How Should Christians Respond to Bouts of Hopelessness and Depression? 5 Myths About Depression. #294
A blessed and peaceful Friday to you, friends! Today we launch into a new book – Daniel. Daniel is one of the best known Bible figures to those who grew up in church because of the story of Daniel in the Lion’s den. That’s a great story, but there’s much more to the book of Daniel than just that story. For one, Daniel is one of the very, very few major characters in the Bible that we do not see sinning in a major way. Daniel was not perfect, but he was humble, wise and remarkably righteous. Today we will see that Daniel and his friends chose to eat vegetables and not drink wine rather than defile themselves with the food from the Babylonian king. The Bible doesn’t exactly spell out why the Babylonian king’s food was defiled. Perhaps it contained portions that were not allowed for the Jewish people to eat (pork, etc.) or perhaps it was offered to idols prior to being given to the servants to eat. Regardless, Daniel and his friends didn’t eat it, and their choice led to them being remarkably healthy. One time around 20 years ago, I was on staff at a church that did a 21 day Daniel fast of all fruits and vegetables. I was struggling mightily with that fast 3 days in, as I hadn’t drank any coffee, and I felt like an absolute slug. On about day 3, I reasoned that coffee was a fruit/vegetable, and began to drink it again, and survived the three weeks in a much better place. I hope that wasn’t cutting corners too badly! In addition to Daniel 1, our other Bible passages include 1 Kings 19, Psalms 105 and 1st Thessalonians 2.
Today we are going to see an astounding thing that many of you will be able to relate to. Elijah, the mighty man of God and the mighty man of prayer – the same Elijah who had in 1 Kings 17 been used by God to raise the dead, the same Elijah who in 1st Kings 17 prayed that it wouldn’t rain, and God shut the Heavens – the same Elijah that had defeated the prophets of Baal in a fiery showdown in 1 Kings 18 and the same Elijah who had prayed down rain after a 3.5 year drought – that Elijah, coming off of some of the biggest spiritual victories recorded in the Bible…all of the sudden finds himself depressed and suicidal. And no, you didn’t hear that wrong. Let’s read our 1 Kings 19, our focus chapter, and consider how even mighty men of God can be depressed and suicidal, and what can we do if we find ourselves in that place.
Let me say, before we get too deep into this discussion. I am today more focused on spiritual depression than physical depression. I am not a doctor, but a pastor and teacher. Some Christians believe all depression is spiritual/emotional, and none is physical – I don’t believe that to be the case, and the Bible doesn’t teach that. Some Christians believe that taking medicine for depression is unspiritual and unbiblical. The Bible does NOT teach that. While I believe that the United States is quite over-medicated in this realm, that does not at all mean that medication is never necessary for mental afflictions like depression. There is no shame or sin in taking medicine to treat such conditions, but do allow me to urge you to make such decisions with wisdom and good counsel.
Elijah finds himself utterly hopeless at the threat of Jezebel. Where has the mighty man of faith in the last two chapters gone? This is a human reality, friends. Some days we are capable of amazing faith and confidence in the Lord, and the next day, we might say with Elijah, “God, just go ahead and take my life.”
3 Then Elijah became afraid and immediately ran for his life. When he came to Beer-sheba that belonged to Judah, he left his servant there, 4 but he went on a day’s journey into the wilderness. He sat down under a broom tree and prayed that he might die. He said, “I have had enough! Lord, take my life, for I’m no better than my ancestors.”
1 Kings 19:3-4
Yes, the mighty prophet of God Elijah prayed that God would kill him. In retrospect, we can look back at his situation and see that he was honestly being over-dramatic. Yes, the threat of death was real, because Jezebel had already killed hundreds of prophets, but ultimately, God protected Elijah. Elijah’s fears and Elijah’s prayers here do not tarnish his life and legacy, and God did not reject him. Maybe you are in a fearful place right now too – maybe about Covid, or some other situation. Maybe you are hopeless, depressed, or despairing. If so, then allow me to encourage you to NOT beat yourself up. #1, It won’t accomplish anything whatsoever. #2, You are NOT alone. If Elijah, Moses, David, Paul, Hannah and many other mighty people of God in the Bible can grapple with hopelessness, despair and depression, don’t be surprised if you do too. Here are five MYTHS about depression to help us better understand it from a biblical view:
5 Myths about Depression.
- Christians don’t get depressed. Medical doctor and Christian author John Lockley writes: “Being depressed is bad enough in itself, but being a depressed Christian is worse. And being a depressed Christian in a church full of people who do not understand depression is like a little taste of hell.”
