Deteriorating Mental Health, Elijah, and 7 Reminders for Us

I asked our church recently how many have struggled with anxiety or depression in the last year and hands shot up throughout our gathering space. No one was surprised, of course, because we have seen reports and news stories about mental health deteriorating in our society. The hands raised throughout the room reminded those of us who struggle that we are not alone. Poets like Tennessee Williams, presidents like Abraham Lincoln, and preachers like Charles Spurgeon have struggled with depression. Poets, presidents, preachers, and prophets too. In the Scripture, in I Kings 19, we find Elijah under a broom tree, believing that his ministry is over and his life is not worth living. As we read the account we are reminded:

1. Godly people struggle with anxiety and depression.

Anxiety and depression impact godly people. The last verse in the previous chapter says “the power of the Lord was upon Elijah.” His faith was strong and God was using him powerfully.

2. Anxiety or depression can plague us suddenly, even in the midst of great times.

The previous chapter is the pinnacle of Elijah’s life. Elijah singlehandedly went against 400 prophets of Baal, showed those watching that God is real, and God sent a downpour to end a drought. Everything was going great and yet a few verses later, Elijah is running for his life.

3. Anxiety and depression are complex because we are complex.

When the angel approached Elijah, the angel did not offer Elijah simple or trite answers for Elijah’s depression. There is no “Get over it” or “Have a longer devotional” in the passage. We are complex beings, knit together by our Creator. God formed our bodies and breathed our souls into us. Thus, we are physical and spiritual beings. In the account, we see God caring for Elijah’s physically and spiritually. An angel encouraged Elijah to eat, to get up and move his body and God met with Elijah and gently spoke to Him.

4. Our thoughts can spiral from one thing.

The beginning of the sudden onslaught upon Elijah was one threat from one person – Jezebel. Elijah had just conquered 450 prophets of Baal, and yet one comment from one person sent him spiraling. While it does not seem logical, it is real. One person. One email. One report. One conversation can ignite a spiral for us too.

5. God meets us where we are.

In the account we see God speaking to Elijah in a gentle whisper. Some scholars have pointed out that wind and earthquakes are indications of His judgment or His miraculous power. He often speaks in acts of power, but when we are bruised and beaten, He comes to us in a gentle manner. He soothes us, comforts us.

6. We can still struggle after meeting with Him.

After the still small voice beautiful moment, Elijah says the same thing to God, “I am the only one left.” We know that God can speak our struggles away. He can heal in a moment fully and completely. God can remove anxiety just like He can heal cancer but often He does not. Often healing is a process, and sometimes we are not healed in this world.

7. God invites us to fight our thoughts with His truth.

Elijah insisted he was the only one left; God reminded him that there were 7000 others. God’s truth was greater than Elijah’s thoughts. God fought Elijah’s thoughts with His truth. Fighting anxiety and depression seems impossible. Spurgeon compared it to fighting the mist: “You might as well fight with the mist as with this shapeless, undefinable, yet, all-beclouding hopelessness… Yet troubled the man is, even in the very depths of his spirit, it needs a heavenly hand to push it back … nothing short of this will chase away the nightmare of the soul.” Hard to fight yet must fight. His truth can be the heavenly hand that pushes against our thoughts.