Becoming Elijah - Part 4 - The Depressed Prophet
The Depressed Prophet
Is is possible for a giant of faith, someone who has witnessed firsthand beyond a shadow of doubt the power of God, to become discouraged and even depressed?
I am not a clinical counselor, I am not a behavioral scientist, but as a christian I have witnessed many who blame those struggling with depression, claiming they should have more faith.
On this post we will be witness someone who has incredible faith struggle with depression. But I will not be focusing on depression and its treatment, that is not my area. I will rather focus on what we can learn from Elijah's experience and maybe find encouragement for our lives. I do hope however that we will suspend judgment when we witness someone struggling with depression. I hope we can be loving and kind as God was with Elijah.
Previously, on Becoming Elijah...
So far we have witnessed Elijah faithfully following God's word. Elijah went before the king and delivered a message of judgment, then he got away from there and hid by the Brook Cherith, there is the audio for a sermon on it here.
When the water from the brook dries due to the drought God send Elijah to a widow in Zaraphath, the audio of a whole sermon on this portion of the story is available here.
After three and a half years of drought God sends Elijah to present himself before king Ahab and invite all the people of Israel and all the false prophets who are sponsored by queen Jezebel for an ultimate showdown revealing who is the real God. There is a whole post and the audio for a sermon on this available here.
How do we explain 1 Kings 19:3-4?
Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”
- 1 Kings 19:3-4 NLT
How can a person who was so successful so recently find himself so discouraged he wishes to die?
Just the other day Elijah had prayed and fire fell from heaven (1 Kings 18:36-39)! He prayed and a 3.5 year drought ended (1 Kings 18:41-46). Earlier Elijah had prayed and a boy came back to life (1 Kings 17:17-24)! How can anyone, after witnessing so many miracles in his life feel like a failure and want to die?
Even the best can get discouraged. The faithful are not immune to Satan's assaults.
Unexpected Turn of Events
And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.”
- 1 Kings 19:1-2 NKJV
Shockingly Queen Jezebel is not converted by God's amazing display of power!
We discover that Jezabel did not attend the big showdown, even though Elijah had invited everyone (1 Kings 18:19). She was clearly not interested in who the real God was. She had already made up her mind and was not open to the possibility that she might be mistaken.
At times you may get frustrated by someone who you have invested a lot of time and effort into, but you just can't seem to get through. We should all do our best to share the gospel, however, we should also be aware that not everyone is interested. Jezebel, just was not interested in who the real God was, she was going to continue in her lifestyle regardless of the evidence. We ought to also be careful lest we find ourselves having the same attitude as the queen, closed to the possibility of God revealing Himself to us and inviting us to change.
Queen Jezebel not only missed out on an epic showdown between the God of Israel and Baal, she wants to kill the prophet of the true God who called fire from heaven and ended the drought! Well, there is also the part where Elijah had all 850 of her sponsored prophets killed. The evidence of God's power, did not convert the queen, it just made her angrier. She was not interested in worshiping the true God and she was angry at God's messenger for making it clear beyond a shadow of doubt who the real God was.
Dead Man Walking
Jezebel wanted Elijah killed! She wanted him as dead as the her prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:40). The odd thing is that she sends Elijah a messenger, letting him know he was a dead man, in about 24 hrs.
Jezebel told Elijah she was going to kill him.
I would expect Elijah to not be afraid after all God had done in his behalf.
God had used birds to bring food to Elijah (1 Kings 17:2-7).
God had miraculously provided for him and the widow of Zeraphath (1 Kings 17:8-15).
God had raised the widow's son from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24).
God had made fire fall from heaven (1 Kings 18:36-39).
God made it rain after 3 years of drought (1 Kings 18:41-46)
Elijah had witnessed all these miracles. Many of them took place as a direct result of his prayers. Elijah knew that God was the real God, that He was a mighty God and that He clearly cared about Elijah, His prophet.
Yet Elijah runs.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
- 1 Peter 5:8 ESV
I personally believe that Jezebel could not have killed Elijah. I believe she was aware of this. I believe that it is because she could not kill Elijah, that she sends a messenger in order to scare Elijah. Satan prowls like a roaring lion, its all he can do. Satan cannot touch a child of God without God's permission (Job 1:9-12, Job 2:4-8) God limits what Satan can do in the lives of His children (1 Corinthians 10:13). If God wanted Elijah to live no one would be able to kill him. But Jezebel in a desperate attempt threatens Elijah, and instead of calling her bluff, instead of waiting for the word of God like Elijah had been doing up to now he runs away scared.
