Here is the tragedy: when you are the victim of depression, not only do you feel utterly helpless and abandoned by the world, you also know that very few people can understand, or even begin to believe, that life can be this painful. Giles Andreae
Today’s reading: 1 Kings 18-20.
Fresh off a major victory, Elijah finds himself threatened with death, alone, on the run, and depressed.
Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 1 Kings 19:1-4
Elijah had defeated King Ahab’s prophets of Baal in a showdown on Mt. Carmel. The LORD had demonstrated his power in a mighty way, the people of Israel rededicated themselves to him, and the idolatrous prophets had been put to death. It was the mountaintop experience of Elijah’s life in both a material and supernatural sense. So why was Elijah wallowing in despair rather than celebrating the victory?
He became depressed because of unmet expectations. After the great victory on Mt. Carmel, Elijah may have expected smooth sailing. The reality was that Satan was still at work, Ahab and Jezebel were as wicked as ever, and there were still struggles to come in his life of faith. The disconnect between what he expected and the reality that came to pass was a huge disappointment.
He became depressed because of worst-case thinking. He was afraid. Jezebel had a contract out on his life. Though he had been faithful to God’s commands and had seen God work in a mighty way, all he could think of was negative things: the idolatry of the people, the sad state of worship in Israel, and Jezebel’s determination to kill him. He forgot to factor in God’s protection and instead expected the worst. He thought there was nothing left that he could do.
He became depressed because of exhaustion. The mountaintop experience had been emotionally and physically draining. He had run all the way from the mountain back to the city. He had been living on the run for three years. It all finally caught up with him and brought him down.
He became depressed because of self-pity. Elijah thought he was all alone in his struggle for the LORD. He said so on Mt. Carmel, and he repeated it again as he ran from Jezebel. He was focused on himself and his own plight rather than looking at the big picture of God’s redeeming work. He may have said to himself, “life isn’t fair,” and given in to bitterness.
God was tender toward Elijah in all these areas of need. He fed him and gave him rest. He corrected his wrong ideas, the “stinking thinking” that was keeping him down. He made sure Elijah knew he wasn’t alone but that many other faithful servants of the LORD were at work in the land. He showed him that his work wasn’t done and gave him Elisha to mentor. Most of all, the LORD gave him a fresh view of himself. This time it wasn’t the consuming fire of Carmel but the small personal voice that was just for Elijah.
When overcome with depression, people experience many of the same negative thoughts that Elijah did. They may expect the worst, think they are no good, become bitter over the unfairness of life, and think that things will never get better. The discouragement of these negative thoughts is a major obstacle to overcoming depression. Remember, discouragement is one of the main tools of Satan. Instead of accepting these negative thoughts automatically, we need to examine them, compare them to the facts of reality, and argue against them. By changing our thinking about the situation we can change our expectations and begin to end the depression. Bringing God back into the equation also changes everything, for he is more powerful than all the obstacles we face.
Such was my experience when I first became a pastor in London. My success appalled me. The thought of the career which it seemed to open up, so far from elating me, cast me into the lowest depth, out of which I uttered my Miserere and found no room for a Gloria in Excelsis.
Who was I that I should continue to lead so great a multitude? I would betake me to my village obscurity or emigrate to America and find a solitary nest in the backwoods where I might be sufficient for the things which would be demanded of me.
It was just then that the curtain was rising upon my lifework, and I dreaded what it might reveal. I hope I was not faithless, but I was timorous and filled with a sense of my own unfitness. I dreaded the work which a gracious Providence had prepared for me. I felt myself a mere child. I trembled as I heard the voice which told me to arise and “thresh the mountains…and make the hills as chaff.”
This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing a larger blessing for my ministry. The cloud is black before it breaks and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy.
Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist heralding the nearer coming of my Lord’s richer benison. So have far better men found it. The scouring of the vessel has fitted it for the Master’s use.
Image by Sander van der Wel on Flickr, CC by-sa 2.0