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Online Text Sermon - Elijah's Depression, 1 Kings ch.19 v.4

PreacherRev. James Clark, Inverness
Sermon TitleElijah's Depression
Text1 Kings ch.19 v.4
Sermon ID1196

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"But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough: now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers" (1 Kings 19, 4).

"It is enough: now, O Lord, take away my life" (text) - we shall consider in particular these words of Elijah in our text as the Lord is pleased to enable us.

This is definitely a case of depression - Elijah's depression. There is a stigma in the world regarding mental illness; that stigma, alas, is also found in the visible church. In James 5, 17 we read that Elijah "was a man subject to like passions as we are". In other words he had a nature like our own - a human nature. Therefore, if it can happen to him it can happen to us because we have the same nature - human nature. It would seem from the context that Elijah and, of course, every other child of God, never expected this to happen to him. He was taken by surprise by his own actions, by his own way of thinking.

So, let us consider first of all from this case-study, depression. How does a believer - and believers are not exempt from depression - how does a believer think in depression? How does he act in depression; how does he feel in depression and what is his language in depression?

Secondly we shall consider God's treatment of his children when they are in depression.


What we must remember at the beginning is that human nature is a unity of soul or spirit, and body. It is clear from the context that Elijah was exhausted - mentally and physically. We don't read that he was eating and we don't read that he was sleeping. Sometimes the believer is so lifted up by the Spirit in spiritual activity that he or she forgets these things - that we have a body. When the body goes down the mind may fight to stay up, but it cannot fight against what we call 'gravity' within the human nature. If the body goes down it will drag down the mind with it. The mind begins to experience a loss. The person is, as they sometimes say, not himself any more. There is an experience of losing control of the situation, of your own mind, of movement and even of perceptions. It would seem that Elijah's disappointment and the threat of Jezebel, acted as a trigger upon his already internal state of exhaustion. It was, so to speak, the last straw which tipped the balance. What did he do when Jezebel threatened him? He fled for his life!

When a person is depressed they are no longer perceiving things in a rational accustomed manner. We read: "when he saw that..." (v.3). When he saw Jezebel's threat to himself "he arose and went for his life" (v.3). This was irrational. He had already stood against greater odds than one woman and many threats. They had tried to hunt him down for many years and he stood before them all because he was conscious of standing in the presence of God. But you see how irrational his perception of this threat was: if God had protected him all these years why should he suddenly turn and run now? But he did. Probably as soon as he did, he wondered what he had done. He surprised even himself, you might say.

There may have been, we can not rule it out, there may have been some satanic activity involved. There is a world of unseen evil spirits as well as good spirits. Satan attacks a Christian not only at his weakest point but he will sometimes attack at his strongest point. He will sometimes wait for over-confidence, or he will sometimes wait until the person reaches a state of exhaustion - like Elijah - and then he will attack at the strongest point. Elijah's strongest point was his faithfulness. He took a stand and now he flees for his life. A great change had occurred in him: he was exhausted and yet look at the activity. A person who is depressed, although they are in a sense exhausted in their body, they are very restless. They look for rest but they can't find it. Sleeping flees away or they may have a little sleep and waken up very early in the morning and be alert when everyone else is sleeping. So you see, although he was exhausted he was restless and he wanted to get away. These are his actions. Fear can produce energy: the urge to get away from a perceived threat. Yet, the threat was perceived irrationally because God had shown him that He would help him against greater numbers than Jezebel and her threats.

These were his actions; what were his feelings? First of all he was disappointed. All these people on Mount Carmel - "The Lord, he is the God" (18, 39) - where were they? They were not supporting him; they were not to be seen. God says they were seven thousand (v.18), but it doesn't say much for them that Elijah didn't know where they were. He was disappointed. No change had occurred visibly in the state of Israel. Despite all the applause on Mount Carmel, nothing had changed. He was disappointed; but he was also disappointed in himself. He had survived for years on his own without people. Isn't it strange that a faithful man of God was treated like an outcast - not only by the state but by the visible church? Strange, but it does happen.

