epression can sneak up on people insidiously; it is a painful experience that is typically described with images of emptiness, darkness, heaviness, and even hell itself. Anything that painful, whatever the cause, is always spiritual.
Christians are not immune to depression, however, many Christians feel guilty and ashamed to talk about this issue, thinking that spiritual people should never feel depressed.
Spiritual depression. The dark night of the soul. This phenomenon describes a malady that even the greatest of Christians have suffered from time to time.
It was the malady that provoked David to soak his pillow with tears. It was the malady that earned for Jeremiah the sobriquet, "The Weeping Prophet." It was the malady that so afflicted Martin Luther that his melancholy threatened to destroy him.
This is no ordinary fit of depression, but it is a depression that is linked to a crisis of faith, a crisis that comes when one senses the absence of God or gives rise to a feeling of abandonment by Him.
Spiritual depression is real and can be acute. We ask how a person of faith could experience such spiritual lows, but whatever provokes it does not take away from its reality.
Our faith is not a constant action. It is mobile. It vacillates. We move from faith to faith, and in between we may have periods of doubt when we cry, "Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief."
Spiritual depression is a recurrent theme throughout Scripture. One example is the prophet Elijah who, despite his great faith, fell into depression, going from the mountain top to the valley.
Elijah had experienced one astonishing miracle after another. God had sent ravens to feed him. Elijah, a widow, and her son were miraculously provided for during drought and famine. Elijah even raised the widow's son from the dead! Then Elijah called down fire from heaven while confronting a group of antagonistic idol-worshippers. As a result, there was a sweeping revival in the nation.
The last thing we would expect is for Elijah to fall into depression, but he did. He spiraled downward; even suicidal thoughts were part of his dark episode.
"He prayed that he might die, and said, 'It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!'" (1 Kings 19:4).
Elijah's situation reveals several problems that can bring us down. Here are some of them:
1. He presumed the outcome
Elijah presumed that everyone would repent. Things didn't turn out the way he planned. Can't you relate? Haven't you looked forward to something, believing you had everything mapped out when suddenly things changed?
If so, you know how disheartening it can be. The lesson for us is to guard against unrealistic expectations by remembering that God is sovereign; we must never presume upon his perfect will.
2. He focused on the problem
In the wilderness, at the widow's house, and on Mount Carmel, Elijah focused on the power and greatness of his Lord. But Jezebel's murderous threats consumed him and overwhelmed his faith.
In his panic, he focused on the enemy's power to destroy him rather than on the power of God to deliver him.
3. He focused on himself
Elijah was in the depths of self-pity when he said, "… I am no better than my fathers!" (1 Kings 19:4).
Elijah's focus had shifted from the Lord to his circumstances, and then from his circumstances to himself.
4. He was physically exhausted
Another reason we succumb to depression may be overlooked — exhaustion. By the time Elijah got to Sinai he was weak from fatigue.
Our loving heavenly Father provides the prescriptions to alleviate spiritual depression. Here are some of them:
1. Get some rest
"As he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, 'Arise and eat.' … So he ate and drank, and lay down again" (1 Kings 19:5-6).
God's plan was simple: rest and refreshment.
2. Get a new focus
Elijah believed that he was the only one in Israel who was faithful and spiritual. Elijah was in touch with his feelings, but he wasn't in touch with reality.
Things weren't as bad as he thought, so God came to give Elijah a strong dose of reality.
3. Have new expectations
Once God had Elijah's attention, he set out to readjust his expectations. He told Elijah to go outside "and behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice" (1 Kings 19:11-12).
Elijah had unrealistic expectations — God wasn't in the wind or the earthquake. Instead, the Lord readjusted Elijah's expectations, coming to him as "a still small voice." Elijah learned that God's work is sometimes an inner work of the heart.
4. Take obedient action
When Elijah was up against the wall, the Lord told him to get up and get moving: "Go, return on your way to the Wilderness … and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria" (1 Kings 19:15).
God wanted him to make a choice of godly action based on obedience rather than inaction based on his emotions.
In conclusion, many people believe that life's pressures lead to depression. However, it's how we handle those pressures that lead us either to depression or to victory. I pray that, if depression creeps in, you will follow God's prescription of rest, refocus, right expectations, and obedient actions.
Question: Have you ever been through spiritual depression before? What was the experience like for you, and how did you overcome it? Please leave a comment below.