Overcoming Depression: A Lesson From The Life Of Elijah

One of my favorite Old Testament stories is about Elijah. The story starts in 1 Kings 18 where we read about Elijah challenging the Israelites to decide whether they would serve God or Baal. To help them make their decision, he challenged the 450 prophets of Baal to a little contest. They were both going to prepare a sacrifice, and whichever god answered by fire, that god would really be God.

The prophets of Baal tried all day, and nothing happened. But when Elijah prayed, God caused His fire to come down and burn up the sacrifice, the wood, the water that Elijah had poured on the sacrifice, the stones, and the dirt around the altar.

When the people saw what God did, they fell down and worshipped Him. It was a powerful sign, and a great victory for God and Elijah, who then ordered the people to kill all the prophets of Baal.

And if that wasn’t a great enough victory, the story goes on to tell us that Elijah prayed that rain would come to end a three-and-a-half year drought, and God answered his prayer with a deluge.

You might think that after experiencing such a great victory, and seeing God answer his prayer, that Elijah would be feeling pretty good. And he probably was, until he got some bad news.

When Jezebel, the queen, heard about Elijah killing all the prophets of Baal, she sent a message to him that said, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” And when Elijah got her message, being the mighty man of God that he was, he got scared and ran away.

I can’t really blame him. There have been times in my life when I’ve gotten news that wasn’t half as bad as “I’m going to kill you,” and I’ve gotten scared and run away. The Bible says that, as he was running, he left his servant behind, went out into the desert, sat down under a tree, and prayed that God would kill him.

Have you ever had bad days like that? Days when nothing seems to be going right and you just want to curl up in some quiet corner and die? I know that I have had times like that, and the bad news that I got wasn’t a death threat. There have been times in my life when I’ve wanted to die and the only problem I was facing was a little discouragement.

In 1 Kings 19 we read that Elijah ends up going to the mountain of God and spends a night in a cave. In the morning the word of the Lord came to him, and God said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9)

Elijah answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19:10)

We read that God called Elijah out of the cave and that He brought a wind, an earthquake, and a fire to test Elijah.

When I see Elijah standing on the mountain, with a powerful wind howling around him, rocks falling and breaking into pieces near him, the dust from the rocks being blown into his face and eyes, I imagine that he must have been thinking that God was going to destroy him.

I’m sure that Elijah breathed a sigh of relief when the wind stopped, but then the earthquake came and he feared that God was going to open the ground, drag him down into the darkness of the earth, and crush him. And after barely surviving the earthquake, the fire came, and I’m sure that he knew this was it, God was going to consume him in a His wrath and his life would be over.

And all during this frightening show of God’s power, God wasn’t speaking to Elijah. Throughout this entire ordeal, after each potentially devastating event, the Bible says that “The Lord was not in” the wind, the earthquake, or the fire.

In times when I’ve felt depressed, and I’ve experienced a lot of times like that, I find that something happens that I can’t explain. I may not be standing precariously on some mountain, but I have felt like my thoughts were destructive winds that tried to sweep me away in a torrent of negative words and feelings. Or my mind has raced on to imagining my life being shaken to the core and everything either falling apart or being completely destroyed, burned up by my own actions or God’s wrath.

As I read this story I realize that most of the times when I have felt that way, God wasn’t the one that was “in” the shaking. It was the anxious thoughts in my own mind that God was revealing to me. His voice was yet to come, and it came to me just like it came to Elijah, as that still, small voice, that asked me a very important question, “What are you doing here?”

When I look at how God dealt with Elijah in his fear and depression, I see that God is telling me something very important. For one, I need to be careful not to get off alone and allow my feelings to overwhelm me. I don’t have to feel like I want to die just because something didn’t work out the way that I had wanted.

The next thing that is important for me to do when I’m feeling like I’m stuck in a dark cave, is to put my focus on God. There are things that He wants to say to me, and most of the time, He will start off by asking me a question that will get me thinking about how I came to feel so depressed.

It was after Elijah had experienced the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, while feeling alone and without God, that he was able to hear God’s voice. And when God spoke, He let Elijah know that he was wrong about many things. He was not the only prophet left and there were thousands of Israelites that still worshipped Him.

God will bring us out of our depression when we are open to hear the truth. The truth will most likely be very different from the thoughts we’ve been having, but it will encourage us and give us hope. And then God will give us our marching orders, just like he did for Elijah.

The way that God deals with depression in our lives may seem hard to understand, but what He is trying to do is to get us to hear Him more clearly than ever. What we have to do is to not allow the negative thoughts and emotions to so overwhelm us that we stop listening. And when we hear His voice, He will correct the wrong information that we have, give us hope, and ask us to obey Him and start taking action again.

When we do that, we will rise above depression and find victory in Him.