Why Was Elijah Depressed?

Elijah cave

Elijah has always been one of my favorite Bible characters, and I’m particularly intrigued by the chapter where he fights deep depression (1 Kings 19). The mighty prophet had witnessed amazing answers to prayer, stopping the rain for years before starting it again. He had multiplied a widow’s meager supply of food and raised her son from the dead. And for good measure, he called down fire from heaven and slayed the false prophets of Baal.

Huge victories, to say the least. Impressive demonstrations of faith. Causes for great celebration, we might think.

So how in the world did Elijah become utterly depressed—to the extent that he wanted God to end his life?

Although some people act as if depression has only one cause, in Elijah’s case we see this simply isn’t true. You might come up with a different list than mine, but I’ve found 7 lessons about depression we can learn from Elijah’s story:

  1. Be careful what you listen to. The onset of Elijah’s melancholy can be traced to 1 Kings 19:2: “Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah.”  Every moment of every day, we are bombarded with messengers, aren’t we? God is speaking. The devil is speaking. And we receive countless positive or negative messages through the people around us and diverse forms of media. Beware: The spirit of Jezebel is still speaking, my friend! And if we listen to that diabolical messenger, we’ll inevitably become depressed, just like Elijah.
  2. Avoid the tendency to go it alone. Elijah made two mistakes that contributed to his downward spiral. First, he left his servant behind (v. 3). During the prophet’s dark hours in the cave, no one was with him to cheer him up or offer helpful perspective. But an even worse problem was his disconnect from the God-fearing Israelites who could have been his allies: the “seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal” (v. 16). It’s depressing to feel all alone in a daunting mission—but sometimes we just need to connect with those who would happily be our comrades.
  3. Recognize the physical factors influencing your state of mind. Depression isn’t just a spiritual or psychological condition. Often it’s greatly influenced by factors that are physical or chemical in nature. If you study this chapter in detail, you’ll see that Elijah was extremely fatigued, deprived of adequate sleep for several days. He also was dehydrated and lacking in nutrition until God sent an angel to give him water and food (vs. 5-8). On top of everything else, he had faced a period of great stress, which often results in adrenal exhaustion and other deficits in a person’s body chemistry.
  4. Assess whether you’re in the right place. Twice in this passage, God asks the prophet a fascinating question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (verses 9 & 13). If you’re feeling depressed today, it’s good to ask whether you’re “out of position” in some way. Are you in a job or ministry where you don’t fit? Are you remaining in the wrong city or country, when the Lord has been nudging you to move somewhere else? Are you staying in a toxic relationship, when you know you don’t have God’s peace?
  5. Beware of the egotistical view that everything depends on you. When you try to play God, you will inevitably become both exhausted and depressed. Elijah told the Lord, “I alone am left; and they seek to take my life” (v. 10). He knew there was a lot more work to be done in bringing repentance and national restoration to Israel, and he felt the job depended entirely on him! When we get stuck in that kind of overwhelming mindset, we need to pause and (1) cast our burdens on the Lord, and (2) recognize our need to team up with other people in order to fulfill the remaining mission.
  6. Amid whirling circumstances and activities, make sure you don’t lose touch with God’s gentle whisper and still small voice. While it’s clear Elijah knew a lot about intimacy with God, it seems he slipped away from that intimacy amid the busyness of his life and ministry. Can you relate? In the midst of the busyness of “serving God,” it’s all too easy to neglect spending quality time with Him. In this case, the Lord showed Elijah “a great and strong wind…an earthquake…and a fire” (vs. 11-12), but the divine message came with His gentle whisper instead of any of these dramatic events. Ask yourself: Can you still hear the Lord’s quiet voice when you’re by yourself, or do you only feel His presence when the worship band is blaring?
  7. Find hope in remembering your mission—or in finding a new one, if necessary. Elijah had already accomplished a great deal. It was understandable to wonder if his life’s mission had already been completed. But it’s incredibly depressing when you no longer believe God still has an important purpose for your life. A major breakthrough in shedding his depression came when Elijah was recommissioned by the Lord with a new calling—to anoint some kings and “anoint Elisha as prophet in your place” (v. 15-16). Perhaps this is a message for you as well: It could be time to equip the next generation and train your replacement!