Recently, for example, we could take the case of Arthur Pink - treated as an outcast and yet the man was faithful. See how Elijah says, "I, even I only..." (v.10); he felt he was on his own. It hadn't mattered much to him until this point, but in his weakened condition of mind and body - of exhaustion - it did matter. He began to feel his loneliness. He began to feel the lack of support that he was receiving, not only in the state but even from the visible church, and "he arose, and went for his life" (v.3) - disappointed and frustrated. He was disappointed also in himself. When a person is depressed he or she finds it difficult to cope with himself. That is why we read that he left his servant there and went on by himself (v.3-4). He was finding it hard to cope with himself never mind a servant. The servant would have to serve him, yes, but he would have to supervise his servant. He couldn't even bear this responsibility. He couldn't cope with his own feelings and he wanted to be alone. Yet, in a sense, it is the worst thing a depressed person can desire - to be on his or her own. Support is something which is good. The world would call it social support; we would also call it spiritual support. Encourage one another daily. We are all in the body. When one weeps, the others are to weep; when one rejoices, the others are to rejoice. Elijah failed to experience this in his time. Doubtless, there are people in our age who are isolated in their service of God. So he left his servant but he continued out into the wilderness. He wanted to be alone.

When a person is depressed their desires and perceptions are not rational; they are not in a state to make decisions which are good for themselves. That is also why it is helpful to have other people's counsel, but he wanted to be alone. He himself - that is what he was coping with. "He himself went a day's journey" (text) - another day! Probably no food and no sleep - another day! It is often the strongest people who come 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, again. It is rather like driving a car. If you are driving a car and a red light starts flashing on the dashboard, if you stop immediately you will have a minor repair; it wont; take long. But, if it is flashing and you keep going on and on, you are not going to have a minor repair but a major one. And it will take a long time before that major repair is completed. That is why we say that it is often the strongest people who end in depression, because they have the strength to fight against it for longer. Little do they realise they are actually going down more and more into a trough from which they will not be able to extract themselves by their own strength. That actually tells us something about Elijah's strength: "As the Lord of hosts liveth, before whom I stand" (18, 15), he said. It is obvious he did not stand in his own strength, because when he was left in his own strength, he fell. There is another example of that in Hezekiah: he was left to himself and he fell.

Elijah's strength came from God. That is a rebuke to any who think they can go through this life without depending upon God minute by minute. If we are going to get through this wilderness we have to lean on our Beloved and leaning means continuous leaning. But, you see, sin or unbelief within us will tempt us to say, "I can manage this without God. It is only a small thing. I can use God for the bigger things in life but this little thing, I can manage by myself." That is the beginning of going astray. When the Lord said, "without me ye can do nothing" (John 15, 5), He meant every word of it. God, as Jonathan Edward's put it, is glorified by man's dependence. That was the title of one of his famous sermons.

So we have his actions, his feelings and his thoughts. He wanted to die. He said, "It is enough" (text). In other words he felt he could do no more, that his situation was hopeless. A depressed person is filled with negative thoughts and you see him in his language expressing his hopelessness - "I", "I". He is looking at himself and he sees nothing in himself to bring him any confidence or hope. There is a real connection in the Christian life between hope and devotion to God - strength, motivation. Where there is a lack of hope there is a lack of spiritual motivation. You can see that in the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was exhorting the people to follow, obey, believe and trust in God. The reply was, "there is no hope" (Jeremiah 2, 25), and so they didn't. This sense of hopelessness leads a person not to trust and depend, and not to try anything in God's Name. Elijah said, "It is enough" (text); 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" (text). He saw in himself failure. It was a surprise; it was totally unexpected. He was a disappointed man, but mostly disappointed in himself: "Why art thou cast down, O my soul" (Psalm 42, 5). If we are not trusting in God, if we are only looking to ourselves, then we will be cast down. However, it is not a case of saying we will 'snap out of it'. It is not a case even of saying you will pray yourself out of it, or pick yourself up. That is the very thing you cannot do. If you could do it, you would do it. You see Elijah's posture here. Formerly it was "before whom I stand" (18, 15); he is not standing now, he is on the ground. He is exhausted. He feels that he is beaten, that he is a failure and that there is nothing he can do about it. But there is one thing in his favour: he calls upon the Lord. There was despair - almost, but he calls upon the Lord's name: "O Lord, take away my life" (text).

A person in despair, absolute despair with an absence of hope, cannot live. He or she will take his or her life. Elijah would not; he had not reached despair. He had, however, probably come as close as any Christian could to the edge of it: "take away my life" (text). He felt he was useless, that he had not only disappointed himself but that he had disappointed God and could no longer be used because he had turned away from the Lord's service: he "sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life" (text). The desires, decisions and even prayers of a person who is depressed are irrational. This was the man who would never die but he could not see that. The depressed person is limited by depression to the here and now and to the past. They find it difficult to look beyond their present circumstances, they find it difficult to hope that God can change things; let me die, he says, it is enough.

That is a brief description of a Christian in depression - their thinking, feelings, actions and language.


Let us come secondly to how the Lord treats his children in a depressed state.

