Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Depression

I Kings 19: 1- 18

And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth 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 juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baked on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God. And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And the Lord said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: and Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay; and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.

A strange fiction abounds today – that only failures become depressed. In fact, the opposite is often the case. Winston Churchill, virtually a unanimous choice for the greatest world leader of 1900-1950, often fell into brooding periods of depression. For days on end his blue mood continued.

Toward his death, he became obsessed with the condition of the world. He often expressed his anxiety over the possibility of a nuclear holocaust. Even though a professing Christian, Sir Winston felt there was not hope for civilization.

William Cowper, who wrote hundreds of hymn lyrics and Christian poems, including “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” was dogged by depression until his death. As a result of his depression, he became an opium smoker and prayed for deliverance. At times he would fall back on the drug, then tearfully repent. He not only suffered physically but also mentally and spiritually.

Even though he was convinced that Jesus Christ could “save to the uttermost,” he struggled with the assurance of his salvation, seldom ever feeling confident. He often begged and pled for assurance that he was truly “bound for the promised land.”

In distress over his backslidings, he penned these incredibly touching lines:

There is a fountain filled with blood

Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;

And sinners plunged beneath that flood,

Lose all their guilty stains;

Lose all their guilty stains,

Lose all their guilty stains;

And sinners plunged beneath that flood,

Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see

That fountain in his day;

And there may I, though vile as he,

Wash all my sins away:

Wash all my sins away;

Wash all my sins away;

And there may I, though vile as he,

Wash all my sins away.

His was a tortured, pain-wracked life, but somehow I believe we will meet William Cowper in heaven.

Depression is no respecter of persons. The fact is, however, that depression is more likely to oppress those who are creative, intelligent, and sensitive to the contradictions and sins of the human condition. If you claim to have no depression, check your pulse. Chances are you’re dead and don’t even know it!

Depression is common in a society which “pressure cooks” its inhabitants with anxiety and stress. One noted psychiatrist has written: “Today we can sum up depression as the result of certain biologic and social forces that, in a complex setting, act detrimentally on the person’s nervous system function. The depressed activity in turn adversely changes the person’s behavior, feeling tones, and thoughts. This totality of abnormal function constitutes a depressive illness.”[1]

Ralph Speas observed in his book, How to Deal with How You Feel, that “depression is a general feeling of unhappiness.” There are many and various causes of the emotional states we label with the word depression. Depression is related to other emotions...

“Depression is sometimes related to physical causes. A hormone imbalance, wrong diet, lack of sleep, or physical trauma such as surgery can trigger depression...

“I always ask depressed persons to see a physician for a physical examination if there are no obvious spiritual or emotional causes for their depression.[2]

God’s Word is laden with cases of depressed persons. Nelson L. Price calls depression “fermented fear.” He further points out the fact that eight million Americans (if not more) have depression deep enough to send them to the doctor or to cause them to miss work. In almost a litany, Price asks: “Can you imagine Moses depressed? . . . Can you imagine Jeremiah depressed? . . . Can you imagine Jonah depressed? . . . Can you imagine John the Baptist depressed? . . . Abraham in Canaan when the famine came, Moses at Meribah when there was no water, Job scraping his skin ulcers, and Peter locked in an upper room attest to the generality of depression.”[3]

And there was Elijah. We can wear out adjectives on that mighty prophet, one of only two men in history who were translated straight into heaven. The other was Enoch who “walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” (Gen. 5:24). Few men in history have risen to the achievements or successes of Elijah. Recall that Elijah and Moses appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus was transfigured (see Matt. 17:1-8). Think of it. God Almighty chose Elijah, of all His servants, to represent the prophets of the Old Testament at the Transfiguration!

Elijah was, to use the old cliché, “sitting on top of the world.” In the name of Jehovah, Elijah could pronounce a drought, and the land would dry up. He could call forth the dead unto life, as in the case of the widow’s son in Zarephath. And he called down fire in opposition to the false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. He had marched from conquest to conquest and triumph to triumph. And then it happened.

