It's Tuesday morning and, here in Alabama, it's pouring down rain. It's dark outside and the sun probably won't be coming out today (at least for any significant amount of time). To be honest, it's actually a pretty dreary day. Here's the reality - 1 in 4 people you come into contact with today will be feeling - on the inside - exactly like the .weather. More people than we realize are walking around depressed, discouraged and, as the Bible calls it in Proverbs 18:4, "a broken spirit."
While I've never been diagnosed as depressed (or, even really experienced depression), I do struggle with discouragement. Mental depression is a very real thing and I believe that spiritual depression is just as real. There have been seasons of my life where, to be honest, I really didn't care. I didn't care about the Church, I didn't care about the Bible or prayer, I didn't care about serving people...I just wanted to crawl in a hole and escape from the world and everyone in it. There have been seasons where, as a pastor, I've just wanted to throw in the towel, quit, and find something else to do with my life.
So, how do we navigate through these seasons? One of the people in the Bible that I have come to most closely identify with is the Old Testament Prophet Elijah.
I want to point out some truths from, what has been for me, a life transforming text. I'll deal with the "negative" today and then later this week, the "positive."
In 1 Kings 18, we read about one of the greatest ministerial victories ever recorded. If you'll remember, the nation of Israel had turned their backs on God and broken their covenant relationship with Him by worshiping the pagan god Baal. Leading the charge in Baal worship was King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. They had instated 850 false prophets (450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah). If you've never read the story in 1 Kings, I encourage you to go read it now.
Anyway, Elijah confronts these 850 prophets and gathers the people of Israel on top of Mt. Carmel for a great "showdown between the G(g)ods." Whichever deity answered with fire would be declared the one true God. All day the false prophets cried out to Baal - all to no avail. Finally, Elijah prays and declares YHWH to be the one true God and He answers with fire from heaven. The people fall on their faces in worship before YHWH and Elijah slaughters the 850 false prophets.
Elijah has just cried out to God for something crazy - FIRE FROM HEAVEN! - and God answered by flexing His muscles, he has basically led a national revival, and he has eradicated pagan prophets from the land. And some of you pastors thought YOU had an awesome worship service this past Sunday!
This is the greatest moment in Elijah's ministry. He's got to be feeling on top of the world. Then, we get to 1 Kings 19.
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”
1 Kings 19:1-2
And just like that, things come to a screeching halt. Here's one of the lessons I've learned in my life:
Many times, a great victory is followed by a great setback.
Maybe you've experienced this, too. Maybe you've been on top of the world. Your job is going so fantastic, your marriage is better than it's ever been, your kids are hitting their stride in life and in relationships, your finances are at a place where you can finally breathe a little...and then...WHAM.
Has that ever happened to you? I know it's happened to me. You're living on such a mountaintop and it feels like nothing could go wrong and then, out of nowhere, the enemy attacks and knocks you right down on your backside. At this point, I'm going to let you fill in the blanks with what's going on in your life.
Here's Elijah, coming off the greatest ministry experience of his life, and now the queen is swearing that she will not rest until he's dead. How do you respond?
3 Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
4 But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
1 Kings 19:3-4
I think what we see here in Elijah's experience is a pattern that is often all too true in our own lives. I believe there are some very real temptations that we commonly fall prey to when we're in these seasons of discouragement and doubt.
We see, here, that as soon as Jezebel breathes this threat against Elijah's life, he is greatly afraid. Think about this - he's just seen God do something mindbogglingly (yes, that's a word) miraculous! He's just watched God rain fire down from heaven and empower him to slaughter 850 false prophets. And, yet, here is this evil queen threatening his life and he's scared!
Isn't that all too often true in our own lives? We've seen God's faithfulness in our lives, we've seen Him do unbelievable and miraculous things in our lives and then the moment Satan attacks us, we cower in fear. We buy into the lie that it's all over that everything God has done was either a facade or He's forgotten and abandoned us.
It's all a mental game. That's where the majority of spiritual warfare takes place. The mind is Satan's battleground. If he can convince us that our world is over and that God is out to get us or has abandoned us or that the whole world is turned against us, he's well on his way to breaking us down.
Notice, here, what being consumed by fear leads Elijah to do. He "ran for his life." In other words, he withdraws. He runs. He's just led a national revival and I'm willing to bet there were thousands of people who had his back - not to mention the all powerful Creator of the universe who had his back! But, he runs.
That's all too typical in our own lives, isn't it? We're fearful that the "sky is falling" in our lives and we withdraw. We withdraw from relationships, from church, from our family members. We grow quiet, we avoid people and conversations. We're filled with the fearful thought, "What's going to go wrong next?" If we can just crawl in our hole and avoid everything and everyone, this storm will blow over.
Right? Or am I the only one that's every struggled with this?
Not only does Elijah run, he isolates himself. It says in verse 3 that Elijah left his servant in Beersheba and then continued on into the wilderness by himself. Now, this may seem to be the same as withdrawal, but it's actually a more dangerous step further.
When we withdraw, we still keep some of our "lines of communication" with others open. In isolation, we leave those who care about us at the edge of the wilderness as we go even deeper.
Think about this - his servant is the one person that could have gone with him to encourage him, pray for him, remind him of God's faithful provision and power. But, what does Elijah do? He cuts himself off. He doesn't answer the phone anymore. He doesn't come to the door when a friend comes to love on him.
He answers "I'm good (or fine)" when people ask how he's doing. Ouch. That's a little too real, huh?
Isolation is lethal. Why? Because it leads to the last step.
Look at verse 4. Elijah cries out to God and begs him to let him die. He's ready to throw in the towel. In his mind, his life is over, it can't get better and before it gets worse, he wants God to just end it.
This is the last - and most deadly phase. When we get to the place of isolating ourselves, we keep digging in deeper and finally give up altogether. We quit church, small group, we quit trying in our marriage, our relationships, and we just quit giving a rip altogether. We think God has given up on us and we're now ready to give up on Him.
Maybe some of these principles have resonated with you. Maybe you're in one of these phases right now. Listen. I promise - God's not finished. He's not through with you. Satan wants you to believe that He is but, remember, he is cunning and evil. His goal is to devour you. God's goal is to restore and redeem you.
I'll be posting "Part 2" of this later in the week. In the meantime, don't give up. Just rest.