There are some relevant points to be applied in this passage which I hope will be a benefit to some as they were to me. There are lessons about ourselves and lessons about God which were a tremendous encouragement to me. This post is not an answer or solution to depression or anxiety, but rather intended as a help and encouragement to believers who might be struggling.
Let us first consider the man Elijah... Elijah we are told in James 5 was a man subject to like passions as we are, so hopefully we can all identify with Elijah in some way. Elijah wore his heart on his sleeve and experienced tremendous highs (take a look at the previous chapter on Mt Carmel) and he was used mightily for God, but he also had moments of weakness and vulnerability as well. In fact when we find Elijah in 1 Kings 19 he is despondent and is clearly at his lowest point. he even ponders death being preferable to life and I don't think hyperbole is being used here, as Jezebel certainly had a very real track record in murdering and persecuting the prophets so his anxiety was certainly understandable! In any case his feelings are recorded for us in scripture and they are for our learning I would judge. "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope."
In this passage we see 3 symptoms present with Elijah that are still found today amongst believers struggling with coping in a time of crisis.
ANXIETY - There can be no doubt that Elijah was crippled with fear, anxiety and worry at this moment. The threats of Jezebel had cut deep and coupled with a sense of isolation and lack of support or encouragement, Elijah flees and begins an emotional downward spiral. FEAR or ANXIETY as we can see, alters our perspective and changes the way we view the world and even our FAITH. It will often lead to further negative symptoms as we will go on to discuss. I heard someone say recently that "worry is a prayer to the wrong God" and I certainly take the point! When we worry we beset ourselves with the problem instead of bringing it to God. Let us couple this point with the New Testament encouragement: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
INACTIVITY - Fear and anxiety can almost always lead to a total lack of motivation and 'get up and go' as some people describe it. We become paralysed, and uncertain what to do first or what to do next as we slip further into the malaise. Here in our passage we see Elijah sitting down, then lying down and then falling asleep, in fact twice the angel tells him to "arise". I'm not saying we shouldn't lie down and have a rest but as often found in scripture I believe that in this instance they are symptomatic of a broader problem and we can make application to ourselves. Elijah was usually a busy active man and so this is atypical behaviour. Physical symptoms like this manifest themselves when we are struggling with low mood and motivation, often brought on by stress and anxiety. "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
DESPAIR - Hear we see in Elijah's prayer what he is thinking and we can see that he has lost hope, and is deep in despair. The fear mentioned previously has changed his perspective and his mind is now filtering everything so that he now only sees the negative in the situation. In addition he has slipped into a 'victim mentality' whereby he has filtered out his tremendous experiences with God and is now left with the anxiety that he is now consumed by. He has isolated himself both physically and mentally ("I alone am left!") and this is not healthy, spiritually or mentally! "...be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you."
Let's now look at how God responds to the plight of his servant.
GOD NOTICES - Elijah's situation had not gone unnoticed. God had seen, noticed and now calls out to his servant "what are you doing here Elijah?" I don't think this question was a judgement from God but rather a prompt for Elijah to unburden himself to God. If we are struggling, let's unburden ourselves to God!
GOD LISTENS - I love how God listens to Elijah. Twice God listens carefully to Elijah as he pours out his worry without interruption or judgement! God had sent fire from heaven for Elijah, but here he listens lovingly as his servant cries out to him in despair. Perhaps there is a lesson here in listening to each other and sharing our problems, first with God and then with others who might be able to help or encourage us.
GOD SPEAKS - Not only does God listen but he speaks! Our relationship with him is a two way thing, praise God! We speak to him in prayer and he speaks to us through his Word. Sometimes our Bible reading and meditations can slip when we feel burdened by problems, and this often contributes to a downward spiral. I certainly speak from experience here, but reading his Word has often brought me fresh perspective and encouragement.
GOD MOVES - Not only does God speak to us but I believe God can move in our lives as well. God responds to Elijah and passes by the mountain on which he stood. First there is a mighty wind, then an earthquake, then a fire, all spectacular and destructive forces. But God wasn't in any of them! Rather God chose to visit him in a "still small voice". What a contrast! It was not in the spectacular or mighty but in the ordinary and everyday that God was seen and found. I take tremendous encouragement from this! Too often I look for God to do the spectacular or to change my life in a mighty way in order to deal with a particular problem or low period in my life. But this passage teaches us that God can be seen and felt in the small everyday things of life, perhaps even things that can be so easily overlooked. God can often bring us out of our despair by showing us little things, so let us look out for and notice the 'still small voices' in our life!
GOD HELPS - God also provides real solutions and helps for Elijah.
- He gives FOOD - For those who cry out to him in distress He makes sure we have what we need spiritually when "the journey is too great for thee"... We should return to his Word for sustenance when we are low and weakened!
- He FORTIFIES - God encourages us through his Word. Very often he can point us to a verse or a thought that can lift us and remind us of His goodness and then we regain perspective, and realise that things are not as bad as they might seem. This was certainly Elijah's experience and I can identify with this personally as well. God gives Elijah fresh perspective and HOPE by pointing out that there were 7000 that had not bowed the knee in Israel, and Elijah was needed now more than ever!
- He gives FOCUS & FUNCTION - God gives Elijah several important tasks to do and it would seem that this is the best thing for us when we slip into a negative spiral and feel unmotivated - to look for something positive to do for God, to meet a need and help his people! This would take the focus away from the problems and worry and help deal with things positively. We see Elisha introduced at this point, and this would give Elijah a project to put more positive energies into, and a legacy to pass on. It is always a positive thing to help encourage and help the next generation and have something positive to regain our spiritual FOCUS and FUNCTION.
- He provides FELLOWSHIP - Not only does Elijah have fellowship with God at this time but he now has Elisha as a welcome source of fellowship. If Elijah felt isolated and alone before, having the presence and help of Elisha would be a great blessing to him. How good it is to have fellowship with the Lord's people and to surround ourselves with people who will help and encourage us! "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching."
I hope these simple thoughts are of some help and encouragement to a believer in need at this time.
Yours in Christ,