Rest for the Fearful Mind - Elijah's Desperation
Updated: Aug 22
Rest for the Anxious Mind – A Walk-through Elijah’s Desperation
What I've always wondered is how can someone of unsurmountable faith who can perform miracles and hear God's voice lose hope and want to give up? This very scenario plays out in the story of the prophet Elijah. Although Elijah was bold and powerful in his faith and service, he had times of doubt and struggled to the point of wanting to die (1 Kings 19:4). Strangely, Elijah's moment of desperation makes him more relatable to an ordinary Christian like me. We wrestle with doubt, depression, and anxiety and walk by faith alone, not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Elijah battled mental health issues knowing full well the existence and awe of our Almighty God.
Sometimes people of faith do things that seem unreasonable or incomprehensible because we are all sinners and fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). We may lean into emotions or feelings, especially fear, instead of the power of Christ. Elijah listened to the panic-instilling words of Jezebel threatening his life instead of trusting God. "So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah 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). In the next verse, we see the prophet afraid and running for his life into the wilderness.
God's Reaction to Our Shortcomings
God's reaction to our doubt, fear, and worry astound me. He sends an angel to take care of Elijah and provides him with food and water. Then God allows him to sleep again. The angel visits a second time and provides nourishment to Elijah so he can travel forty days and nights to Horeb, the mountain of God (1 Kings 5-8).
I'll admit at times; I don't show the same patience, forgiveness, and understanding with my young children over minor offenses as God does with Elijah. I've told my kids to go to bed early so I get where God is going with the resting part! But my children know they can come to me when they are hurting, whether physically or emotionally, and they will find comfort in my arms, empathy, and provision for their needs. And that is what God does for Elijah and what He does for us continually. However, we must be willing to accept His mercy.
Our Reaction to Our Shortcomings
What if we gave ourselves the same portion of grace and compassion when we are overcome with anxiety and depression as God gave to Elijah? Maybe if we allowed ourselves the rest we needed and reduced our loads, we would experience fewer breaking points. I don't know about you, but I struggle with this pouring out of abundant kindness upon myself and allotting more time for relaxation. But when I purposely take care of my mind and body, put down the phone, and leave things unchecked on the never-ending to-do list, I can feel my cortisol levels dropping.
In Out of the Cave, Chris Hodges broaches the same notion as he describes Elijah's "rapid descent from the mighty prophet of God to suicidal cave dweller."
Chris continues the story, "Elijah had just traveled many miles, likely over several months, running away from an empty threat made by a bitter idolater who had lost face in the sacrifice showdown. Yet, God didn't come to scold Elijah, 'You coward! What are you doing under a bush in the desert? Get up and shake it off!' No, God provides for Elijah's most immediate and basic needs. He didn't condemn him. Too often, I suspect, we struggle to be this kind to ourselves. 'What's wrong with me? I'm such a loser.' 'Nothing matters. Take me, Lord. I give up.' Instead of berating yourself, what if you treated yourself as God treated Elijah? …Maybe treat yourself with kindness in the midst of your depression instead."
God Asks the Right Questions
When Elijah gets to Horeb, he retreats to a cave for the night. Scholars believe this symbolizes darkness again, but I think it also had something to do with exhaustion after traveling on foot for 40 days and nights. And God lets him sleep again.
God asked Elijah, "What are you doing here?" once before the Lord appears and again in a whisper when the Lord is before him. Elijah replied both times the same way, "I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too" (1 Kings 19:9-10)
God knew the answer because He is omniscient, just like He knew where Adam and Eve were when they hid in the Garden of Eden. But God asks us questions so we can work through our feelings, think through our actions, and ultimately grow closer to Him. When God posed this question, He indicated that Elijah was straying from his purpose.
I love the breakdown and analysis of Elijah's response to God in Out of the Cave by Chris Hodges. Chris Hodges explains that Elijah expressed six different emotions he experienced, which is "a basic recipe for depression in his conversation with God." These emotions are fear, desperation, low self-esteem, anger, loneliness, and anxiety. "No wonder God wanted Elijah to air out his emotions. Any one of these can be overwhelming, but when they collide, they create an even more potent poison. Until Elijah expressed the emotions that were wearing him down, he wouldn't be able to move forward."
What if We Ask Ourselves the Right Questions?
Life's demands sometimes give us very little time to stop and do an honest self-assessment of our emotional state. But what if we asked ourselves the same question God asked Elijah when we find ourselves in a downward spiral overtaken by panic and fear? "Beloved, what are you doing here?" Maybe we could write the answer out in a journal or on the pages of our Bibles. We could confide in a good friend or speak with a therapist. Perhaps we could speak it out loud and express our feelings to the Lord as Elijah did. The process of laying our worries at the foot of the cross can liberate us from the strongholds of anxiety and depression (Psalm 55:22).
The Weight of the World
As we discussed earlier, Elijah fell victim to the fear of the death threat even though he had just called down fire from Heaven in a powerful display on Mount Carmel and had the prophets of Baal slaughtered in 1 Kings 18. As a prophet, Elijah had a tough job of boldly sharing God's message and warnings to an often obstinate crowd of disbelievers. The crowd often rebuked Elijah's message, but sometimes, however, people turned from following false gods and believing in the true God.
Elijah preached to a fallen world, witnessing and experiencing the destruction, death, sorrow, and fear caused by evil. Not much different from our firsthand view of the atrocities, corruption, and ruin we see rampantly in our newsfeed and witness on our streets. Honestly, all of it is so depressing, and sometimes we must fight hard to keep our eye on the heavenly prize. I understand how Elijah, even a prophet of God, broke down the way he did. I get it now -- even the most faithful can get crushed by the weight of the world, and our souls call out for Heaven. These dark times are when we must rely on the strength of Christ and receive His gracious gifts of mercy, grace, and rest.
If we keep reading the conversation between God and Elijah in 1 Kings 19:18, we see that not all was lost. "Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him." God also gives Elijah his successor, Elisha, knowing the time is near for Elijah to find eternal rest. And at the end of Elijah's story, he leaves this Earth not by death as he prayed under the broom brush at the height of his desperation, but by a fiery chariot, he reaches the heavens (2 Kings 2:11-12).
I know that sometimes Heaven feels so far away at times. We have the tough job of being light in a very dark world. It feels rather dim sometimes, but Friend, you never know how much your light means to someone else, so keep shining.
Originally published on ibelieve.com.