Do you get depressed? Are you anxious about things in your daily life?
I know that I have been depressed and anxious many times in my life. Did you know that the beginning of being anxious is the end of faith and the beginning of faith is the end to anxiety? (George Muller – Christian Evangelist).
Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained. (Arthur Somers Roche – Playwright).
The average person’s anxiety is focused upon:40% of the things that will never happen. 30% of things about the past that cannot be changed. 12% of the things we are criticised about from others most of which are untrue. 10% about our health, which we make worse because of the anxiety, which causes stress.
Not long after Elijah’s Mount Carmel victory over 450 of Baal’s prophets, which he had executed at the Brook Kishon, Ahab told Jezebel what Elijah had done. She was furious and sent a messenger with threats to tell him she was going to kill him the next day. For some reason, Elijah became terrified for his life so he ran to hide at Beersheba. From there, he left his servant and went another day’s journey into the wilderness where he sat down under a Juniper tree. Here, in his anxiety and fear he prayed to the Lord:
“It is enough now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am not better than my fathers”. 1 Kings 19:4
In James 5:17 we can read:
“Elijah was a man subject to the same passions as we are”.
He was no different from you or me. His nature was human. Elijah never expected this to happen to him. One minute he was filled with the Holy Spirit, destroying the priests of Baal and a short while afterwards he is running from his life because of the threats of a woman. Doubts and fears crowded his thoughts and the former power he had received was forgotten.
So how should we think and react when depression descends upon us and what does God do when we are depressed?
What we must realise is we have both a spirit and a body. That is, we are both mental and physical in nature. Elijah was exhausted. During his success on Mount Carmel, his spirit was so lifted up that he probably forgot to eat or sleep and this had an effect on his body. When the body is fatigued, the mind may fight to stay alert but it cannot fight against gravity within the human nature. A tired body will drag down the mind with it. When physically tired, the mind begins to experience a loss of control of movement and even of perception. It would seem that Jezebels threat acted as a trigger upon Elijah’s already weak state of mind and body. The last straw that tipped the balance towards irrational fear and he fled for his life.
When someone is depressed, they are no longer perceiving things in a rational accustomed manner. Elijah had already stood fearlessly against more than one woman’s threats. He had been hunted down for many years, yet he stood before them all because he was conscious of standing in the presence of God. We can therefore see how irrational his fear of Jezebels threat was. If God had protected him all these years, why should he suddenly turn and run now? Yet he did run. I’m sure that after he arrive at his destination in the wilderness, when he said down and before he prayed to God, he may have wondered why he had fled and was surprised at himself for doing so. Of course, there would have been some satanic influences at work too. Satan not only attacks God’s people at their weakest point, but he also attacks at our strongest point. He will either wait for us to be over-confident and we drop our Godly protection and boast we did it ourselves or he will wait until we are exhausted – like Elijah and then he will attack our mind. Elijah’s strongest point was his faithfulness to God. He took a stand and now he flees for his life like a scared child.
Elijah ran, even though physically he was exhausted. The fear gave him a boost of energy and even though his thoughts were irrational he had the strength to flee.
What do you think Elijah feeling at this time?
I would imagine that he was disappointed in himself and with others. There were around seven thousand people on Mount Carmel when he said: “The Lord, He is God” v.18,19. Where were they when he was threatened by Jezebel?
Nothing visibly had changed in Israel after the priests of Baal were destroyed. Elijah had survived on his own without people for years. He was treated like an outcast not only by the government but by the synagogue. In v. 10 Elijah says “I, even I only….” He felt he was on his own. It had not mattered much to him at this point in his life but in his weakened condition of mind and body, in exhaustion, it did matter that he had no support. He began to feel his loneliness from everyone therefore: “he rose and ran for his life” v.3, fully disappointed and frustrated.
Difficulty in coping with self
When a person is depressed, he or she finds it difficult to cope with themselves. That is why Elijah left his servant and went further to be by himself (v.3,4). He was finding it hard to cope with himself and the servant, who would have served him but even a servant has to be supervised, therefore he could not, at this time cope with any responsibility. For a depressed person to go it alone is the worst thing they can do because many cannot see a way out of the blackness, and end up harming themselves. To overcome anxiety and depression a person is in need of support - physical, mental and spiritual. Encouragement clears the clouds of blackness and empathy, by weeping with someone, gives them strength to overcome their depression. Elijah failed to experiences this in his time. Doubtless, there are people in our age who are isolated in their service of God and feel the same. It is often the strongest people who go into depression, not the weakest. The strong person tells himself that he has gone through it before and he can go through the pain barrier, or whatever problems he or she has, again. It’s a bit like driving a car and a Red light starts flashing on the dashboard. If you stop immediately you will have a minor repairs, but if you continue driving when the red light is on you may end up with a costly major engine problem.
Little do strong willed people know that when they fight the anxiety and depression, thinking they have the strength to ‘go it alone’ they do not know that they are digging a hole and making it deeper by not getting the help they need from others.
