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How God Can Meet Us in Times of Depression

  • "Chin up! Cheer up, love; it might never happen…"

  • "Pull yourself together…"

  • "What have you got to be depressed about — you have a great life…"

  • "If you just had more faith, you would be all right…"

These are all things NOT to say to someone going through depression — but I’m sure most of you have heard those phrases before in that context.

Maybe — in your unenlightened past — you’ve said them to someone.

It’s estimated that Mental Health problems affect 1 in 5 people. It’s one of the last great taboos in our society — although, slowly but surely, we’re getting better at talking about mental health.

Sadly, one of the last places where we don’t talk about mental health is the church — or at least some sections of the church.

Here’s a quote that struck me. It’s from Lade Olugbemi, who works for NOUS, an organisation raising awareness of Mental Health issues in the Black Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.

I had never believed that an active Christian could have a mental illness. The stance has always been that the person diagnosed with a mental illness cannot be a Christian: they must be backsliders living in sin or possessed by demons.

Thankfully, she has grown into a more enlightened view.

When we look into the bible characters — and obviously, we are looking back to a very different society and culture — we can see a few people who appear to contend with what we would now call mental health issues.

One example is the Old Testament prophet Elijah.

To give a little background to the story. Elijah is one of the last faithful Israelites left in the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel (yes, that Jezebel!)

The majority of the people worship the Canaanite god Baal. Elijah attempts to persuade the Israelites to worship Yahweh, the Israelite God.

Because Baal is a fire god, Elijah stages a head-to-head shootout to determine which god is the actual one: Baal or Yahweh. On Mount Carmel, he meets 450 Baal prophets — and they construct two altars, each with a sacrifice offering.

The Baal devotees go first, asking for fire to fall on their shrine for hours.

Nothing happens.

Then Elijah prays, and fire instantly devours his altar.

It’s a dramatic demonstration of Yahweh’s power — whilst it shows up Baal to be a lamentable failure.

This has to be the pinnacle of Elijah’s ministry — the precise definition of a mountaintop experience.

Jezebel learns of the Baal prophets’ defeat and declares that she will track down and murder Elijah.

So he runs.

Elijah, exhausted after arriving in the desert, hunkers down under a broom tree and decides that enough is enough. He wishes he was no longer alive.

He’s at the bottom of the barrel.

In fact, he’s scraping at the ground underneath the barrel…

Even though he must have been thrilled after whipping Baal’s 450 prophets and experiencing with certainty that God was on his side and that his God was all-powerful, he did all of this.

You can picture what some people might say to him as he slumps against a tree in the middle of nowhere:

  • "What are you depressed about?"

  • "God has just proven to you that he is the real deal. "

  • "What makes you want to give up right now?"

Nonetheless, here he is...

We never know when depression may strike; it can strike at any time, and it doesn’t matter if our lives appear to be going swimmingly on the surface.

I believe we can understand a couple of things from God’s response to Elijah that can assist us in aiding others who struggle with depression.

God provides.

Elijah is fed and watered by an angel from God. His basic bodily requirements are met.

Those struggling with depression require kindness rather than words.

A cup of tea and a piece of cake can be really beneficial. Taking a friend out for coffee or dropping off a casserole might be a fantastic way to demonstrate love and support.

A gently held hand, a hug, or a friendly gesture says substantially more than words in times like this.

God hears.

Elijah pours out his heart to God, who listens without passing judgement. God doesn’t say. “Don’t be foolish. You can’t die. I just helped you beat the prophets of Baal.”

God allows Elijah to become enraged and yell at him. There is NO suggestion in this passage that God is, in any way, angry with Elijah.

God’s a big boy — he can take a bit of earthy language from us.

When people discuss their issues with me, it’s tempting to want to fix people. Through the years, I’ve learned to listen, be there, and enter into their pain rather than try to explain things away like some guru.

Elijah has experienced the depths of anguish. He also knew what it was like to be lifted out of the pit, dusted off, and put back on his feet by God.

God renews

The biblical account shows that Elijah did not spend his entire life in the desert near Mount Horeb. The “still, small voice” gave him a fresh of God.

After that, he continued his spiritual journey, discovering a new purpose beyond his misery.

Embracing his newfound purpose, Elijah embarked on a series of extraordinary assignments bestowed upon him directly from God. He anointed Hazael, destined to become the king of Aram, with sacred oil, symbolising divine endorsement.

Next, Jehu, a fierce warrior, was anointed as the future ruler of Israel, a bold move that would shape the nation’s destiny.

Finally, Elijah anointed Elisha, a devoted disciple, as his successor, passing on the mantle of prophetic power.

With unwavering determination, Elijah continued his ministry, delivering divine messages and confronting the wicked forces that plagued the land.

He became a living legend, a man whose connection with the heavens was unmatched — and a clear testimony that his struggles and depression weren’t the end of his story.


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