First of all the Lord cared for the body. Some people would find that unexpected. We do not believe this was any created angel; we believe this was an appearance of Christ - the Angel of the Lord. We are soul and body. God cares for the body and we should care for it too. There is a kind of pseudo-spirituality that says you do not care for your body. 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, if I may coin a word, somapsychic: 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 was the need for the body to recover strength: to sleep, to eat, to drink.

When a person isn't sleeping - sleep deprivation - their mind is certainly affected; we need sleep. God "giveth his beloved sleep" (Psalm 127, 2). How many people actually pray that God would give them a good sleep? It says He gives His beloved sleep but it also says He gives to His beloved in this sleep. "I sleep, but my heart waketh" (Song of Solomon 5, 1). When we sleep, the communion which our soul enjoys with God is not suspended, 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. Man is a unity. Sleep deprivation will affect your mind for the worse. We need to sleep, eat and drink.

After, the bodily strength was restored - which would affect the mind - Elijah then 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 strength, then God speaks.

Sometimes we speak of therapy as a talking cure. The word 'therapy' simply means care or treatment. We have spiritually a talking cure in the Bible. We were singing in Psalm 107, 20 - "He sent his word, and healed them". God was going to speak to Elijah, and that was going to put Elijah on his feet spiritually now that he was on his feet physically; but it was the physical first and then the spiritual.

Notice that God did not rebuke him. He asked Elijah 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; fire - 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. Remember that John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah, and there are similarities. But now God works through a gentle voice (v.12). He does not rebuke Elijah. In one sense, how can we rebuke a person who is depressed; they 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 gentle voice; Elijah was now experiencing sympathy. We say sympathy because we believe this was Christ and we believe Christ can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. We believe also that the Father has a pity for His children; He knows our frame, that we are dust (Psalm 103, 14).

Furthermore, we can suggest from a word used in Gethsemane that the Lord Himself experienced some degree of depression. There is a word used to describe His condition in Gethsemane, a word that can denote despondency or literally being absent from home - not feeling at home; it is sometimes translated as depressed or cast down. 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, over, ended, 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. When he heard, the still small voice said, "Go" (v.15).

It is very comforting that the Lord does not cast off His people for their failures. There was a similar occasion in the life of John Mark. Mark had accompanied Paul and Barnabas into Asia Minor and then he turned back - he deserted. He came back to Jerusalem we believe, and there he no doubt felt he had failed. Paul also felt that Mark had failed. Later, after his repentance, God received him back. Barnabas also received Mark back whereas Paul at first was not inclined to do so. However, at the end of Paul's life he was convinced. He wrote - "Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry" (II Timothy 4, 11). The Lord brought back Elijah because he was useful for the ministry: "Go, return on they way" (v.15): motivation, work to do, company as well. Take Elisha - there was going to be company of a like-minded friend (v.16). It does seem that Elijah's last days were happier than his earlier ones although he was still serving the same Master. You can go through periods of isolation and despondency but God can change things. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalm 30, 5), though in the darkness you probably don't expect it, or even hope it. God can change things and "do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3, 20), or even hope for: meaning, purpose, something to do.

It is very hard but we are to try to attain to it by prayer: to forget the things that are behind. "Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto 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). God encourages us to forget the things that are behind. It is difficult for us to do so. For example when we sin, it is very difficult to forget it. They say forgive and forget; it is very difficult - especially your own sin. But, you see, God does it. When God forgives, He forgets: "I will forgive their iniquity, and I 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.

In conclusion, He restores our soul. 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. And it is endure, it is persevere. It means that we continue under something that is a great burden to us.

Statistics tell us that one out of two people who are depressed will have a relapse at sometime and that's endurance: knowing it will come back perhaps, and when it does you will be cast down again. There is perhaps more comfort the second or the third time because God brought you through it the first time; you have experienced His faithfulness. You have also learned that you need patience because when you come into this condition there is not a quick cure - you need patience. It can take months or even years before you begin to come back up out of the trough. God enables us. This still small, gentle, voice can accomplish great things. There is great power in this word from the Lord, this word to our hearts. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God" (Isaiah 40, 1) - literally, speak to the hearts of Jerusalem.

Now then, my friends, 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 be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (I Peter 4, 18). We are scarcely saved; with great difficulty we are saved but we endure to the end according to His promise.

For those who are suffering - not only physically but mentally and spiritually - "Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator" (I Peter 4, 19). "He sent his word, and healed them" (Psalm 107, 20). May the Lord send His Word to any here who is saying to herself or himself - "Why art thou cast down, O my soul"; for the promise is - "I shall yet praise him" (Psalm 42, 5).Amen.

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