgment of a drought on the land. The book of James attributes this to his great prayer life (James 5:17,18). God miraculously feeds him during this time of lack, leading up to a great showdown at Mount Carmel with Jezebel the queen's prophets of Baal. God shows out in a mighty way and Elijah prays for rain to come again on the land. Through all this, we see a man that God is using in a mighty way. Then we get to chapter 19 and see that depression works its way into Elijah's life.
Jezebel is not happy and declares that she is going to kill our Bible hero. When Elijah heard this news, "...he arose, and went for his life..." (vs. 3) Next we see Elijah wishing to be alone, wishing that he would die, feeling that there was nothing left ("it is enough"), and comparing himself to others (vss. 3,4). All of these are things that we experience ourselves in times of depression. If not treated with the attention that it needs, any of us could break under the enormous pressure that life puts on us. Elijah was a success for God, God had his back. However, depression can strike anyone at any time. For Elijah, it came right after a highly visible victory, an impressive physical run (18:45,46), and a threat from a wicked woman. Elijah is down for the count, to borrow a boxing term. Many victims of depression get to this point and never recover. Let me say to you, God is not finished with you, just like He was not finished with Elijah. What He did for him, He will faithfully do for you! What did God do, you might ask?
Our perfect God provided for the entire need of Elijah's depressive episode. First, He addressed Elijah's physical need with rest, food and water. “And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of the LORD came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.” (1 Kings 19:5-8) Elijah's body had exerted quite a bit of energy. He had depleted his physical reserve and God knew that he needed rest and nourishment. We too must not see depression as being "all in your head" as has typically been assumed by many over the years. There are physical needs that must be met. Never be afraid to consult a physician or nutritionist to help in this area of your depression. Treat your body right, then go on to the further issues that need to be addressed.
Next, we see God meet the mental needs of Elijah with a reassurance of Who God is in 1 Kings 19:11-13: “And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?” God personally met with Elijah, to show him that even when man is in distress, he has a God that cares. God then corrects his faulty thinking in 19:18, “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” Elijah was not alone in his service to God. He only thought that he was. He did not know what God was doing in the lives of those around him, probably because he was so busy doing what God had called him to do that he did not see others around him. While depression doesn't just affect the mind, it would be foolish for us to think that the effect on the mind is not substantive. It was enough for God to address it with Elijah, so let us not live in denial of it ourselves. We are many times guilty of what I call "stinking thinking." I have counseled many people to allow God to direct their thinking in purposeful ways, following the leading of the Word of God in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Elijah thought that he was the only one serving God, God showed him different. Elijah thought that he needed to be alone, God commanded him to anoint Elisha who would be his minister (vs. 21). Elijah thought that his life had no further purpose, God gave him work to do (vss. 15-17).
That brings me to my final point of emphasis today, what does God have for you to do? Elijah's thinking was challenged by God and he obeyed the commands God gave him. This brought healing to Elijah, making him able to be productive for God's work once again. Elijah finishes his course with faith in the God Who met him at his deepest point of need. I pray that God has met you at your point of need through this great account in the Bible. God has a work for all of us to do, He has a purpose for your life. Get your physical needs met. Let Him challenge your thinking. Seek to do His work.
As always, continue the discussion. Comment here or on Facebook. Like and share. Help others with their fight by raising awareness. Furthermore, take a minute to reflect on Elijah in 1 Kings chapters 17-19 and learn from his life.
With all God's help,
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