Elijah was strong but he had the Lord as his strength:
“As the Lord of host lives, before whom I stand…” he said. v15,18.
Therefore, when he left trusting in the Lord for strength and went alone in his strength, he fell. There is another example of this when Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, showed off his wealth to the Babylonian ambassadors and was rebuked for his pride by Isaiah and became seriously ill. You can read this story in 2 Kings 20.
Just as Elijah’s strength came from God, we, as Christian’s are to understand that without God, we can do nothing. If we are going to get through the wilderness of life, we have to lean on our beloved saviour every second of every day. For sinners, this can be a difficult thing to do. We try to do everything without asking God. We run before Jesus instead of behind him. We say to ourselves:
“It’s only a small thing, I don’t need to ask God if it’s okay?” I can manage by myself.
This is the beginning of our rebellion. Jesus said in John 15:5:
“Without me you can do nothing”.
He meant every word of it. One might say that God is glorified by man’s dependence.
So, we have Elijah’s actions, his feelings and his thoughts. He wanted to die. He said: “It is enough”, in other words he felt he could do no more, that his situation was hopeless.
A depressed person is filled with negative, black thoughts and you can usually tell by their expression of hopelessness when they keep referring to themselves; “I”, “I”. Looking at self always draws us inwards and takes away our confidence and trust.
There is a real connection in the Christian life between hope and devotion to God. His strength = Our hope. He gives us the motivation to move forward. Where there is a lack of hope, there is a lack of spiritual motivation. You can read about this in the book of Jeremiah, who was exhorting his people to follow, to obey and to trust in God. The reply to Jeremiah was:
“There is no hope”. Jeremiah 2:25
And so, they had none. This sense of hopelessness leads a person not to trust and depend or be motivated to do God’s will or try anything in God’s name. Elijah said:
“It is enough”.
He felt there was nothing more he could do. He was probably afraid to do anything because what he had done had ended in failure. He looked at himself and said:
“I am not better than my fathers”.
He saw himself as a failure and this disturbed and disappointed him.
The Psalmist says:
“Why are you cast down, O my soul”. Psalm 42:5
If we are looking at ourselves and not trusting in God, then we too will be cast down. It isn’t a case of saying to ourselves: “snap out of it”. It is not even a case of saying we will pray ourselves out of it, or pick ourselves up. These are the very things we cannot do. If we could do it, then we would. Elijah, beaten and without hope calls upon the Lord in his anguish: “take away my life”. When someone reaches despair with the absence of hope, they end there life but Elijah had not reached absolute despair but had come very close to the edge. The desires of someone in despair are irrational. They want the very thing they fear most – death.
Here is Elijah on the edge of despair, calling out to the Lord to take his life not knowing that he would later be transported to heaven without seeing mortal death. His mind was clouded because of his depression and like others who are depressed, they find it impossible to look beyond their present circumstances.
How does the Lord treat those of his children who are in a depressed state of mind?
First the Lord cares for the body. We are both spirit and body. That is, we have a spiritual nature as well as a physical nature. (It should be noted that our spirit cannot live without the body), but that is for another sermon.
God cares for our body as well as our spirit, therefore we should care for both body and spirit. There is a kind of pseudo-spirituality which says we do not need to care for our body, but this is unbiblical. When Paul said:
"I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection" (1 Corinthians 9:27).
He was talking about temptation not nourishment. Not only are we psychosomatic creatures - in other words our mind affects our bodily condition - but we are also, soma psychic, that is our body affects our mental state. Whether it be bodily vitamins, glands or hormones - it does have an effect on our mental state. The Lord's care, you notice, is always in his wisdom, according to our needs. The primary need that the Lord saw in Elijah was the need for his body to recover strength; to sleep, to eat, to drink.
When someone isn't sleeping - sleep deprivation - their mind is certainly affected; we need sleep:
"God gives his beloved sleep". Psalm 127: 2.
How many people actually pray that God would give them a good nights leep? It says he gives his beloved sleep but we should also be aware that the communion, which our body and mind enjoys with God, is not suspended during sleep. It may be subconscious, but the spirit doesn't sleep; we are still joined to the Lord. Sometimes we wake up in the morning with thoughts or words or verses of scripture. In many cases we believe it is right to trace that to the Spirit's activity within us. God cares for the body and so should we. Sleep deprivation will affect our mind for the worse. We need to sleep, eat and drink (but not excessively for that can harm us too).
After, the bodily strength was restored - which had affected Elijah's thinking - he now had the capacity, the strength, to hear what God was going to say.
If you talk to a depressed person and they are still in weakness and exhaustion, they will not take in what you say. You are speaking to a person who does not yet have the capacity to act rationally and to respond acceptably to what you say. Indeed, they will not accept what you say because they are so convinced that their perception of things is right, but when they are restored to physical strength, then they hear. Sometimes we speak of therapy as a talking cure. The word therapy' simply means care or treatment. So, the word helps to cure.
We can read this in Psalm 107:20:
"He sent his word, and healed them".
