I Kings 19:1-18
If you struggle with periods of depression or just “the blues,” it’s important to know that you are in good company. Many godly and influential people over the centuries have faced this battle; in fact, one well-known theologian has this to say on the subject: “It might well read like a little Who's Who in the Kingdom of God, if the whole truth were told of the gloom of the great, which overtakes them sometimes on their journey to the City of God.” (A.W. Tozer, “Wingspread”)
It’s also important to say at the outset that many people have a chemical imbalance in their brains which causes feelings of depression, and which may require both medication and therapy to treat effectively. The things I’m going to talk about in these next few devotionals will hopefully give suggestions helpful to anyone battling the blues; but there is certainly no shame (and in fact, there is often great necessity) in seeking professional help.
Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at other possible causes of depression or discouragement, as illustrated in Elijah’s life (I Kings 19:1-18). I encourage you to read the story for yourself in I Kings 18 and 19; but I’ll go ahead and give you the highlights. Elijah had just experienced the pinnacle of his ministry career, defeating 400 prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel through a miraculous display of God’s power (I Kings 18:20-46). However, wicked Queen Jezebel was not at all pleased, and she issued a death warrant for Elijah. This was the response of the great prophet:
“Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba…he came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life…’” (I Kings 19:3-4)
From a literal mountaintop experience, Elijah sank into a despair that caused him to long for death. How did Elijah get into that pit, and what can we learn from his experience?
Let’s look at the first possible cause:
Physical distress (weariness, illness, etc.)
Elijah was plain worn out. His recent ministry experience had pushed him to the height of excitement and victory, followed hard by running for his life and the adrenaline rush of fear (he had traveled over 120 miles in his desperation to escape Jezebel!). God allowed Elijah to see himself as he was, without the Divine power that had strengthened and emboldened him. In his stark humanity, he was weakness itself.
He needed some basic things, like sleep and food.
When you are struggling with depression, start by taking an inventory of your physical body and find out what requires attention. Diet, exercise, and rest all have a great impact on our mental health. Even if you can't change the situation, having a self-awareness of what's going on can be helpful. As someone who suffers from a condition that causes chronic pain, I’ve learned not to engage in self-evaluation or make important decisions on days when I have high pain levels. Everything looks blacker on days when you don’t feel good; recognize that and make the mental adjustments. Do what you can to get the rest you need, as well as the proper nourishment. Exercise raises the serotonin levels in your brain, which are neurotransmitters believed to contribute to feelings of well-being and happiness. Even a short, simple walk outside can work wonders! Listen to what your body tells you it needs, and your mental health will benefit from it.
“And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’ And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, ‘Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.’” (I Kings 19:5-7)
What God did for Elijah, He can do for me.
I love the tenderness and mercy of God that we see in this passage. Elijah has given up on life, but God doesn't respond with either a rebuke or a pep talk. Instead He goes right to the practical, physical needs of the human body.
As the Psalmist says, “He knows our frame; He remembers we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14)
Elijah had actually been in a desert place before; we first meet him in I Kings 17, where he is predicting a drought. On that occasion the Lord TOLD him to run and hide, arranging for ravens to bring him food. When Elijah fled that time, he was in a completely different place emotionally. It's the first glimpse we have of his ministry, so it's likely that he was still confident and hopeful about the outcome of his prophetic work.
But this time he had hit the wall—burned out, scared, disillusioned, and weary—and this time (despite the fact that his flight wasn’t God’s idea), God did not send him the impersonal provision of birds bringing cold food.
Instead, God provided comfort for all of Elijah's physical senses. An angel's touch on his shoulder, and a voice in his ears. The sight, the fragrance and the taste of fresh-baked bread met needs far deeper than hunger. A jug of cold water refreshed his dehydrated body. God also allowed him time for restorative sleep while under the protective watch of the angel; and He did all these things not once, but twice!
Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. This week, cultivate more awareness of resting in the Lord, allowing Him to minister to both your spiritual needs AND your physical needs.
More next week on ways to beat discouragement!
“Fits of depression come over the most of us...The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”
—Charles Haddon Spurgeon
“Praise the Lord; praise God our Savior! For each day He carries us in His arms.”
—Psalm 68:19, NLT