I Kings 19:1-18
For the last two weeks, we’ve been talking about the struggle with depression, as illustrated in the life of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. We learned that it is a very common thing to experience, even among the people of God, and that A.W. Tozer called it “the gloom of the great” that sometimes overtakes us on our journey towards heaven. The first week, we discussed physical causes and their repercussions. Last week we focused on two additional causes: emotional/situational factors, and the twin problems of sin and shame in our lives. Most importantly, we looked not only at potential causes, but also at ways to work through them. If you haven’t yet read those blogs, I encourage you to take a look Part 1 and Part 2 before reading further.
This week, in our last installment in the series, we will look at one last possible cause of depression:
Disillusionment and Self-Focus
Elijah gave his all in the dramatic encounter on Mt. Carmel as he boldly challenged 400 prophets of Baal and experienced a spectacular and miraculous victory (see I Kings 18:20-40). We see the response of the awestruck Israelites in I Kings 18:39:
“And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.’”
What a moment! Surely now King Ahab would turn and follow the one true God. Surely now there would be a national revival, and the Israelites would turn from their wicked ways. Who knows? Perhaps Elijah even indulged in the fantasy of a secure position for himself in the kingdom as “Official National Prophet.”
Instead, he suddenly found himself an outlaw and an exile, running for his life.
Understandably, Elijah experienced a “it wasn't supposed to be like this, Lord!” moment. He indulged in some self-pity (“It's enough, Lord, just let me die!” —I Kings 19:4). He also hotly poured out his complaint to the Lord, not once but twice:
“I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with You, torn down Your altars, and killed every one of Your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too” (I Kings 19:10 and 14)
In Elijah's stubbornly repeated complaint, we can see how he is focusing on his own hurts and perceived injustices, and how he personally is affected by what is going on in the nation. Although this is a natural and normal initial response to pain, a prolonged inward focus can both cause and exacerbate depression.
The key to overcoming disillusionment and self-focus lies in recognizing and changing our thought patterns. Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a British physician and also one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century, wrote a book called Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure. Listen to the prescription that this good doctor gives:
“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning…Somebody is talking. Who is talking? Your self is talking to you…The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, and question yourself. You must say to your soul: 'Why art thou cast down...what business have you to be disquieted?... Hope thou in God'--instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, who God is, and what God is, what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.”
It takes determination and practice, but you CAN change your thought patterns by directing your focus away from the negative thoughts that spiral down.
What God did for Elijah, He can do for me.
God met with Elijah, and He did it in a powerful way! This was His response:
“And He said, ‘Go out and stand before Me on the mountain’… And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain…but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.” (I Kings 19:11-13).
It was C.S. Lewis who said, “God whispers in our pleasures but shouts in our pain.” The wind was so powerful it tore rocks from the mountainside, and the earthquake and the fire were equally awe-inspiring, likely shaking Elijah to his core. Those kinds of earth-shattering, painful events that shake me to my core are the things that get my attention and prepare me to hear the still, small, quiet voice of God. After listening to Elijah's complaints, God got his humble attention and then spoke to his heart in a gentle whisper, re-affirming Elijah's calling. He took this discouraged and dispirited prophet and re-commissioned him, basically saying, “I'm not done with you yet! Get back out there...go back the way you came...and keep on carrying out My business!” (I Kings 19:15-18, my paraphrase) Part of that business involved a young man named Elisha who needed to be mentored into his role as the next great prophet, and God directed Elijah to go find him and start the training.
Last and best of all, God capped it off with a big dose of HOPE by telling Elijah there were yet 7000 like him who had not bowed to Baal (v. 18). Can you imagine how it must have built hope in him, suddenly knowing he was NOT alone after all?
Elijah's focus was directed back to where it belonged—upward toward God, first and foremost; and secondly, outward in service. When we take our minds off self, focusing instead on God and the needs of others…
If you would be distracted, look about you;
If you would be miserable, look within;
But if you would be happy, look to Jesus.