Elijah just experienced a great spiritual victory. He challenged 450 prophets of the Canaanite storm god Baal and 400 prophets of Baal’s consort, Asherah to a contest to determine which god is the real God – Baal/Asherah, or YHWH, the God of the Hebrew people. Baal and Asherah just happened to be the preferred gods of the evil King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Elijah made the contest simple:
“Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” (1 Kings 18:23-24 ESV)
Elijah let the pagan prophets go first, and even though they spent half the day cutting their bodies and crying out to their gods of sticks and stones, the sticks and stones didn’t answer. Then it was Elijah’s turn. He made it even more difficult by dowsing the burnt offering and wood three times with water, until the trench surrounding the altar became a moat. Elijah didn’t cut himself nor pray half the day, but simply uttered these words of faith:
“O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” (1 Kings 18:36-37 ESV)
You probably know the result:
Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.” And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there. (1 Kings 18:38-40 ESV)
What a showdown! What a victory! After this, Elijah must have been flying high and emboldened to take on all comers wanting to steal God’s glory! But, no. The next chapter finds Elijah cowering in fear because Queen Jezebel threatened his life. Afraid, he runs away and exhausted, sits under a broom tree and asks God if he might die. “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:4 ESV)
How can this be? The mighty prophet is not suicidal. He knows that only God has the right to end human lives. Yet, he wants to die. He feels that in spite of his great ministry success, he is no better than his relatives already in the grave. He is obviously clinically depressed, which commonly happens after a great emotional victory.
God answers the prayer, just in a different way than Elijah expects. The first thing that God gives Elijah is the gift of rest. “And he lay down and slept under a broom tree.” (1 Kings 19:5 ESV)
God gives His prophet another gift. He sends an angel to minister to Elijah’s physical needs. The angel awakens Elijah and offers him food and water. Elijah, still being exhausted, then takes another nap before being sent across country to his next ministry assignment. That angelic lunch empowered him for the next forty days! Heavenly food is better than a Red Bull and Power Bar.
Notice that at no point does the angel bring a message from God for Elijah to repent of his lack of faith. He doesn’t scold Elijah and tell him to “buck up.” He simply lets Elijah get some needed rest and provides some incredible food. Are you suffering from discouragement and depression? I have been lately, and there is nothing more exhausting.
If you have ever been depressed, you realize that perhaps the worst part about it is that your friends and loved ones just don’t know how to handle it. Some, if they are religious, tell you to confess your sins, claim the promises, rebuke the devil and be thankful for your blessings and it will all go away. To them, depression is just a spiritual problem. Other friends encourage you to see a psychiatrist and get some medication. To them, it is just a biochemical, physical problem. To others, depression comes from emotional and relational wounds, so some sort of therapy is encouraged. Each of these elements are true. Depression (and other mental health issues) are caused by each of these things, most often in combination. Confession, claiming, rebuking, being thankful, meeting physical needs, and talking to a trusted friend or counselor can all help. But, mental health needs are rarely caused by just one of these things. We, humans created in the image of God, are a unique blend of the spiritual, emotional and physical. We cannot separate one from the other, and what impacts our bodies, will impact our souls, which will also impact our spirits (and vice versa). We cannot compartmentalize these things and truly deal with the problem. We must deal with such things holistically to see true results. And this is the value of true Christianity. Jesus Christ, and what He accomplished on the cross for us to bring us true shalom (wholeness), is the remedy for all we face – spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Christians have the true answer for all the things we face, because we know that answer is Jesus. So, if you are struggling, deal with the spiritual, emotional and physical issues you face. Come to Jesus for them all! And sometimes you need to start by taking a nap and having a good meal.