Summary: Even godly people struggle with bouts of despair and depression. Take a look at Elijah's life and find biblical ways to deal with these issues.
What a strange turn of events in the life of our hero we read in 1 Kings 19. Why would this man of God be so despondent that he hoped to die? Let’s recount the circumstances that brought Elijah to this point as we explore a chronicle of despair. First, Elijah had stood boldly before King Ahab and proclaimed that God would judge the nation of Israel by withholding rain for an extended period of time. When the drought came, Elijah had to flee for his life, but while he was hiding God miraculously sustained him with water and food every day. Second, he had worked some awesome miracles while a foreigner in a pagan land. He lived with a widow in that strange land, and made a smidgen of flour and a little bit of oil last forever, and when the widow’s son took sick and died, Elijah raised him from the dead. Finally, Elijah confronted 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, prayed fire down from the sky and proved that Yahweh was God, literally in front of God and everybody. It was an incredible spiritual victory for Elijah. It was, literally, a mountaintop moment for Elijah. Finally, after three and half years of drought, Elijah stood before King Ahab yet again and pronounced that the rain was returning, and it did!
With so much in Elijah’s favor, why did he exhibit such despair? Well, after it started raining, with King Ahab on his way back to Jezreel (the city where his palace was located), Elijah, under the promptings of the Holy Spirit, tucked his robes in his belt and ran so fast back to Jezreel that he actually arrived ahead of King Ahab. That’s where we picked up the story with the reading of today’s scripture. Ahab tells his queen, Jezebel, all that happened on Mount Carmel. Jezebel was partial to all those prophets of Baal and Asherah that Elijah overcame. She was angry, and made the promise to kill him before the day was done. Verse 3 tells us, “Elijah was afraid and fled for his life.” One day after the most awesome day in his life, this godly, miracle-working energetic prophet is ready to throw in the towel. In verse 4, Elijah, having run out into the wilderness outside Beersheeba, falls down and exclaims, “I’ve had enough, Lord. Take my life Lord, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died!” Elijah had gone from despair to full-blown depression.
What? A person of faith and courage battling depression? It can’t be! That must be a pretty sad testimony to the life of faith. Aren’t we people of faith supposed to be joyful? Doesn’t Jesus promise a life of joy in him? Didn’t Jesus say, “Come to me all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). How can a person of such godliness, faith and courage be depressed?
Depression and anxiety tend to be some of those touchy subjects that are tough to tackle from a Christian perspective. It's not complicated just because the illnesses themselves are so complex, but also because perspectives about mental disorders vary greatly throughout the Church. Yes, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are supposed to be characterized by joy and peace, but it is also true that many Christians do battle with depression on a daily basis. Jesus wants to transform us, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, Jesus can transform us as we look to him for guidance and grace.
Let me offer my disclaimer. I do not possess a Ph.D. in psychology, nor am I a psychiatrist or other health professional trained in mental disorders, but I am a person who has pastored over 25 years, and in those years have shepherded many persons struggling with dejection and depression. A person learns a lot along that journey, and we pastors are not immune from the difficulties of life that sets one on an emotional journey.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines depressed as “1. Low in spirits, dejected. 2. Suffering from psychological depression.” Who among us hasn’t felt the first? It happens most frequently for me when the Saints lose. Others feel it when they take a major test only to discover they didn’t do so well on it. Others may feel it when a relationship goes south. We’ve all been there, done that, and have the t-shirt to prove it. Right? That second definition, though, is a bit different.
Current estimates put the number somewhere between 12 and 17 million people who suffer with psychological depression. It’s been called the “common cold” of psychological disorders. We’re not going to solve that issue here in a 20 minute message either, but Elijah’s experience reflects that even people of great faith can struggle with depression.