My pastor preached on 1 Kings 19 last Sunday -- the story of Elijah running away to Horeb after his big victory over the prophets of Baal (in chapter 18). This story has been a meaningful one in my life: God used it in the past to teach me about my depression.
You see, Elijah is depressed here. "He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die." That's depression. And one of the first things to note here is that it came after a mountaintop moment . . . which is not uncommon. We should brace ourselves for a possible crash after a spiritual high, especially if we know we are naturally susceptible to such crashes.
But what's the first thing God does for him? He let him sleep. He let him sleep a lot. He slept, then he woke up to eat, then he slept again. I've learned that for me, a lot of my depression is connected to sleep deprivation. I'm TIRED. I need rest. Just getting a good nap usually helps my outlook significantly.
And what's the other thing God does for him right away? "All at once, an angel touched him and said, 'Get up and eat.'" He gave him food. The man had been running for his life and presumably had not stopped to get any nourishment. In fact, the angel fed him twice: sleep, eat, sleep, eat. Taking care of my body -- so important for my emotional health. Depression is a physiological thing to a great degree; it is profoundly influenced by maladies in my physical self. A change in diet often improves my emotional state.
Now, note what Elijah says in verse 10 when God asks him what's up:
"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."
Poor Elijah. It's all about him, isn't it? Now, in a sense this response is understandable in his situation, but if you keep reading, you notice that he makes this exact same speech again in verse 14. The man seems to be rehearsing this lament; he's got it down, memorized to the word, ready to spout to anyone who asks. Meditating on your laments will not pull you out of the doldrums.
So God does one of those awesome things that He did with Old Testament prophets that we often wish He would do with us: He came to Elijah, directly.
"Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper."
My pastor said on Sunday that the phrase "gentle whisper" is sometimes translated "the sound of silence." Often, I realize that my depression is exacerbated because I am paying so much attention to the storm and noise. God speaks in the sound of silence. I need to ignore the noise and listen to God in the silence.
So, what does God do next for Elijah? He gives him a job -- three people to go anoint in His name to take over important roles. In other words, stop moping around and do something productive, something for someone else.
Then He filled Elijah in on something he actually probably knew but just conveniently ignored in his self-pitying rambling: "Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel -- all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him."
Elijah wasn't "the only one left" like he claimed. There were seven thousand more Israelites staying faithful to God . . . Elijah just wasn't paying attention to them. He went off into the wilderness, even leaving his servant behind, and pouted alone. Isolation increases depression. We were made to need each other.
One of the things about the Bible is that it doesn't idealize its heroes. Peter denies Christ, Moses kills a man, David commits adultery . . . we see the spiritual giants in their worst moments as well as their best. God needed us to see, first of all, that these were real people with real problems and failures, just like us. And He also needed us to see models for how to deal with these problems. When I'm under my broom bush, praying to die (which, praise Jesus, happens far less these days), I need to stop obsessing over my misery . . . get a good night's sleep . . . cut the sugar from my diet for a while . . . make a plan to get something productive done . . . and get out of the house and with some friends.
Don't tell me the stories of the Bible are not practical for our times.