How often similar situations take place in our life? Where the possibility of, or the threat of danger or discomfort is enough to scare us away from the path to which God has called us?
For the first time since we met Elijah he leaves without God clearly calling him to go somewhere. Every time Elijah has changed locations up to now it has been because of God's word, but now Elijah flees out of fear.
And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
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 19:3-4 NKJV
Elijah had had enough. He had gone 3.5 years away from his country, away from his people, either hiding by a brook or living with an impoverished widow in a foreign land. Elijah had been faithful to God, he had witnessed miracles, the whole nation of Israel had witnessed miracles, fire and fain! What else could Elijah do? If going through 3.5 years of drought and seeing fire fall from heaven was enough to convert a nation what would? Elijah felt like a failure when his obedience and patience did not lead to the results he expected.
How do you react when you do all that you can, and amazing things happen, yet the result you wanted and worked for eludes you?
I have witnessed amazing men and women want to walk away from ministry because they did not witness the results they expected. People who have done amazing jobs in community service, or children's division, or club ministries. I have met pastors who feel similarly. It is so difficult to keep going when you are not witnessing what you expected to take place. What makes ministry even more difficult is when everyone who appreciates your ministry forgets to let you know, and the one person who does not like it is very vocal.
The whole nation of Israel had been chanting "The LORD, He is God! The LORD, He is God!" (1 Kings 18:39) But because one person stubbornly refuses to believe in God Elijah feel like a failure.
Sadly there are people in modern days who behave like Jezebel. There are men and women today who have a similar attitude toward God. Perhaps you have one in you life, in your faith community. A person who is not interested in following God, and devotes all his energies to get int he way of those who want to do the will of God. It's the parent who always complains about the children's ministries but never offers to help. It's the leader who always points out the problems in every outreach effort or new ministry. Its the person who makes you feel small and insignificant and foolish for even trying to do something for God.
We cannot downplay the damage a "Jezebel" can cause in the life of an "Elijah."
Elijah was a giant of faith, yet one person caused him to abandon his mission and run away.
Jezebel was not the majority. Her attitude was not an accurate measure of the influence of Elijah's ministry.
Yet he ran away.
And prayed that he might die.
Praying for Death
How did we arrive here?
With the hero of the story praying to God that he might die?
After a mountaintop victory, Elijah, God's top prophet, feels so terrible he wishes to die. Good thing he does not take his own life but rather asks God to do it. The irony is that if he really wanted to die he could have just stayed where he was, instead of running away. But I believe many of us can relate to Elijah.
Did you ever just want to get away? To run and run and run, to run away into the desert and away from all the drama and the problems and the frustrations, and just get away from everything and be alone in a quiet place?
Perhaps Elijah realized he was better off living in the wilderness then with God's people.
It does at times seem easier to be a Christian in solitude then surrounded by the "saints."
The problem is the mission. God calls us to minister to people, but i am getting ahead of myself.
Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.” So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.
- 1 Kings 19:5-8 NKJV
Have you ever woken up to the smell of freshly baked cake?
Why would God send an angel to bake a cake on coals for Elijah? Why not just send some birds with crackers and make water flow form a rock or something? Why not bring Elijah a granola bar?
God sent an angel to feed Elijah, to care for him, to bake him a cake!
I can imagine Elijah never eating cake again after this, because after tasting a cake baked by an angel, no human cake could ever compare.
I believe that God baked Elijah a cake because that's just who God is. God is love, and merciful, and gracious, and tender, even with rebellious, broken, exhausted, depressed prophets.
God could have abandoned Elijah for his lack of faith. God could have punished Elijah for running away while on duty. God could have lectured Elijah on his disobedience. But instead of all that God bakes him a cake. Cake has a way of making everything better. It's a comfort food right?
It's hard to be angry at God when He brings you cake.
After this heavenly cake Elijah is able to go 40 days and 40 nights to the mountain of God.
Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by...