Now that Elijah was on his feet physically, God was going to speak to him; and this would put Elijah on his feet spiritually. God attended to Elijah's physical needs first and then to the spiritual.
Elijah spent the night getting a good night's rest in the cave and it was there that God spoke to him. Notice in Chapter 19: 9 that God did not rebuke him. He asked him a question then he did something that we would be wise to follow - he listened. He let Elijah talk about his feelings, thoughts and disappointments. Then he asked him another question and listened again. There is some difference of opinion regarding the fire, the earthquake and the rushing mighty wind. It can be taken that this is God's way of working. In Acts 2: 2 there was a "rushing mighty wind". In Acts 16: 26 there was an earthquake; a fire - in the burning bush, Exodus 3: 2. It may also be taken, and some do take it, as a reflection of Elijah's internal state; that this had been Elijah's way of working, and that he was disappointed because it had not been successful. Now God works through a gentle voice (v.12). He does not rebuke Elijah. How can he rebuke a person who is depressed? He did not go into that condition by choice. There is a need for understanding. God listened and questioned but he did not rebuke. There was a gently voice and Elijah experienced sympathy. We too can feel the sympathy of Christ, who touches us through our feelings and infirmities. We know that God the father is full of pity for the children he created because he knows us inside out and knows that our frame is just the dust he formed us from. Psalm 103:14.
Furthermore, I believe the lord himself experienced some degree of depression in Gethsemane and as God knows the future and human nature under sin, he understands human depression.
Elijah was experiencing sympathy from someone who knew, his frame, and there was communication, the very thing which he had lacked for many years. There was support spiritually, socially, physically. God put him back on his feet and spoke to him, and he gave him something to do. Elijah had in a sense lost the meaning and purpose of his life. He felt it was enough and it was his time to die. God gave him something to do to assure him that he was not useless, he was not a failure; there was still work for him to do. On coming out of the cave after the wind, earthquake and fire which God was not in, he heard a still small voice say:
"Go, return to the wilderness of Damascus and anoint Hazael as King over Syria and Jehu, the son of Nimshi King over Israel and Eisha as prophet to take your place”. 1 Kings 19:15&16
It is very comforting to know the Lord does not cast us off for our failures. There was a similar occasion in the life of Mark. He had accompanied Paul and Barnabas into Asia minor and then he turned back and deserted them. He went back to Jerusalem, and there he no doubt felt he had failed. Paul also felt that Mark had failed. Later, after his repentance, God received him back and Barnabas was quick to forgive, but Paul, at first was not inclined to forgive him. However, at the end of Paul's life, he was convinced that Mark had changed when he wrote:
"Take Mark, and bring him with you: for he is profitable to me for the ministry" 2 Timothy 4, 11.
The lord brought back Elijah because he was useful for the ministry. He gave him motivation with more work to do, He was also given company. He was to take Elisha – a like-minded friend (v.16). Elijah’s last days seemed to be happier even though he was still serving the same master.
We too, can go through periods of isolation and despondency but God can change things.
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning" Psalm 30: 5.
Though when in the darkness you don’t expect it, or even hope for it, God can change things and work exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. Ephesians 3:20.
He gives us meaning, purpose and something to do with our lives.
It is very hard but we must try to attain this by prayer:
"Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching for those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus". Philippians 3:13-14.
Why is it difficult for us to do?
When we sin, it is very difficult to forget it. We say forgive and forget but it is very difficult - especially our own sin, but, we should remember that God does it. When God forgives and forgets:
"I will forgive their iniquity, and will remember their sin no more" Jeremiah 32: 34.
We are encouraged to do likewise - to forget the things that are behind and to stretch forward to the prize.
God restores our spirit. It is not work we can do, or even believe we can do, but he can do it. God enabled Elijah and he enables us to endure to the end - to persevere. It means that we might have to continue with a great burden for a while, but we must carry on.
Statistics tell us that one out of two people who are depressed will have a relapse at some time, and when it does, they will be cast down again.
There is perhaps more comfort the second or the third time because God brought them through it the first time; so they have experienced his faithfulness. They will also have learned that they need patience because when they come into this condition there is not a quick cure – only patience.
It can take months or even years before someone begins to come back up out of the trough. God enables them through his still small, gentle, voice, which can accomplish great things. There is great power in a word from the Lord to our hearts:
"comfort yes, comfort my people, says your God" (Isaiah 40: 1) - literally, speak to the hearts of Jerusalem.
So, if it is so difficult for a Christian to endure depression, what must it be like for those who are without God - for those:
"having no hope, and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2: 12).
"If the righteous scarcely are saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (1 Peter 4, 18).
For those who are suffering, not only physically but mentally and spiritually, God says:
“Therefore, let those who suffer according to the will of God, commit their souls in doing good as to a faithful creator. 1 Peter 4:19
“He sent his word and healed them”. Psalm 107:20
May the Lord send his word to anyone who is feeling depressed and anxious today:
“I will yet praise him”. Psalm 42:5.