Contrary to popular belief, Christians are not immune to depression. Many believers feel ashamed to talk about it because they think spiritual people should “have faith” and never feel depressed. The truth is, depression is a recurring theme throughout Scripture, and we can learn much if we are willing to take a closer look. One example is the prophet Elijah, who, despite his great faith, went from a mountain top spiritual high into a deep valley of depression.
The Mountain Top
Elijah had experienced one miracle after another. God had sent ravens to feed him. A widow and her son provided food during a drought and famine; he even raised the widow’s son from the dead! Elijah had won a great victory on Mount Carmel when he called down fire from heaven while confronting four hundred prophets of Baal.
The last thing we would expect is for a biblical character like Elijah to fall into a valley of depression, but he did. He spiraled quickly into suicidal thoughts: “he prayed that he might die” (1 Kings 19:4b NKJV). A look at Elijah’s situation shows what might have brought him so low:
- Elijah wrongly predicted the outcome. Things just didn’t turn out the way he planned. After all the miracles, he expected the people to repent, but they did not.
- Elijah focused on his problems. In the wilderness, at the widow’s house, and on Mount Carmel, Elijah focused on the power and greatness of his Lord; however, when Jezebel threatened his life, he changed his focus from faith to fear and “ran for his life.”
- Elijah was physically exhausted. Long before Elijah got to Horeb he was already weak from all he had faced. He was physically and emotionally depleted and lacked strength to continue his journey.
Scripture offers several key insights for those of us who find ourselves falling into depression like Elijah did:
- Have the right expectation. Once God had Elijah’s attention, He told Elijah to go outside. “A great and strong wind tore into the mountains…, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-12 NKJV). God wasn’t in the wind or the earthquake. Instead, the Lord adjusted Elijah’s expectations and came to him as “a still small voice.”
- Get a new focus. Elijah believed he was the only one in Israel who was faithful and spiritual. Elijah was in touch with his feelings, but he wasn’t in touch with reality. God let him know there were 7.000 besides himself who were still faithful. (1Kings 19:14-18 NKJV)
- Get some rest. “Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’ … So he ate and drank, and lay down again” (1 Kings 19:5-6 NKJV). God’s plan was simple: rest and refreshment would strengthen Elijah for the journey ahead.
When I’m depressed, I feel hopeless and alone. Occasionally, I blame myself for my situation, and a long time ago, I even had thoughts of self-harm. But I acknowledged I needed help and found help from a supportive wife, family, and Christian friends. I continue to find help from an outstanding psychiatrist and medication. I’m inspired by stories like Elijah’s because they remind me that depression doesn’t mean I lack faith; it means I rely on God’s power and presence to restore me.
My dear sister, my dear brother, if you are living in despair, reach out to a trusted friend, counselor or physician. You can overcome depression and live a productive life. I know, because by God’s grace, I have.
Gary Higgs – Deacon