Summary: Discouragement and sometimes depression are a normal part of life for many of us. This sermon looks at what can stimulate our discouragement and how God deals with his discouraged child.
Dealing with Discouragement, 1 Kings 19:1-18
One pastor talks about the time when he offered prayers for healing, especially for those who were emotionally hurting. He gave an invitation to come forward for prayer. One by one, then a few more, and before long two thirds of the congregation was stood at the front of the church*.
Discouragement and sometimes depression are a normal part of life for many of us. And even God’s most anointed servants get discouraged or depressed sometimes!
What’s the difference between Discouragement and Depression? Discouragement is usually a milder, more temporary mood swing than its more aggressive cousin depression. Christian psychologist Dr Gary Collins writes that depression may be as mild as a “passing period of sadness that follows a personal disappointment" and in its severer forms can be overwhelming “feelings of despair, fear, exhaustion, immobilizing apathy, hopelessness, and inner desperation”. (Gary R. Collins, PHD, ‘Christian Counselling’, p105)
“An overwhelming sense of despair, fear, exhaustion, immobilizing apathy and hopelessness” is a good description of Elijah. Today Elijah was down. Hours before he had literally had a mountaintop experience.
As we look at what happened, let’s see what we can learn about dealing with discouragement...
1. The Messenger of Discouragement
In verses 1-2 we can imagine the bedraggled King Ahab going back to his witchy old wife Jezebel with his tale between his legs. You should have seen it... The Baal prophets built an altar. Elijah built an altar. The 450 Baal prophets called on Baal to light the fire on the altar. Then Elijah called on Yahweh to light the fire on his altar. The fire fell on Elijah’s altar! Then all those watching said Yahweh is God, and they gave their hearts to him! And Elijah had the Baal prophets taken off and had them executed!
What?! Says Jezebel, may the gods deal with me if I don’t deal with that Elijah! And she sends a death threat to Elijah.
Well Elijah had been having a great time. God had answered his prayers. God had used him. God had shown his power. What a day it had been! But then the messenger arrives with Jezebel’s death threat. And it stops Elijah in his tracks. It brings him tumbling down the mountain and back to a harsh reality.
Now this was a crunch moment for the prophet. What was he going to do with this unwelcome news, this death threat?
This is the crucial moment. What do you do when that messenger of discouragement arrives? When discouragement in whatever shape or form it may take, shows it face... What do you do with it?
2. The Reaction to Discouragement
Well, verses 3-5 tell us what Elijah did with the news. We read Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. This is in a way perhaps a normal reaction to a death threat. But the Bible wants us to notice something here that is conspicuous by its absence. So far, Elijah has only gone anywhere in response to a Word from God. Chapter 17:2, chapter 18:1... The Word of the Lord comes, and Elijah goes. But here, the word of Jezebel comes, and Elijah goes! Who is Elijah listening to here? Is he listening to God? Does he stop to say Lord did you hear what Jezebel has just said? Lord, what should I do? No! He reacts according to the flesh rather than according to the Spirit. A problem hits Elijah between the eyes and he was not hanging around to see what God said about it. He just runs.
When the cause of discouragement comes, what are we going to do with it? For most of us it’s a heart rather than a head response. What I mean is that when that discouraging blow comes, we react instinctively with our feelings. And we usually react by sinking into discouragement or depression. And the feelings take over.
What Elijah could have done at this crucial point was said: Lord, Jezebel is threatening me. What should I do? From personal experience, this is a hard lesson to learn! But God has been trying to teach me this for years!
At the moment of the discouraging blow, we don’t go to ground, we go to God. And until that blow comes we soak and immerse and bathe ourselves in God’s Word. The more we’re in God’s word, the more we’ll have God’s perspective; the more hope we will have that God is good and is in control.
But Elijah has fixed his eyes on the problem instead of God. He has listened to the word of discouragement instead of the word of the Lord. And he heads south. He leaves the northern town of Jezreel and goes as far south as he can, to Beersheba. If we are not careful, discouragement will take us to the wrong places. And Elijah begins to remind us of Jonah.