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Elijah: Handling Depression (Text: 1 Kings 18-19)

By Paul W. Powell
Depression is the common cold of our emotions. Eventually it touches everyone -- even God's people.

It would be nice to think we Christians didn't have dark days, that discouragement came only to those around us. But looking through the Bible at the great saints -- people we laud as heroes -- we find that they also had times of despair. If we are to experience victorious living we must, therefore, learn how to deal with depression.

The classic study of a depressed person in the Bible is the prophet Elijah, the iron man of the Old Testament. Elijah lived and served during the days of the wicked king Ahab and his sinister queen, Jezebel, who introduced Baal worship into Israel.

Elijah was the champion of orthodoxy, chosen by God to challenge the king and the prophets of Baal and to call the nation back from apostasy. In a contest on Mt. Carmel, he was God's instrument to prove to Israel that Jehovah was the Lord. But after that amazing victory Elijah sank into the depths of despair. He sat down under a juniper tree and asked God to take his life.

Does that surprise you about a man of God? I hope not. Longfellow said, "Some must lead, and some must follow, but all have feet of clay." We sometimes look upon men like Elijah as super saints. In reality, he was, as the scriptures say, "A man of like passions even as we are." That means he was cut from the same bolt of human cloth as we. He had the same weaknesses, frailties, and emotions as the rest of us. Yes, even Elijah became depressed.

These two experiences, Elijah on Mt. Carmel and Elijah under the juniper tree, are set side by side in the scripture (1 Kings 18-1 Kings 19). In 1 Kings 18, Elijah is at the height of success; in 1 Kings 19 he is in the depths of despair. In 1 Kings 18 he is on the mountain top of victory; in 1 Kings 19 he is in the valley of defeat. In 1 Kings 18 he is elated; in 1 Kings 19 he is deflated. We are all capable of such roller-coaster emotions.

The 1 Kings 18 records the incredible story of Elijah on Mt. Carmel. He assembled Israel on the mountain and accused them of spiritual schizophrenia. They were "halting" -- literally "limping" between two opinions. They could not decide whether to worship God or to worship Baal.

So Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal -- 450 of them -- to a theological shoot-out. "I'll call on my God," he says, "you call on Baal, and let's see which one answers with fire from heaven. The one that does will be the God of Israel."

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