I got the miseries
I Kings 19:1-4
19 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow." 3 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors."
A college professor was addressing a psychology class. "What we’re going to talk about today," the professor said, "are the emotional extremes that many mentally disturbed people go through. For example,” He pointed at a student and asked, “What’s the opposite of joy?"
"Sadness" the student answered.
"The opposite of depression?" he asked a young woman.
"Elation," she replied.
Turning to a young man from Texas, he asked, "What is the opposite of woe?"
The Texan replied "giddy up."
OK that is not a very good joke, but depression is no joke.
According to Psychiatrists Frank Minrith & Paul Meier, the majority of Americans suffer from a serious, clinical depression at some point in their lives. Most of these people never get help. They just fight this battle on their own.
Or, they go to their family doctor and get a magic pill. I remember a Paxil commercial that was popular some years ago. At the beginning of the commercial, the typical 30-something-year-old woman is standing outside a house, looking through the window at the happy party going on inside. She looks so lonely and depressed that it must break nearly every consumer's heart. "What's wrong with her?" we compassionate humans gasp in unison. The voiceover answers our question as we think it: The woman has social anxiety disorder, a condition that can be treated with the prescription drug Paxil.
Suddenly, the now-medicated woman rings the doorbell and, with a huge smile on her face, joins the party. We see how much fun she is having and we are so happy for her! Of course, the voiceover quickly goes through the list of Paxil's potential side effects, but how can we concentrate on that, when we are so busy rejoicing at the woman's new happiness? All she had to do was pop that little pill and she was happy.
However, Paxil has withdrawn that commercial and is being sued for excessive claims in advertising. Depression is not that easily fixed, and it is a real part of life for many people. Listen to these symptoms of depression:
1. Weight loss or weight gain.
2. Loss of sleep and energy.
3. Lose interest in everything.
4. Reduced ability to concentrate.
5. Feelings of hopelessness or uselessness.
C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) was one of England’s finest preachers. Frequently, during his ministry, he was plunged into severe depression, due in part to health problems. Sometimes he would be out of the pulpit for two to three months at a time. Describing his problem Spurgeon wrote, “There are dungeons beneath the castles of despair."
In another case, a young Midwestern lawyer suffered from such deep depression that his friends thought it best to keep all knives and razors out of his reach. During this time he wrote, "I am now the most miserable man living. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell. I awfully forebode I shall not." Somehow, Abraham Lincoln received the encouragement he needed, and went on to become one of our greatest presidents.
In I Kings 19, Elijah has got the miseries. The old Western writer, Elmer Kelton in several of his books has characters who complain, “I got the miseries,” which is an effective way of saying, I am really down and depressed. I Kings 19 is a case study in clinical depression.
“Elijah was afraid and ran for his life….”
He had suicidal thoughts. In V4, we read that Elijah asked to die. He said, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”
He was exhausted. We read in v5 that he lay down under a tree and fell asleep.
He felt useless and hopeless. Elijah says in v10: "The people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away."
Now that verse is a statement of depression.
However, what is bizarre about this is that in the previous chapter, Elijah had won perhaps the greatest victory in his entire life. He confronted the prophets of Baal on the Mt. Carmel and exposed them as false prophets, and because of Elijah’s faith and obedience, God literally sent fire down out of heavens to consume the sacrifice he placed on the altar, and then a few hours later sent a downpour of rain on a land that had not had rain for three years.
Elijah had to be exalted. Yes, the Lord was with him. Yes, he triumphed. It does not get any better than that. So, what happened? Why is that same devoted servant of God now crippled by fear, hopelessness and despair? Actually, Elijah is following a classic pattern of depression. After an intense time in their lives, people are often depressed.
Did you know that more pastors resign on Monday than any other day of the week? People in the congregation will say, “But we had such a good day on Sunday and the preacher quit on Monday.” Athletes the day after a big game often feel totally down, students wonder why they feel so unfulfilled with the diploma in their hands. Mothers wonder why they cannot stop the tears with a healthy kid upstairs in the crib.
Then depression can follow equally well after a big disappointment. What did Elijah think was going to happen after he killed Baal’s prophets? Did he think that Ahab and Jezebel would fall to their knees in repentance and say; “out with Baal and in with Jehovah.” That was never going to happen.
Reality is sinking in. His victory on Mount Carmel changed nothing in Israel. The worship of the Lord was still a minority religion. Jezebel was still queen and still hated Elijah. She is trying to kill him, and he is so afraid of her that he left Israel, fled to Beer-sheba which is in southern Judah, went even further than that, went into the wilderness to hide.
His whole world has collapsed around him and he has really got the miseries. This is a lesson to us. Even God’s most dynamic servants can suffer from depression. It is not necessarily a mark of a lack of faith. It is not necessarily a mark of an immoral lifestyle. Elijah was God’s man for his time, and here he is so far down in the depths of despair that he cannot even look up.
