Listen to the Full Audio Version Here
The Human Condition was once perfect and free of adversity. But after the fall of man in the Garden of Eden the human condition became characterized by flaws and failures. We became prone to sin. And with the emergence of sin, we also saw the birth of adversity.
Adversity, which is now a part of our human condition, challenges us on mental, physical, and spiritual levels. There are many sources for the adversity that we face in our lives. These adversities could be a result of our actions. It could be an attack from the enemy. But it could also be the call of the Holy Spirit leading us towards a wilderness that draws us nearer to Him.
Our response to adversity is important. Because it's our response to adversity that determines whether or not we draw closer to God and overcome, or drift further away from him and fall to adversity.
The good news is there is an example to follow. Throughout the Bible we see numerous examples of people just like us who have faced adversity. Their struggles with adversity shed light on how we can biblically respond (or not respond) to adversity and overcome the trials and tribulations that mark our human condition.
This is the first week in a series I've entitled "Responding to Adversity" in which we will look at how these Biblical characters responded to adversity, and key takeaways from their struggle with adversity that we can apply to our day-to-day lives. This week's study on responding to adversity will be a deep dive look into Elijah's struggle with depression.
Elijah's Battle with Depression
Elijah (who was a prophet of Israel) wasn't always depressed. In fact, Elijah's depression emerged after an enormous victory.
The Mountain Before the Wilderness
The Word of the Lord came to Elijah during the 3rd year of a drought and told Elijah to present himself to Ahab. After Elijah received this Word, Ahab called his governor Obadiah, who was a man that feared the Lord, and told him to go toward the fountains of water in search of grass for the horses and mules. As Obadiah was on his way, he ran into Elijah. Elijah told Obadiah to go tell Ahab that he ran into him, but Obadiah was afraid that Ahab would kill him.
After reassurance that Elijah would remain, Obadiah went and told Ahab that Elijah was there. Ahab went to meet Elijah, and Elijah told Ahab to bring all the people of Israel to Mount Carmel, along with the prophets of Baal (450 total), and the prophets of the groves, which eat at Jezebel’s table (400 total).
Elijah addressed the people of Israel and told them that if the Lord is God, He should be worshipped, but if Baal is God, then he should be worshipped. He said to prove who is God, let two bullocks be cut up and laid on top of a wooden altar, and let the real God bring forth fire to burn up the offering.
The 450 prophets of Baal accepted Elijah's challenge. They prepared an offering to Baal and began praying. From morning until past noon, they prayed, jumped on top of the altar, and even cut themselves to ignite a response from Baal, but no fire came.
Elijah then repaired the Altar of the Lord, laid 12 stones on the altar, and made a trench around the altar. After laying the wood and bullock on the altar, he called for 4 barrels of water to be poured over the offering 3 times, until the trench around the altar was filled with water. At the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah then called upon the Lord, and God brought fire down from heaven and burnt up the offering.
"And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench." 1 Kings 18:36-38
After seeing this, the people of Israel worshipped the Lord, and they brought the 450 prophets of Baal to the brook of Kishon and killed them.
Then Elijah went to the top of Carmel and bowed himself down with his face to the ground and told his servant to look toward the sea 7 times. And at the 7th time, a cloud appeared that was shaped like a man’s hand. So, Elijah told his servant to tell Ahab to begin riding his chariot to escape the eminent rain. And God’s hand came over Elijah and gave him strength to run in front of Ahab's chariot to the entrance of Jezreel.
The Wilderness of Depression
After Ahab told Jezebel of this, she sent a messenger to Elijah to tell him she would kill him, and Elijah fled in fear for his life. He fled into the wilderness, sat under a juniper tree, and asked God to take his life.
"But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” 1 Kings 19:4
Then the Angel of the Lord touched him and told him to eat food that was divinely prepared for him. After Elijah ate, he felt back asleep, and when he awoke the angel appeared a second time and touched him and told him to eat. The food he ate gave him strength for 40 days and 40 nights until he reached Horeb the Mount of God, where Moses had previously seen the burning bush.
Here, Elijah lodged in a cave, where the Word of the Lord visited him and asked him what he was doing there?
Elijah responded -
“I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” 1 Kings 19:10
Elijah’s response illustrated that he was focused on himself and filled with self-pity. The Lord tried to shake Elijah out of this mindset with wind, earthquake, fire, and a still small voice.
It was the still small voice that prompted a response from Elijah and the Lord once again asked him what he was doing there.
After responding for a second time with the same self-focused response mentioned above, God instructs Elijah to return to the wilderness of Damascus and gave him 3 tasks to carry out – anoint Hazael to be king of Syria, anoint Jehu to be kind of Israel, and anoint Elisha as his replacement.
How We Can Respond to Depression
Here are 3 key takeaways from the story of Elijah and his battle with depression to keep in mind next time you're faced with this adversity -
1. We must guard ourselves against this adversity, and exercise faith daily.
- Even after witnessing God's miraculous power on Mount Carmel, Elijah was still afraid for his life. The faith he had on the day of his victory, was not sufficient for the day to come. Just like his faith needed to be exercised daily, so does ours. Yesterday's victory does not guarantee tomorrows. We guard ourselves against depression by bearing this in mind and making an effort to exercise our faith daily through prayer and obedience to the Word of God.
2. Remember that depression is a liar. It tells us that we're alone and keeps us focused on ourselves.
- Elijah was afraid of a message. He didn't fear the sword or even a prison, but merely the message that was given to him by Jezebel's messenger. This mere message is what drove him into the wilderness of his depression. Just like Elijah's depression was not rooted in evident demise, we too often get tricked into thinking "this is the end".
- Depression tries to keep us isolated and in the wilderness. It tries to trick us into thinking we are alone, despite the fact that we are not. Elijah was not alone, even in the wilderness. God was there and sent an angel to take care of him.
- Depression keeps us focused on ourselves. When we keep our minds focused on ourselves, we limit our strength and perspective to our human condition. But when we keep our minds fixed on Jesus, we gain access to the strength that comes from abiding in Him and His truth.
3. Depression is an attack from the enemy to keep us from fulfilling the Will of God.
- God asked Elijah 2 times what he was doing in the cave of Horeb. This is because Elijah was not there because God told him to be there. Elijah's depression had led him out of the Will of God.
- The enemy uses depression as an attack against our minds to keep us focused on lies like the ones Elijah faced. Lies that tell us we're alone, and that we're not good enough. It's up to us to fight back against these lies by filling our minds with the truth of God's Word, which tells us that we are always loved and never alone!
"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39
"It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8