This is what I’ve been praying for, and last night we prayed for some of these things in our prayer meeting. Think of three things. God. Ourselves. Others. GOO. This is what we’re asking God to do in our hearts, and I know this is too big for all three of these in all of our hearts. But we’re believing that the Spirit is going to do some of this in each of our hearts this morning.
So, regarding God, that we would see his heart for the broken in this passage. We’re going to see his heart for the broken, and for some of you, this may be the first time you’ve gotten a glimpse of this is really who God is, and it’s very different from what you assumed. And we pray the spirit would open your eyes to that. For others, it will just be expanding what you already know.
Secondly, regarding ourselves, that we would gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be an embodied soul. We’ll talk about that. But really a greater clarity as to who we are as human beings. And then the third one is others, that we would all grow in the ability to help grow in patience and helpfulness toward those who are broken. So that’s what we’re praying for keep. Keep that in the back: GOO – God, ourselves, and others in the back of our minds as we in a little bit explore this passage.
So, Amy Simpson has written a book called Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission. Now, I don’t agree with everything in the book, but her story is remarkable. She tells about growing up in a loving Christian home. Her parents felt called to be missionaries in Africa. They did their language training, learned French in Switzerland, and then they had to come home because of political tensions in Zaire, which is now Congo. Her dad became a pastor, served as a pastor for about ten years, and then had to step down or chose to step down from his pastorate to take care of his family because things at home had become quite complicated. Amy knew something was wrong even as a little girl. But as a teenager, it became more apparent.
There were many days she was waiting at school to be picked up by her mom and her mom never arrived. One time when she was 15, her mom picked her up to take her to the dentist, and she quickly realized that her mom was heading toward another “episode” is what she called it. She writes this: as her mom was driving nervously,
“… her interaction with me was an indirect and stiff, as if she were not fully aware that I was there. She seemed to be fading, as if half of her had already shrunk into an unknown place and the other half was not sure whether to follow or to maintain its grip on the reality of a daughter and a trip to the dentist.”
Amy was grateful when they arrived safely at the dentist, but when she came out of her appointment, she found her mother sitting, clinging to her purse, immovable rigidly catatonic. She urged her mom to leave with her, tried to gently help her up. Her mom was not moving. She was frozen. And so was everyone else in the waiting room. She asked for help.
So, here’s a 15-year-old girl trying to help her mother get out of the chair and go out to the car. Nobody did anything. Nobody knew what to do. Eventually, Amy was able to get a hold of her father. Her father came, took her mom to the hospital. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her mom’s illness affected the whole family. All the kids learned to pick up on the signs when their mom was not taking her antipsychotic drugs and was beginning to lose touch with reality. When they were younger, they would be required to hang their wet laundry outside even though they lived in the city and had a dryer, because their mom was convinced there were demons in the dryer. In college. Amy at times would receive letters from her mom that were basically pictures colored. As an adult, the journey continued. Amy writes:
“I have lost sleep before visits to my parents’ house, wondering what we would find when we arrived. I have wistfully met my friends’ moms at their baby showers, wondering what it would be like to have a relationship like that. I have hungered for older women to serve as mentors to me, unsure how to find what I’m longing for. I have cringed my way through Mother’s Day sermons and through movies that portray people with schizophrenia as raging monsters, subhuman sources of amusement or sage prophets. I have lived in fear of other people finding out the truth about my family and rejecting me, of hearing that my mom had fallen victim to something horrible, of losing my own mental stability.”
About 10 years ago, her mom began believing her delusions, refused to take medication, left her father and her family and her church, and ended up on the street, eventually in a rescue mission, eventually in prison. But God’s love did not let her go. According to Amy, God is redeeming their suffering. When she wrote the book, she said my mom is doing well. She is living in a relationship with her husband, Amy’s father, and her church. Amy’s father continues to grow in his love for the woman he made a covenant with over fifty years ago. Amy tells of a time a few years ago when she and her dad were driving home from admitting her mom to a psychiatric hospital and her dad said this to her.