Action Steps

Most of us have faced a bout of serious depression at one time or another. Hey, if it could happen to Elijah, you and I certainly aren’t immune.

However, you don’t need to stay in the “cave” or the valley of despair. Learning the lessons from Elijah’s story, you can believe God’s promises and quit listening to the messengers of condemnation and defeat. You can learn to rely on the Lord and your comrades instead of carrying the entire load on your own shoulders.

It’s also important to regularly monitor the physical factors you’re dealing with. Are you getting enough sleep, exercise, hydration, and nutrition? Do you need to take steps to eliminate some of the stress in your life?

Perhaps it’s time to ask yourself the “placement” question God asked Elijah. Are you in the right place…the right role…with the right people?

If, like Elijah, you’ve lost your sensitivity to the Lord’s gentle whisper amid life’s busyness, I pray you’ll hear it once again. And when you do, don’t be surprised if He reaffirms your calling—or gives you a whole new mission.

I’m praying your best days are still ahead!  

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Job’s Melancholy Birthday

Job's birthday

At my age, birthdays are something I would prefer to forget rather than celebrate. Yet the greetings of “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” continue, and I’m always grateful for the nice sentiments.

This got me thinking of the story of Job. He had a happy life at the beginning and the end, but the middle was pretty rough.

Thankfully, we don’t have to get stuck in the middle of the story.

At one point, Job was not a big fan of his birthday. A season of incredibly severe trials had begun, and he cursed the day he was born:

Obliterate the day I was born.
    Blank out the night I was conceived!
Let it be a black hole in space.
    May God above forget it ever happened.
    Erase it from the books!
May the day of my birth be buried in deep darkness,
    shrouded by the fog,
    swallowed by the night.
And the night of my conception—the devil take it!
    Rip the date off the calendar,
    delete it from the almanac.
Oh, turn that night into pure nothingness—
    no sounds of pleasure from that night, ever!
May those who are good at cursing curse that day
(Job 3:1-10 MSG).

Wow. An extreme reaction, don’t you think? But at that moment Job had forgotten his past blessings and wasn’t anticipating a better life in the days ahead.

I hope you  never have a melancholic birthday like Job was experiencing. But even if you do, his story provides good news—a happy ending!

God blessed Job’s later life even more than his earlier life…Job lived on another 140 years, living to see his children and grandchildren—four generations of them! Then he died—an old man, a full life (Job 42:12-17 MSG).

How cool that 140 years after Job wanted his life to end, everything had changed. He was experiencing a full, blessed life, all the way to the end.

So…I hope all your birthdays are happy ones. But even if they aren’t, you can find hope and comfort in the story of Job. God is a God of turnarounds and new beginnings. Your “later life” can be even more blessed than your earlier life!

Like Job, you may be facing pain in your body or losses of your property and relationships. But we’re told that “God restored his fortune—and then doubled it!” (Job 42:10 MSG). Yes, Job got double for all his trouble.

It may take 42 chapters, as it did for Job, but your story can have a happy ending too. You don’t have to get stuck in a melancholic birthday. The Lord can restore what you’ve lost—and even given you more.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Tips for Avoiding Personal Concussions

I don’t plan to see Will’s Smith’s new movie, “Concussion.” It’s probably a good movie, but I’m afraid it would tarnish my love for the game of football. I would rather hold on to the fantasy that there aren’t any consequences to all those hits to the head.

And I hate to break it to you, but here’s some startling news:

YOU might be at risk for a concussion, even if you never play football!

Here’s what I mean…

A concussion is defined as “an injury to the brain caused by a jarring blow to the head.” The symptoms include such things as headaches, vertigo, and disorientation.

I don’t know about you, but I do my best to avoid any blows to my head. However, if we look at this in the broader sense, we’ve ALL experienced “brain traumas” of one kind or another. Our mind is inevitably affected when we lose a spouse or child…get fired from a job…endure a serious health crisis…or suffer a divorce.

Events like that are jarring, to say the least. And yes, they certainly can cause us headaches, vertigo, and disorientation. It might even be preferable to be hit in the head by a linebacker.

