When the Godly Get the Blues.
Good and godly people become depressed. Sadly, the Christian community does not always have a box for it. Instead, we subtly think that if someone follows Christ, every day with Jesus should be sweeter than the day before.
For years I have changed one line in the hymn "At the Cross." Instead of singing, "and now I am happy all the day," I substitute "and now He is with me all the day." Because following Jesus does not always result in happy days.
The nineteenth chapter of 1 Kings gives a glimpse at a depressed prophet. For three years he trusted God, experiencing the victories of faith and obedience. He rebuked wicked King Ahab, becoming public enemy number one. He stayed at a brook, trusting God for daily provision. When the Lord changed his directions, Elijah walked 100 miles, relying on God every step for safety from his enemies. At Zarephath, he challenged a widow to walk in faith, and together they experienced miraculous provision of not only bread – and her son raised from the dead. After a long time, the Lord sent him back to Ahab in one of the most dramatic displays in the Old Testament. God intervened dramatically on Mt. Carmel and vindicated his servant and God’s Word. With every problem, he trusted God.
Twenty-four hours later, Jezebel sends word to him, "I am going to kill you. You are a dead man!" This time, he doesn't trust. He doesn't pray. He doesn't wait. He runs, scared for his life. And chapter nineteen outlines the depth of his immediate depression. Full of self-pity, he wants to die.
Elijah was exhausted - emotionally, physically, and psychologically spent – after living through extreme circumstances. The reality of his faith did not rule out the reality of his stress. Following his greatest victory, he temporarily snaps. Elijah is human just like us. He is a jar of clay.
God graciously and lovingly deals with Elijah, taking care of his physical needs. He needs a lot of sleep, food and nourishment, and he needs exercise. For forty days, God does not rebuke nor correct him. He provides a safe harbor and lets him refuel. A Greek proverb says, "You will break the bow if you keep it always bent."
Finally, God speaks quietly and tenderly, reminding him he is not as alone as he thinks. There are 7000 other followers of Jehovah. He subtly brings Elijah out of his self-pity.
Depressed people don't think correctly. Their thought-patterns skew. God has to help his man realign his thinking. The man who trusted God for incredible problems in the past has to be reminded that God is bigger than Queen Jezebel.
And Jehovah points his man to three other people who can be involved in his ministry in the future. For the past season, Elijah had to primarily go it alone. Now he needs to link arms with friends. Charles Swindoll writes, "God has not designed us to live like hermits in a cave. He has designed us to live in friendship and fellowship and community with others."
Dr. R. T. Kendall shares valuable insights about depression in his book, These Are the Days of Elijah [the points are his and the notes mine]. . .
1. We fail to realize that the best of Christians can sometimes become depressed.
2. If you happen to be a leader or a person with some profile, you are especially vulnerable to the kind of satanic attack Elijah was under.
Leaders are prone to fail in at least one of three areas: sexual temptation, pride/lack of accountability, and financial indiscretion. Reading the biographies of noble men and women reveals that when they stand above those temptations, a fourth area often trips them - discouragement and depression. It is as if Satan sees if he can't trip them up in one of those deadly three areas, he will send a thorn of dark discouragement. Charles Spurgeon, Hudson Taylor, Winston Churchill, and Billy Graham are examples.
3. We are all capable of extreme depression if we have been overworking and get overtired.
Working all the time, never taking a vacation, and always bending the bow are not marks of spirituality nor maturity.
4. This time in Elijah’s life shows that some of the best of God’s people have been suicidal.
In the Bible Elijah, Moses, Job, and Jeremiah all faced times when they wanted to die.
5. A person under attack, as in severe depression, may not always demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit at a time like that.
When someone has been under severe stress, give them a break. Only Jesus acted like Jesus all of the time.
6. There is more than one cause for depression.
Look for the root. If there’s a chemical imbalance, which can result from prolonged periods of stress, seek medical and medicinal help. If the root is exhaustion, get rest. If problems in your past trigger it, find ways to deal with the emotional and psychological roots. If relational, work on those. If your life lacks margin, seek ways to say no and refill. And, if the problem is spiritual, seek the Lord, repent of your sin, allow Him to realign your life with His Word and fill you with His Spirit. If the root is spiritual, no amount of therapy or medication will solve the problem.
I’m thankful God gave us this gracious picture. Even the godliest of people wear out and get in the dumps.
Dr. Rhett Wilson, Sr., a freelance writer and editor, a former pastor and adjunct college professor, lives in Lancaster, South Carolina, with his family. He graduated from Presbyterian College and lived in Laurens County for 18 years. He blogs at www.wilsonrhett.com