He fell into a deep depression. If you are an adult, you have heard it called that a thousand times, haven’t you? I wonder if there is any such thing as a shallow depression? When depression surrounds you, it always feels deep. Winston Churchill called it “a black dog” which followed him around, nipping at his heels.

In spite of Elijah’s extraordinary power with God, James in the New Testament wrote:

Elias [Elijah] was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit (James 5:17-18).

How can we defeat the dark cloud of depression? Yes, it is true that a number of people are depressed by biochemical changes in their bodies resulting in a physical cause of depression, and not merely an emotional or spiritual impetus. Yet, innumerable sufferers of depression have a kinship with Elijah in his virtually suicidal depression.

In order to deal with and defeat depression, we must begin by noting its sources and its symptoms – and then, most importantly, its solutions.

Sources of Depression

One of the primary sources of depression is forgetfulness. The Word of God records:

And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there.

We must recall that Elijah had just come down from the mountain top of miraculous victory. God had answered with fire! And then Elijah had confronted wicked King Ahab. The preceding verses of Chapter 18 state:

And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain. So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees, And said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea. And he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again seven times. And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not.

The key to Elijah’s victory was that he had believed God, in spite of what appeared to be. As Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant Reformation, expressed it: “Miracles take place, not because they are performed, but because they are believed.” Like other powerful heroes and heroines of the faith, Elijah had believed God explicitly and implicitly.

But within the span of a few verses, Elijah seems to do a complete flip-flop.  Once triumphant, he soon is cowed down, panicky and fearing for his life. What does his descent into depression imply for us? That the most dangerous time in the life of a believer is immediately after a victory, a triumph.

Elijah may have thought that yesterday’s victories would suffice for today’s commitments. He may have forgotten that we must have a day-by-day experience with the Lord. To me, this is often the primary source of depression in the life of a Christian – forgetfulness, failing to remember the power and promises of the God who “hath brought us safe thus far.” It is as though we are smitten with spiritual amnesia. On the mountain top one minute – down in the valley, “The Slough of Despond,” the next. How many of us Christians have a chills-and-fever experience! Flying high one day, shot down the following day.

Elijah heard that Jezebel, that venomous priestess of Baal, wanted him dead. Elijah changed almost instantly from a roaring lion to a pussycat afraid of a mouse! This was the same stalwart of God who, only hours before, had supervised the slaying of the false prophets of Baal. Elijah turned and “hightailed” it! He turned his eyes away from the God of glory and fixed them on an evil empress. He simply forgot that God was on the scene, that God had not changed, that God was still making His omnipotent power available.

Face it. Many of us fall into moods of depression – even manic-depressive mood swings – for this exact reason. We have a tendency to forget. Forgetfulness. Every believer has seen God come through on a mountain top. A loved one was miraculously healed through prayers of intercession. A job was found when it seemed none were in the offing. You were snatched from the jaws of death by manifest divine intervention. You were about to lose your mortgage, and an unexpected sum of money arrived. You were terrified because a business appointment, and God gave you an unusual ability to communicate and cope. If you have been a Christian for any length of time, the Lord has escorted you to the mountain top. As it were, you have seen Him transfigured – and your life has also been transformed.

Yet, let a crisis come along – when a “Jezebel” threatens you – you run like Elijah. What a tragedy! How did you forget that God was with you? How could you possibly forget? It does not make sense. And that is the case. Such forgetfulness is senseless, foolish, and smacks of unbelief.

Poet Laureate of Great Britain during the reign of Victoria, Rudyard Kipling, penned these dramatic lines:

The tumult and the shouting dies;

The captains and the kings depart –

Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,

An humble and a contrite heart.

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget – lest we forget!

Another source of depression is fear. Why did Elijah run? He beat a hasty path for safety because of fear which overcame him. Let’s face it. He became afraid of Jezebel. Only hours before, Elijah had virtually sneered in her painted face. Remember that fear is not an action – it is a reaction. The prophet had won a resounding victory. How? By faith as he had “reacted” to God’s commands and Word.

