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James 5:17 reminds us that “Elijah was human, weak, just like we are.”  Nowhere is this more obvious than in the story of Elijah recorded in I Kings 19. On Mount Carmel he has stood his ground against the the forces of evil and won. The fire has fallen, The drought is broken. After the high comes a real downer

Nothing up to that point has prepared us for the prophet’s sudden tumble into ‘the bog of despondency and depression’. Prophets aren’t supposed to get depressed.  Its not “spiritual”.

Having been threatened by a woman, he runs like a frightened rabbit, down country, until he loses himself in the desert, overwhelmed by depression, wishing he was dead.

How do we explain it?


1. Exhaustion

When he collapsed on his bed at the end of his big day on Carmel, Elijah was spent. Three years of pent-up emotions had been released that day.  That day he had built an altar, prayed on the mountain top, dealt with the prophets of Baal; and finally, run ahead of the king’s chariot to Jezreel, thirty km away.

All his energy had been spent. Any man’s spirits are likely to fail when he is worn out. Proper sleep, regular meals and adequate leisure are a vital part of our health, physical and spiritual; Later in the story God Himself will restore these to His servant.

Exhaustion was one thing that weakened Elijah.

2. Fear

Weariness had left him weaker to fight it.

Jezebel’s fury, of course, was fresh. Even so, had Elijah thought clearly, he would have realised that in fact he was in no real or immediate danger. The queen sent a messenger to him with threats; why not an assassin with a knife? The truth was that while Elijah’s success was still fresh in the people’s minds, she was scared to lay a finger on him. All she could hope to do was scare him away. And she succeeded! But her success was not her power, as to the prophet’s fear.

Jesus said to people, “Fear not …” much more often than He said, “Sin not!” – by a ratio of at least 5 to 1.  Fear

3. Loneliness

Elijah had been alone too long. Where was his companion Obadiah? Should Elijah have shared his fear with him before he panicked?

None of us are strong enough to walk through life without help, or without company. Exhaustion, fear, loneliness – all these contributed to Elijah’s depression. But perhaps the one thing more than any other that brought it on was …

4. The feeling of futility

Listen to the complaint he later made to God: “I am not better than my fathers … and I’m all that is left … and soon they’ll finish me off. It has all come to nothing.”

Nothing he had done seemed worthwhile. He had put his life on the line yet it seemed nothing had changed. His whole life seemed meaningless. Nothing pulls the human spirit down as much as a sense of futility, the feeling that there is no purpose in being here.

Illness, unemployment and divorce often have these feelings of loss of value in life

Not many of us succeed in avoiding some such experience in our lives.

Some of the best respected men in Christian history were prone to moods of black depression:

  • Martin Luther, the great pioneer of the reformation;
  • William Cowper, the hymn writer;
  • Abraham Lincoln, who was so afflicted at one time that he wrote to a friend, “Whether I shall ever be better, I do not know. I must die, or be better, as it seems to me.”
  • Ministers of the Gospel experience it no less than others.

Depression is no new thing; and it is much more common among Christian people than we are generally willing to admit.

This chapter in Elijah’s story is not a comprehensive remedy for depression in general; but it will have some helpful things to say to us..

Some Facts about Depression

  • Up to 1 person in 5 will experience it at some stage in their life
  • The depression rate is high in single parents. Anger, guilt, stress, and financial difficulties help contribute to the high depression rate. Depressed parents usually have a hard time functioning in life and as parents.
  • Unemployment, relationship breakdown, loss of health, grief are often followed by a period of depression

Sources of Depression

    • Loneliness
    • Guilt – I can’t forgive myself
    • Distorted perspective on how life ought to treat us
    • What goes up often goes the same distance down
    • Post adrenaline – after we have exerted all our energies succeeding, when the pressure comes off we have a downer
    • Loss
    • Major life change




Basic symptoms of depression include some of the following:

  • feeling sad, hopeless, discouraged, or ‘down in the dumps’
  • increased irritability
  • loss of interest in or enjoyment of pleasurable activities
  • significant reduction from previous levels of sexual interest or desire
  • loss of appetite or increased appetite
  • insomnia or excessive sleep
  • extreme agitation or slowing down of movements and responses
  • decreased energy, tiredness, or fatigue – life is a burden
  • sense of worthlessness, guilt, or self-blame
  • difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • easily distracted
  • memory loss
  • recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

Unhelpful “helpers”

To believe that we can help our friends when they are under the weather with hopelessly outdated phrases like,

  • “Where’s your faith?”
  • “It’s all for the best,” – it obviously isn’t.
  • “These things are sent to try us,” – they are not.
  • “Pull yourself together,” which is a physical impossibility,

is to be very unthinking. It might even drive those whom you are trying to help to despair.

Recovery & Prevention

  • Admit you are depressed – this is the hardest step
  • Don’t be afraid to seek professional help
  • Commit yourself to listing and thanking God for the good things in life. Keep adding to the list
  • Take time to meditate on God’s Word
  • Monitor your thinking
  • Purge anger daily
  • Don’t seek revenge
  • Spend time with family and friends
  • Avoid over introspection
  • Make constructive changes in your behaviour – we do what we do because of the way we feel, and feel the way we feel because of what we do
  • Accept your humanness
  • Learn to laugh
  • Don’t be afraid to seek professional help


See how God gently takes Elijah in hand.

God listened. Elijah needs to hear God’s voice. And he will. Yet God lets him say his piece without rebuke, without interruption. He simply listens, till His child has nothing left that is hidden still to say.

The first thing a depressed person needs is someone who will listen, without rebuke and without interruption, till he or she has said it all

The last thing a depressed person needs is someone who will kick him while he is down by telling him “to pull himself together”, or that “a Christian has no business to be like that and he had better ask whether he was ever really born again.”

God did not do that. He listened quietly and provided for his physical needs! According to God, that is a depressed person’s first need – an understanding ear and kindly care so they know they are not rejected, but accepted just as they are.

God cared for Elijah’s physical needs – sleep, nourishment, exercise.

If you are depressed, see to your physical wellbeing, and look around for “the cake God has baked for you” – the supply of some practical necessity that carries an assurance of His care and regard for you.

God spoke, challenging his thinking and giving him direction in life.

Remember this, when you are depressed. Do not stifle the voice of your desperate self. Give it the floor. Let it state its whole case against life, and against God as responsible for it. God encouraged Elijah to do that!

But do not allow the dismal voice within to be the only speaker on the floor. Insist that God also be heard.

Let what He has said also pour into the information room of your troubled heart. When the chaos of present experience serves only to confuse, go back again to the remembered, tried and proven words of God. What you knew once to be true, when you walked so joyfully in its light, has not now become suddenly untrue, simply because you have walked into a dark place.

It is written of our God, that His dwelling is with men. (Revelation 21:3)

“For thus saith the high and lofty one, Who inhabits eternity, Whose Name is Holy, I dwell in the high and holy place and also with him who is of a contrite heart and a humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15)

That is where God is! And you and I may rest our lives in His hand … even when they are disordered!