- Depression is a sin. I believe there are times when our anxiety/despair/hopelessness becomes a lack of faith, but not always.
2 Corinthians 1:8 8 For we don’t want you to be unaware, brothers, of our affliction that took place in Asia: we were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life. 9 Indeed, we personally had a death sentence within ourselves, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and He will deliver us. We have put our hope in Him that He will deliver us again
Mark 13:34 “And He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.’
- Depression has an easy biblical cure – It does not, any more than sickness has an easy biblical cure, or cancer has an easy biblical cure. However, I do believe that God heals body, mind and soul.
James 5: 13 Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord.
- Depression is incurable apart from medicine/Christians should never take medicine for depression. Not opposed to medicine, but I believe some forms of depression and some people who are depressed can and will be cured apart from medicine. Other depressions are strongly related to genetics, hormones and body chemistry and respond strongly to medications.
The Bible is not opposed to medicine. 1 Timothy 5:23 23 Don’t continue drinking only water, but use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.
I have read a great deal about medications used to treat depression. These are potent medicines with lots of pros and cons, and I believe we should be very wise and judicious about them.
- Depression is 100 percent bad and useless. An oyster creates a pearl out of a grain of sand. The grain of sand is an irritant to the oyster. In response to the discomfort, the oyster creates a smooth, protective coating that encases the sand and provides relief. The result is a beautiful pearl. For an oyster, an irritant becomes the seed for something new.
1 Peter 4:12 12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you.13 Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah
James 1:2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
Spurgeon: Our depressions may also tend to our fruitfulness. A heart bowed down with despair is a dreadful thing. “A broken spirit, who may bear it?” (Prov 18:14) But if you have never had such an experience, you will not be worth a pin as a preacher. You cannot help others who are depressed unless you have been down in the depths yourself. You cannot lift others out of despondency and depression unless you yourself sometimes need to be lifted out of such experiences. You must be compassed with this infirmity, too, at times, in order to have compassion on those in a similar case. Our whole nature as feeble men may be turned to the noblest use if it calls forth our compassion toward others… When we are less than nothing, the all-sufficiency of God will be all the more manifested.
Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon Commentary: Hebrews, ed. Elliot Ritzema and Jessi Strong, Spurgeon Commentary Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), 132–133.
So – what do we do if we find ourselves in a place of hopelessness and depression. I want to suggest three practical and spiritual things that I see here in the text of 1 Kings 19. This is a VERY incomplete answer, but we have covered depression many times so far this year, so if you want to go deeper, come to our site and search for the word ‘depression,’ and you will hopefully find lots of articles and episodes that are helpful.
Elijah did 3 things when confronted with hopelessness and depression:
#1. He rested. Rest is so important that God modeled for us a life of rest in the literal very beginning of everything. You are not designed by your creator to be able to make it in life without sleep. Rest and regular deep sleep doesn’t cure everything, but it does help, and lack of sleep amplifies depression, hopelessness, joylessness, stress and literally every physical ailment. I know some people out there try to get back on 5 hours or even less of sleep, trying to hack the system. Might I gently prod you and say that success and fruitfulness is life is ‘not by [your] might, not by [your] power, but by [His] Spirit, says the Lord!? Most people who try to get by on little sleep are way too self-dependant, and that sort of attitude is terrible for you health-wise, and also seems to invite depression and helplessness. If your attitude is, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!” Then allow me to push you to read and re-read John 15:1-8 until you are dispelled of that attitude, and then go and rest like Elijah.
#2 Elijah took in healthy sustenance. I could over-spiritualize this part, but there’s no need to. God gave Elijah good and nutritious food to eat – likely supernaturally empowered food, in this case, and Elijah was invigorated by it. We might not have the same access to that exact kind of food, but eating healthily, rather than binging OR starving ourselves will tend to bring encouragement.
# 3. Most importantly, Elijah sought the Lord and heard the Word of God, and got into the presence of God. Elijah came to know God in a far deeper way during his bout with depression and suicidal thoughts. He came to realize that God is not always in the loudest of things, but sometimes is in a gentle whisper. Elijah learning about God and interacting with God Himself was energizing and hope-bringing. It enabled him to continue going, to appoint a successor, and to finish the race well. How? Because His eyes were on God and His ears were attuned to God’s Word.
Is that a 3-step process to be cured of every depression, mental illness and bout of hopelessness? Of course it isn’t! But it is an excellent 3 step process to not give in to the depths of despair as you are being sifted like wheat and struggling with ANY sort of negative emotion, spiritual attack, or bout of depression, etc. Rest adequately (but don’t overdo it!) Eat healthily and seek God and His Word.