“I knew Ephesians 5: 25 told husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave up his life for her. I loved my wife, and I made the decision again that she was my wife for life. I would not leave her. I was going to walk with her through whatever experience we faced. She needed my love, and I needed her.”
Amy then quotes Philippians 1:6, regarding the good work that God begins that he will complete in the day of Jesus Christ. And then she concludes her book this way.
“My family’s journey is not over. We don’t know where it takes us next, but we do know where it will ultimately take us,thanks to God’s tenacious redemption plan. I am proud of my mom’s determination to enjoy life and pursue health despite her struggles. I am proud that she keeps fighting her way back to her family and her faith when other people might give up. Dad’s faithfulness and his heart – which is absolutely open to the Holy Spirit’s work – have not made him a great success in the eyes of the world. But they have made him a great man…” [Just pause there for a second.]
“More like Jesus than most people I’ve met. I’ve been inspired by his passion and pursuit of ministry in Jesus’ name, whether in or out of the pulpit. God’s redemptive work has used our family’s pain to keep my dad’s heart soft and ready to serve, and God uses him in a loving ministry toward people who cross his path.”
So, what do we do with this? Many Christians might feel confused or uncomfortable with stories like this. How can people who love Jesus or, even more, people who are loved by Jesus, called to be missionaries just wanting to serve – how can they face such intense body and brain brokenness?
Many Christians become kind of like those people in the waiting room at the dentist, frozen in fear, perhaps uncertainty, not sure what to do. Christians can be afraid to justify sin or go along with whatever manipulation they feel is happening, and so, in the end, we can be paralyzed to do anything. We tend to be good at short-term struggles, like the kind where “he went down but God brought him up.” But we struggle with long-term difficulties.
We tend to go toward one extreme or the other. At one extreme (and this would be more of a secular model) is hyperphysical. That is, viewing people from the mechanistic perspective, as biological machines, chemical machines. Just put them on the meds; they’ll be good.
Christians can at times head toward the other extreme, hyper-spiritual, where if there’s a problem, it must be sin. Either God’s mad or you’re bad. And we just need to read our Bible and pray more or get more committed.
Yet the Bible offers a much more sophisticated approach. It doesn’t deny either of those, but it views us as integrated persons, embodied souls, not bodies that happen to have souls or souls that are bouncing around in bodies, but embodied souls. In other words, it’s impossible for things to happen in your soul that doesn’t affect your body, and it’s impossible for things to happen in your body that doesn’t affect your soul.
I get it. I know that the main point of 1 Kings 19 isn’t to give us a definition and explanation of depression or mental illness. But we must face the fact that a man, Elijah, who loved God and was loved by God, who knew what it was like to be on the mountaintop with God and see God do many miraculous things and answer prayer in a stunning way is the same man who knew what it was like to be in the valley, questioning, despairing, experiencing at least emotional instability if not mental instability. We preach and believe a big gospel. Our gospel is not a snippet; it’s not trite. You do these couple of things and you’re good to go. It is a big gospel.
We summarize it with four words: creation, fall, redemption, restoration. God made creation, all things beautiful, perfect, whole. Sin in the fall contaminates everything. There is still beauty of God flowing through creation, but creation is broken. We are broken by sin. Christ is redeeming, reconciling all things to himself, and one day everything will be made right. That’s what Amy was referring to when she talked about God’s tenacious redemption plan.
Last week, we left Elijah on Mount Carmel, soaking in God’s answer to his prayer for rain. This week, we find him shaking in fear. Look at verse 3. ”
Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life.”
Who is this? Is this the same Elijah? How could this be? Remember, he showed so much courage on Mount Carmel. How could he be running in fear? Let’s throw out a couple possible suggestions because we’re talking about his condition: he was afraid.
