The account of Elijah in I Kings 19 encourages anyone who has ever suffered with discouragement, despair and despondency. The great prophet reveals to us that no one is exempt from depression. Followers of God—sincere followers of God—still err and still suffer. Wrong attitudes, misplaced focus and mis-understandings deluge all of us! May God give us insights as we examine some of this great man’s life. (Please note: This is one story of depression. While some work of the enemy is involved in every dis-ease, every story is unique. This is not a pointing fingers, diagnosis piece on depression. There is help; there is hope but there is no short-cut.)
His name is a great starting point: Yahweh is my God. Elijah lived at the time of history when Baal worship entered into the Nation of Israel. Often pictured with a belt around his waist, the Truth of the identity of God (Ephesians 6) defines Elijah. He courageously proclaimed the greatness of God with his words and way of life. Fed by ravens during a prophesied drought, sustained by miraculous provision to a widow in Zarephath and confirmed by God with fire that devoured a water-logged sacrifice, Elijah knew the power of God.
But he also knew despair that left him begging to die. What happened?
His crash into despair came after a major battle (and victory) against the prophets of Baal. Despite the clear testimony of Truth in that battle (1 Kings 18:20-40), Elijah ran for his life at the threatening words of Jezebel, the evil Queen. Leaving his personal servant, Elijah chose to flee alone. Both actions are common to those battling depression: running away and isolating oneself.
What happened? Clearly, Elijah turned his eyes from God and opened his ears to the lies of the enemy. Fear entered his heart. Fear is a foe we must recognize—and fight.
Running leads us to the pit of despair. We are created for fellowship. Self-doubt and self-pity then crushed Elijah’s spirit. He began to beg God to let him die. Here we see another common error that darkens our lives:
We forget that it has never been about our power or ability!
Our great and gracious God then revealed his tender care by sending an angel to bake food for Elijah. Nowhere do we read of God telling Elijah to set out on this headlong rush into the desert: the plan was all Elijah’s but God did not leave him alone. He cared for him and nurtured growth in this great prophet even as he failed to trust the One he served. When Elijah arrives at his self-determined destination of Mount Sinai, God asks Elijah a very important question:
“What are you doing here?”
It is a question God asks each of us when we wander from trusting Him. It’s not that God doesn’t know where we are; He wants us to recognize it. Confident he is totally right and filled with faith (he just vanquished the false prophets, didn’t he?), Elijah speaks from the same place we often live: blindness to his own self-centered perspective.
“I worked hard for you. They have been bad. I fought for you. I am alone and in danger.”
God did not defend His own honor; He did not chastise Elijah. God simply told Elijah to go stand on the mountain.
Waiting for God is part of the recovery process!
Elijah obeyed and witnessed the battering wind, the shaking of an earthquake and the devastation of fire. When all those passed, the presence of the LORD came in the quiet. Elijah stepped out of his hiding place but not out of his stubbornness. The holy presence of God left him unmoved from his place of self-pity and pride. Recovery (and repentance) take time. God is merciful: he gives us time to figure things out!
The life of faith is not without error and failings…nor is it without mercy & grace!
God did not demand an apology or upbraid Elijah for his struggle. It is in our weakness that God’s strength is perfected. God is not surprised by our failures; He has us covered! God simply gave Elijah the instruction, “Go.” Just as ‘wait’ is part of the recovery process, so is ‘go.’ Pressing forward from the hard times helps us get back to seeing God with clearer focus.
God was not done with Elijah. He is not done with us!
Elijah still had work to do. It was challenging work; work that would bring battering winds and earth-shaking events to the ones who were rebelling against God. Work that would bring the still small voice of God to those who were listening.
“Go back the way you came,” he told Elijah.
As Elijah obeyed, he found Elisha, the one he was to mentor and guide to greatness. Together, they nurtured many in the school of prophets. At the end of his earthly walk, God whisked Elijah away in a chariot of fire. Despair and failure are part of this life. We don’t need to run in fear. Walk back, face the things that blinded you to the Truth of God and then go on with life. Ask God to lead you to the help you need in the process. Don’t try to go it alone! We are made for each other. There is work to be done and glory to receive!