So how can we protect ourselves from concussions of our mind and emotions? For some, the answer is to “play it safe” in life. In order to avoid any traumatic contact, they try to avoid any meaningful contact at all. They instinctively realize that the most painful experience in the world is to lose someone you’ve loved, so they do their best to avoid any deep emotional attachments.

But let’s be honest: Playing it safe is no way to live! Perhaps it’s okay for caterpillars to live in a cocoon, but not for butterflies. God has called us to fly and to be risk-takers. And that means getting out of our self-imposed comfort zones and bomb shelters.

This gets me thinking about football again…

What if we could design the perfect helmet—one that would minimize traumas and eliminate any serious concussions?

Thankfully, the Bible says God offers us something very much like that. But before mentioning protection against head  traumas, it describes special protection for our heart: “the breastplate of faith and love” (1 Thessalonians 5:8). Guarding our heart is a subject for another blog, and it’s a very important matter for all of us (Proverbs 4:23).

But what about protection against traumas to our mind and emotions? God says to put on very special helmet: “the hope of salvation.”

Do you see how profound this truth is? No matter what kind of personal trauma you are going through, the most important factor in getting through it will be HOPE—a confident expectation that things will eventually get better.

If your mind is surrounded by hope, you can endure just about anything. But if you’ve lost hope, even life’s most minor trials will seem overwhelming.

So here’s my prayer for you today: May you put on your HOPE HELMET. Then you’ll be able to boldly face the “linebackers” standing in the way of the awesome touchdowns God has planned for you.

 

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Regaining Your Lost Song

When our family moved from Florida to North Carolina, we realized after a few days that our blue Parakeet was being awfully quiet. Tweety, as we called him, had always been a joyful chirper while we lived in Florida—but now it seemed he had lost his song. For a whole month, Tweety’s silence continued, to the point that we wondered if he would ever be the same again.

I missed the cheery atmosphere that Tweety had previously provided, something I had taken for granted and not appreciated like I should have. It appeared that the trauma of moving 10 hours away and adjusting to a new climate was more than he could bear. When days past without a song from Tweety, I became concerned that he might even die from the strain of our move.

Then, as suddenly as it had disappeared, Tweety’s song returned. Once again, his happy chirping filled our kitchen and lifted our spirits.

Tweety’s resilience is a lesson for us all. Resilience is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”

Birds aren’t the only creatures that can lose their song—people can too! In fact, I’ve experienced this myself numerous times over the years. Sometimes, like Tweety, I’ve experienced traumatic events that temporarily robbed me of my joy and my sense of purpose. At other times, my song disappeared amid sheer boredom or fatigue. I just didn’t feel like singing anymore, or even living, for that matter.

During these times when I lost my song, it seemed as if it might be gone forever. Life is pretty dreary when you’ve lost your vision, and that happens to me from time to time.

Thankfully, God has always restored my lost song in time. Sometimes He does this instantaneously, but at other times I’ve had to wait for weeks or even months.

During my “lost song” episodes, I’ve had a surprising epiphany: Often when my song returns, it comes in the form of an affirmation of some dream or vision that God had already put on my heart years before. But at other times, I’ve been blessed by unexpectedly receiving a “new song”—some fresh insight into the Lord’s future plans for my life (Psalm 40:1-3, Jeremiah 29:11).

If you’ve presently lost your song, as has happened to Tweety and me, recognize that you aren’t alone. This is a universal human experience, and if you’re a visionary, creative type like me, you’re likely to get hit the hardest.

Time is on your side in the restoration process. Make sure to surround yourself with loving friends who can help you regain your equilibrium and perspective. And a brisk walk or trip to the gym might help you get rid of the cobwebs too.

Don’t believe the lie that your joy will never return. Instead, turn your heart fully to the Lord. Spend time in His Word, where you’ll see how some of the Bible’s greatest heroes lost, and then recovered, their vision and their song.

Some of your most valuable lessons will be discovered in the midst of life’s storms. He is in the restoration business, and He knows exactly what you need to get your song back.

