Lessons Learned in Seasons of Depression

 

Elijah's Depression

Elijah traveled on foot about 95 miles to the southern border of Judah. Then he went another day's journey into the wilderness. By that time he was completely exhausted. He had remarkable physical strength and endurance, but he had extended himself to the breaking point. He had first prepared for the "showdown" with the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. There was great pressure on him because of satanic opposition while he was on the mountain. Then it was necessary to kill the prophets of Baal. Such invasion of Satan's territory is not done easily. Then Elijah prayed for rain with great earnestness, and finally he ran about 16 miles to Jezreel to see what results would follow the great triumph at Mount Carmel. All of this took place in one day.

Satan knows that a tired body is an added opportunity for him, and he took advantage of it in this case. When Jezebel threatened Elijah, he seemed to lose control and continued running until he sat under the juniper tree in the wilderness.

Then he requested that he might die. He felt his labors had been fruitless. He longed for rest. "It is enough," he said (1 Kings 19:4). He had hoped to see a great revival, but no spiritual change had taken place in Israel.

Some men in the Bible went even further than Elijah did in discouragement. Jeremiah said, "Cursed be the day wherein I was born" (Jeremiah 20:14). Job wished that the day of his birth might perish (see Job 3:3). These men all had natures like ours. They showed what they could be when God filled them and controlled them and also what they were when left to themselves. If we did not have this knowledge, we would be tempted to think they were superhuman instead of ordinary people like the rest of us.

God knew that His servant had overtaxed himself and needed a renewal of his physical life as well as his spiritual life. Our inner life is very sensitive to our outward condition. Rest is very important to all of us. Proper exercise is also important. We sometimes forget this, but God does not. Our physical condition can influence our spiritual condition.

Elijah felt very much alone. He admitted this to God: "I, even I only, am left" (v. 10). Loneliness is sometimes a penalty that people pay for being great. Someone sent me the following paragraph:

“When Elijah had his eyes on the Lord, he faced his foes without fear. But the moment he forgot God and concen­trated on the circumstances, things changed. He looked at the danger and lost his courage. Centuries later Peter did the same thing. As long as he looked at the Lord, he walked on the water and was not afraid. The moment he looked at the waves, he became afraid and began to sink.”

God looked on His servant Elijah with kindness and pro­vided food for him. The Lord did not forget him. He followed him everywhere. Elijah learned as we should learn: "He [God] hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust" (Psalm 103:10‑14).

Elijah had lost hope of seeing the people of Israel return to the Lord. Thus life no longer was attractive to him. When hope is gone, life is not worth living. Perhaps it seemed to Elijah that the Lord had given up also, but this was not the case. The Lord did not answer the prayer of His discouraged servant when he asked to die.

The present world has no answer to the turmoil and strife going on in its midst, but the Church is not without hope. Our hope lies in the coming of our Lord. This we must never forget.

This is what He did for Elijah. "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" (1 Kings 19:5‑7).

Elijah still had a great distance to go, but God watched over him as he slept. He was not forsaken, but was provided for through rest and food for a journey that would cover many more miles. Here we have a demonstration of the ministry of angels to those who are the elect of the Lord. God's tender care is expressed through the ministry of angels, who are servants of those who are heirs of salvation. The same angels who delight to witness God's majesty and greatness also enjoy ministering to God's saints on the earth.

This action on the part of God is typical of His nature as the God of grace. He takes no account of our worthiness or unworthiness. His grace is free and sovereign. He loves His own, and He loves them to the end.

Can you imagine an angel doing such a lowly task as cooking a meal for a discouraged saint of God, when that angel's regular assignment was to stand in the presence of almighty God and see Him in His majesty and glory? There was no grumbling on the part of this messenger. He loved to do what he did.

 At times each of us feels that a different environment would make things easier for us. We will see, in Elijah's case, what a change in environment did for him, though he could have had the same experience if he had stayed in Israel. God did not forsake him. Elijah needed spiritual refreshing. He needed to get away from the duties of life for a while and be alone with the Lord. Our Savior did this quite often when he prayed.

God allowed his servant to take this long, hard journey across the desert and in grace provided for him and accom­panied him. Whether or not Elijah was actually doing God's will at this time, his motive was certainly that of seeking to put God first. The Lord did not forsake him, and He will not forsake us.

We read in 1 Kings 19:8 that Elijah "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." Again Elijah experienced the superhuman strength provided by the Lord.

Like Elijah we all have times of discouragement. None of us are immune. Pastors are often targets of the enemy in this respect. They preach faithfully for the Lord, but see little response, if any, in the hearts of the hearers. Less important things begin to take the time of the members of their congre­gation. Sunday night attendance dwindles. People have little interest in prayer meetings. And the average Christian seems to have lost his zeal for witnessing to those who are unsaved.

Regardless of the cause of our discouragement, let us learn from Elijah's experience that God is never discouraged. He never gives up. When God has given us the responsibility for some work or obligation, let us learn not to give up either.

Sometimes God's plans do not coincide with our plans. Not all of His plans are short range; many of them are long range. Though he did not realize it at the time, Elijah was fitting into part of God's long‑range plan for Israel.

God's Love for Elijah

When Elijah was discouraged, he received God's love in a very special way. God did not rebuke His tired and depressed servant, but provided food, rest, protection, comfort and strength through an angel.

If he had not learned it before, Elijah learned that God's love is constant. Perhaps he may have feared that he had forfeited that love by running away from Jezebel and her threats, but God still loved him. The love of God never changes, even though our awareness of it does. The sun still shines even though it may disappear from view behind clouds or appear to go down at night.

The love of God is like that. We may not always be aware of God's love, but it surrounds us. Circumstances may sur­round us like a cloud or like night, but God's love is not changed. It is still with us.

It is often suggested that Elijah was suffering from depression. Depression can have many different causes (from suppressed anger to vitamin deficiency) and we should not assume that when we are depressed our problem is the same as Elijah’s, or his the same as ours. In his case, depression and discouragement seem to have stemmed from his skewed perspective. He both underrated his own achievement and undervalued the contribution of others. The answer, in part at least, was for him to be given a glimpse of things from God’s point of view. We need such glimpses too, if we are not to become discouraged in the Christian life.

 

 

 

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