I was recently reading 1 Kings 19, which tells the story of Elijah and the enormous personal battle he fought after winning a great victory against the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.
Elijah had called on the name of the Lord and saw fire fall from heaven. The disbelievers in the crowd fell on their faces and worshipped the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The one true God had been glorified, and the Godless prophets of Baal had all been killed. This extraordinary day of miracles shook the country, and without a doubt, Elijah was operating out of the anointing of his calling. He was serving God and was at his very best.
But then Elijah received news that Jezebel was after him. She was enraged by Elijah’s ‘rebellion’ and sent a messenger to say: ‘May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life, like that of one of them’ (1 Kings 19:2). Elijah had been full of faith, sure of his identity, and yet, those few words plunged him into fear and into an identity crisis.
At this point, a few things happened:
He became deeply emotional and fearful – his mind was affected.
He became physically tired and exhausted – his body was impacted.
He could not hear God’s voice – his spirit was drained.
A few days before, he would have sought God for the answer, but now he was depressed, despondent, and Scripture says he’d had enough and wanted God to take his life. He was being attacked by an unseen enemy which wanted to steal the victory, kill him, and ultimately destroy all of God’s work.
As I look around me, I see this so often in our churches. I believe that one of the biggest attacks of the enemy on the church today, is the attack of depression and despondency. The Word tells us that the enemy’s weapon is to steal, and there is no greater way to make an army ineffective than to steal their joy, their confidence, and their identity and replace it with fear and exhaustion. This often happens too, just after a big victory.
The story of Elijah shows that the enemy often works through our feelings. The enemy tries to mentally suck us dry and create a battle ‘between our ears’ of being overwhelmed. I believe if the enemy can win the battle ground in our mind, he knows he will successfully distract us from God’s plans and get us to focus on the problem and how we feel about it.
If you are in that place of feeling despondent, depressed, overwhelmed, or in fear (just like Elijah), you might be wondering if there is a way out. I have been there, and I know it can be a difficult journey, but there is a way out, and there are many great guidelines to be found in God’s Word.
Deal with the physical
Firstly, on a very practical level, God dealt with Elijah’s physical needs. I love that God is a God of practicalities! Immediately, God sent Elijah some food and water (delivered by an angel) and then allowed him to sleep. Once Elijah had been strengthened on a very physical level, God began to speak to Him. He did not give Elijah all the answers, but He asked him questions and allowed him to experience His presence. If you are feeling overwhelmed by situations in life, it is first good to check all the physical, practical causes such as lack of rest or proper nutrition.
However, it is also important to deal with the spiritual causes, and here is some advice based on things I have learned in my own life.
Discipline is a part of discipleship. If you have the discipline of regular devotionals in your life (so that it becomes a daily habit), you will be able to continue reading God’s Word even when you are in a dry patch. If you create frameworks of discipline in your life before you experience despondency, you will find that you have a ready-made oasis just when you need it.
Phone a friend
Find a friend you trust and ask them to do the journey with you. For many years (until he passed away), I had a wonderful friend who knew me so well that he could detect even a change in my voice and understand if something wasn’t right. He was great at provoking me to speak out and to share what was going on. He and I were often able to travel the journey together and support each other in prayer when the other was going through a difficult time. Having good, strong friendships is very important.
Practice the presence
Jesus was led into the wilderness for 40 days and was tested in many different ways before His work could begin. Often, the enemy will try to attack our identity (just as he did with Jesus: ‘If you are the son of God…’ he said). Jesus knew His identity and He knew God’s Word and He was able to stand firm against the test. At the end of the test, He experienced God’s presence, and He left the wilderness refreshed, anointed, and ready for His assignment. Often in church, we work first and rest later, but I believe that God wants us to operate from a place of rest. When we work and live in God’s presence, we can act from a position of faith rather than what our feelings tell us.
Go back to God’s Word.
I love Psalm 13. To me, it sums up a feeling of despondency and downheartedness so very well.
How long Oh Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day, have sorrow in my heart? (Psalm 13)
This Psalm is wonderful because after David has poured out his heart to God, a switch happened. Something changed. By verse 5 and 6, he says ‘But I trust in your unfailing love. My heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise for He has been good to me.’
As he wrote and cried out to the Lord, his heart started to move toward praise. One minute, here we have a guy who feels forgotten and forsaken, and then as he cries out to the Lord, he moves into the realm of praise.
It is ok to feel forgotten, forsaken, despondent, depressed – none of these things are a sin. But it is important to not rely on these feelings and instead go back to the reality of God at work in your life. God has never failed you (or me!) in the past, and He will not fail you now. Ask Him today to help you move beyond your feelings and instead into an atmosphere of praise and faith.
It is in His presence that we can find true rest and also once again begin to find God’s purpose in our lives.