“Fear causes us to lose our perspective,” comments Nelson Price. “Of course, the God of the universe is bigger than the cause of our fear. But when we focus on our fear and forget Him, the relativity is lost. An inordinate preoccupation with fear distorts reality. It is smart to back off and evaluate what is happening as unemotionally as possible. Feed your mind on fear-defensive facts. Let your mind bask in the magnificence and might of God. Readjust your perspective.”[4]

But now fear had set in. It had stupefied the prophet of God. Fear is a reaction – not an action – to the threat of danger and pain, whether real or imagined. Faith is a reaction to the Word of God. When the crisis comes, when Jezebel cackles and threatens our doom, if our lives are governed by situations and circumstances, our reaction will be fear – gnawing, numbing, bone-chilling fear. Fear that causes the pulse to race, the palms to sweat, the eyes to dilate, and the stomach to knot. Fear that sweeps over you and makes you nauseous.

On the contrary, if our lives are governed by Scripture, our reaction will be faith rather than fear.

In many respects, we are related to Elijah, many times more for our fear than our faith. Elijah reacted from fear rather than faith because he forgot. He forgot the source of his strength and sustenance, and so he feared. It was a gut-wrenching fear for his physical life.

Yet, there is another source of depression discovered in this text. It is fatigue. Overt sin is not always involved in the development of depression. Have you ever worked overtime on the job or perhaps at home on a special project, and you have labored 24, 48 or more hours virtually without sleep. Most of us have. Remember how you felt, I believe I’m gonna die. I don’t believe I can make it another moment. Or you “crammed for exams” without cramming your stomach. You existed almost totally on caffeine in coffee or in those tablets called “No-Doz.” Or have you ever driven a semi cross-country, pushing yourself to deliver that load of produce before it reached the spoiling point? Nearly all of us are familiar with the feeling of fatigue and tiredness – not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually. There you have a case for what they used to call “nervous exhaustion.”

Sheer fatigue. The Scriptures declare: “He arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah.” Elijah had spent innumerable hours atop Carmel. The emotional stress is almost impossible for us to comprehend.

Then, to add insult to injury, Elijah ran from Jezreel to Beersheba, a distance of 200 miles! Marathons and 10-K runs are in vogue today, but Elijah’s Marathon retreat from Jezebel must have set the record. He was totally exhausted (and there was no Gatorade!). No wonder he collapsed into a shriveled heap!

In this connection Brooks Faulkner makes a timely statement about Elijah’s exhausted condition:

Most of us know how Elijah must have felt. We can come close to the same panic that is prevalent in his speech to the Eternal the God of hosts. If he is “the only one left,” he doesn’t feel like sharing his frustration with the world. Especially is this true if he feels he has given his ministry his best shot . . . his best effort . . . his all. Is it any wonder that burnout is the closet sin of the minister? We don’t want people feeling sorry for us. It is enough that we feel sorry for ourselves.[5]

Exhausted, physically fatigued, drained of energy, Elijah was a ministerial burnout for a time. And this is the source of depression for many of us, preachers and laypersons. Pressing schedules, burdensome responsibilities, lack of sleep, constant problem-solving, living in a fishbowl, as it were, keep us from thinking right and making proper decisions. Fatigue, then, is a leading source of depression.

And failure is another source of depression. Elijah had reached the pinnacle of popularity. Why, he was the mouthpiece of the true and living God, Jehovah. All he did was pray sixty-seven words, and the fire of God fell! But now, Elijah felt he was a failure and that he was ready for death. In fact, he asked God to snuff him out. He was too cowardly and too exhausted to attempt suicide himself, but he had become propelled by a suicidal death wish.