- 1 Kings 19:11a
God was about to reveal Himself to His prophet!
a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord
The wind was powerful, it was incredible, but God was not in the wind. The mighty blast of wind was no a revelation of who God is. The power of the wind did not adequately represent God. That was not what God wanted to be associated with Him.
and after the wind an earthquake
If the wind was too tame to properly represent our mighty God, surely an earthquake would be a more fitting representation of God and His incredible power! But the Bible tells us that the LORD was not in the earthquake. As terrifying as an earthquake is, it was not an appropriate portrayal of God.
and after the earthquake a fire
Fire seems more fitting to represent God right? After all He had made fire fall form heaven and consume the offering on Mount Carmel. Surely fire is how God would chose to reveal Himself to His prophet.
but the Lord was not in the fire
When God wanted to reveal Himself to His exhausted and discouraged prophet, God did not reveal Himself as a powerful force of nature. God had control over nature, over the wind, the earthquake and the fire, but God was not in any of those things. God had dominion over all of them, but they did not define God. God did not define Himself by the power he possessed. Yes God is powerful, He is all powerful! (Job 42:1-2) But God wanted to define Himself by another attribute.
a still small voice
and after the fire a still small voice.
So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.
- 1 Kings 19:12b-13a NKJV
God did not choose to be present in the strong wind that tore into the mountain and broke the rocks in pieces. God was not present in the terrifying earthquake. God was not even present in the awesome fire. God wanted to be known by His still small voice. The mighty creator God chose to reveal Himself not through a display of great destructive power, but rather by a gentle whisper.
So many times people are searching for God in all the wrong places. They are looking for God in the mighty wind, they claim to see God in the earthquakes and fires and destruction. Meanwhile, God chooses to reveal Himself though a soft whisper.
The trouble is that you miss the gentle whisper if you are not listening for it. The strong wind, will catch your attention, the earthquake will make the news, the fire can't be ignored, but a still small voice is too easily ignored. How often do we slow down, and seek a quiet place in order o better listen to the still small voice?
How often do we worship expecting an earthquake and are disappointed to not experience it, all the while missing the still small voice?
How often do we neglect our personal devotions, our quiet time with God, our prayer time? These are perfect moments to listen for that still small voice. How often we downplay the importance of attending prayer meeting because its too quiet, too simple, boring perhaps? Seeking God is not always exciting, many times it takes patience and stillness, and a listening heart.
What are you doing here Elijah?
So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
- 1 Kings 19:13 NKJV
Sometimes I hear people say things, or post things that make me wonder. Phrases like the one below.
I believe God can use you wherever you are and He can bring blessings out of any situation, no matter how terrible, but I would hesitate to call every experience a part of God's plan. Elijah at mount Horeb (or Sinai) was not part of God's plan. God had not called him there. Everywhere else Elijah had gone up to this point (Brook Cherith 1 Kings 17:3-4; the widow's house in Zaraphath 1 Kings 17:8-9; back to Israel 1 Kings 18:1-2) he had been following strict directions from God. But when Elijah fled for his life (1 Kings 19:3,4) God had not told him to flee. As a result, God now asks Elijah,
“What are you doing here, Elijah?”
In our lives, sometimes we are like Elijah, faithfully following God and awaiting His command. Sometimes we are like Elijah at mount Horeb, scared, tired, and in desperate need of direction from God.
It is dangerous to assume that I am always in God's will, living according to His plans. Because sometimes I am running away, sometimes I am scared of His plan.
Maybe you are exactly where God wants you to be, or maybe God is asking you "what are you doing here?"
Only you can know the answer to that. In order to find that answer you need to sincerely come before God asking and willing to listen to that still small voice.
Maybe you got discouraged, maybe you ran away, maybe you are wondering why God does not just let you die...
Wherever you may be, God's still small voice can help redirect you and get you back on track. God told Elijah where to go form there, and what to do. If you are willing to listen, God also has a plan for your life.
For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for well-being and not for trouble, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will look for Me and find Me, when you look for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ says the Lord. ‘And I will bring you back and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have made you go,’ says the Lord. ‘I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you away.’
- Jeremiah 29:11-14 New Life Version (NLV)
Are you willing to listen to, and to obey that still small voice?