Elijah fled into the desert. That is a mark of depression. Depression shuts out the thing we need most: people. When we are depressed, we do not want to face people, but people are the best cure of all. When we come into a church service in the house of God with Christian friends, we draw strength for life’s battles. Therefore, when you are struggling with depression, do not go somewhere alone. This only intensifies the pain. Find Christian friends to be with so they can minister to you. Galatians 6:2 says, "Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ."
Then depressed Elijah focuses on the negatives. We all have negative times in our lives, and we built them up into mountains until they overwhelm us.
Elijah is alone in the wilderness and he has got the miseries, but God healed him. That is the major lesson in I Kings 19. No matter how down you get. Remember that God is in the healing business and God will heal you.
First, God recognized that Elijah had a problem. His depression is not imaginary. It is a real problem. Unfortunately, some folks think that mental illness is imaginary, and the sufferer just needs to buck up. Give him a couple a stiff slaps across the face and he will be OK, or give him a magic pill like Paxil, but it is not that easy. Elijah’s depression was real. It was tangible. You could have cut it with a knife, and God did not say, “get a hold of yourself, Elijah. This is a sinful attitude. Where is your faith man?”
In answer to Elijah’s prayer to die, God just lets him sleep. Then God’s angel feeds him and lets him sleep some more. Then God sends him down to the desert in the South for 40 days and nights. In all that time, God does not say a word. God does not offer any council. God does not set Elijah down and have a face-to-face talk. In all that time, Elijah has time to rest and to recover.
Then the Lord begins to deal with him. He asks Elijah in v9, “What are you doing here?” He asks him that same question again in v13, “What are you doing here?” or "What is your problem?"
And both times Elijah whines about how he has been rejected by the Israelites and the prophets have all been killed and no one worships God any more and he is the only believer left. Elijah verbalizes his depression, which is an important step in dealing with it.
Jesus said, “The truth shall set you free.” Because false ideas, false beliefs (especially false ideas about God) have power put us in bondage. Our lives are built around what we think is true about life. And if the foundations of that reasoning are based on wrong information or impressions, the result can be devastating.
Elijah’s reply to God revealed how totally wrong he was and how deeply depressed he was. Basically, Elijah did not believe that God was doing anything. Israel had abandoned the worship of God, and God was not doing anything about that. Elijah says, "I’ve been beating my head against the wall serving you Lord, and everything seems to just be falling apart around me, and you are not helping matters any.”
But that is Elijah’s depression talking, and depression is always wrong. In V18, God corrects Elijah, saying, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him." You are not the only one. There are 7,000 others. God says I am not doing nothing. Things are going on. You are just all wound up in yourself and you cannot see what is happening.
Then God gave Elijah his prescription for depression, which is, put simply, work. Beginning in v15, God tells Elijah, get up and go to Damascus. Anoint Hazael as king of Syria, then go and anoint Jehu as king over Israel, then anoint Elisha as your successor. In other words, God said to Elijah, you are still my prophet in Israel, and you need to get to work at that job. God said, there is someone else besides you Elijah. There is a whole nation out there that you need to go to and minister to.
Dr. Carl Menninger once gave a lecture on mental health and was answering questions from the audience. Someone said, "What would you advise a person to do if that person felt a nervous breakdown coming on?" Most people thought he would say, "Go see a psychiatrist immediately," but he did not. To their astonishment, Dr. Meninger replied, "Lock up your house, go across the railroad tracks, find somebody in need, and help that person." To overcome discouragement, "Don’t focus on yourself, get involved in the lives of other people."
And as you help others do not forget that God is with you to lift you up and keep you encouraged. During the 1st part of the 20th century, J. C. Penney presided over an empire of over 1,700 stores, but the Great Depression hit him at the worst possible time. Penney had overextended himself and had borrowed heavily to finance many of his ventures. When banks began to demand repayment of loans, Penny struggled to make payments. Constant and unrelenting worry began to take a toll. "I was so harassed with worries that I couldn’t sleep, and developed an extremely painful ailment," he said.
Concerned about his deteriorating health, Penney checked himself into the Kellogg sanitarium at Battle Creek, Michigan, (kind of the Mayo Clinic of its era). Penney later recalled, "A rigid treatment was prescribed, but nothing helped." He was tormented by periods of hopelessness. His will to live was rapidly eroding. He said, "I got weaker day by day. I was filled with despair, unable to see even a ray of hope. I had nothing to live for. I felt that I had not a friend left in the world, that even my family had turned against me."
Finally, Penny decided that this was the last night of his life. He got out of bed and wrote farewell letters to his wife and son, but then he went back to sleep.
Penney awakened the next morning, surprised to find himself alive. Making his way down the hallway of the hospital, he could hear singing coming from the little chapel. He went into the chapel and sat down, and he said, "Suddenly something happened. I can’t explain it. I felt as if I had been instantly lifted out of the darkness of a dungeon into a warm, brilliant sunlight. I felt as if I had been transported from hell to Paradise. I felt the power of God as I had never felt it before."
The words from the hymn that spoke so eloquently to J. C. Penney were:
Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you;
Beneath His wings of love abide, God will take care of you.
God will take care of you, through every day, o’er all the way;
He will take care of you, God will take care of you.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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