The first possibility might be unfulfilled expectations. Remember back in verse 46 of the end of the last chapter, the hand of the Lord was on Elijah and he gathered up its garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel. So full of the Spirit, Elijah outran the chariot and gets to Jezreel. Why did he run to Jezreel? Samaria was the political capital of the Northern Kingdom. Jezreel was the military capital, where Ahab and Jezebel, king and queen, spent much of their time. Elijah headed straight for Jezreel, it seems, because he was assuming there would be a national repentance.
As if he had already called Franklin Graham, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was going to meet him there. Jezebel, Ahab, and all of them were going to repent, lead the people in a national repentance. They would need a lot of workers to pray with people as they repented, because God sent fire, prophets of Baal are gone. God is changing an entire country, and Elijah wants to be there to see this transforming work. And he gets there, and things did not quite go the way he anticipated. Look at verse 1 of chapter 19.
“Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.”
And then Jezebel fell to her knees, repented, and worshiped God. That’s what’s supposed to happen, right? When you see miracles that are that stunning as they saw at Mount Carmel, you would think everybody would immediately repent. Right? That’s the way I think. I think,
“God why don’t you do this kind of miracle because then every reasonable person would repent.”
Since when is sin reasonable? You remember when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? What did the leaders want to do to Lazarus? Kill him. Eliminate the evidence. It’s not reasonable. And Jezebel was the same way. She is ticked. Verse 2:
“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.’”
Elijah, you are a dead man. Jezebel, in Jezreel, where all these military forces are, has the authority and the power to make it happen. You have questioned our authority. You’re dead. And so, verse 3: Elijah ran for his life. Most of us know what it’s like to expect, expect, expect, expect; and then, all of a sudden, have those dreams smashed. It can make a naturally, spiritually courageous person suddenly not know where to turn. And there seems to be something like that happening here.
Another possibility is what we call zeal for God’s name. Dale Davis takes this view that Elijah actually was not fearing for his life but protecting the fame of God, and there’s no question some of that is there. You’ll see verse 10, Chapter 19, verse 14. He is all about zeal for the name of God. So, the thinking is perhaps he’s not afraid to lose his own life, but he is afraid to die at the hand of Jezebel, which undoes everything that happened on Mount Carmel. The name of God is humiliated. So, he runs. The difficulty with this view – although Elijah is obviously very concerned for the name of God – is that when he gets to the wilderness he still wants to die.
So, there’s something else going on here. That’s why I don’t completely agree with Dale Davis that he wasn’t afraid. By the way, where he gets the not afraid is the Hebrew word “afraid” has the same consonants as the Hebrew word “saw,” so by tweaking the vowels, you could translate verse 3, “He saw Jezebel’s response and he fled.” He wasn’t afraid; he was concerned for the name of God. That’s Davis’s argument. I don’t think it takes all the facts into consideration.
I think a good summary of both of these could be “catastrophic thinking. “What is catastrophic thinking? Think of catastrophe, a catastrophe of fears, or a better way, an avalanche of fears, the domino effect. You’re a teenager. You’re going in to take a test. You’re not ready for the test. You didn’t study the night before. It suddenly occurs to you. I’m going to fail this test, which means I’m going to fail this class, which means I’m going to have to drop out of school. My parents are going to be miffed. I’m going to get kicked out of the house. I’m going to live on the streets. I’m probably going to do drugs. I’m going to die. Do you see what happened? How did we get from walking in to take a test to dying on the streets? That’s catastrophic thinking.
Some of you have the gift of catastrophic thinking, right? But you can do it without even trying. Super gifted. It seems like Elijah is doing some of that. When we soar with high expectations and then Jezebel’s threat sweeps all that away. An avalanche of possible catastrophes can overwhelm us, and catastrophic thinking is a massive contributor to depression. So, he was afraid.
That leads to number 2, his condition. He was discouraged at least, if not depressed. Look at verse 4,
“But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness.” [So, he’s gone from up north to way south, below Beersheba.] “And he came, and he 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.’”
This is really important for those of you who, at times, have struggled with suicidal thoughts. Notice two things. First of all, you’re in good company. Elijah struggled with the same, but notice, too, he never considered the possibility of taking his own life. He wanted to die, but he knew God is the only one who can give and take life. And he’s pleading with God to take his life, but he is unwilling to step into God’s role and take his own life. What does he do? Well, a couple of things that are signs of depression.
First of all, he quit his job. Look at verse 3. The end of verse 3, “he left his servant there.” You say, “what does that mean? Why would that mean he quit his job? Well, his servant wasn’t just a traveling companion – that was his staff. He was firing his staff. He was dismantling his prophetic team.
Secondly, he isolated himself. Now I get it. Everything that’s happening here is, as we’ll see more clearly next week, a picture of Elijah as a second Moses. Moses did some of these same things. But the point of isolation is still significant. As we talked about in the past. Proverbs 18: 1:
“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.”
One of the quickest ways to believe the lies that are bouncing around in your own head is to cut off people who would challenge those. This is way too general. But women, at times, will just change the people they talk to find someone who will agree with them. Men tend to just cut off everyone, or at least, only maintain relationships that stick on a level of fantasy football, Fortnite, and Supreme Court judges. Let’s not go any deeper and talk about the heart. No way. But in either case, it’s a form of isolation. I can, like Ryan shared earlier, present a strong outward image while at the same time die inside.
Thirdly, he wanted to die. Verse 4 makes it clear, and a lie just says those three words that many of us say when we’re trying to play God. It is what? Enough. It is enough. It is enough. God, I know you promised to give me grace, and you’ve done an OK job in the past, but right now it is enough. It is enough. No more. I’m done. It’s too much. I can’t go on. And when we get to that place where we say, “It is enough,” what we’re doing is we’re stepping into God’s role, looking at everything, and assuming we know the big picture, and saying, “I can’t go on. This is enough.”
What’s fascinating to me when I hear those three words or think them is when Jesus sent his disciples out in Matthew 10 and said, “I’m sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. People are going to hate you. They’re going to turn you in. They’re going to oppose you.” And he uses those three words: It is enough. Not in the sense, it is enough you can’t bear anymore when the opposition starts coming, the difficulty comes, but it is enough that a disciple is like his teacher. The goal in this situation shifts. It is not about what I can bear, it is about what God is doing as he transforms me into his image. Even at my lowest point, he is up to something really good. Elijah can’t see that right now. He wants to die. He was self-determining his capacity. He was depressed.
So how do we know if we’re depressed? Well, one of the challenges is the word depression the way we use it today can mean many different things. It can mean something very mild or something very intense. But there is what formerly is called dysthymic disorder, which is the more mild, long-term kind of depression, which can be just troubling or annoying, all the way over to major depression, clinical depression, something very paralyzing and crippling. DSM 5, which is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, lists eight symptoms. And if you have five or more of these in the same two-week period you might be depressed. I’ll just quickly list them, and if you want to examine them or explore them, you can just find these online.
Elijah had at least five of these; and in our day, if they continued, he might have been diagnosed as depressed. Look at God’s response. Today we’re only going to see God’s initial response, not even the main response. The best part is next week as he hears the voice of God. But notice first of all, God doesn’t rebuke him or preach at him. Before we see what he does do, notice what he doesn’t do. He doesn’t get in Elijah’s face: “I did all these great miracles for you. I kept you alive with ravens, brooks, widows. I sent fire. What are you doing here under a broom tree? He doesn’t do any of that. And many of us who struggle with depression, those are the kind of voices you hear, and you know those are not from God.
Notice first of all, he moved near. Verse 5: ” Elijah lay down and slept under the broom tree; and behold, an angel touched him. Depression isolates; comforters move near. Now later he’s going ask Elijah some really good questions that are going to help him process, but at this point, we’re not even there. He simply is near, and it’s a huge gift to someone who is walking through depression – for someone simply to be there.
Secondly, he made a meal. This is so cool. Look at second half of verse 5. “And he said to him [so this is the Angel of the Lord], ‘Arise and eat.’ And he looked and, behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water, and he ate, and he drank.” The Angel of the Lord shows up with a food truck. He says, “Elijah, let me whip up something for you here.” Now, I believe the Angel of the Lord is a preincarnate – pre-coming in the flesh – an appearance of Jesus Christ. So, you get a glimpse of the heart of Jesus as you see him whipping out the pancakes for Elijah at Elijah’s lowest point. No finger in the face. Food in the hand. “Let me provide a meal.”
And we get another glimpse of this. If you fast forward all the way to the disciples who were in a similar place as Elijah. You remember when they were stunned that Jesus was going to the cross. “I thought we were going to have a military takeover. I thought were going to do a national revival, kind of like Elijah” and instead Jesus went to the cross and was killed. Jezebel’s having her victory! So, they scatter. Peter denies. Jesus rises and when he appears, one of his appearances is on a beach! In John 21, they’re fishing. He calls them over, and he says to them what? “Come. Eat breakfast.” And he’s cooking. Food truck again shows up at a point when they feel useless. Our best days are over. Our dreams are crushed. No, no, no. Eat some food. This is your mama. He made a meal.
Thirdly he let him sleep. Look at verse 6, second half.
“And he lay down again. The Angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, ‘Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.’”
Now I know there are some forms of depression where all you want to do is sleep and there’s a time to get up. But right now, notice the sensitivity of the Angel of the Lord is to know what Elijah needs right now. And that’s very individual. That varies with which you got to be close enough to somebody to know what they need. And right now, Elijah doesn’t need a sermon; he needs a nap. He needs to rest. And this goes on several times. Eat, sleep, rest. Your body is done. You’re fried Elijah. You got to be renewed.
And so, the Angel of the Lord is very sensitive to Elijah’s physical exhaustion and the vulnerabilities that flow when we are physically exhausted and by implications, we cannot miss: the physiological contributions to depression Right there are real physical contributions. causes to despair.
And then finally, he prepared him. He prepared him. He again slept, ate. Verse 8: “And he rose, and he ate and drank, and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.” That’s Mount Sinai. So, everything in Elijah is, “It is enough. I am done.” Most people who walk through depression have a strong sense of it’s over. It’s hopeless. So, it’s very interesting that the Angel of the Lord is tuned in to that because depression is a prophecy of hopelessness and uselessness.
And so, the Angel of the Lord is caring for Elijah in such a way to prepare him to again see God’s not done. God is up to something very good. So, when we hear the prophecy of hopelessness, what if we could flip that like Spurgeon did, a man who faced seasons of depression his whole life. He wrote this, “Depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing a larger blessing for my ministry. It has now become to me a prophet in rough clothing.” Like a poorly clad prophet named depression, which screams out hopelessness, but in the back of Spurgeon’s mind is “God must be up to something or I wouldn’t be hearing this.”
Let me give you a little background on Spurgeon’s battle with depression. When he was 22 years old, he was married less than a year. He was already preaching in churches that could not hold the people that wanted to hear him. There was no church big enough, and so they rented out Surrey Garden Music Hall. Twelve thousand people packed in like sardines; ten thousand people standing outside just to be able to hear bits of the sermon or catch a written copy as soon as it was available.
But despite the way God was using Spurgeon or because God was using Spurgeon, people opposed his ministry. A few minutes into the service, someone stood up and yelled, “Fire! The galleries are giving way. The place is falling.” Pandemonium ensued. A gallery balcony collapsed. People were crushed. Spurgeon tried to calm the crowd but to no avail. Seven people died that night. Twenty-eight people were seriously injured, and Spurgeon plunged into deep despair. The way he described it was “Tears by day, terrors by night.” And in some ways, he would never fully recover from that experience. Some of the newspapers were ruthless, describing him as a ranting charlatan. Eventually, he was able to get back up into the pulpit. And he described what he experienced. He talked about going “to the very bottoms of the mountains… in the night that can never be erased from my memory.”
Later he said, “Be not, therefore, surprised as though some strange thing had happened unto you, if you find yourself in darkness.” Another time, he wrote, “Certain bodily maladies… are the fruitful fountains of despondency,” which is so interesting. What he’s saying there, he is way before his time. Way before culture caught up, he was saying there are physical conditions that contribute to despair.
“And let a man strive as he may against their influence, there will be hours and circumstances in which they will for a while overcome him. As to mental maladies… [I loved this] is any man altogether sane?” Just think about that for a second because we talk about, does mental illness exist? Have you been alive for more than five minutes? Do you know your neighbor? We’re all broken in some ways, and our brokenness can affect the way our mind operates. Obviously, it’s a spectrum and there are obvious and extreme versions and more subtle versions. “Are we not all a little off the balance?” Cheer up, guys. We’re all in this together.
“Some minds appear to have a gloomy tinge essential to their very individuality. Of them, it may be said, ‘Melancholy marked them for her own’ … fine minds … and ruled by noblest principles, but yet most prone to forget the silver lining and to remember only the cloud … These infirmities may be no – [This is really big because those very minds that are prone to think that way also question their usefulness because they think that way and Spurgeon argues,] “these infirmities may be no detriment to a man’s career of special usefulness; they may even have been imposed upon him by divine wisdom as necessary qualifications for his peculiar course of service. Some plants owe their medicinal qualities to the march in which they grow; others to the shades in which alone they flourish.”
So, what if we could rather than having some dream. I just keep thinking of Amy’s father. The story I began with. “I’m going to go the mission field and I’m going to win and I’m going to do and I’m going to… And God said, “No, no. Actually, I have a different plan for you. You’re going to love your wife like I’ve loved the church. You’re going to walk through seasons of brokenness and weakness and hopelessness.” Will we embrace the call of God and flourish where he puts us, even if it’s not what we envisioned as that spiritual success? Spurgeon even argues some of us are wired a particular way because God has a particular task for us to do which requires that wiring. We’re not justifying sin in any way, using us in a very specific way.
Now, I have here a list of causes of depression because, throughout Spurgeon’s’ writings and sermons, he got it so clearly that depression is multifactorial – many different factors. So, I’m not going to explore all these. I’ll just list them for you. You probably won’t be able to get them all, but here’s just a few of them.
Success: success ironically can lead to depression as it seems like this happened with Elijah.
Sin: when we refuse – not just sin in general, I’m talking about when we refuse to deal with known sin.
Unbroken labor: when we work so hard and don’t take Sabbath, don’t rest our bodies or minds.
Spurgeon writes, [And it’s very interesting to read his earlier writings, which is basically “Burn out!” and then his later writings; “You need to take a vacation.” He died young because of his schedule.]
“The bow cannot be always bent without fear of breaking. Repose is as needful to the mind as sleep to the body. Rest time [I didn’t even want to read this because I’m convicted.] is not waste time. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.”
Another cause – disloyalty of another believer: like when you feel stabbed in the back. That can have a huge impact. Also, as a part of that, he expands on that and talks about when believers you really love and care for plunge back into sin and give into temptation. That is so disheartening.
This one is big, and I think a lot of us will get what he’s talking about, what he calls “causeless depression.” He writes this of that,
“One affords himself no pity when in this case, because it seems so unreasonable and even sinful to be troubled, without manifest cause. And yet troubled the man is, even in the very depths of his spirit. If those who laugh at such melancholy did but feel the grief of it for one hour, their laughter would be sobered into compassion. The physician and the divine may unite their skill in such cases and both find their hands full, and more than full.”
He says the doctors can try to figure it out. Preachers and counselors can try to figure it out. But there are aspects of depression, and he has prophetic here, because even today, doctors don’t know, in most cases, what depression really is. And they’ll throw out tests like a chemical imbalance, but they don’t know. Is the chemical imbalance causing the depression or the depression causing the chemical imbalance? There’s so much about us that we don’t understand. But here’s the key. You don’t have to fully understand or label the cause to respond properly in the midst of it. Many times we don’t.
That’s why Spurgeon threw out a whole category of “causeless,” because we don’t typically know the cause and it’s ok. We can still cry out to God. We can still pursue a right course of action, or even let me give just a quick word on in medicine because Christians freak out about medicine. Is it right? Is it wrong? They can feel very shameful. My quick word on it is: don’t idolize it, don’t demonize it. It’s about a third, a third, a third. A third of people find real help from it; a third, nothing. Not good, not bad. A third, negative symptoms flow from. So, can be helpful? Yes. Is it the answer to every problem of depression? No. If you try to make medicine your God, it will not help you in the long run at all because it can’t perform at that level. Another one is neglect of the body, which kind of goes along with what we’ve been talking about and isolation of leaders.
So, in summary, let me summarize those with five causes of depression. Our hearts: what is really happening at the center of who we are? What do we worship? What do we want? What do we fear? And here’s, I think the biggest in many cases: who are we angry at? When you get sadness plus anger, you get depression.
Secondly, other people: their betrayal, their disappointment, abuse, loss. Thirdly, our bodies: diseases, postpartum, chemical imbalances, thyroid, hypo-, hyper-, medications, insomnia, drug abuse. All of those can be body related. Fourthly, is our enemy: the father of lies seeks to deceive and destroy. And if he can’t send us up in delusion, he will send us down in despair.
And then, fifthly, and this one’s awkward, our God. Sometimes God calls us into a season of darkness, and as Spurgeon said, sometimes we are designed for a career of special usefulness that requires an experience and an understanding of melancholy. Psalm 66:11 and 12: “You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; You let men ride over our heads. We went through fire and through water, yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.”
One old preacher said it this way, “God sometimes puts his children to bed in the dark.” And there are times when God calls us to a season of darkness. Here’s the big question. As Ed Welsh says,
“Contrary to what we might think, God says that strong faith can coexist with emotional highs, lows, and everything in between. It is a myth that faith is always smiling. The truth is that faith often feels like the very ordinary process of dragging one foot in front of the other because we are conscious of God.”
I will never forget the day, I was sitting in a class learning about depression from Dr. Ed Welsh. He was sharing stories of his own battles and what God did through him, in him and through him. But he ended the lecture with a story of a man he views as a hero.
And I remember thinking, “We have many of them in our church.” He talked about a 70-year-old man, who has faced depression his entire life. His entire life, he would have different seasons of depression, but the 70-year-old man had recently said to him, “You want to know why I get up in the morning? Why I get out of bed in the morning?” Because those of you who have faced depression know that can be one of the hardest things. And he said, “because there is one person in that day that God is going to call me to love and I want to be ready.” He is my hero. Everything inside of him is screaming despair, hopelessness, darkness, uselessness, and he says, “I’m going to get up. I’m going to take a shower. I’m going to put my clothes on. I’m going to look to God because he’s going to fill me with his love enough to pass on a little of that love to someone else today.” Wow.
Father, we thank you that you are God of the high mountain, the miracles, the chain breaking, sunshine, bright powerful miracles and you are God of the valleys. You are present with us when we walk through the questions, the despairing, the feelings of hopelessness. You do not point your finger at us; you do not condemn us. You don’t write us off. You meet us right there. You love us in the midst, care for us, and, Lord, you call other people to help care for us; and I thank you for a church full of people who seek to walk the long road with the hurting, and we’re not perfect.
We failed many times and there is not… We can’t hire enough pastors. We can’t hire a big enough counseling ministry, as amazing as our counseling ministry is, to care for everyone who is hurting. So, Lord, you are calling all of us to that place. To wake up in the morning, to walk forward to our place of work or neighborhood, because there are people who are full of despair all around us. Some of us are there today. And Father, we thank you for this example of Elijah that we just get a glimpse of your heart. We see ourselves as embodied souls, and you send out to be more helpful, more patient, kinder. And we thank you.