All of these sources working together – forgetfulness, fear, fatigue and failure – led him to frustration and a “give-up” attitude. Those factors collaborated, plunging him into depression and into the juniper-tree syndrome. All around us are modern-day Elijahs who are depressed for a combination of reasons. They forget the God who loves them with an everlasting love. They fail to remember even recent blessings and victories. Astounding, isn’t it? Yet, they seem to forget totally the presence of God on the scene. If only they could remember the truth of the poet’s words:

I, God, enfold thee like an atmosphere:

Thou to myself wert never yet more near;

Think not to shun Me; whither would’st thou fly?

Nor go not hence to seek Me: I am here.

-James Rhoades

Others often react to situations in fear instead of faith. They seem to bypass the stabilizing influence of God’s steadfast promises:

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7).

What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In God will I praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me (Ps. 56:3-4).

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people (Luke 2:10).

Fear should have no place in our lives if we are following in faith. John Donne (1573–1631), best known by “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” was a Christian poet of remarkable insight. If only we would pray as he did:

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun

My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;

Swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son

Shall shine as He shines now; and heretofore;

And, having done that, Thou hast done,

I fear no more.

Still others have wallowed in failure to the point of rock-bottom depression – even to impulses or suicide itself. It sounds too simplistic, but it is absolutely true: if you have Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are not a failure. Maybe you are a failure in your own eyes or from the standpoint of the world, but you yourself are not a failure. Let me quote a perceptive writer:

First, understand that there is a difference between failing in some activity and being a failure. To fail doesn’t mean you are a failure. What you are as a person is always more than what is involved in one activity or endeavor . . . Thomas Edison was unsuccessful in the first ninety-six experiments in his attempt to invent the light bulb. An assistant commented to the inventor about this abundance of failure. Mr. Edison answered, “The work is not wasted. We know ninety-six ways not to do it.”[6]

You are a failure in your own mind. God does not regard you as a failure if you are found in Him. Write this down. Inscribe it on the tables of your heart – none of us can learn to defeat depression until we recognize the sources of depression. Once he has done that, he can then realize the

Symptoms of Depression

And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth 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 juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers (19:3-4).

There is a clear distinction between a source of a problem and a symptom of a problem. Our profoundest difficulty is that we try to treat symptoms instead of sources. A friend of mine lived in a housing project as a child. They had water tanks in the apartments but no means of heating the water. My friend’s dad has an ingenious idea – except that it backfired. He would put an electric hotplate right underneath the tank, and they had plenty of hot water until . . . one night the tank overheated and the pop-off valve blew, letting loose a steady stream of water.

My friend, thirteen then, woke up to the spectacle of the apartment filling up with water and his dad trying to catch the torrent of water with a bucket. Can you picture that? Here was an inexhaustible supply of water pouring all over the apartment and a distraught dad frantically trying to cope with the symptoms rather than the source.

My friend rushed in and yelled, “Dad, Dad, that’s not gonna work. I’ll go get the building superintendent, and he’ll turn the water off outside.” Within a short time my friend had summoned the super, and the water was turned off at its source.

The lesson is apparent. Treat the source instead of the mere symptoms. Go to the root, the heart of the situation. Once these sources have plunged us into depression, certainly there are symptoms which demonstrate that we are depressed. Let me suggest a few quite obvious symptoms of this debilitating state.

The first symptom often is detachment, flight, withdrawal. Elijah left his servant and traveled a day’s journey into the wilderness. There he sat down under a juniper tree. Isolation. Capitulation. Detachment. Elijah left those who loved and supported him. How often I have heard a spouse seeking to orchestrate a divorce by explaining, “I’ve just got to get away to myself. I gotta think.” That sounds good . . . or does it? Sometimes that person is getting away actually to be with a paramour. Many times the person thinks it will help to withdraw. It might and it might not; it could lead to the breakup of a marriage that ought to stay intact. Many depressed persons want to stay in bed and do nothing, to withdraw from those who really know them and love them.

Remember that this is a symptom and not a source! It is not enough for us to tell the depressed person, “Just get up out of bed, and go on.” Let me ask: “Do we get depressed because we are isolated or are we isolated because we are depressed?” My definite feeling is that detachment is a symptom.

