Have you been there – under the Juniper tree? Depressed as Elijah and wanting to die? I’ve been there a time or two.
I recently read Cheryl Gerou’s journey out of depression, From Wilderness to Worship, and noticed a similarity to Elijah’s story. She stated that when she was out of fellowship with the Lord, she was always wanting – more. More of something that would fill and satisfy. She had clothes, but wanted more. Had food but wanted – more. And when she obtained a desired thing, the satisfaction, if any, was very temporary and she was again left – wanting MORE.
Elijah was not that different. He had just completed an awesome ministry – victorious in revealing to Queen Jezebel’s people that their god was a fake. There had been much preparation, prayer, and selflessness as Elijah fulfilled God’s commands, and put on a show that had to be bigger than any production the locals had seen in their lifetime.
I’d imagine a victory dance, or a prayer of thanks over an altar of remembrance, but instead, at a threat from Jezebel, the hero and his servant ran. “1Kings 19:3 When Elijah saw how things were, he ran for dear life to Beersheba, far in the south of Judah. He left his young servant there
Then he went further on his own.
1Kings 19:4 (Elijah) went on into the desert another day’s journey. He came to a lone broom bush and collapsed in its shade, wanting in the worst way to be done with it all—to just die: “Enough of this, GOD! Take my life—I’m ready to join my ancestors in the grave!”
Elijah had not failed. He had done all he was asked to do. He had completed the ministry and God had miraculously shown great power that killed 400 of Jezebel’s prophets, convincing the people their god was a fake, and The Lord was the one God. Yet Elijah wanted more – he wanted proof that all “his” hard work resulted in better circumstances. Amazing.
Elijah had not run to God for direction – the God who set wet wood on fire . . . the God he showed others could do anything. Instead, he let the circumstances fill him with fear, and he let emotion direct him.
There’s a story about Howard Hendricks, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, walking the campus one day, and asking a student how he was doing. “Well, under the circumstances . . .” the student began . . . when Howard exclaimed, “Under the circumstances? What are you doing under there?”
The story makes us smile, but it is a devastating truth. That is where depression puts us. UNDER the circumstances. Living for God is a risky and oftentimes painful business, and an intense experience like Elijah’s can mess up our emotions. Four of Elijah’s reactions and God’s responses teach me to keep my emotions under God’s Word, always asking, not what is the circumstance, but what is the truth?
1. Elijah: I want out. Can’t take any more. Let me die.
God: Sent nourishment and refreshment
Lesson: Physical exhaustion needs physical refreshment. God did not send a sermon, or tell Elijah he should have done more, or done better, or condemn him for running away. He simply fed him and enabled his troubled mind to rest. Ask yourself – am I eating or sleeping properly? Am I keeping hydrated? Am I exhausting myself and not restoring physical strength? God made us with physical needs. We need to acknowledge that.
2. Elijah: I feel alone. Responsible. Like the students Prof Hendricks met, Elijah let himself get “under the circumstances,” and God had the same question for Elijah in (I Kings 19:9) “Then the word of GOD came to him: “So Elijah, what are you doing here?” Elijah does not answer with thanks or celebration of the mighty wonders God did, but whines about all his own labors of obedience and the apparent results “look what good it’s done – they are now trying to kill me.”
God: Go get alone and stand at attention (incline your ear, and your heart) before God (expectantly) and God will pass by. God then shows Elijah that despite multiple (scary) circumstances, Elijah is not alone. God is still there, and God has not changed. He then asks Elijah again, “What are you doing here?”
Lesson: Ask God, What am I doing here? What is it you would have me to learn from this, or share with another?
3. Elijah: (answering with the enemy’s lie) I am the only one left.
God: God tells Elijah that there are 7,000 new ministers for God from those who have not bowed to Baal. Elijah’s not exactly the last one left to serve God!
Lesson: There are no “Lone Rangers” in God’s ministry. God does the work, we are the vessel. However the circumstances change, God does not change. Ask myself, “Has God changed?”
4. God: gives Elijah a new job (reminding him that the first was not Elijah’s ministry, but God’s, and all was completed that God wanted).
Elijah: went straight out to do the mission, anointing King Jehu king over Israel, and anointing Elijah whom he would disciple to be his successor.
Lesson: I do not need to look back and wonder if I did enough, could have or should have done something else, if I know I obeyed God’s direction. Whether the results are like I hoped or not, I need only listen for God’s still voice and follow it.
Are you “under the Juniper tree” today? If so, I pray you are encouraged: