1 Kings 19:1-15
There’s an old legend that tells how God sent one of his angels to Satan with the message that all the methods the devil uses to defeat Christians would be taken from him. The devil pleaded to be allowed to keep only one. The angel, thinking it an unusual modest request from the greedy devil, agreed Satan could keep that one. “Which one would you want to keep?” the angel inquired. “Let me keep discouragement,” was Lucifer’s reply. The angel agreed. Satan could keep discouragement. And the devil rejoiced for, said he, “In this one I have secured all I shall ever need to accomplish my dastardly work.”
Have you ever felt discouraged? Have you been at the point where you believed your best had already been? Have you experienced that miserable, wretched sickness of the spirit that leaves you feeling useless, uninvolved and in deep, hopeless despair? Do you know that feeling that leaves you wondering if God is through with you? If you have not been there, the chances are you will. Almost all of us experience spiritual depression at one time or another in our lives. It seems to be part and parcel of the normal human experience.
Until now Elijah’s life was uniquely marked by success. Everything he put his hand to seemed to prosper. When it seemed as though he should have been riding the crest of the wave, depression entered his life proving that James was right when he said, “Elijah was a human being like us” (James 5:17). A woman in his congregation asked one of my preacher friends what accounted for Elijah’s depression asked a pastor friend. “How come,” she wanted to know, “there was this sudden change from the bold prophet of God on Mount Carmel to the fearful man who fled from Jezebel and whimpered out a prayer request for death to come quickly?” It was a good question. At first glance it does seem rather strange that a man who rebuked a king, challenged 450 Baal prophets on Mount Carmel and called down fire from heaven should become so discouraged. Yet, he did! When you think about it for a bit it’s not as unusual as we might have believed. You can be sure that Elijah’s adrenaline was flowing freely when he was on the mountain and as he ran those seventeen miles into Jezreel. He was ripe for an emotional collapse. When Jezebel warned him what she planned to do, his mind went into park and his feelings took over, causing him to panic and want to die. Blinded by emotion, he was persuaded that his victory on Mount Carmel was of no account. His negative thoughts coupled with exhaustion coming off his powerful victory caused him to fall into a deep depression. Some of you will identify with that. You have been there. Perhaps you are now. If that is the case, God has a wonderful word for you today. Let’s think about Elijah’s experience and see what God has in store.
I. Elijah’s dilapidated condition
“He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors'” (1 Kings 19:4). Have you ever “had enough?” Not long ago a friend of mine was leading a church retreat. It was attended by a number of young families from the church. One young woman had to go alone because her husband, who had just had major surgery, was unable to get any more time off work and go with her. Late one evening, her misbehaving children seemed to be out of control. Suddenly she screamed, “I’m a woman on the edge!” It was a cry for help that I suspect is being made by many young mothers in our high-pressure world.
Elijah was on the edge. He was frightened. “He was afraid” (1 Kings 19:3). He wanted to be left alone. “He left his servant there” (1 Kings 19:3). One of depression’s primary symptoms is the desire for aloneness. Then, often when we are left alone, we crave company! He was detached from reality and caught in a web of ambivalence: “He got up and fled for his life” (1 Kings 19:3). Twice it says, he had a sense that he stood alone against the world: “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts (and) … I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10-14).
“I’m the only one that stands for righteousness!” Have you ever thought that? “Mine is the only right way!” Have you ever been persuaded of that? Yet, notice that he ran away. If he was so certain he was right, why did he leave? I’ll tell you why; it was because he was depressed and his words and true belief (which is betrayed by his actions) are conflicted against each other. That weariness that leads to deep depression often reveals itself in a martyr complex. “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted” (Galatians 6:1). Are you listening? Is this your life described in Elijah’s experience?
Let me take it one step further: Will you notice the preeminence of the first personal pronoun? “I alone.” “I have been very zealous for the Lord.” “I alone am left.” His reality begins with himself. The truth is that our reality never begins with us. It always begins with God, whether we realize it or not. To assess life without factoring in God’s proper place is to measure it with a defective base of reality. When we take our role too seriously we are in trouble. Elijah was going through what old family doctors called a nervous breakdown. Life was getting on top of him and it was too heavy for him to bear. Notice three key factors that brought Elijah to this point. In seeing them you may be saved from a similar disaster:
II. Elijah’s dire consequences
“It is enough,” he said, (1 Kings 19:4). Another version, The New International, captures his emotion more realistically, “I’ve had enough!” Elijah had all he could take. Death seemed more attractive than life for him. Many systems are involved in being human. The Bible focuses principally on three: body, mind and spirit. The apostle Paul, for example, writes, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Each affects the other and all of them interplayed in Elijah’s breakdown. Christian discipleship has something to say about each area of our lives that can help us avoid Elijah’s predicament, which I believe was emotional, as opposed to chemical, depression.
His body was depleted. Elijah was physically fatigued. For three and one half years his body took the abuse of drought and dusty conditions. No water meant nothing to drink. It also meant no bathing. His filthy body was likely a haven for all manner of disease. Following a period of intense pressure he walked eighteen miles from Carmel to Beersheba. It was a journey that would exhaust a healthy person under the best of circumstances. The Bible says, “The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body …. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:13-19). Take care of your body. It belongs to God.
His mind was depleted. Elijah was physically fatigued. He was also mentally frazzled. There is a mental drain to preaching that is best understood by those who are called to do it regularly. Someone described it as delivering a new paper on the same subject once every seven days. Winston Churchill said, “Any man who believes he can hold the attention of the same audience week after week while he speaks to the same subject is a fool!” He was right in one sense, for even the Bible calls it, “the foolishness of preaching” (1 Corinthians 1:21).
Yet the same Bible also says that it is through this foolishness called preaching that God saves believers. There is tension that comes from daily standing at the front of this battle for the souls of our generation. Every herald of Christ knows it and many drop out of the ministry because they can no longer stand the strain. There is tension too, for you, where you serve Christ. You have learned, have you not, that the enemy of the cross on which Christ died never retreats? “Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for” (2 John 1:8). Spiritual diligence demands a heavy psychological price as well as being physically fatiguing.
His spirit was depleted. He was spiritually fractured. “I alone am left, and they are seeking my life” (1 Kings 19:10). He forgot that he was never alone. His Lord says, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Always remember this: When you belong to Jesus you are never the last one. Elijah took his eyes of God and paid homage to Queen Jezebel and all her wicked ways. Courage was rep-laced with cowardice. Faith was superseded by fear. Do you feel disconnected from God? Do you sense that somehow you are out of touch with heaven? Is it not because you have looked away from Jesus?
Depression often sets in when we allow ourselves to be physically fatigued, mentally frazzled and spiritually fractured. We need to remember this:
III. There’s a second touch for the out of touch
God’s gentle whisper came to Elijah’s troubled soul. The text describes it as, “A sound of sheer silence” (1 Kings 19:12). Elijah was learning that this God, who once spoke by fire that consumed a soaked altar sacrifice, does not always reveal Himself in powerful, miraculous visionary ways. Some people think that the only place to find God is in something big. They hunt out the biggest churches, follow the crowd to the largest conferences and consult the most highly visible Christian leaders. Certainly God is found in those places too. Yet, I submit to you, that God is more often found gently whispering in the quietness of a trusting heart. Are you listening for God’s voice? Come away to a quiet place where he can speak to you alone in his special kind of silence.
He speaks, and the sound of his voice
Is so hushed the birds cease their singing,
And the melody that he gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
And he walks with me,
And he talks with me,
And he tells me I am his own,
And the joy we share we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.1
This God who came for Elijah in a new way is here today looking for you. Just as he brought Elijah a new touch and a new lease on life, so for you he brings the same.
Elijah, once physically fatigued, found food and rest for his weary body. “He lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God” (1 Kings 19:5-8).
Elijah, once mentally frazzled, found renewal for his mind. Two times God asked him a question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9-13). God’s repeated question calls Elijah to face his life’s most basic value. “What are you about?” What is your life’s mission? Is it to accumulate wealth, power, prestige, fame? Is that all there is to you? No! Surely not! You were born to enjoy fellowship with God and serve him with your life. Come back to the basics. What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Bring your thinking back to God.
Elijah, once spiritually fractured, detached from God, found reunion. God came looking. “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by” (1 Kings 19:11). Listen for the sound of the silence, the voice that speaks to a quieted heart and reminds you that God’s love for you has never failed. Don’t give up when depression comes. Don’t be a spiritual has been. “The Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way'” (1 Kings 19:15). It’s another way of saying to Elijah and to you and me, “God back the way you came.” And the way we came was through Jesus, God’s one and only begotten Son, who says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
There is a second touch for the out of touch, and a third, and a fourth … There’s a second touch for you.
1. C. Austin Miles, I Come to the Garden Alone, (New York: The Rodehaver Company, 1940)