Can’t you hear the music begin to play in the distance? When you hear heaven’s irresistible serenade again, you can’t help but sing. You might even want to put on your dancing shoes.

 

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Speeding Up Your Recovery

Although I’m grateful for all the good accomplished through the Recovery Movement over the years, I get perturbed by its tendency to assign people to long-term victimhood. The philosophy seems to be, “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic,” even if God has transformed your life and you’ve been sober for decades.

And things aren’t much better if you attend a recovery group for grief, divorce, overeating, codependency, or some other trauma in your life. It’s as if they hand out scarlet letters at the door, reminding you of your past.

When a friend recently attended a divorce recovery group, the leader told him that for every year of marriage, it generally takes several years to recover after a divorce. This is nonsensical, of course. My friend had been married for more than 30 years, so it would take him at least 60 years to recover based on the group leader’s formula. The leader’s prognosis was pretty disheartening to say the least.

And then the divorce group leader made another misguided statement: “There is absolutely nothing you can do to speed up your recovery. You just have to endure the pain until it subsides.”

Okay, I know what he means. You can’t take shortcuts. For every trauma in life, there will be some pain that simply must be endured. But does that mean there’s nothing we can do to speed the recovery? That’s both ludicrous and unscriptural.

We’ve all met people who are so full of unforgiveness and bitterness after a trauma like divorce that they’re prolonging their recovery. In fact, I’ve known people who will never recover in this life, because they won’t let go of their offense. Instead of the initial wound killing such people, their life is undermined by the infection they allowed to set in.

Just as we can do things to hinder our recovery, I believe we can position ourselves for faster and more complete healing.

Isaiah 58:8 describes this in a context of fasting, seeking God, repenting of wickedness, and serving the poor: “Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily.” Isn’t that good news? Yes, healing is a process that may take some time. But when you take the right steps, “your healing shall spring forth speedily.”

Years ago, the Lord showed me that discipleship is basically a matter of 5 Connections: God, People, Truth, Character, and Service. Remarkably, these same five components can speed along our emotional healing and recovery from difficult situations:

Connection with GOD: In His presence is healing balm and fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). That’s the ultimate key to any kind of positive transformation we seek (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Connection with PEOPLE: Even though most emotional traumas are caused by other people, it’s also likely that God will use our relationships with people as an important component of our recovery. It’s an indisputable fact of life that positive, truth-speaking, encouraging people can help to speed our recovery, while negative, cynical people will just prolong our pain and foster more toxicity.

Connection with TRUTH: When we’ve gone through a life-altering situation, we must be careful to remain grounded in the truth of God’s Word rather than our transitory and misleading feelings. Satan uses our emotional traumas as opportunities to speak his lies, so it becomes more important than ever to cling to the truth about who God is and how much He loves us.

Connection with CHARACTER: Too often, people who are hurting try to self-medicate their pain through alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling, toxic relationships, or other destructive activities. Such things are a great way to go from the frying pan into the fire. Instead, we should use any emotional trauma as a time for God to expose and heal any wicked or hurtful areas of our heart (Psalm 139:24). We also must carefully monitor our lives and take preventative action if we see some kind of bad fruit developing.

Connection with SERVICE: One of the greatest ways for us to receive healing is to reach out to heal the pain of others. Like the man who had a shriveled hand in Mark 3:1-5, our disability can be healed when we stretch out our hand in obedience to the Lord.

Those of us from a charismatic or Pentecostal background might prefer to think that all emotional healing should come from a supernatural, instantaneous touch from God. Just come to the altar for prayer, and everything will be alright.

While that kind of immediate remedy is surely possible, the Lord often prefers to take us through the process of healing. Why? Probably because the 5 connections in the healing process are the very same connections we need to become more like Christ. Just as sanctification and discipleship aren’t instantaneous propositions, emotional healing may take more than a single prayer.

If you’ve been struggling to break free from some kind of traumatic experience or relationship, don’t despair. God has a plan for your recovery—and it doesn’t have to take as long as you’ve thought.

Make a decision today to forgive and release those who have wronged you. Then engage in the 5 connections in the Lord’s unfailing process of recovery and transformation.

 

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter