How To Escape Depression
A tour through the Old Testament–1 Kings 19
A young lawyer was once very much given to depression. One time he fell into such depression that his friends actually removed all his knives and razors from his house, for fear of him taking his own life. In his journal, he described how he was feeling by writing, “I am now the most miserable man living. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell, I awfully forebode I shall not.” Fortunately, he did recover and later became the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.
Who of us in this room has not lost heart? Who has not felt they may never feel better? Who has not been broken by their own emotions? Who has not suffered from depression at some point–that miserable, wretched experience that leaves you exhausted, unmotivated and in deep hopeless despair? The dictionary defines depression as “a state of feeling sad, a disorder marked by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in things, a lowering of vitality, and feelings of dejection.” Depression is a crippling hopelessness.
Christians battle with how to categorize depression. We’re supposed to have that “joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” But sometimes we chant “down, dismayed, dejected and dirt down in my heart.” Experiencing low, thoughtful, weighty, heavy and sober times is not necessarily sinful. Men like David, Job, and Elijah went through seasons like that—and so did Spurgeon and Luther. But whenever your emotions rule, and not the Lord, then you’re moving into a sinful pattern.
Ongoing depression elevates your emotions over Christ. When you live as if your emotions are greater than God, then you know you are sinning with your emotions. First Corinthians 6:12b, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything”–including emotions. You and I are not to be mastered by anything but the Spirit of God–not sleep, food, friendships . . . nothing, including emotions.
It is doubly difficult to battle with depression when you live in a day when evil is good and good is evil. Leaders have no integrity. War is the norm. And total disaster waits just outside our front door. Back in 1973, Newsweek Magazine stated, “There is no doubt that depression, long the leading mental Illness in the U.S.A. is now virtually epidemic”–50 years ago. So what is it now? Today, depression and anxiety attacks 25% of our students, and the rest of us are not exempt.
Nowhere in Scripture are believers promised immunity from the pressure of our culture. Plus, be reminded, Christian–your enemy has one objective, to wipe out all Christians by wrecking your witness. He wants you to keep your eyes on Earth, not Heaven–forget your position with Christ as a forgiven child and steer you away from an intimate walk with Christ. He can do that by encouraging uncontrolled emotions, making one of his best weapons depression–those overwhelmingly dark feelings of misery, sometimes called the common cold of mental illness.
Unless you learn what the Bible says about how to deal with this crippling hopelessness, you will not be able to rise above it, nor help others battling with it. How do you overcome depression, and how do you begin to direct your emotions so they glorify God and not defeat you? The answer is always found in God’s character and His Word.
In Scripture, there are three classic cases of depression. Do you know who battled with it? Moses, Jonah and Elijah–three great men of God, and that’s encouraging (Numbers 11:15, Jonah 4:3 and 1 Kings 19:4). They were so depressed, all three actually prayed for God to take their lives. They were so low, they prayed, “God, kill me.” What is so helpful about their experience is that through it, God teaches you the cause, the cure, and the control for depression. Let’s look at just one of the classic cases of depression found in the life of Elijah to discover these.
ONE The CAUSE of Depression
Open your Bibles to 1 Kings 18, and then 19–for it’s the backstory which leads to Elijah’s failure with depression. Today, you will learn from God’s dealings with Elijah how to biblically deal with depression and dark times practically. But what is God doing to accomplish His glorious purposes, according to His sovereign will in the lives of His people, theologically?
After Joshua takes the land, then the compromising time of the judges–Israel asks for a king in 1 Samuel and gets Saul. God then gives them king David, followed by the reign of Solomon, when the Lord allows Israel to ascend to its greatest religious, economic and political strength. Then at Solomon’s death, sadly the nation divides in 931 and slowly disintegrates–finally suffering exile in 722 for the north, and 586 for the south.
After its great prosperity, the nation collapses within–does that sound familiar? It is during this season of decline that God uses His prophets to represent His will to the people and call His people to repentance (just like we are supposed to). But it is difficult work, because there are massive attacks of syncretism–trying to blend the true faith with false beliefs and attacks against monotheism, the truth of only one true God by the false religion of Baal and many gods.
God’s prophets were men of great courage and faith, but men who were imperfect and flawed, making them great examples. Eventually God intentionally sends Assyria and then Babylon to take Israel captive and teach them some difficult lessons. But before God does, Yahweh preserves the remnant and challenges the Northern and Southern tribes through His prophets, to remember who He is and what He has promised. Through His prophets, God is calling His people to follow Him in dependent obedience.
God is calling His people to trust Him and not others. God is calling His people to pursue His ways and not their ways. For three and one-half years there was a drought with a great famine that came as judgment upon the nation of Israel and its wicked king Ahab. Elijah had no superstar, just an available servant–so he invites God to use him and God does mightily.
By Elijah’s request, one of the prophets of God, there is a meeting between Elijah and King Ahab. They insult each other and Elijah sets forth a challenge–it’s a contest (1 Kings 18:19) between the prophets of Baal (about 850 of them) versus one prophet of God, with the people of Israel in attendance (affirming again, one plus God constitutes a majority).
Elijah rebukes the people for mixing true faith with Baal worship–then lays out the challenge (1 Kings 18:21). Since Baal was considered the god of heavens, he should demonstrate his power from the heavens and fire should come down and consume their altar. If Baal is God, he will consume the altar–if Jehovah is God, He will demonstrate His power the same way. Elijah gave the priests of Baal the first shot. For six hours (from 6 a.m. till noon) they prayed and Elijah watched in silence (1 Kings 18:27).
At noon, Elijah couldn’t resist any longer–he started to mock. Like the worst razzing you ever received while playing a sport, Elijah ripped on those false prophets–even saying that Baal didn’t answer because he was going to the bathroom. The priests of Baal called out louder, wailed, even cut themselves until evening–but no one answered. Then quickly preparing the alter so all would know that there was no trickery, Elijah prayed quietly and Jehovah God sent the fire down (1 Kings 18:38).
Pandemonium broke out instantly. The people of Israel fell on their faces and acknowledged the one true God–and in the gathering darkness, the people (assisted by Elijah) pursued the fleeing prophets of Baal down the mountain, by the sea, to a brook where all 850 were slaughtered. If that were not enough, Elijah also told Ahab that the drought would end. So that same evening, Elijah prays and the rain comes in a torrent. (Elijah expected his prayers to be answered–Elijah also got involved in his prayers as well.)
After warning Ahab to go home before it got so wet that his chariot would not travel on the soaked land, by God’s strength, Elijah beat Ahab back to Jezreel by running the entire way–a total of 30 miles. When you try, you fail. When you trust, Christ succeeds. Can you imagine how Elijah must have felt? What a high. What a rush. What incredible ministry. Even though Elijah was all alone, he didn’t focus on the problems of his land, but on the potential of what God could do. You could say that Elijah was not problem-oriented, but potential-oriented.
But something awful happens–after a hard day of kinging, Ahab comes home and tells his wife, Jezebel, about what happened that day. But being the main instigator of Baal worship, Jezee was miffed, angered, burned–mad as a hornet. So she makes an oath and tells Elijah she is going to kill him, just like he killed her prophets. And you would think, after taking on 850 prophets single-handedly, that a little threat from a wicked queen would not bother God’s prophet. But it does.
Read 1 Kings 19:3 to 4, “And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, [over 70 miles] which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. 4But 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 my life, for I am not better than my fathers.’”
This man is depressed–he is wallowing in self-pity. He is in “a big downer”. You and I have all experienced it at some time or another. Do you remember the last time you started to feel this way? You lost a job, lost a spouse, lost a child, or lost a friend . . . had a great disappointment or multiple mini-trials . . . experienced lots of change all at once with the loss of routine . . . had a big move, had to start over, started a new job . . . experienced a big financial loss or the loss of health . . . you went through a disaster, burglary, fire or wreck. Then your emotions lead you to the depths of depression.
Here is Elijah, dangerous now depressed. How did that happen? What circumstances make you ripe for depression. What leads to this emotional darkness?
1. Depression comes after something EXCITING
A high, an experience, a victory, a culmination. Elijah’s was the fire called down from Heaven, then the 850 prophets killed—he was tired, prayed for rain, ran 30 miles. This was the climax of Elijah’s life. He longed for Israel to repent, to put away their foreign gods and worship the one true God. For many pastors, it is Mondays after preaching Sunday for 2.5 hours. It may be the day after an athletic contest or boxing match. Depression comes after something exciting.
2. Depression comes after INTENSE emotion
Elijah killed the prophets of Baal–can you picture what a righteous slaughter looks like? You are killing people who are evil, vile, false, and lying–but they are people. That is intense. Then afterward he feared for his life. It may be exams for students, interviews, public speaking.
3. Depression comes after a LOW experience
A failure, a bad event, a loss, disappointments in life. There was no revival for Israel, even after his courageous witness. All of it seemed futile–the nation did not change. Did you notice that Elijah had become a hypocrite? Did he really want to die? No. If not, then why did he run over 120 miles? He could have stayed where he was and Jezee would have been glad to accommodate Elijah’s request.
Prayer is asking God for what He wants–not what we want. Aren’t you glad God does not answer all your prayers? Depression comes after a disappointing experience.
4. Depression comes after being WORN OUT
Elijah was worn out. He had lots of exercise (killing those prophets was not easy, nor running 30 miles, or fleeing to the wilderness with no food and probably no sleep–he’s worn out). Reminding you that depression can be a physical problem. The first step in serious depression is to get a physical.
5. Depression comes when you focus on SELF
You have a pity party–I alone am left feeling sorry for myself. Like Peter, when he walked on the water–if you look at the waves, you’re sunk. But if you look at Christ, you stand. Ingrown eyeballs are the first step to depression. Those are some of the causes. What are the cures?
TWO The CURE to Depression
What are the steps to prevention and recovery? There are seven of them here–all clearly seen in how God dealt with Elijah. I believe recovery requires all seven steps and most preferably in order. It is definitely not always this simple and straightforward, but more often than not, it is. It is not always this simple.
Read verses 5 to 8, “He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, ‘Arise, eat.’ 6Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. 7The angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, ‘Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.’ 8So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.”
1. Sleep Verses 5 to 6
“He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; 6and lay down again.” The Hebrew tells us Elijah had not slept. If you’re depressed, you usually do not want to sleep–you want to solve your problem, but you desperately need to sleep. We all know the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. But we do not realize the very reason that keeps you from smoking or taking drugs is the same principle that should move you to get enough sleep.
Let’s take a brief survey–everyone is different so be honest, raise your hands. How many here usually need 8 hours or more? How many do with less than 7 every night? Less than 6? 5? 4? God requires that you sleep to function correctly, think biblically and control your emotions. And on another note–God is not going to work until you stop running.
2. Eat Verses 5 to 6
“Behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, ‘Arise, eat.’ 6Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank.”
I remember sitting in my car, leaving my college campus, with thoughts that were super depressed–strangely weird. And not at all me. I literally ran out of gas physically. As I was waiting for the light to change, and marveling over my depressive thoughts, I woke up to the fact that I had not eaten anything for 36 hours. You must eat, and you must eat right–not energy drinks, sugar, but real protein, real body fuel.
3. Exercise Verses 7 to 8
“The angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, ‘Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.’ 8So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.” Exercise is crucial to your spiritual well-being. God sent Elijah went on a long journey. Get your body working. No exercise clogs the brain. You can’t think right without some working out, walking, riding a bike. As sergeants love to say, “Move, people.”
4. Solitude with God Verses 9 to 10
“Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 10He said, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.’”
Then after a display of divine power (verses 11 to 13a), there was a sound of a gentle wind blowing in 13b to 14, “And behold, a voice came to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 14Then he said, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.’” There are several things involved here–to deal with depression you must . . .
1 Get alone with God
Pray and talk to your Father regularly
2 Monitor your thoughts
Are you thinking correctly? Are you listening to yourself or talking truth to yourself?
3 Do you have a correct view of God?
You need to pursue truth–get accountable to thinking biblically in order to get things into perspective. Be honest. True worship will always do that for you, where you offer yourself to Christ as a living sacrifice. You must seek Him.
5. A Task Verse 15
“The Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram.” Stop sitting around waiting for your emotions to die down. Get excited about how to please the Lord. Get going–move it! God already rebuked Elijah for being out in the middle of nowhere–that is not for God’s man. No, the servant of God is not to be a monk, but engaged in the mainstream of life–involved with people, proclaiming God’s character and message.
Once, Dr. Karl Menninger, a famous psychiatrist, was giving a lecture on mental health and was answering questions from the audience. One person asked, “What do you do to help a person who said they felt a nervous breakdown was coming on?” To their astonishment, he did not say, “Consult a psychiatrist.” What he did say was, “Lock up your house, go to the poor part of town, find someone in need and do something to help that person.”
Service is more than a duty, it is physically and spiritually healthy. It is what we were made for–and often, service to others puts things into perspective. It keeps us from the best kindling to a depression fire—ingrown eyeballs.
6. Companion(s) Verses 16 and 18
“And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.” God says, “Wake up, Elijah—you are not alone. Elisha is going to come alongside of you and help you, and then take your place.” Then in verse 18, “Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel.” There are 7,000 others who are still with me. There are no solo saints, there are no closet Christians.
You were made to be in a Body–the Church. People outside of the Church are not spiritual people. No believer is ever to be disconnected from the Body, ever. Even missionaries were meant to have a strong lifeline. Seek out some who can be trusted–close friends, a discipleship group, brothers or sisters. They are worth millions of dollars to your soul. It’s dangerous when Christians choose not to establish friendships with others in their church–for when they stumble or fall, they are not roped to anyone. But what about you? The reason why some are subject to depression is they have not made the effort to interconnect with believers in their church.
7. Encouragement Verses 17 to 18
“’It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. 18Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.’” This is good news–the bad guys will be removed and those who worship the one true God will prevail.
Be encouraged, Elijah, and encourage others too. Maybe you are like me–I often find myself running to those who are encouraging when I am really under it. People wrongly think pastors are above depression, or above needing encouragement—nope. They think that way because some pastors act like they don’t, and die inside. Another reason is others think they perfectly live all that they preach–wrong. The Holy Spirit hits me too. But how do I keep from getting depressed in the first place?
THREE The CONTROL of Depression
How can you prevent depression from happening? Paul gives that answer in 2 Corinthians 4 and 5. Among other essential truths, Paul talks about not losing heart and being of good courage in chapters 4 and 5 of 2 Corinthians. As he does so, he gives us his three secrets to controlling depression. Briefly look at each main point to control depression–Paul gives us three preventive steps. Look at chapter 4 verse 1, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we receive mercy, we do not lose heart.” The first thing you must cultivate in order to prevent depression is . . .
1. A Sense of WONDER over Christ
Wonder over what? Wonder, awe, and gratefulness that you are saved by God’s gift and that you can serve. Think about all Paul could be depressed over–he persecuted the Church, he was the least of the apostles. Yet he received mercy and was allowed to minister–and as a result of that, he had a sense of wonder. Do you? If you’ve lost that, you’ve lost one of the most important elements of your walk with God.
Take salvation by the King and service for the King out of your daily Christian experience and you’ve cut Christ out of your life. It should not surprise you–when you get depressed, the wonder and absolute joy that God saved you and that He also will use you as a tool, if you are willing, is a key to controlling depression, being blessed and having purpose.
2. Daily DEPENDENCE on Christ
Look at verse 16, “Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” Paul says, every day I am dying more and more. Every day I feel the effects of beatings, stonings, shipwrecks and persecutions more and more. But every day, as I cling to God, he continually renews my inner man.
Every day, I’m (you’re–have you noticed?) getting older, getting uglier. Put your priority on the inner man and let Him renew you daily as you refresh your heart through a quiet time or study of the Word–or listening to MP3s, or read good books. As you are renewed, your internal person gets younger even as your external person gets older.
3. A FUTURE with Christ
Look at chapter 5, verse 8, “We are of good courage [why, Paul?] I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” This life is going to be filled with groanings, pain, suffering, disappointments, highs and lows, discouragements, tough circumstances and injustice.
So Paul says, to beat depression–remember you have a perfect heavenly home, and for all eternity, you will get to be with Jesus. Keep that thought on your mind throughout the day and you will not only control depression, but be a joyful witness of Christ Himself. Don’t you long for Heaven? If not, it means you are in love with this world.
In my heart, I find myself clinging to the feet of Jesus in prayer. I find myself saying, “Come, Lord.” I find myself often longing to be home. Sometimes, it’s because of the lack of justice today. Sometimes over my sinfulness. Sometimes over weariness. But I long for Heaven. A key to controlling depression is constantly remembering this life is a vapor–and perfect peace, love, joy and perfection await us for all eternity.
Do you know what causes depression? Do you know what you will do to cure it? Will you take steps to control it? And most importantly–have you ever been depressed? If so, then join the ranks of everyone else in the human race.
Listen to the testimony of Charles H. Spurgeon. “I am the subject of depression so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to. But I always get back again by this–I know that I trust Christ. I have no reliance but in Him, and if He falls, I shall fall with Him. But if He does not, I shall not. Because He lives, I shall live also, and I spring to my legs again and fight with my depressions of spirit and get the victory through it.
“And so may you do, and so you must, for there is no other way of escaping from it. We all go through it, but only those who know Christ have divine recourses to battle it. If you are one who has no purpose, no peace, no joy, no hope, it is because you do not know your Creator. You do not know what you were made for, and therefore cannot have the blessings that come from being in a right relationship with the One who made you. And that only comes through Christ.”