Withdrawal for the right reasons is beneficial, unless it is overdone. Jesus withdrew with his disciples and at times by himself. But withdrawal in order to pity oneself or to make our family or friends feel bad or to express anger or to cop out of serving the Lord is downright sinful. Part of Elijah’s motives were on target, but others were off the mark.

Another symptom of depression is despondency. The account further indicated that Elijah “requested for himself that he might die.” In other words, he had a death wish, but he himself was not willing to carry it out.  He asked the Lord to kill him: “O Lord, take away my life.” Nearly every seasoned Christian has prayed like that at least once. “Lord, this is more than I can bear. No one understands. No one seems to care for me.  No one appreciates my ministry. Lord, I’d be better off to leave this life. I’m so tired and worn out. Jesus, I can’t carry on any longer.” Confess. If you’ve been a Christian anytime, you have more than likely had those same pitiful sentiments.

Elijah was characterized by pessimism and an utter sense of hopelessness. Elijah, at least momentarily, had lost his will to live. He was almost as bad off as the fellow who commented, “I’d shoot myself to death, but I’d hate to waste a bullet.” He was thinking in the wrong channels because of forgetfulness, fear, fatigue, and failure (he thought). His despondent mood was merely a symptom of a deeper problem. Are we despondent because we are depressed or depressed because we are despondent? Thinking positive thoughts, however good that is, will not overcome despondency and depression. Many untrained (and even the trained) people try to force positive thinking on those who are not able to act upon it. Positive thinking is not enough. After the source is identified, a Christian application of positive thinking will motivate the believer.

Another symptom of depression is defeat. “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” A stifling defeatist attitude had set in. “I’m no good,” was the defeatist cry of poor Elijah.  In essence, he was making the point to the Lord, “I’ve tried so hard, Lord, but I’m so inferior. I can’t be compared with Moses or Abraham – or even any of my forefathers.” Once again you must deal with the source. We are not depressed because we are defeated. We are defeated because we are depressed.

Yet another symptom is deception. Elijah, now detached and despondent and defeated, moans: “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (v. 10).

There is a prime example of faulty thinking. Poor, pitiful Elijah. He was the only one left, so he thought. God emphatically answered that Elijah was deceived and dead wrong.

In verse 18 God reminds Elijah: “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” Most of us are modern-day Elijahs, not in our power but in our paranoia. We have a persecution complex. Nothing’s right. Everything’s wrong. People are plotting against us. “Lord, I’m the only one who loves you in my church and in my community. I’m the only one who cares. Oh, boo hoo!!!” And then we add, “Even at that, I’m no good.” Isn’t that contradictory and plain stupid? If you’re the only one who’s living for the Lord, that ought to mean you’re plenty good. You’re spiritual. You’re making a mark for Jesus. It doesn’t make sense, does it? You’re so dedicated and so consecrated and so committed, but at the same time you’re a no-good, lousy wretch! His reasoning, like ours can be, was faulty and defective.

Remember that deception is not a source. It’s a symptom. We do not become depressed because we are deceived. We are deceived because we are depressed. It is simply the symptom of the genuine sources of forgetfulness, fear, fatigue, and failure.

Still another symptom of depression is defensiveness. Listen to Elijah’s pitiful cry: “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” Now he becomes defensive – “I alone am left.” Here is total preoccupation with self. His eyes are only on his own problem. This is a bona fide symptom of depression. That is, the depressed person is only interested in the little world that is bounded on the north, east, south, and west by the perpendicular pronoun. That is the depressed person’s obsession. Self. Ego. I.

The depressed person becomes defensive, edgy, and wrapped up in his feelings. He repeats, “Nothing matters anymore.” In claiming he wants to be left alone, he is actually begging egotistically for attention. He has a psychological chip on his shoulder.

Let me recap the sources of depression. Forgetfulness. We forget who bought us on the cross; we forget our roots in Christ; we forget His past blessings; we forget the good and focus on the bad. We live as though God did not exit.

Fear. Why should we fear if God is with us? John wrote in his first Epistle: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not made perfect in love” (I John 4:18, NASB).

Fatigue. When we are worn out and exhausted, we must lean heavily on the Holy Spirit’s strength. When fatigued we become vulnerable to the “slings and arrows” of the devil.

Failure. When we seem to fail, let us ask the question, “By whose standard of failure?” If you are endeavoring to serve the Lord, no matter the adverse conditions, you have not failed. Does God consider you a failure? The world considers the backwoods preacher a failure. If that pastor is faithfully ministering and holding forth the word of life, he is a resounding success.  Failure in whose eyes? That is the question one must ask.

For the sake of the kingdom, do not try to treat the symptoms of depression – detachment, despondency, defeat, deception, and defensiveness. You will stay depressed for long periods of time unless you return to the sources of depression. Finally, and most importantly, let us note some

Solutions of Depression

Ironically, the first solution is physical. The Bible account continues:

And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baked on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee.

On the road to recovery from his depression, Elijah first slept and then ate and drank. This is tremendous biblical advice. Rest. Learn to relax. Lean on the everlasting arms. Eat enough to gain strength. We ought to have a balanced diet and sleep enough. Sleep needs, of course, vary from person to person. Edison, the genius inventor, slept no more than four hours a night, but he learned the wisdom of “cat naps” during the day. Eight hours seems right for most adults. Nine or ten, unless you have lost sleep for a couple of days, is probably too much. Heart specialists are now claiming that too much sleep can be just as bad as too little. Too much sleep does not properly make the heart work and the blood pump.

This part of the solution is physical. Many physically fatigued people may doubt their salvation because they so often think of salvation in terms of “feeling good.” Fatigued people also put themselves in a vulnerable position before the devil and His cohorts. It may be that we have a biochemical need, and perhaps there is a chemical imbalance in our systems. Fatigue is one of the sources. Good health is certainly one of the solutions.

While the solution is physical, it is also personal. The account also states:

And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

In order to overcome depression, we must personally look at ourselves. We must personally look at ourselves. We must ascertain where we are – and then assume responsibility.  Instead of alibiing, “I alone am left,” we need to admit, “I alone am responsible.” This is a giant step toward defeating depression.

In verse 9 God asked an intriguing question. “Elijah, what are you doing here?” When I arrive in heaven, I would love to find out where God put the inflection in many of His questions recorded in His Word. I have always wondered where the inflection in God’s voice was in this particular question. Maybe he asked, “What are YOU doing here?” “Elijah, of all people in the world, what are YOU doing here? You had such courage on Mount Carmel. You had such faith at the widow’s home at Zarephath. I would have expected this retreat of anyone but you, so what are YOU doing here?”

Maybe the inflection was in another place. “What are you doing HERE?” “Of all the places on earth, Elijah, what are you doing HERE underneath this juniper tree? Out here in the middle of nowhere? What are you doing HERE?” Have you ever been in a place where you knew God didn’t want you to be, and you heard that still small voice deep down inside asking, “What are you doing HERE?”

But perhaps God put His inflection on still another word: “What are you DOING here?” Elijah, in that case, would have been compelled to reply, “I’m not DOING anything, Lord. I’m just feeling sorry for myself, wishing I were dead.” Many of us lose our joy by DOING nothing!

What is the prevailing lesson? You cannot run from God. You cannot get away from “the hound of heaven.” Francis Thompson, in his epic “The Hound of Heaven,” wrote concerning his flight from God:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him down the arches of the years;

I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears

I fled from Him, and under running laughter,

Up vistaed hopes I sped;

And shot, precipitated,

Down titanic glooms of chasmed fears,

From those strong feet that followed, followed after.

But with unhurrying chase

And unperturbed pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

They beat – and a Voice beat

More instant than the Feet –

“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

The danger of today’s tranquilizer is that it simply puts off the day when we will have to face the foe. If you find yourself in depression, God is speaking to you: “What are you doing here?”

Do you hear that still small voice? The solution is personal. God speaks to you and me as He did Elijah:

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

We are living in a day when people lust for the spectacular. They want to be struck with “an experience.” They want to feel the cyclonic wind, hear and behold the earthquake, and view the fire. They long for spiritual pyrotechnics. They want a chills-up-and-down-the-spine experience. But God still speaks in that still small voice and says, “I’m not through with you yet.”

Yes, we sometimes have to crawl under that juniper tree before we can hear God speak. The truth is: the most profound lessons are not learned on the mountain tops. They are taught us in the valleys – down under our very own juniper trees. There, by practical experience, we hammer out a life of victory. I personally never seem to learn a spiritual truth in the eagle’s aerie, but always in the cardinal’s nest down close to the ground. Not on the mountain top but in the valley, “valley so low.” Longfellow must have had similar thoughts when he wrote: “The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.” An unnamed sage opined, “There has never been a sunset that wasn’t followed by a sunrise.”

The solution to depression is physical and personal, but it is also practical. God continued:

And the Lord said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room.

God gave Elijah an assignment. Elijah arose from his pallet of depression. He accepted the assignment and became busy for God. God gave him a job which involved other people. Here was a practical solution to depression. Elijah left his depression and moved on to the most marvelous days of his ministry. His depression was not a dead end. Neither is yours. Your blue mood may become the vantage point to the road that winds ever upward.

Many have remarked to me, “Why, I never thought of that.” Simple, isn’t it? Elementary, dear Watson – but so often ignored. Become involved. Accept an assignment from the Lord. The number-one deterrent to depression is soul-winning. Lead another person to Jesus and help rid him of his depression. The most glorious joy in all the world is to see a person saved and transformed by the Lord Jesus. We still reap what we sow. If you sow the seeds of joy in Christ, they will blossom into beauty. Cast your bread upon the waters, and it will return to you one hundred times over (Eccl. 11:1).

Consequently, we note that the solution to depression is three-fold. Physical, personal, and practical. You will never overcome depression until you personally trust God, until you are physically sustained, and until you become busy for God.

If the sources of depression are fear, fatigue, and forgetfulness, and failure, how do we treat them? We treat fear with faith. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17). There is the personal solution. Treat fatigue with rest. There is the physical solution. We treat forgetfulness by training ourselves to remember what God has done for us – and then plunging ourselves into His service.  We treat failure by realizing there is success in Christ. Here is the practical solution.

Are you prone to moods of depression? Then God inquiries, “What are you doing here?”

The last time we see Elijah in the Word is on the Mount of Transfiguration, gloriously being transfigured with the Lord Jesus Christ and Moses. He is no longer running from the Jezebels of this world.

Today perhaps you are running and finally find yourself under your own juniper tree. There you are moaning the blues. If you will only listen to that still small voice, God will speak to your heart. Stop looking for the wind, the earthquake, and the fire – the experience. I repeat: simply listen to the still small voice and begin to trust totally in Jesus.

First Kings 19:11 makes this observation: “Behold, the Lord is passing by.” He is passing by at this moment, and He is the only solution to your depression. When we are under the juniper tree, he takes us by the hand and walks by our side, helping us in the process of tracing the rainbow through the rain.


[1] Leonard Cammer, M.D., Up from Depression (New York: Pocket Books, 1974), pp. 4-5.

[2] Ralph Speas, How to Deal with How You Feel (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1980), p. 23.

[3] Nelson L. Price, Farewell to Fear (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1983), pp. 112-113.

[4] Ibid., p. 17.

[5] Brooks R. Faulkner, Burnout in Ministry (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1981), p. 11.

[6] Hardy R. Denham, Jr., Freedom from Frustration (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1981), pp. 33, 37.

Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain

ON A PERSONAL NOTE:

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